Flying high on the wings of poetry
Do you enjoy reading poetry? I recently received a copy of a poetry collection called On Poetic Wings as a gift from a friend. This collection of poems, put together and published by Fr Ralph de Hahn, a semi-retired priest in the archdiocese of Cape Town, is an expression of his life of faith over many years. In the Year of Faith especially, this book is a great help for us to deepen our faith and to express it in the words of these beautiful poems.
But back to my question, do you enjoy reading poetry? I must confess that poetry was never my strongest motivation to go to my English classes. In primary school, as some of you may recall, we had to learn poems by heart, and I am able even today to recite “Daffodils” by William Wordsworth and “The Donkey” by GK Chesterton by heart.
I enjoyed poetry in primary school because of the collective sound that was created by the whole class reciting the poem together with a certain tempo.
I remember how my friends and I used to love shouting out the word “host” in “Daffodils”: “I wandered lonely as a cloud, that floats on high o’er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, a host, of golden daffodils…”
And that was the extent of my appreciation of poetry in primary school.
In high school, however, it was a different story. I remember how our teacher made us read well-known poems in class, none of which I can remember, and then discuss our interpretations of the piece. I was floored. I didn’t know how I felt about the poem because I was trying to figure out what the author meant, and reading it seven more times wasn’t making things any clearer.
Today, many, many years later, after being introduced to poetry on retreats and days of recollection, I have come to realise that poetry can be used as a form of reflection and prayer.
It is not something “up there” that can be analysed and interpreted only by those who study literature. The singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen expresses it beautifully when he says: “Poetry is just evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.”
And this evidence of life, produced by Fr de Hahn in On Poetic Wings, is able to speak to our lives. Poetry becomes appealing when it speaks to our lives, when the understanding of the poem makes us want to do something or not do something, or when it makes us want to be alone or not alone.
Poetry must be for everyone. And so, I believe, is On Poetic Wings. It can be used by people of all ages — by catechists, prayer group leaders, youth leaders, men’s and women’s groups — as a guide for prayer and reflection.
On Poetic Wings has five themes: Creation, Mary, Christmas, The Crucified, The Eucharist and Insights. So it is a collection of reflections for all seasons of the year.
Today poetry is not a foreign language to me; I now actively search for poems that I can read and love. Maybe I was not quite ready in high school to appreciate the beauty of poetry.
I really wish my high school English teacher might read this article to see that not everything he taught us fell on deaf ears.