Restorative power of poetry: remembering your own truth

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We can find many connections between poetry and its transformative influence on human lives – especially its healing power. Going back as far as mythology takes us, it is very well known fact that the Greek God Apollo, the son of Zeus and Titan Leto, was the God of music, poetry but also the God of healing, transferring the knowledge of medicine to humans and the God of truth.

In Chinese language, for instance the word poem is comprised of two characters  – one meaning word, the other meaning temple. So poem is something that is sacred, the ultimate truth.

In many indigenous cultures, illness is viewed as a state in which an individual is distancing himself from his true nature – both physically and emotionally. If we observe a healing as a process coming back to harmony, to wholeness, poetry can be seen as a healing tool, with a restorative component.

Traditional worship practices in many tribal structures are gatherings, accompanied with dance, rhythm, songs and trance. Sacred narratives and beliefs are deeply based in Nature and are rich with the symbolism of seasons, weather, plants, animals, earth, water, sky and fire. The mode of prayer, a poetic narrative is seen as coming back to Nature, reinforcing the feelings of love and acceptance.

Many poets, emerging in our newer history were trained physicians: John Keats, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. and William Carlos Williams  who wrote:

It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.        

Today, poetry is accepted as a proven healing method and there are many associations that train and accredit poetry therapists. In particular, the American Poetry Therapy Association has approach that they use a set of poems that their patients discuss and then those poems become a model — even a template — for individuals to write their own poems.

Poet, author and retired university professor David B. Axelrod further notes:

The process helps people get their feelings out and into words. Generally, I don’t worry about the form the writing takes at the outset. I will help someone find the poem within the words they first write. Whatever the methodology, yes, poetry, and story writing, can be a healthy outlet. The results of poetry therapy, if not forced into any specific form, can also trigger marvelously original creations.

No matter which poetry you prefer: spiritual words by Rumi, mythological expression of W. B. Yeats or modern linguistic experimentation of E. E. Cummings, words can pave a path to your own wisdom; help you find that missing puzzle inside that you need to feel whole again and hear your wakeup call for inspired action in the world.

When I am asked

how I began writing poems,

I talk about the indifference of nature.

It was soon after my mother died,

a brilliant June day,

everything blooming.

I sat on a gray stone bench

in a lovingly planted garden,

but the day lilies were as deaf

as the ears of drunken sleepers

and the roses curved inward.

Nothing was black or broken

and not a leaf fell

and the sun blared endless commercials

for summer holidays.

I sat on a gray stone bench

ringed with the ingenue faces

of pink and white impatiens

and placed my grief

in the mouth of language,

the only thing that would grieve with me.

Lisel Mueller

22 Comments

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  1. Beautiful! And it rings so true… To appreciate the irony and the beauty in the face of the ordinary, the mundane or even the tragic, is to regain at once your wholeness. The expression of pain itself is its transcendence. As Mirza Ghalib, has beautifully said in an Urdu couplet: To allow yourself to experience unbridled-your sorrow/ pain, is to transform it to a medicine.

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  2. “The mode of prayer, a poetic narrative is seen as coming back to Nature, reinforcing the feelings of love and acceptance.” Beautiful. I really feel a connection to these ideas. I have found so much spirituality in poetry- The Prophet is one of my favorite examples. Have you read it?

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  3. Thanks for the post. The quote by William Carlos Williams holds so much of the truth of which you write about. What sustains the souls is not the “news” of the day, but something else, something that even words cannot accurately describe, only approach; sparking with each of us that mystery. A mystery the indigenous people’s embraced.

    This is a great summary: “No matter which poetry you prefer: spiritual words by Rumi, mythological expression of W. B. Yeats or modern linguistic experimentation of E. E. Cummings, words can pave a path to your own wisdom; help you find that missing puzzle inside that you need to feel whole again and hear your wakeup call for inspired action in the world.” It made me think of what others have said about religion, which I find to be true of expressions of god or the universal spirit. All the (worthy) religions are expressions of this healing and loving force.

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    • Thanks for the lovely comment! And is interesting when it comes to religion – on the one hand we do have choice to choose what we should believe in, yet so many people get misguided by somebody else’s interpretation..poetry has become a sort of personal religion to me..it restores the faith in your own self 🙂

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      • I was transferring some of quick thoughts / phrases jotted down on post it notes into my journal shortly after reading your post, I came across the phrase “sacred space for emotions”. This goes to much of what you were splendidly describing. I would just add that, because of the interconnectedness of all things, faith in one’s own self becomes faith in all. A kind of variation of before you can love another, you have to first love yourself.

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  4. […] Nordic, Greek and Roman mythologies are very well known and explored in literature – through science fiction and poetry writing, from anthropological, religious and ethnological point of view. Old Slavic mythology is lesser known and popular, yet very rich in folktales, rituals, mythological creatures. It was a part of the belief system that Old Slavs treasured and celebrated: a multi-theist system of Gods, spirits and “lower beings” that influenced each part of their lives. To old Slavs their Gods are the founts of life, power and happiness. Gods, worshiped for millennia gave the meaning to existence, and protective notion to old Slavs. They were celebrated through rituals and songs – similar to many indigenous traditions. […]

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