April is national poetry month in the U.S. Started in 1996, it is (according to my local library) “the largest literary celebration in the world with schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets celebrating poetry’s vital place in our culture.”
I want to celebrate poetry too with this week’s blog. I’ll begin by quoting a few lines from some of my favorite poems. And then I’ll say a few words about each poem. And finally I’ll conclude with two of my own poems.
The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.
In green pastures you let me graze;
you restore my strength. (Ps. 23:1-2)
These are the opening lines from Psalm 23, of course, a poem attributed to King David. It is surely one of the most beloved prayer-poem-songs in scripture. Throughout the centuries it has been prayed at weddings, at funerals, and often during very difficult times. Most Christians find the central image of God as our shepherd immensely consoling…
* * *
Tell all the truth but tell it slant,
Success in circuit lies,
Too bright for our infirm delight
The truth’s superb surprise. (Emily Dickinson)
Truth can be blinding. Truth can be overwhelming. That’s why we must approach it from the side sometimes and not head-on. “The truth must dazzle gradually,” Emily says, or we will all “be blind.” I love this poem—especially when I remember that GOD is TRUTH! At times God has to dazzle us gradually so as not to blind or overwhelm poor “infirm” us!
* * *
One of my favorite poets is Mary Oliver. This is the couplet at the end of her poem, “The Summer Day”:
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
I’ve meditated on these lines many times. I love her word “one” which reminds me that I have only one life to live. Her word “wild” reminds me that I am not always in control of my life. “Wild” also denotes risk and maybe even exhilaration and fun. The word “precious” reminds me how lucky I am to have been given this life in the first place. And the phrase “plan to do” tells me that the choices I make definitely influence the kind of life I will have.
* * *
After my third turtle died, I said:
“I’m through with turtles.”
But I didn’t mean it. (written by a child)
Some anonymous little girl wrote this brief poem. For me it captures the essence of love: don’t give up. And the essence of hope: don’t be discouraged. Haven’t we all experienced disappointments and deaths of all kinds? Hopefully we can (like this little poet) continue to go on loving turtles!
* * *
Poet Brian Doyle has just published a marvelous book of poems entitled A Shimmer of Something. One poem is called “Poem for a Dear Friend.” Here’s the last line:
There are more names for God than we’ll ever know, and one is you.
You can send that line to all your friends!
* * *
And now here are a couple of my own poems. This first one, “Two Little Sparrows,” is from my book Just Because). It celebrates spring, new life, and hope:
Outside my bedroom window
on the roof of the porch
He had trouble with balance at first.
Luckily, she was the epitome of patience.
The whole affair lasted but a moment.
And when they were through,
Simply because two little sparrows
to make more sparrows,
despite the toil of care,
and circling hawks everywhere.
* * *
And finally, here’s a poem called “The Road to God” from my book, When the Blue Heron Flies:
The road to God is not long.
You need not cross the sea to find Divinity.
You need not trek across vast plains or barren deserts,
nor hack through dense jungles.
You need not scale jagged mountains jutting into the skies.
No, you have only to pause
and be still.
Then take that single step
into the deep center
of who you are.
I hope you enjoyed these poems. Maybe you’ll want to get a poetry book from the library to celebration Poetry Month!
The song I chose for this week is “10,000 Reasons” by Matt Redman. This has become one of my favorite Christian songs:
Do you have a favorite poem? Why do you like this particular poem?
Is poetry ever a part of your prayer?
PS: Thank you to the Victory Noll Sisters in Huntington, IN for their warm hospitality these past four days. I gave an Easter retreat to about 25 retired Sisters there and enjoyed my time with these beautiful and dedicated women–most of them in their 80’s and 90’s. And thank you, readers, for your prayers!