THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY

THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY
April 12, 2016

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Source Poems: "The Well of Grief"

For National Poetry Month 2014, I have invited 17 authors and poets to guest post about source poems. In this series of essays, each writer will describe a single poem's significance in his or her life.

Welcome, Poetry Friday friends! Tabatha Yeatts -- my "neighbor" here in Maryland -- is hosting all of the Poetry Friday links today. You will find all things poetry at Tabatha's blog, "The Opposite of Indifference."

My dear friend (and another Marylander), poet Ann Bracken is today's guest blogger. This post is for high schoolers and up, as Ann speaks frankly about depression and poetry's role in healing.

Ann Bracken
Source Poems to Lead You out of the Darkness

Because it was so unacceptable to me, it often first appeared as a physical illness before I could recognize its true nature. There had been stomach pains, severe backaches, pelvic pain, and finally, a migraine headache that lasted for seven years.

Because I had encountered it so many times during my life, I knew the migraine pain signified something was very wrong, something in my soul, not just my body, but my very essence. Depression had descended again, and this time I did not flee the darkness. Instead, I took poet David Whyte’s words to heart and “slipped beneath the still surface on the well of grief.”

That surrender to the process of living with depression did not happen right away. At first I was angry with myself for getting sick again. I thought I had come so far. I can remember asking my therapist, “What else do I need to work on? Why can’t I just get it right?”

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Luckily I was part of a bi-weekly prayer and mediation group that provided a refuge -- a non-judgmental place to talk about my fears. It took a long time and lots of different approaches, but the group helped me to understand the concept of surrender in a new way. That surrender did not mean giving up. Surrender just meant accepting what is and figuring out how best to live in the present moment.

But for anyone who has ever lived in the darkness of a prolonged depression, you will know the challenge of surrender.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

I hung on to those words. They shone like a star peeking though dense fog. But what happened in that darkness? What were the gifts in the darkness that were at the bottom of the well? If I surrendered, would I be able to get well? Who would I be when the darkness lifted?

You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.

Give up all other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

It sounds trite, but I realized that all my life I had derived my worth from what I did, not from who I was. I had stacked up accomplishments and projects to prove -- to myself — that I was indeed valuable: teaching Sunday school, assisting with Girl Scouts, teaching classes, running a small business. But the depression made those kinds of commitments impossible to sustain. I had to take care of myself.

Those friends in the prayer group had encouraged me to take on another kind of commitment -- to explore my burgeoning interest in writing. I had always kept a journal, so I began to journal using the computer. When I had vivid dreams, I wrote them down. Practice with imagery, I told myself. When I fought with my husband, I wrote down our dialogs. Practice for better ways of saying things. When I argued with my doctors, I wrote that down. Practice for getting my point across to authority figures. When I wanted to give up, I wrote that down. Practice for surviving.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

“Anything that does not bring you alive is too small for you.” As I gradually recovered from depression and the migraine pain began to subside, those words echoed over and over again in my mind. What could be too small for me? What was not bringing me alive? I had to finally admit that after 25 years of marriage and two children, my marriage was too small for me. My marriage was not bringing me alive. Those realizations were certainly not the gold coins I had expected to discover “in the darkness glimmering.” But my journey to overcome four years of a severe depression and seven years of a daily migraine had shown me that I could do anything if I believed in myself. And I had always believed I would get well. I knew I could begin a new life.

“Anything that does not bring you alive is too small for you.” That line of poetry serves as my compass when I struggle with choices. That line of poetry serves as the gold coin at the bottom of the well. I am getting better at only choosing those things that bring me alive. “The world was made to be free in” after all.
  
The Well of Grief
by David Whyte

Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief

turning downwards through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe

will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,

nor find in the darkness glimmering
the small round coins
thrown by those who wished for something else.

From Where Many Rivers Meet, 2007


Sweet Darkness
by David Whyte

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb
tonight.

The night will give you a horizon
Further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.

Give up all other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

from The House of Belonging, 1996

A video of "Sweet Darkness" -- David Whyte reads and discusses the poem:



David Whyte
from the San Miguel Writers Conference
Ann Bracken is an educator and writer whose poetry, essays, and interviews have appeared in Little Patuxent Review, Reckless Writing Anthology: Emerging Poets of the 21st Century,  Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence, Life in Me Like Grass on Fire:Love Poems, Praxilla, New Verse News, Scribble, The Museletter, and The Gunpowder Review. In addition to teaching professional writing at the University of Maryland College Park and working as a poet in the schools, Ann presents frequently at writing and creativity conferences including Mindcamp of Toronto, Florida Creativity, the Maryland Writers’ Association, the Association of Independent Maryland Schools, and The Creative Problem Solving Institute. Website: www.possibilityproject.com

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

A heartfelt post that speaks to honesty, courage and the will to heal and become stronger. Bravo,Ann, for your your revelations and insights. And finding meaning in the solid words of David Whyte.

Shirley Brewer

LInda Baie said...

I wonder if when we journal, it helps us to slow down and really reflect, as you described in your own experience. It feels at times that the cultural values of "what has been accomplished is so strong, we forget what it is "we" value, and we lose ourselves. I'm glad you shared about your life, and the poem's lines that meant much to you. Thank you.

Tabatha said...

I appreciate that Ann took your "source poem" question very seriously and really went to the source here. This seems like it could be in the book 101 Poems That Could Save Your Life (which I have only heard of but haven't read -- have you, Laura?).
I like how she describes keeping a journal as practice (with imagery, for better ways of saying things, for getting my point across to authority figures, for surviving). Wise and true.

Tara Smith said...

Thank you for your honesty, and thank you for the gift of these poems. I am on this journey, too - and finding words to give expression to the blackness is such a comfort.

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

Your honesty is a gift. The acceptance of darkness does not come easily. These are beautiful and moving poems.

BJ Lee said...

"Anything that does not meke you alive is too small for you" - a very powerful mantra that really spoke to me. I'm so glad poetry has helped you in your recovery. Thank you for sharing your story.

Margaret Simon said...

I am so happy to read this post. I am feeling braver about sending my own source poem post. Some things are hard to write about but we need to write them. This line speaks to me, "Give up all other worlds
except the one to which you belong."
These choices can be so hard. This is a new poet to me, and his work is resonating. Thanks.

Ann Bracken said...

Thanks, everyone, for your kind comments and words of support. This was a challenging post to write. David's Whyte's poems were a key factor in helping me to recover and to begin to see depression differently. Now when I feel down or very sad and lethargic, I know that something inside needs my attention. My spirit and body are slowing down so that I can go within and take care to listen to the message my spirit is sending.
If you want more of David Whyte, I strongly suggest is CD "The Poetry of Self Compassion."

Violet N. said...

Thank you for your probing and honest post. I too at present connect with the lines:
"Give up all other worlds
except the one to which you belong."

But I can see that at various times in life, other lines might resonate. These poems are like a collection of self-insight proverbs.

I also like your rationale for what your journal.

Patricia VanAmburg said...

Here I am checking in a day late and on the run--but thanks you for the deepness of your sharing <3

Myra Garces Bacsal said...

Such a heartfelt post - so honest, so true. I have always felt the immense power of poetry to heal - there is quiet in the words that signal the path to deliverance. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us.