Unlike other periods in history, ours is not a poetic age of contemplation, but poetry still comprises a major part of my life, both reading and writing it. Nothing is more insightful than poetry in revealing our emotions. I often think of poets as psychics who read our minds and tell us how we feel.
When Emily Dickinson confessed, “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” she expressed the anonymity that shrouds us all sometimes in this impersonal world. As a recluse in her long, prim gown sitting in a quiet room by candlelight, she captured the loneliness of the human soul when she informed readers of her own heartbreak, dipping her feather pen into an inkwell to write, “This is my letter to the World, that never wrote to me.”
In one line, poets give voice to our deepest fears, like this line from William Wordsworth, which often makes me shudder: “We Poets in our youth begin in gladness; but thereof come in the end despondency and madness.” Or this line from T. S. Eliot, uttered by J. Alfred Prufrock: “I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas.” He seems to be speaking to the universal alienation in the 20th century, when people were trapped in a wasteland awaiting the next world war.
Not all poetry is so pessimistic. Many poets pen idyllic poems celebrating life’s joys, praising nature’s beauty and glorifying youth, rather than wallowing in despair. “My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky,” was Wordsworth’s song of gladness. And Robert Frost’s descriptions of nature—as in his line, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep”—often served to convey more meaningful truths beneath the surface of his poems.
But when I write poetry, I tend to focus on the vague regrets and yearnings that echo throughout our lives, the unfulfilled desires, the mixing of disappointments and expectations which haunt us when we closely examine ourselves. I wrote this poem to portray some of the feelings which inhabit our more thoughtful and serious selves whenever we ponder the human condition.
The River That Was Me
When I was young among the living
The world into which I came
Seemed mine alone.
Like I had sprung uniquely into being
A divine river destined for a sacred sea.
Now as I lie among the dead
I know that the way of flesh
Is the same for all—dirt’s humility.
When I was grown among the living
My place in the world became fixed
I became resigned, like a tree in the forest.
But yet my leaves did bleed, and profusely.
Now the flowers in the vase above me
Bend and topple in the wind
And float down to the muddy bank
Of the river that was me.