Take heart: The Power of Poetry in Troubled Times

Michael Kass
Nov 16, 2016 · 3 min read

Friends, I’m exhausted.

Since last Tuesday, I’ve read countless articles. Analyses, calls to action, recriminations of Republicans, recriminations of Democrats, Op-eds, Huffington Post, Breitbart, press conference transcripts. It’s been like drinking from a fire hose. I’m exceptionally well-informed. Go me.

As the exhaustion mounts, a sense of overwhelm sets in. What’s happening at a social, political, and personal level is simply too big to ponder. The chaos, confusion, and pain unleashed over the past week can’t be grasped by the rational mind.

Which is where poetry comes in.

Great poetry stretches across decades and centuries to give comfort and feed the soul. In 1938, Langston Hughes wrote Let America Be America Again. Here’s an excerpt:

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

This could have been written yesterday. The challenges we face are not new. Hughes’ battle cry to take back the Nation from the ‘rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies’ could have been ripped from a campaign speech. His call to redeem the plants, rivers, and mountains could come from a DAPL protest.

His words tells us that we are part of an ongoing struggle. We are not alone; the generations that have come before us support us through their words.

Going back even further, the Sufi mystic poet Rumi wrote this:

Not Christian or Jew or
Muslim, not Hindu,
Buddhist, Sufi, or Zen.

Not any religion
or cultural system. I am
not from the east
or the west, not
out of the ocean or up
from the ground, not
natural or ethereal, not
composed of elements at all.

I do not exist,
am not an entity in this
world or the next,
did not descend from
Adam and Eve or any
origin story. My place is
the placeless, a trace
of the traceless.

Neither body or soul.
I belong to the beloved,
have seen the two
worlds as one and
that one
call to and know,
first, last, outer, inner,
only that breath breathing
human being.

This poem comes from the 13th Century. The struggles we face are not new. Poets and artists like Rumi communicate with us across the centuries to guide, give messages of hope, and urge us to see through the barriers of religion to come together as humans, breathing each breath together.

In 1998, William Stafford wrote a poem titled A Ritual to Read to Each Other. Here’s how it starts:

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the
world
and following the wrong god home we may miss
our star.

In this poem, I hear a call to action. A plea to reach out, listen to each other’s stories, and get to know each other at a human level so that we can break out of the patterns created by others with a vested interest in sowing division. Again, the soul of the poem exists outside the flow of time. It is as relevant today as it was 20 years ago, as it would have been 2000 years ago, and as it will be decades from now.

I have a feeling that the road ahead will be long, tough, and filled with exhaustion. Moments when our collective will to act flags. In those moments, I take comfort in poetry not to hide from the world, but to engage with it more fully and remind myself that we are part of a constantly unfolding story. Poetry links me to the past and to the future. It connects my heart to that of Hughes, Rumi, and Stafford. And perhaps to yours as well.

**Got a poem you love? Please share it in the comments or on your social media of choice. Thanks!

The Center for Story and Spirit

Articles exploring the intersection of storytelling and spirituality

Michael Kass

Written by

I’m on a mission to help build a future for all beings by harnessing the power of the story to create change. Want to help? www.storyandspirit.org

The Center for Story and Spirit

Articles exploring the intersection of storytelling and spirituality

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