Throughout mankind’s history there have been poets, from the mythological Greek muses to the punk rock/rappers of today, human beings have sought to express their innermost feelings in verse. Virgil, the pre-Christian Roman poet said ‘I sing of arms and the man’, surely that is what all poets do, sing their songs, create the poetry of the soul, their soul, the collective soul.
It says in the Bible St. Matthew ch.7 v.20 ‘By their fruits shall ye know them’. When poets write and create verse they are offering up for public examination an image in words of their soul. Read the poems they write and see within those lines an insight into the true nature of the poet. It is a dangerous thing to publish ones work, it leaves the writer open to criticism, exposed to ridicule and, as anyone who has ever written will know, there is no shortage of critics. Yet without poetry, without art and music we are surely lost souls, just stumbling along in the stygian darkness of this material world. Poetry is the spiritual song of our soul, at its highest point it touches the very essence of our existence, in every sense.
Consider the power of the poem to tell us the truth in a simple and understandable way. Read William Wordsworth’s ode; Intimations on Immortality: ‘Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting/The soul that rises with us, our life’s star/ Hath had elsewhere its setting/ And cometh from afar’. Wordsworth is telling us that we reincarnate, his poem goes on to say that we bring with us into this world all the glorious and inglorious karmic influences that our souls have acquired in lifetimes past, when it had elsewhere its setting. We have our exits and we have our entrances, as a man said.
How much more life has a poem than a powerful sermon given by even the most gifted priest or orator? Why does poetry live on when rhetoric so often dies? I believe it is because great poetry has the ability to reach our emotions, touch our souls and fire the imagination by offering us a truth we always knew was there but had failed to see. Poetry lifts the veil from our eyes in a way no other form of communication can, not even music.
I can clearly recall reading ‘The Listeners’ by Walter de la Mare and wondering at the imagery within those lines; ‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller, knocking at the moonlit door’. We are all travellers and each one of us is asking that question ‘Is there anybody there?’ Yet it takes a poet like de la Mare to make us realise that we are not alone in that search for an answer.
THE LISTENERS by Walter de la Mare
How many countless millions of people have used the phrases of the great poets without knowing their origin? In truth they do not need to know, for encapsulated within these timeless lines is a power of expression that gives the very words themselves an existence of their own. I think of lines such as ‘Stone walls do not a prison make’. Indeed they do not, Nelson Mandela said that during his decades in jail in South Africa his soul enjoyed a freedom unknown to the gaolers who locked him up. We create our own prisons in this material world and Richard Lovelace (1618-58) in ‘ To Althea From Prison’ expresses this with a clarity of vision that has lasted centuries. If our souls, if our minds are free then no cell, no prison, nothing in the world can hold us captive.
TO ALTHEA FROM PRISON by Richard Lovelace
It is my belief that by reading poetry we can all gain an insight into the nature of the human condition. As travellers along life’s often long and winding road we need that insight to believe that there really is a meaning to our frequently difficult journeys. Of course not every poem addresses the nature or meaning of life, but all great poetry has life, it is meaningful and enriches our souls. I think it is not enough to say to people ‘have faith’, have hope, have knowledge, comprehend yes, but faith, blind faith is of little use except to those who are persuading you to accept their unsubstantiated teachings. In great poetry there is hope, understanding, truth and knowledge.
In despair we may lose faith, hope can fade like the light of a once glorious day, descending into the twilight and subsequent darkness of a desperate night. Poetry can release us from fear, open our eyes to the possible potentials of everlasting life, teaching us that we are not the first to have knocked upon some moonlit door asking the eternal question ‘Is there anybody there?’
DO NOT GO GENTLE INTO THAT GOODNIGHT by Dylan Thomas