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Poems for Hope and Consolation

Gregory Luce - Scene4 Magazine | www.scene4.com

Gregory Luce

 

    Hope is pushed down/but the angel flies up again

    “Only a man harrowing clods
     In a slow silent walk
    With an old horse that stumbles and nods
     Half asleep as they stalk.”

Thomas Hardy’s “In the Time of the Breaking of Nations,” written in 1915 as World War I was breaking Europe, begins with simple images.

    “Only thin smoke without flame 
    From the heaps of couch-grass;
    Yet this will go onward the same
    Though Dynasties pass.”

Already the theme of timelessness and hope beyond current conditions has entered the poem. It concludes:

    “Yonder a maid and her wight
    Come whispering by:
    War’s annals will cloud into night
    Ere their story die.”(1)

In such a time as now, with a pandemic ravaging much of the planet forcing us to limit our activities, it can be hard to find hope. We miss family members we are unable to visit, many of our plans have been cancelled, our libraries and favorite museums are closed, and even a trip to the store for essential provisions can seem like a perilous quest. At such a time, many turn to poetry for consolation. I hereby offer a few examples.

A near contemporary of Hardy, Edward Thomas writes of returning home after a long journey and suddenly feeling that he had always been there:

    “'Twas home; one nationality
    We had, I and the birds that sang,
    One memory.
    They welcomed me.”

Nature in the form of birds is the first sign of home and the poem concludes on a human note:

    “Then past his dark white cottage front
    A labourer went along, his tread
    Slow, half with weariness, half with ease;
    And, through the silence, from his shed
    The sound of sawing rounded all
    That silence said.”(2)

 It is not too great a leap to imagine this journey could be the inward one begun in isolation and uncertainty, T.S. Eliot hints at something similar in East Coker:

    “Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
    The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
    Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
    Isolated, with no before and after,
    But a lifetime burning in every moment
    And not the lifetime of one man only
    But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.”(3)

Despite the mystery, despite the complexity we carry on.

Emily Dickinson reminds us that we often underestimate our capacity to survive and even thrive:

    “We never know how high we are
    Till we are asked to rise
    And then if we are true to plan
    Our statures touch the skies —“

The poem’s cryptic second (and final) stanza implies that we could be heroic at all times if we could only overcome the fear of standing out:

    “The Heroism we recite
    Would be a normal thing
    Did not ourselves the Cubits warp
    For fear to be a King —“(4)

Like Eliot, contemporary American poet Jack Gilbert sees life as sometimes a difficult journey, yet hope continually arises:

    “Our heart wanders lost in the dark woods.
    Our dream wrestles in the castle of doubt.
    But there’s music in us. Hope is pushed down
    but the angel flies up again taking us with her.”

We struggle, yet

    “Our spirit persists like a man struggling 
    through the frozen valley
    who suddenly smells flowers
    and realizes the snow is melting
    out of sight on top of the mountain,
    knows that spring has begun.”(5)

Again, hope awaits us if we persist.

Finally, the father of American poetry, Walt Whitman, suggests that there is hope beyond temporal life:

    “I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
    If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
    You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
    But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
    And filter and fibre your blood.
    Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
    Missing me one place search another, I stop somewhere waiting for you.”(6)

Something of us remains in the memories and even lives of those that follow us.

I wish my readers health and safety in this difficult time. Take these poems and find your own hope and consolation in your own favorites or new discoveries. The very existence of poems and readers is cause for celebration.


 

(1) https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/57320/in-time-of-the-breaking-of-nations

(2) https://bit.ly/2Vnr9ja

(3) http://www.davidgorman.com/4quartets/2-coker.htm

(4) https://poets.org/poem/we-never-know-how-high-we-are-1176

(5) https://poets.org/poem/horses-midnight-without-moon

(6) https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45477/song-of-myself-1892-version

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Gregory Luce - Scene4 Magazine
Gregory Luce
is a Senior Writer for Scene4 and the author of four books of poetry and has published widely in print and online. He is the 2014 Larry Neal Award winner for adult poetry, given by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Retired from National Geographic he is a volunteer writing tutor/mentor for 826DC, and lives in Arlington, VA. More at: https://dctexpoet.wordpress.com/
For his other columns and articles in Scene4
check the Archives.

©2020 Gregory Luce
©2020 Publication Scene4 Magazine

 

 

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May 2020

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