If poetry isn’t basic, then what is? We turn to poetry again and again. At memorial services, funerals, weddings, showers, christenings, graduations, at any event that marks an essential life passage. We turn to a poem to express loss, hurt, change, joy. And there is no more perfect instrument for a poem than the human voice. We soak and float in the sounds that poetry makes.
An ancient Kenyan proverb says, Talking with one another is loving one another. When Aunt Toby died, we gathered to share stories and remember the wise and graceful woman who touched us all. She lived an ordinary life, one set off-course by sickness and loss, but enriched by good fortune and abiding love. Her granddaughter read a poem at the service, one that Aunt Toby tacked on her kitchen wall in the little house on Apple Street. A poem of unassuming wisdom and grace. It now hangs on ours.
Max Ehrmann is the author of Desiderata (Latin: things desired as essential). He earned a degree in Philosophy from Harvard University, then returned to his hometown of Terre Haute, Indiana to practice law. Eventually this led him to work in his family’s meatpacking business and in the overalls manufacturing industry. Finally at the age of 41, Ehrmann decided to become a writer. At the age of 55 he wrote Desiderata, which achieved fame only after his death.
Poetry is “life distilled”, as Gwendolyn Brooks said. It is also language and experience distilled. Poems tells us something about a way to live in the world. Even the ones that make us laugh out loud.
Over the course of a few minutes, a poem gives us insights into our lives
that last throughout a lifetime. I know. I read Aunt Toby’s wall.