April 1, 2020

Wednesday, April 1

   Today, as I was posting on Facebook a poem about spring from that wondrous wordsmith Billy Collins, I read that a seven-week old infant in Connecticut died of Covid-19.

   I deleted the post and accompanying photo, of a snowball bush in effusive bloom, and broke into tears.

    For a while I sat, unsure of what to do, what to think, where to move.

    And then, as I often do when any emotional thunderbolt strikes me, I turned to poetry. In this case, John Donne’s sonnet, “Death Be Not Proud.”

   I am posting it here.

    But wait.

    Before you read it in your internal voice, read it aloud.

   I want you to do this because a sonnet is a metrical poem. The right brain reads a metrical poem as music. Music as solace. Music as comfort. Music as mourning.

    Our left brains process speech. Our left brains process prose. But our right brain, the part of us that craves the warmth and promise and infinite thrill that music brings, hears the melody of poetry. The words shoot sparks of goosebumps throughout our bodies. The left brain would have us analyze meter and rhyme. But the right brain elbows its way in, waves its baton, and opens our souls to hear the heart of the poem.

   I am talking, too, about truly listening. Listening without expectation. Bringing our sadness and our joy to our space, placing it all on the table, and sitting back to listen. Emotion and loneliness and fear may threaten to overwhelm our days, but when we listen – to the congregation of birds praying outside the window, to the swoosh of the cars whipping by, to the soft sounds of a friend’s voice on the phone, saying ‘I hear you, I hear you, and I am with you in this feeling’ – the part of our brain that wakens to music and all its glories explodes into life.

   I had a moment like that earlier today, on the phone with a friend. She listened to my heart as it was aching, and somehow, with words of validation and a honed practice of listening, set me right in a way that transcended any hope of relief.

   Listening. A superhuman power. A present unlike any other. A bestowal of love in all its healing force, in all its wonder. Gratitude to those of you who understand the embrace of a listening ear. Blessings to those who try.

     For this week’s writing prompt, I ask you to think of a time when you wanted, really needed someone to listen. Your mother. Your lover. Your doctor. Your friend. Write that person a letter, of gratitude, of reproach, of confusion, of explanation. If you can wrestle it into the form of a sonnet, wrestle away.

   Read your letter aloud to the crocus that popped out of your garden today, to your microwave, to your cat.

   If you are or have been a participant in the Candlelight Writing Workshops, send the piece to me. You may not hear back from me, but know that I have read it.

   I am waiting. I am listening. And I am hearing the music.   

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;

For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow

Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,

Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,

And soonest our best men with thee do go,

Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.

Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,

And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,

And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well

And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?

One short sleep past, we wake eternally

And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

—- John Donne (1572-1631)