Friday, November 9, 2012

Single Servings of Comfort, Compassion, and Reverie

People need poems sometimes. This thought reassures me.

When we fall in love, marry each other or watch our friends marry each other. When someone we love leaves. When someone we love is sick or in pain. When we are in pain. When a new human enters the world. When the world changes, and we are overwhelmed.

Even when nothing can be done to fix a situation, poems provide single servings of comfort, compassion, and reverie. Tell me what to make of this, we ask the poems we look to for comfort. Tell me what house to build around this experience.

I wanted to share a few of the poems I look for in times of weakness and pain. And I would love to hear your recommendations, too.

“blessing the boats,” by Lucille Clifton
“Recovery,” by Jan Zwicky
“Directive,” by Robert Frost
“Five Odes on Absence” or “Never-ending Birds” by David Baker
The Crying Hill” by Yusef Komunyakaa
“Tree,” by Jane Hirshfield
“Under One Small Star,” Wislawa Szymborska


  1. Lovely selections, Hannah.

    There are poems in Christian Wiman's 'Every Riven Thing' that I would recommend for your list. Also see Amanda Auchter's 'The Wishing Tomb' (I'll be posting a review of that this coming Monday). The collection "Love, An Index" is another (the story behind this collection is quite moving), as is Mark Nepo's book of poems following his cancer. Those would be a few starters.

  2. I meant to add that I wrote a post about poetry of illness; I recently reposted it. There are poets I mention in that post whose work also would qualify.

  3. wow! A neccesarily personal and transient exercise, but here goes (and thanks for sharing/asking):

    The Journey North by Tu Fu (or anything by any of the classic Chinese poets)

    Remember by Christina Rossetti

    War is Kind by Stephen Crane

    A Passing-Bell by DH Lawrence

    90 North by Randall Jarrell

    The Octopus by James Merrill (actually anything by James Merrill works for this purpose)

    Thin Place by Devin Johnstone

  4. Thanks, Maureen! I will check out your link and recommendations.

    Bill, wow! That James Merrill one is a powerhouse (I hadn't read it before). I love Jarrell, too...I look forward to reading these others.

  5. Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
    Looking At Them Asleep by Sharon Olds
    The Truelove by David Whyte
    These Are the Clouds by Wm Butler Yeats
    The Lanyard by Billy Collins
    The Still Time by Galway Kinnell
    (this list could go on forever)

  6. This one, called "The Dark" by Myra Cohn Livingston. A child's poem that speaks to the child in all adults who are forever seeking a safe place. I read it to my now 21 year old autistic son in the hope that I can forever keep him safe. It ends with: "So I can see where everything I know should be--especially along the floor, the crack of light beneath the door" My eyes are misting up as I read this.

  7. Jack Gilbert. Great Fires. And some WCW poems I have by memory if books aren't available.

  8. Phil, thanks for stopping by my site! I really like Jack Gilbert....I hadn't read that poem before, and it is really beautiful. Thank you for sharing it.

  9. Great topic. I see my reading laid out before me for a while.

    "The Waking" Roethke
    "Sailing to Byzantium" Yeats
    Hopkins' "terrible sonnets"

    "Poem in October" Dylan Thomas

    "In Just Spring" and "Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town" e.e. cummings

    Maybe "Anecdote of the Jar" Wallace Sevens

    "Nothing Gold Can Stay" Frost

    I'm gonna kick myself, but others aren't coming to mind right now. (And what a list of dead white males! But I'm being honest.)

  10. John/Banjo--Roethke! Yeats! and Prufrock, oh my! I love these suggestions (Holy Prufrock, Batman!).


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