Odd but true

Grace reading at Howth Bay by William Orpen, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Grace reading at Howth Bay by William Orpen, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

“It’s odd but true that there really is consolation from sad poems, and it’s hard to know how that happens. There is the pleasure of the thing itself, the pleasure of the poem, and somehow it works against sadness.”Carol Shields

When I first read this quote, I thought about the song  Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman.  That’s a song, of course, not a poem, but it reminds me of poetry in its grace and power.  Like the pleasure of a sad poem, the haunting sorrow of Chapman’s lyrics somehow work against sadness when I listen to it.  Perhaps it gives me perspective, or helps me feel less lonely.  Or maybe it’s just the resonant beauty of Chapman’s voice, dissolving my sorrow into her artistry.

I’ve found that reading poetry is sometimes exactly what I need to move into a sense of resolution when I feel troubled.  A great many poems — maybe most of them — are not particularly cheerful.  Some are downright heartbreaking.  Among my favorite sad poems are The Broncho That Would Not Be Broken by Vachel Lindsey, Losers by Carl Sandburg, Incident by Countee Cullen, One Art by Elizabeth Bishop, and Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas.  Are there any sad poems that you love?

I think learning to defeat despair means accepting that sadness is inevitable, part of the fabric of what it means to be alive.  For centuries great artists have captured the depths of human emotion in art and literature, proving to generation after generation that however much times may change, all humans carry universal baggage.  Happy endings and humor and whimsy are all wonderful and necessary, but we also need those voices that remind us of the somber truths we cannot escape.

Whether you are feeling happy or sad today, I hope you’ll pause for a few minutes and read a poem or two.  You can choose one from a favorite, well-worn volume, or you can search the wonderful archive at the Writer’s Almanac.  Or you can ask me for an alternate recommendation if you are not in the mood for the sad ones linked above.  However you choose to access it, find some time to lose yourself in the pleasure of a poem.



  1. John Keats “When I have fears that I may cease to be” is one of my all time favorite sad poems.

    • Thanks for telling us about that poem! I don’t remember ever reading it before. It’s particularly sad given that Keats died so young. During the brief time we were in Rome, Jeff and I saw the apartment where he lived (and died) but didn’t have time to tour it. I don’t know much about him but he seems like an interesting fellow. That poem is great.

      • I’ve always wanted to visit his house in the UK but always miss the chance. He’s one of my favorite poets and that is one of my favorite poems by him (discovered by accident myself). Death loomed over his shoulder (his brothers died of the same illness and he knew it might come for him too–makes that poem all the more profound). There was a great movie about him a few years ago called “Bright Star” about the love of his life. I highly recommend it.

        • I should find that movie and watch it. I’ve never heard of it. For some reason Keats was never on my radar, but I think Drew knows a good bit about him. Another poem I love, by Shelley (who was a contemporary of Keats) is Ozymandias. Though some might call it a sad poem, I don’t find it sad — it feels more satisfying, like revenge — how art the mighty fallen!

      • That is a good poem! And it makes me want to hop up and frame some prints to give to my dad today. Why put it off?

        • That sounds like a great idea. I want to make a scrapbook sometime with poems to go with photos. I guess I’ll put a post-it note to remind me, right on page 7483 of Volume 39 of Julia’s Exhaustive Encyclopedia of Good Intentions. I agree that it’s best not to put it off, but I’m still working on the stuff in Volume 1…

  2. Jack

    Learning to span the full range of human emotions, and to embrace each in their season is to learn empathy and compassion. My life, I believe, is pretty normal in its abnormality and sadness has been my relatively constant companion. But so has joy, for who can know the view from the summit without having dwelled in the valley? My periodic sadness just confirms that there is indeed joy, and that it springs from a source inexhaustible and not tied to circumstance.

    • Jack, I agree. I sometimes envy people who seem less inclined to sadness, but then I realize that they also don’t seem as exuberant in their joy as I am so often. One thing I have learned over the past 30 years is that people who are impatient with the sorrows of others– the kind who tend to say to others, basically, “just get over it,” even in the face of tremendous trials– have either never yet known great loss, or else are suppressing whatever emotions they might feel themselves. But life is a great equalizer, and sooner or later I think all of us will learn the hard but inevitable truth that nobody escapes this life without some wounds or scars.

      • Rene

        This was the of the animated movie “Inside Out,” that moments of great joy often spring from moments of great sadness, and that we need all our emotions to be complete.

        • Rene, I had not even heard of that movie, but I looked it up and it looks wonderful! Maybe we can watch it over the holidays while Grady is with us. Thanks for the tip!

  3. Sheila

    Julia, you shared a nice selection of poetry for us to choose from. I really enjoyed the Writer’s Almanac, so much that I subscribed. I’m so sorry that I missed not only your birthday but also Jeff’s. How did I not know that? I hope ya’ll had a nice day and took double pleasure in sharing a Birthday together. I’m thinking of you this evening with hope that you’ve had a good Monday! Love, Sheila

    • Sheila, Writer’s Almanac has been a favorite and daily staple for Matt for many years. I think he finds Keillor’s voice soothing. Jeff and I have never made a big deal about birthdays. Neither of us grew up with birthdays being a big part of life. In fact, I used to HATE having people sing “Happy Birthday to You” to me, because it made me feel as if I was a chimp in the zoo, everyone looking at me. It has been a relief to be married to someone who can always share that spotlight with me! I joke that our two birthdays just cancel each other out. Seriously, though, I do appreciate the good wishes. Odd fact: Jeff’s sister and cousin also have the same birthday as ours. 🙂 So I never feel alone. Thanks for remembering us! I noticed our hot mugs on the Verandah this month, but whose skis are those? NOT MINE! 😀

      • Sheila

        Julia, about those skis…..they’re as foreign to me as skydiving or four-wheelers. I think I do better to “sit by the fire” even though that may seem boring to some. I can’t believe we’re on our 12th Verandah, but hope we meet there for a long time. I will keep Jeff in my prayers, my friend. 🙏 Love, Sheila

        • Sheila, you and I can just sip our hot cocoa and munch on popcorn or cookies while the others are out there taking on the slopes. If we get restless there are some cute little shops in town… 🙂 Thanks for keeping Jeff in your prayers. We are enjoying our time together this holiday season, and looking forward to having Gloria, Grady and his parents with us for Christmas.

  4. blseibel

    Wow, I had never read One Art and it really struck me, obviously because the losing place I stand at but you are right the sad poem helped… It will not be a disaster. I’m not usually a big poem person but thank you for showing me a new poem that suits me just right.

    • I think “One Art” is quite an interesting poem; it’s so matter-of-fact in acknowledging the many layers of loss in all our lives. Life really is like that, isn’t it? Troubles and even catastrophes happen, but we somehow keep putting one foot in front of the other. I’m glad you enjoyed the poem!

  5. nugget59

    Was just thinking of the poem by Dylan Thomas today in the midst of memories of my dad. I like your blog.

    • Welcome! and I’m glad you like the blog. Isn’t that Thomas poem amazing? The cadence stays in my mind long after I’ve read it, and captures so much of the desperate clinging hold many of us feel when dearly loved ones are nearing death. When I read it I sense a touch of anger but also a veiled acceptance of what is to come. Thanks for being with us today!

  6. Carolyn

    I just read your blog that you said Jeff didn’t get a good report . When you get a chance send me an email and tell me what is going on. Love you all and I didn’t want to hear that. After this week end I will give my update. Hugs to all, Carolyn

    • Carolyn, I’ll try to send you an update later. Jeff’s CEA is higher than it has ever been, even higher than immediately following diagnosis, before starting treatments. It has been in the normal range since his first surgery, but started skyrocketing the past two months. Even worse, he feels bad; very tired and discouraged. Please keep those prayers coming. It’s a sad time for us, with Daddy’s death and Mama’s ongoing health challenges and now this. The good news is that we expect another grandson in May! 😀

      • HarryS

        I’m so sorry to hear this.
        Please know that our prayers are with you all.
        Julia I became acquainted with you from the Our Daily Bread webpage and I respectfully submit this link in case you haven’t already read it today.
        Your cyber friend.

        • Thank you, Harry. I enjoyed reading the devotion; it reminded me of how much I owe to those who have helped me at time when I was sinking. Having been rescued from literal risk of drowning more than once in my lifetime, the analogy really sticks with me. It also reminds me of that scene near the end of The Truman Show when he is being tossed mercilessly on the choppy seas that so terrify him. His defiant determination to survive really hit home with me. I appreciate your presence here, and your encouragement!

      • blseibel

        Praying for Jeff’s numbers and his health, for your mom and for you. Congrats on the May-time little brother for Grady!

        • Thank you! 🙂 ❤

  7. HarryS

    “It is odd……..”
    Is it odd or is it God?

    • Great point, Harry! You know my answer.

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