Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Poetry Saves Me

Stay with me...wait for it...there's a donkey in the second poem below.

There's a neon sign in one of my favorite thrift stores--run by a Christian mission, I think, that proclaims "Jesus Saves." It's the thing in that store that I most want. But I'm pretty sure it's not for sale. Not to be sacrilegious  or anything--especially toward anyone who fervently believes, but despite the fact that I want that sign, it's poetry that so often saves me. 

Towards the end of my marriage, my husband would sometimes lie in bed reading the Bible or praying the rosary while I read Yeats. I wonder now if he was praying for the courage to tell me he had a new love, or for me to die, or for our love to rekindle, or maybe for God not to send him to hell for wanting a divorce. I don't know, but I was reading Yeats to read Yeats, and I guess, in a way, to save my soul. I frequently paged through the book to this:
863. When You are Old
WHEN you are old and gray and full of sleep
  And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
  And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,         5
  And loved your beauty with love false or true;
  But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
  Murmur, a little sadly, how love fled  10
  And paced upon the mountains overhead,
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Here's the poem that saves me today.
A poem by Jane Hirshfield from a recent New Yorker:


My life was the size of my life.
Its rooms were room-sized,
its soul was the size of a soul.
In its background, mitochondria hummed,
above it sun, clouds, snow,
the transit of stars and planets.
It rode elevators, bullet trains,
various airplanes, a donkey.
It wore socks, shirts, its own ears and nose.
It ate, it slept, it opened
and closed its hands, its windows.
Others, I know, had lives larger.
Others, I know, had lives shorter.
The depths of lives, too, is different.
There were times my life and I made jokes together.
There were times we made bread.
Once, I grew moody and distant.
I told my life I would like some time,
I would like to try seeing others.
In a week, my empty suitcase and I returned.
I was hungry, then, and my life,
my life, too, was hungry, we could not keep
our hands off our clothes on our tongues from

That ending, right? I wondered if the New Yorker might have suffered a typo. But now after several reads, I think that that last line captures the typing through tears and typos joy of being alive, of deciding to live here in the moment with woes and dissatisfactions, knowing that my life is the size of my life, and passionately loving it. 

Which is not to say I'm not struggling.


Ms. Moon said...

I read that poem too and it struck me with force because that seems like my life- a life which is life-sized and thus, perfect in its way, no matter how much I tire of it sometimes, grow weary.
How much I do truly love it.

Elizabeth said...

Oh, yes. Poetry does save.