I have always loved poetry, and often turn to it in times of trouble. These are some of my favourites, which people have sent me, or I have discovered for myself. They are not all redemptive poems that get picked for funerals, but they are verses that have brought comfort.
Reading can be difficult, so I’m also including links where I can of talented people reading them aloud. With special thanks to Samuel West and his wonderful Pandemic Poems project.
Dirge Without Music by Edna St Vincent Millay I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground. So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind: Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned. Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you. Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust. A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew, A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost. The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,— They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve. More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world. Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind; Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave. I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned. Read by Samuel West
Prayer by Carol Ann Duffy Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer utters itself. So, a woman will lift her head from the sieve of her hands and stare at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift. Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth enters our hearts, that small familiar pain; then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth in the distant Latin chanting of a train. Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales console the lodger looking out across a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls a child’s name as though they named their loss. Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer – Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre. I requested this one from Samuel West’s Pandemic Poems and you can hear it here
Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village though; He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow. My little horse must think it queer To stop without a farmhouse near Between the woods and frozen lake The darkest evening of the year. He gives his harness bells a shake To ask if there is some mistake. The only other sound’s the sweep Of easy wind and downy flake. The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep. Read by Emma Fielding
Hope is the things with feathers by Emily Dickinson “Hope” is the thing with feathers – That perches in the soul – And sings the tune without the words – And never stops – at all – And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard – And sore must be the storm – That could abash the little Bird That kept so many warm – I’ve heard it in the chillest land – And on the strangest Sea – Yet – never – in Extremity, It asked a crumb – of me. And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard – And sore must be the storm – That could abash the little Bird That kept so many warm – I’ve heard it in the chillest land – And on the strangest Sea – Yet – never – in Extremity, It asked a crumb – of me. Read by Beatie Edney
Kindness – Naomi Shihab Nye Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth. What you held in your hand, what you counted and carefully saved, all this must go so you know how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness. How you ride and ride thinking the bus will never stop, the passengers eating maize and chicken will stare out the window forever. Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho lies dead by the side of the road. You must see how this could be you, how he too was someone who journeyed through the night with plans and the simple breath that kept him alive. Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth. Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore, only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread, only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say It is I you have been looking for, and then goes with you everywhere like a shadow or a friend. Read by Samuel West
We Write by Amanda Gorman in Call Us What We Carry Our hands splay toward some Hazy & far-flung happiness & we cleave open for some fragile Non-evil, no matter how brief: To touch, To meet, To human Again; a scatter of non-particular Wonders to be revisited. All these unutterable blessings we forfeited— Hugs, hope, heart— Finally beloved by all & belittled by none. It will take a whole fleet Of words to return. Then comes the thrust of our throats: There is no more revenge We shall boast, no matter How heavily bladed in our fingers. Change is made of choices, & choices are made of character. Cling to whatever brings us to begin, Even if it is formless as foam. We keep hoping For no reason at all. For every reason we share. It is loss, as well as logic, When we cry: May those laid to rest never leave us, But lead us to rise. We lived. & that was more than we asked for. We, too, must howl ourselves ablaze. We write Because you might listen. We write because We are lost & lonely, & you, like us, Are looking & learning.
Watching My Friend Pretend Her Heart Isn’t Breaking - Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer On Earth, just a teaspoon of neutron star would weigh six billion tons. Six billion tons equals the collective weight of every animal on earth. Including the insects. Times three. Six billion tons sounds impossible until I consider how it is to swallow grief— just a teaspoon and one might as well have consumed a neutron star. How dense it is, how it carries inside it the memory of collapse. How difficult it is to move then. How impossible to believe that anything could lift that weight. There are many reasons to treat each other with great tenderness. One is the sheer miracle that we are here together on a planet surrounded by dying stars. One is that we cannot see what anyone else has swallowed.