Phoenix; or How Poetry Helps

I’ve been indulging one of my greatest pleasures again: rereading. Harry Potter. What a fine, satisfying read these are. I started at the end, having forgotten how things all ended up. Then backed up to books 5 and 6. There’s nothing better than reading about the battle of good and evil — so much better than living it, as in real life, it’s far more nuanced, subtle, confusing, layered, annoying. In Book 6, Someone Very Important dies (in case you’re the one person left in the world who has not read it because of some ridiculous “I don’t read fantasy” bullshit or something). Then this small thing happens: “Somewhere out in the darkness, a phoenix was singing in a way that Harry had never heard before: a stricken lament of terrible beauty. And Harry felt…that the music was inside him, not without: It was his own grief turned magically to song…How long they all stood there, listening, he did not know, nor why it seemed to ease their pain a little to listen to the sound of their mourning…” Music does something to us. Carries us, takes us, holds us. But I also thought about the calls over the internet I see not infrequently: people asking for recommendations for poems to offer someone in need — can anyone think of a poem for a friend who lost a child, for someone who is dying, someone who needs a way to feel better about the wounded world. Poetry too eases our pain as we listen to the sound of it in someone else’s words. In the initial stranglehold of deep emotion, we are wordless. Our sounds are more like music, albeit unmusical. But quickly we tend to reach for words. Often “why” or “no” or “but…” or, in my case usually, a good old monosyllabic Anglo-Saxon curse word. But it’s not long before people often seek words of ritual or of talisman or succor, and this is often found in poetry. And I guess this is a fine ambition I can have for my own work, that someone, sometime, somewhere finds in my words their own emotion, and that it somehow helps or delights or makes them for a moment feel connected. Kind of sappy? I know, but hey, I just stopped crying over the ending of Book 6. Give me a break.

 

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