April 20, 2015

The Search for New Perspective: Poems that Impacted Me

I had meant to put this up much earlier in the month, but April has been kind of insane.

I want to share some poems that at some point in my life (or many times) have given me a new perspective, a new outlook.  I have shared the first stanzas and a link for you to read the full poems since I am sharing four with you today.

The first poem that I remember ever liking was The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe.  I memorized the whole thing, though I lost most of it at this point (alas, like so many other memories.)  The Raven made me realize that poetry could tell a story.  Until then I had only ever known poetry as nursery rhymes and as little random one stanza poems that I made up about bears (true story) or my sisters.  Who knew that poems could convey feelings and employ a narrative? Mind=blown.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
            Only this and nothing more.”

Rudyard Kipling's poem, If, was the first poem I remember reading that was more than just rhymes or stories or data in couplet- this was a message. I felt he wanted me to realize something, he wanted me to think and analyze and discover.  He wanted me to think and really know who I am as a person.  While Kipling really wrote this for the stoic, ideal man, as I later discovered, it resonated with me as a way to, basically, keep my wits about me, know who I am as person, and not let the world change me unless I damn well want to be changed.  Kind of along the lines of Eleanor Roosevelt's "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."  I was once very naive and easily influenced by others. After I read this I felt more like it was okay to be myself, to be the master of my own universe.  Although I didn't exactly take it as Kipling meant it, the poem still impacted me.  I live with my heart on my sleeve and my brain in my head and my wits all about me.

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;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

Maya Angelou.
Oh my sweet, sweet poet goddess.

I only wish I had gotten to tell her (especially since she lived so close to me) the impact she had on my life from the two poems I will now share with you.  The first, Phenomenal Woman, made me feel like it was okay to be a curvy, somewhat pretty woman who didn't necessarily turn the men's eyes because I was gorgeous, but because my hips swayed when I walked and because I carry a confidence that other women do not.  I got this confidence from knowing the value of what I have to offer.  It is not, my friends, that I am beautiful - I know I am cute but I am no model- it is that I know how to work with what I was given. And Maya Angelou's poem helped me come to the realization that I already had everything I needed to be a phenomenal woman - I just had to know it.

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size   
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,   
The stride of my step,   
The curl of my lips.   
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,   
That’s me.

The second poem that struck a cord with me, struck so deep inside my soul, my very bones reverberated with the impact.  This poem came to me at a time when I felt very much alone, frightened, and beaten down.  I had been emotionally and mentally abused by a boyfriend and when I finally managed to get out from under his thumb after much effort on my part, I crumbled.  It felt very unexpected.  I thought that this would be glorious, glorious freedom from being trapped and devoured, freedom from the tyranny!  But instead I did not know how to survive because he had so expertly made me dependent (not financially, but emotionally) on him.  That confidence I was talking about a second ago?  Gone.  Splintered.  Shattered.  

Then I read Maya's poem.

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Bones reverberating.

I re-read it ten, twelve, eighty-seven times, I don't know.  It made me realize that just because someone has pushed my face down on the dirt and spat on the back of my head does not mean I have to stay down there.  

It took a long time.  I read Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love. I went to therapy.  I changed a million things about myself from where I lived to the friends I had.  What he did still has me messed up in a few ways (and this was 7 years ago).  I still struggle with trust issues and have a bit of PTSD.  BUT...

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise

Poe.  Kipling.  Angelou.

Three very distinct poets from different eras with different styles, all teaching me new perspectives that have made all the difference in my life, and also in how I read and enjoy literature, and, especially, poetry.   These poems will always be a part of me.

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