The dangers of self-medicating poetry

I recently fell in love with poetry.

As a long time avid philosophy reader, I had always discarded poetry as a weaker, wimpier, softer form of Truth finding. Until recently, and I need to thank philosophy for that.

Contemporary philosophy tells us that Truth is always one step out of our reach. Shall we live in darkness?

What is left is Poetic Truth.

I don’t care how little logic poetry can contain, but when I read Pessoa’s “35 Sonnets”, I know they were written about me. So it is with Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, and the others. They were writing of me, of my pain, of my loss, of my joys, with better precision, focus, and empathy that I could do myself.

When I bathe in such words, my suffering is soothed, it is given form and name, and I feel in the company of those Great ones whose heart ached like mine.

There is a danger in that, and it depends on the following: as much as we can word our feelings with precision, the very giving name to them modifies this very feelings. It’s the reason behind the medicating and healing effect of therapy, of talking to a friend, of reading a novel, or of writing or reading poetry.

While this effect can be beneficial, we have to take heed not to aggrandize the suffering poetry is describing. We find comfort in sympathy, but that shall not become our prison.

The act of expressing feeling through poetry should be one of release, not of crowning the pain. We can feel in the company of ancient and great souls, and we can even voice our pain out.

Once done that, though, we have to let go, lest not our medicine become our poison.