Poetry That Helps Shape Our Lives

Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - 5:50am
Poetry That Helps Shape Our Lives

Life has its moments of melancholy. Parker Palmer reminds us to stop, take it all in, and write some poetry to recall life's aspirations.

Commentary by:
Parker J. Palmer (@parkerjpalmer),  special contributor
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Aspen blaze.

Credit: Dirk O'Neill License: Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

"Why Should I Ever Be Sad" came to me a few months when I was hiking the Aspen Vista Trail not far from Santa Fe. I was feeling my age, as they say, feeling melancholy about the brevity of life, when I stopped to rest, sitting on a rock and silently taking in all that was above, below, and around me.

Suddenly I felt joy in being there, simply being there! As that feeling settled in, I wrote the first draft of this poem as a way of taking the feeling home. I can still feel it…

I often post great poets in this column — Mary Oliver, William Stafford, Naomi Shihab Nye, Rilke — because they speak truth with grace and help keep my spirit alive. I am not a great poet, but I no longer feel awkward about sharing my poetry here. I believe that everyone has poetry in them. I also believe it's important to "speak" the poetry that's in us — not necessarily on the printed page but with the lives we lead at home, in the workplace, in the world.

When I find or write a poem that feels true, my aspiration is to let it shape my life. "Why Should I Ever Be Sad" is not in the same league as the greats, but it helps me remember the kind of life to which I aspire. Is there a poem you want to live, whether or not it's in print?

Why Should I Ever Be Sad?
by Parker Palmer

Why should I ever be sad,
knowing the aspens are
always here dancing along
this trail, slim as willowy
girls, swinging their arms,
tossing their hair, swaying
their hips in rhythm with
the mountain wind? Above
the aspens, intensified sky,
a dream of blue seen only as
cities fade from view. Below
them a rocky slope covered
with clotted clumps of leaves
and fallen, rotted branches,
laying down a love bed where
Indian Paintbrush and white
violets grow amid a flourish
of green. All of the tumbled
boulders and rocks have found
their angle of perfect repose,
so why should I ever be sad?
All of this waits for me when
at last I stumble and fall,
waits for me to join in this
dance with all that turns and
whirls—a dance done to the
silent music of our dappled,
singing, swaying world.

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13Reflections

Why Should I Ever Be Sad

When this morning dawns
awakening with the birdsong
held silent through the night and
though the sun does not shine
and warm the earth at my feet
a different light beacons my way.
Why should I ever be sad
when I know others have better reasons
than I, and their weeping stronger?
It has been raining for hours
and that rain is enough
wetness in my path

One of my simple favorites for more than fifty years has been this one by e.e. cummings:

"seeker of truth

follow no path
all paths lead where

truth is here"

As I have my morning coffee, looking at the mountains in Park City, Utah, I see the Aspens. The bright green of new leaves shades the hills. What a way to begin a day. I felt your words.

Thank you, Parker, I have been feeling the same lately and your words inspire me more than you can imagine...

Along exactly these lines, I recommend Wendell Berry's "How to Be a Poet."
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/30299

Very nice, indeed. Thank you for the reminder!

Thank you for sharing that, Parker. I've been having similar feelings lately & also take solace in the mountains, trees, rivers, & the cycle of life that's larger than myself.

Great approach to poetry. Here's one inspires me every time:
“When your eyes are tired the world is tired also. When your vision has gone no part of the world can find you. Time to go into the dark where the night has eyes to recognize its own. There you can be sure you are not beyond love. The dark will be your womb tonight. The night will give you a horizon further than you can see. You must learn one thing. The world was made to be free in. Give up on all other worlds except the one to which you belong. Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness to learn anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you. ” David Whyte

...and yet, I am sad.

Merlin, to Arthur, in The Once and Future King - "When you're very sad the only thing you can do is go and learn something" Go - the world awaits your eager exploration

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