Odd but true
“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.