A new year is upon us, and it is time again to choose a word that will serve as a guide for living more intentionally throughout the next twelve months. I’ve long given up resolutions and instead dedicate each new year to a particular word or phrase to be sprinkled liberally through all facets of life. My past words have included simplicity, joy and wisdom. For me, 2023 is the year of living poetically.
In his 1929 book, Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.” The quote always grabs me by the shoulders and shakes me into remembering that every day, every moment, is a gift filled with beauty that is mine for the taking.
Living a poetic life requires a shift in how we move through the world, in what and how we choose to see, speak, act and think. Sitting on the cusp of a new year, we have no idea what adventures and challenges await us. Like years past, there are likely to be moments of monotony, heartache, rage and splendor. Some of us will sleepwalk through it all barely allowing it to register in our souls and reaching the end of our year, and eventually our life, wondering how we missed it. Here are ten ways to poetically call forth the riches of daily life, as Rilke so eloquently urged.
- Notice the sublime. That which is sublime possesses awe-inspiring excellence, grandeur and beauty. In literature, sublimity refers to elevated language that is said to strike the listener with the mighty and irresistible power of a thunderbolt. The sublime exists in everyday moments, the quiet of the morning, the notes of a song, a juicy grape, and the hand of a friend.
- Stay present. In his poem, What We Need is Here, Wendall Berry wrote, “And we pray, not for a new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye, clear. What we need is here.” We just need to pay attention, stay mindful and be present.
- Observe nature. Poetry is often filled with images of nature’s magnificence. It seems impossible to watch a ruby-throated hummingbird or see an orange-pink sunrise and not be somehow moved. Lord Byron wrote, “by the deep Sea, and music in its roar: I love not Man the less but Nature more.”
- Seek solitude. Emily Dickinson was a poet who understood the benefits of being alone. In her poem There is a solitude of space, she explores the idea of being alone even amongst a sea of humanity. It is only in occasional solitude that we can sort out our thoughts and disappear into them without the influence of a noisy world.
- Read poetry. One of the surest ways to live more poetically is to read more poetry. Keep a book of poetry on your nightstand and read a poem every morning or evening. If you prefer to read poetry online, sign up for a poem-a-day at https://poets.org or read the Poetry Foundation’s poem of the day at https://www.poetryfoundation.org.
- Write poetry. Thirty years ago I had the pleasure of meeting the late poet Robert Bly who told me he instituted the routine of writing a poem every single morning before getting out of bed, drastically changing his life for the better. In 1997, he published the book Morning Poems. I can think of nothing that would help us live more poetically than actually writing poetry.
- Follow your dreams. Living poetically means living deeply and fully. We are reminded of this in Mary Oliver’s poem The Summer Day. In it she poses a burning question we might constantly ask ourselves, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
- Explore your senses. We experience life through our senses ~ sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. Poets lean into these senses to create strong images. Walt Whitman joyfully wrote, “I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear.” Maya Angelou wryly appealed to our sense of taste in The Health-Food Diner and William Carlos Williams wrote how the nose knows in Smell! Tuning into our senses will help us live more poetically.
- Show gratitude. In the busyness of life, we can take things for granted. In Our Prayer of Thanks, Carl Sandburg thanks God “For the gladness here where the sun is shining at evening on the weeds at the river, our prayer of thanks.” A poetic view of life increases our awe and appreciation for the simplest things in life.
- Create beauty. The Cambridge Dictionary defines poetic as anything that is very beautiful or expresses emotion. Living poetically means elevating our daily life. John Keats wrote, “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever; its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.” In how we dress, keep our home, talk to our children, and treat our neighbors, we can add beauty to all we do.
Even if we never publish, or even write, a single poem, we can live like a poet in every little thing we do from morning to night through each new day of the next twelve months. Welsh poet Dylan Thomas wrote the poetic life “makes your toenails twinkle.” That seems like a pretty good way to step into the new year. §