The other day, I invited two poets, Veronica Patterson and Lisa Zimmerman, to speak to one of my writing groups. They talked about how poetry predates written language and how it’s in all of us. They pointed out that little kids speak naturally in metaphor. For example, when you ask them how something felt, they might say, “It felt like when my uncle ran over my skateboard.” And they talked about how many of us remember poems and nursery rhymes from as far back as childhood.
“We say we know them ‘by heart’” Lisa said. “Because that is where we keep our poems.”
I’ve been learning lately that the soul leads the heart, and the heart leads the mind, and the mind leads the body. When we are doing our soul work, we feel it in our hearts. And our minds and bodies engage to support our passion. There’s sometimes no reason to write poetry, or anything else, except that our souls demand it. And when we do the work we are meant to do, that passion goes out in the world and touches or teaches others.
As Veronica and Lisa were talking, I thought about one of the poems I’ve had memorized since my late teens. It’s Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29. I heard it first on a favorite TV show, Beauty and the Beast, and loved it so much I committed it to heart. I thought then, of course, it was a poem about romantic love. But the other evening, as I watched those two poets inspire everyone in the room, I realized I could dedicate that poem to my fellow writers. The ones who lift me up and keep me going when doubt and insecurity, frustration and envy set in. Poems, like all art, can mean just what we need them to mean right when we need them most.
So, here’s the sonnet. I dedicate it to all my friends who follow their art and all my friends who encourage others to follow theirs:
by William Shakespeare
When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.