Poems That Changed Your Life

One of my friends (who, incidentally, used to work in a bookshop – what a job!) recently posted about books on another sharing platform.  The question posed was: “Have you ever read a book that fundamentally changed the way you thought or behaved? What was the book and how did it change you?”  I thought it a fabulous post and naturally joined in.

Here I thought we could ask a similar question: Have you ever read a poem, or poems, that changed the way you thought or behaved?  Can you share the poem, or poems, and what was the change that occurred? 

There have been numerous poems for me.  I keep returning to two specific ones:

Rudyard Kipling’s “If

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too; …… 

Oscar Wilde’s “The Ballad of Reading Gaol

I never saw a man who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
Which prisoners call the sky,
And at every drifting cloud that went
With sails of silver by….
Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!….
Then there is Emily Dickinson’s “I heard a Fly buzz – when I died
I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air –
Between the Heaves of Storm –…..
For Kipling and Wilde there are two things that strike me.  First, is the quality of their writing.  It impresses me and challenges me to better expression.  Second, the depth of what they share.  They move to weighty matters of our very human struggles.  That also impresses me.
For Dickinson, I love the way she plays with the presence of such banal things. Someone is dying, meanwhile a fly buzzes.  This hit me with great irony when we were sitting for school exams. We had been examined on Dickinson’s “I Heard a Fly Buzz” and, in the background, flies buzzed, cars parked, the sun shone.  It struck me that Dickinson was teaching me that the poet can appreciate the weighty and the light, the sublime and the banal, all at the same time, and write of it to boot.  Wonderful.
Many years before that a poem changed me.  But I was the one who wrote the words down.  It was called “Drought” and has been posted on this site before.  What struck me about the process of that poem was that it was the first time I felt the rush, the animation, that comes as a poem emerges from the cocoon of our creative self. I loved that feeling and have loved feeling it again since then.
Have you ever read a poem, or poems, that changed the way you thought or behaved?  Can you share the poem, or poems, and what was the change that occurred? 

 

 

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