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In “Words That Shimmer,” an interview conducted by Krista Tippett with Elizabeth Alexander, the renowned poet reflects on her experience with moments of silence during her formative years, and draws a connection between these moments of self-reflection and her relationship with poetry. While conversing with Tippett, Alexander expresses that silent, self-reflection provides comfort and serenity through allowing the meditator to participate in constructive, inner-dialogue. Poetry, though dissimilar from meditation in many ways, is another outlet through which Alexander can achieve relaxation and peacefulness. Mindfully reading and writing poetry allows Alexander to access a state of contemplative silence and, thus, acts as a substitute to traditional meditation practices.
In this podcast, Elizabeth Alexander discusses the benefits she gained through daily moments of silence instituted by her Quaker high school. She described the experiences as brief, three minute long instances in which she partook in inner-listening. These moments allowed her to “take stock” of her subconscious well-being, and managed to “override teenage, restless silliness.” Alexander claims to have recognized these moments’ importance, and to have referred back to these introspective moments of silence throughout each day as she undertook life’s many challenges. Throughout high school, silent meditation provided Alexander with comfort and balance. As an adult, she reaches this state relaxation and serenity through a new method, poetry.
Alexander is not the first person to view their relationship with poetry as a form of meditation, conversely, it is a viewpoint observed by many great poets. For instance, legendary poet, William Wordsworth, appears to approach poetry with a similar mindset. In his poem, “Nuns Fret Not at Their Convent’s Narrow Room,” Wordsworth comments on escaping life’s chaotic anarchy and attaining peace through writing poetry according to the rigid structure of sonnets. This sentiment is expressed through the concluding lines of his sonnet: “Who have felt the weight of too much liberty, / Should find brief solace there, as I have found” (13-14). Authoring sonnets provides Wordsworth with comfort and inner-peace and, therefore, parallels the effects of standard mediation. “Nuns Fret Not at Their Convent’s Narrow Room” reveals the role poetry plays in Wordsworth’s life; a role which is strikingly similar to the one mediation plays for many people.
Another prominent poet who references seeking meditative comfort through poetry is Seamus Heaney. In his poem, titled “Poem,” Heaney depicts the task of organizing his thoughts as “puddling through muck in a deep drain” (4). Fortunately, poetry acts as a tool which allows him to understand his inner-dialogue. Organizing his subconscious’ thoughts is challenging, but placing pen to paper and expressing these thoughts through poetry enables him to expresses his feelings articulately. Heaney reveals the perspective poetry offers him through the following line: “Within new limits now, arrange the world” (15). Poetry allows him to examine his feelings through an alternative channel and, consequently, makes navigating his subconscious much easier.
Poets Elizabeth Alexander, William Wordsworth, and Seamus Heaney each use poetry as a form of meditation. Poetry allows them to facilitate an inner-dialogue, and to express their feelings through an artistic medium. Much like standard forms of meditation, poetry can provide introspective contemplation which leads to solace and relaxation. Unlike standard forms of mediation, however, poetry leaves behind a physical record of the poet’s reflection. This physical manifestation enables someone else, a reader, to gain access to a poet’s innermost thoughts and feelings which, in turn, provides another person with a form of mediation from which they can derive their own peace and comfort.