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The practical reasons to welcome poetry into our lives

Whether it’s simply to enliven our day or help us bear a heartache, great poetry can add balance and beauty to our over-connected and over-tweeted lives. Stephen Kloepfer offers his humble opinion on how poetry elevates our lives.

Stephen Kloepfer: We need more poetry in our lives.

Whether it’s simply to enliven our day or, in more solemn moments, to help us bear “the heartache, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” reading poetry can add beauty and balance to our over-committed, over-connected, and “over-tweeted” lives.

Great poetry is not restricted to 140 characters – but it is humbling to know what a visionary like William Blake could do with even fewer than a hundred and forty characters:

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.”

And of course, a poem needn’t be “lofty” to be memorable.

If your tastes run in more irreverent channels, give Dorothy Parker a try:

“By the time you swear you’re his,
Shivering, and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying –
Lady, make a note of this:
One of you is lying.”

In the English-speaking West, our eminence in all forms of poetry has been particularly enduring: though we haven’t produced a Bach, or a Beethoven, in music; or a Rembrandt, or Picasso, in the visual arts, we have produced poets who are indisputably world-class: Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and, more recently, Derek Walcott and John Ashbery, to name only an illustrious few.

The most compelling reasons for reading poetry have been offered by the poets themselves: to make “darkness visible”; to catch “the hum of thoughts evaded in the mind”; to glimpse “the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present.”

But for the rest of us mere mortals, there is a more practical reason to welcome poetry into our midst.

In the sheer ordinariness of our daily lives, each one of us has an incessant, but silent, conversation with ourselves. Over the course of a lifetime, we talk with ourselves much more than we talk to others.

If we can learn, from the poets, how to see that “World in a Grain of Sand,” we are likely to think more elevated thoughts, and have more delightful and animated conversations – with ourselves.

Emily Dickinson, perhaps our greatest American poet, got it just right:

“The Brain – is wider than the Sky.”

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