Poetry as Therapy

24 Jul 2018

Yes, yes, I know! Poetry is a complete drag and bore, isn't it? All that, "Shall I compare thee to a host of dancing daffodils" and all that? Oh, Yawn...

But – bear with me for a moment?

(And – full disclosure – yes, I do have a degree in English Literature and I am myself a poet.)

Reading can be a great comfort. But I find, when depressed, I cannot cope with great literature. I cannot read more than a page or so of anything. Most books are more than that.

But a poem is small (usually – we'll ignore the epic poems for now), and they can speak on a deep level. A good poem will pack a heavy emotional punch for all its brevity.

I forget the number of times I have quoted the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins. His desolation sonnets, describing so exactly how I feel in the dark times, give an odd kind of comfort. After all – the best friends do not always bring light into your darkness, for sometimes you cannot bear the light. The best friends come and sit with you in that darkness.

I do not feel it is a coincidence that many poets have themselves written about depression.

My dear Kafka,

When you have had five years of it, not five months,

Five years of an irresistible force meeting an

immovable object right in your belly,

Then you'll know about depression.

Philip Larkin

Many have written of the horrors that are the harbingers of depression. I am reading now, the poems of the first world war. So many fine poets wrote of that agony and futility. The poems are hard to read, yet cathartic.

Then there are the beautiful, uplifting Haikus,

'Ah!' I said, 'Ah!'

It was all that I could say -

the cherry flowers of Mt Yoshino!


And do not forget the poems you yourself can write – even if you do not consider yourself a poet. Here's one my friend Mykael wrote: a gesture of defiance we probably all recognise and wish we could emulate.

The big black dog

Is scratching at my door.

I really don't want to let him in

But the door is getting paper-thin.

The bastard's claws need a trim,

This time, I must win.

A rolled up newspaper waits for him

A whack to the nose and boot to the chin

And there's more of that if he gets in!

The big black dog

Is sitting at my door

With watering eyes, and whimpering.

And another one about a dog. One to make you smile.

She invents angles at full tilt.

She is Einstein to my Euclid

with ears that say 'Eureka'.

Today, again, we look at the world

for the first time.

Nigel Ford

I do not expect to have converted you to poetry in these five hundred words, but maybe to have shown you a little of why poetry means so much to many of us.

Try it again, and see if you like it.


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