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Have We Forgotten the Power of Poetry?

Have We Forgotten the Power of Poetry?


Mar 5 2013
While Afghani women risk their lives for verse, we ignore it.

Yet, poetry—along with the hunger for poetry—is all around us.

Poetry is in the hymns we sing. It is in the rules and rhythms of the games we play. It is in the songs we listen to and the jingles on the television that we can't get out of our heads. It is in the nursery rhymes we read to our children. It is in the movies we see. It is in the rituals of our mornings and the routines of our daily work. It is in the thanksgivings of the farmer's wife. It is in the lamentations of the broken. It is in the repeated prayers of the soul in need.

But to be a poet—to emerge from this sea of unseen poetry that constitutes life and to be carried forth by the lifeboat of a poem of one's own making—this is what these Afghani women risk death to do. The ancients understood. This is why they used the word that means "maker" to designate the poet. We who are created in the image of the Creator are, as Leland Ryken has written, "incorrigible makers."

So upon seeing Eve, Adam made a poem, the first words spoken by one human being to another:

"This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called 'woman,'
for she was taken out of man."

This, the first poem by the first man, accomplishes what it is the nature of all poetry to do: to use the power of words to unite and connect, to seek and find resemblances among differences and stitch them together with words. Connection is one of the deepest desires of the human condition. Poetry expresses and helps fulfill that desire. All the poetic devices we learned in school—rhyme, meter, alliteration, allusion, anaphora, metaphor, simile, paradox, and more—are the priests that preside over the wedding of one thing to another. The fruit of such union is meaning.

Poetry gives voice to this meaning that is birthed by the bonds of connectivity. Furthermore, the poet Adrienne Rich proclaims, "transfusions of poetic language can and do quite literally keep bodies and souls together." And, I would add, it can bear those souls and bodies to God, too.

The cross, too, is a poem. A crossbeam tethered to a pole. Feet and wrists nailed to wood, rhymed by the pierced side. Sins of man bonded to the Son of Man. From death, life.

What price would you pay for poetry? Ask the Afghani women. They know.

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Have We Forgotten the Power of Poetry?