When We Need Poetry
Bereavement. Loss. Grief. Most of us as adults have known these. After a death friends and family have tried to comfort us. Most of us have tried, on similar occasions, to be a comfort to others. Often, though, we feel inadequate to the task. Words fail us. We offer our own words, our own comforting presence. We send sympathy cards to express our support and caring, and often these cards are saved as tender reminders of our outreach.
Sometimes the deepest emotions can be expressed best with only a few words, with phrases that suggest the emotion rather than try to name it, phrases that touch us in a special way that voluminous paragraphs or long eulogies cannot. That is what poetry is. In the nineteenth century, people expressed their emotions in poetry more commonly than they do now. In a time when death could visit any household suddenly and without warning, people acknowledged death and mourning in a more direct way than we do today. And they wrote about it. In the Time of Mourning (available here) is a compilation of mourning poetry published between 1830 and 1874. It is a gift that will give comfort in the weeks, months, and years that follow a loss, a beautiful, understanding, and extended card of sympathy that can be read again and again, perhaps in privacy, as the soul heals.
From “To Sorrow” by W. E. Pabor:
Come softly, Sorrow! For the heart
Is tender with its wounds of old;
For who, of failing human mould,
Can find at once the healer’s art?
Come softly, then if come you must;
Deal kindly, if you can be kind,
Be gentle as our hearts you bind,
For we lie lowly in the dust.
Deborah L. Halliday, M.A., Ed.D., is a personal historian, writer, and college teacher. She is fascinated by the intersection of the personal and the historical, by the way the contexts of our lives influence who we become. Writing is another form of teaching, Halliday believes, and through her writing she attempts to contribute to our understanding of each other, ourselves, and the world around us. Deborah received her doctorate in Human Development from Boston University, her Masters in American Studies from the University of Massachusetts, and her Bachelors in Sociology from Lake Erie College.
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