Readers share their favorite poems of comfort
Poetry provides a respite from whatever is happening in our world, an opportunity to think deeply, and also a pause that enables us to reset.
It is abundantly clear that our readers love poetry. After the Monitor’s staff shared poems they’ve carried with them over the years, readers enthusiastically accepted the invitation to send in their own favorite published poems by recognized poets, along with what the poems have meant to them. The replies were heartwarming.
Thanks to those who wrote in.
My boyfriend and I, ages 5 and 6 in 1944, buried my favorite A.A. Milne book, “Now We Are Six,” in a shoebox purloined from my mother, in a hole in the iris bed. The purpose was to create a time capsule with the book and other favorite items to be dug up in 10 years! I’m 81 and still have the book. Peter is gone, but I’m still here and remember those times. I still love poetry and those times.
I volunteer for Wheeled Meals, which delivers meals to seniors. After reading the article “Poems on Wheels” in the Monitor, I received permission to send out a poem of the week in the Monday menu envelopes. I write out the poems on notecards and choose short but meaningful poems (Emily Dickinson never lets me down). Our poetry program began the week we could no longer enter homes to drop off the meals and visit briefly. The poems became our human touch, left with the coolers of food outside people’s homes. One of my regulars leaves Post-it notes expressing her appreciation of the “uplift” and another leaves us her own “poem of the week.”
Here’s the last stanza of my favorite poem, “A Psalm of Life,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
Bowling Green, Ohio
I love “The People Upstairs” by Ogden Nash because it is about something so universally exasperating, even if you’re staying in a hotel! And Nash just turns that exasperation on its head with ever-so-precious and much needed light-heartedness!
“Love III” by George Herbert (1590-1630) uses simple words and a conversational tone to evoke the essence of man’s relationship to his God. I often contrast this poem with “Batter My Heart” by Herbert’s contemporary and rival John Donne, which evokes a relationship between God and man so different that it’s hard to believe these two men practiced the same religion. I definitely prefer Herbert’s God.
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
My enormous thanks to the Monitor staff for generously hosting this gathering of so many old friends, and some new. I could not pull myself away. I finally left. Then returned. Two poems that I deeply love came to mind as I read. Lucille Clifton’s “Blessing the Boats” came to my attention a number of years ago during a challenging time, like a powerful promise. And Wislawa Szymborska’s poem, “A Little Girl Tugs at the Tablecloth” makes me smile. The final line reads: “This experiment must be completed. And it will.”
Aurora, New York
A poem I turn to often for comfort and reassurance is W.S. Merwin’s “How We Are Spared.” It’s a concrete poem in that the words on the page are shaped like the wing of a bird. But what attracts me to the poem is its simple and powerful directness. Like haiku, it uses nature to provide spiritual insight. The morning light comes on but brings with it a weight. The poem doesn’t define this weight, but I often think if it as the weight of the day we all face: the relentless obligations to jobs, caring for the people in our lives, and now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping family safe while still providing food and other necessities. But like a kind of grace, that weight is lifted, even if only momentarily, in the flight of birds.
Michael T. Young
Jersey City, New Jersey
The pandemic had me feeling overwhelmed and anxious. How would I ever get through months of social isolation, restrictions, and shortages? A line from “Love’s Lantern” by Joyce Kilmer came back to me, reminding me that I didn’t have to get through it all at once. No matter how long or hard the road, all I had to do was keep going step by step. The lantern and its light would always be with me. Wherever I was, I would not be in darkness.
I love "This Moment of Your Living" by Godfrey John because it is so timeless and reassuring.
I also enjoy “Epigram 86” by Ben Jonson because I’ve always known that my best friends were books, since I learned to read at the age of four. My mother read “The Story of Ferdinand” and “The Little Engine that Could” aloud to me until I memorized them, and then I put the words together with the print in the books.
When I would know thee, ... my thought looks
Upon thy well-made choice of friends, and books;
Then do I love thee, and behold thy ends
In making thy friends books, and thy books friends...
My choice is “Loveliest of Trees” by A.E. Housman. It is easy to memorize and keeps me mindful of the need to treasure the moments of beauty all around us. The enduring cycle of the seasons gives me hope that this pandemic will pass and we will have found an inner strength to cope with whatever life brings us.
Ibadan is the largest city in West Africa by land size, and it is located in Oyo state, in the western part of Nigeria. The poem “Ibadan” by John Pepper Clark captures the essence of this large sprawling city in just 19 words. The words are strung together just so. The beauty and aptness move me as only good poetry can.
Moji Anjorin-Solanke George
When I was a first-year student at Sydney Girls High School in Australia, I used “Abu Ben Adhem” by Leigh Hunt in a speech contest. Although I didn’t win, as that honor was usually reserved for older students, it didn’t really matter. The poem had such meaning for me then and still does many decades later, due to the spiritual light it sheds.
Auriel Wyndham Livezey
Lake Forest, California
I wanted to suggest “The Blue” by Billy Collins, which is one of my favorites and so apropos for now.
I enjoy anything by Mary Oliver but I have “The Guest House” by Rumi on my refrigerator. I remember the first time I read this poem I was jolted, shocked to realize that even in tough times there is always good.
I took the time to memorize “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” by Robert Frost during our snowy winter up here on the shore of Lake Ontario. I like the image of the lone traveler on his horse, being pulled into nature. But then the promises of life move him more as he readies himself to return homeward. I also like the idea that thoughts can lead us and we are not totally at the mercy of random microbes.
Rochester, New York