Poetry in the prose of life
Last week Alf and I hosted a gathering of North Shore ministers for fellowship and enrichment. We had our moderator, Andrew Norton, come and share with us some of his thoughts on poetry.
When I was a child I wanted, at one time, to be a poet when I grew up, but at school in English class I had the sad experience of being introduced to many beautiful poems and then being asked to dissect each one into metaphor, image and simile; to find assonance, tautology, onomatopoeia, iambic pentameter and alliteration. My love of poetry slowly eroded away and took some time to regrow.
I think part of what helped me recover the joy of poetry was captured in Andrew’s opening explanation of the difference between poetry and prose. Prose is our everyday writing. Good prose is clear and precise and moves with purpose from point A to point B. This is what we wish life were like. Poetry, on the other hand, meanders here and there; comes at things sideways and obscurely. Sometimes it makes no sense to us, or its metaphors fail to evoke our feeling. Sometimes it seems as if the poet has opened a door into our heart and written what touches our deepest being.
Poetry is the reality of life that cannot be said plainly or with any precision. Poetry is the mystery that we sense but cannot wholly name. Poetry is the longing and the ecstasy and the despair and the tragedy.
One of my favourite poets is Jalal al–Din Rumi, and this is what he said about his own poetry:
This poetry. I never know what I’m going to say.
I don’t plan it.
When I’m outside the saying of it,
I get very quiet and rarely speak at all.
And this is one of my favourite of his poems:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I will meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Language, ideas, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.
I wonder what your relationship with poetry has been?
I wonder if you live as if life were prose, or if you make space in life for the poetry within you?
I wonder if you are aware of the poem that God is making of your life?