The media has been promoting poetry. On both sides of the water. In the US a piece called Still, Poetry Will Rise in The Atlantic claims Americans are seeking solace and wisdom in verse. The most popular poem last week was He Tells Her by Wendy Cope. A coincidence because this was already chosen for PoetryFeedHE. You can read it here. In the UK Words for Solace and Strength in the The Guardian suggested a page full of poems for people in times of stress. None of these appear in this weeks PoetryFeedHE. To have the coincidence twice over would be too much of an… er…well… coincidence.
Why do we turn to poetry in the first place?
Wherever there’s emotion there will be poetry. Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet is recited at weddings. Canon Henry Scott-Holland’s Death is nothing at all at funerals. Poetry honours birth as in Sylvia Plath’s Morning Song and remembrance in Seamus Heaney’s Digging. Then there’s the fantastical Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti, the alliterative Night Mail by W.H. Auden and bleakness like no other in Remembrance by Emily Bronte. Writing from the University of Hull, I have to include Philip Larkin so here is Aubade and An Arundel Tomb. All that is left of us is love.
This week Leonard Cohen died. Many will have paused to recall thin tatty volumes of poems read by candle light and scratched LPs with achingly familiar covers. The voice, oh that voice, dragged across broken glass, late at night, thick blue smoke of french cigarettes and thin spirals rising from patchouli incense, the ashes falling dangerously onto the floor cushions. Songs of Leonard Cohen 1967. Songs of Love and Hate 1971. Music blurring the lines between poetry and song.
The news reminds us there will always be winners and losers. The world is built upon binary opposites; dark and light, sweet and sour, sickness and health. Sometimes we need one to appreciate the other.
Poetry mirrors life. Poems seek us out and present universal truths. They are hands to hold onto. Always there in hard copy of digital text, torn out, printed out, framed, slipped between the pages of albums and books. Then forgotten. We move on but the words remain. As the last line of Wendy Cope’s poem says The world goes on being round.
You can hear the boats go by, you can spend the night forever
And you know that she’s half-crazy but that’s why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China
And just when you mean to tell her that you have no love to give her
Then he gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer that you’ve always been her lover
And you know that she will trust you
For you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind
And he spent a long time watching from his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain only drowning men could see him
He said all men will be sailors then until the sea shall free them
But he himself was broken, long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human, he sank beneath your wisdom like a stone
And you think you maybe you’ll trust him
For he’s touched your perfect body with her mind
She’s wearing rags and feathers from Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey on our lady of the harbor
And she shows you where to look among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed, there are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love and they wil lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds her mirror
And you know that you can trust her
For she’s touched your perfect body with her mind
Songwriters: Leonard Cohen Suzanne lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
Images from pixabay and amazon