Pandemic Poetry ~ It’s Rhyme Time

National Poetry Month couldn’t have come at a better time. The Coronavirus pandemic has extended our stay-at-home orders at least through the rest of April, giving us plenty of time to let poetry soothe and strengthen us.

Last week we explored haikus, and I was thrilled to receive some of your original poetry! This week, let’s write a poem that rhymes. Please share your poem here or email it to me at aliciawoodward4@aol.com. I plan to feature readers’ poetry later this month.

Poetry might be just what the doctor ordered to get us through an unfathomable time in our global history. It helps us express our emotions and fills our heads and hearts with loftier thoughts. Our country’s Poet Laureate Joy Harjo said, “Without poetry, we lose our way.”

Poetry reminds us we’re not alone and nothing we experience is unique to the human condition. I urge you to curl up with a poetry book you have lying around your house or search out poetry online. The Academy of American Poets hosts a wonderful poetry site at poets.org. Reading poetry is also a sure way to get our own creative juices flowing.

Just get out a piece of paper or fire up your laptop and start writing. If you’re anything like me, whatever you start writing about will transform into something completely different and surprisingly therapeutic.

This week I’m hoping you’ll try to write a poem that rhymes. Certainly the pandemic is giving the feels to the most stoic among us. Whatever emotion you’re experiencing could become the theme of your poem.

Here are some common types of rhymes found in poetry ~

  • End Rhymes –  rhyming the final words in the lines of a poem
  • Internal Rhymes – rhyming of two words within the same line of poetry
  • Slant Rhymes – a near rhyming of two words that share the same vowel or consonant sound (like heart and star)
  • Rich Rhymes – a rhyme of words that have the same sound (like raise and raze)
  • Eye Rhymes – rhymes on words that look the same but are pronounced differently (like bough and rough)
  • Identical Rhymes – simply using the same word twice

I don’t consider myself much of a poet, but I wrote this poem containing end rhymes in celebration of Easter morning and every morning. It suggests a simple, gratitude-filled approach to life inspired by the hope and promise of daily, seasonal and infinite renewal and rebirth.

Forever in a Day

To see forever in a day
Wake up and lift your voice to pray
Watch sunlight spread across the land
Just as it’s done since time began

Feel the earth so lush and green
Where brown and dormant ground had been
Hear sweet birdsong fill the air
Smell the flowers everywhere

To see forever in a day
Ask for wisdom come what may
Seek timeless lessons to be learned
Toil for honest wages earned

Heed tales told by wrinkled eyes
Sing a baby lullabies
Reach for a neighbor’s hand in love
We look the same from up above

To see forever in a day
Have faith that stones can roll away
Let starlight fall upon your face
Older than the human race

Allow great mysteries to unfold
Dream of ancient stories told
Sleep peacefully until the morn
Each break of dawn we are reborn §

Pandemic Poetry ~ Let’s Write a Haiku

There’s something wonderful on April’s calendar that hasn’t been cancelled or postponed. It’s National Poetry Month. The celebration is taking on new meaning and importance this year as people all over the world turn to poetry for comfort, creativity and connection during this challenging time.

Each Sunday in April, The Simple Swan will offer a brief workshop of sorts to explore a certain type of poetry and encourage you to write and share your own poems. This week, let’s take a look at a familiar Japanese form of poetry called haiku.

Haikus were always a favorite of my literature students for an obvious reason ~ they’re short. Well-known for the rule of 5-7-5, a haiku consists of just three unrhymed lines. The first and third lines have five syllables, and the second line has seven syllables. (You probably remember tapping your pencil on the desk to learn syllables in school. For example, the word frog has one syllable. The word silent has two syllables.)

Nature often inspires poetry, but a haiku, by definition, is about nature. It can be traced back to 9th century Japan where it evolved as poetry that specifically celebrated the natural world. Matsuo Basho wrote one of the most famous haikus in the 1600s.

“The Old Pond” 

An old silent pond

A frog jumps into the pond –

Splash! Silence again. 

While you keep yourself and others safe by staying at home, I hope you find the time to pen your own haiku. Maybe you can make it a family activity. Find something in nature that makes you happy and form your thoughts about it into a simple three-line poem that follows the 5-7-5 rule.

Please consider sharing your poem by leaving it in the comments or emailing it to me at  aliciawoodward4@aol.com. You might want to get really creative and illustrate your poem. Haikus are often accompanied by simple watercolor paintings. Hang it on your refrigerator as a little food for thought.

Poetic inspiration struck me early this morning when, wrapped in a blanket, I stepped out on the porch for a fresh look at the new day. I inhaled deeply and watched my exhaled breath quickly disappear in the cool spring air. From inside, I heard the television mumble news of virus and ventilators. Closing my eyes, I took a slower, more intentional breath filled with gratitude and hope.

“Air” 

Nothing more precious

A calming, life-giving flow

In and out. Just breathe. §

A Poem that Spreads Hope (Not Germs)

Long before the Coronavirus became part of our vocabulary, I planned to write this week about Emily Dickinson’s poem “Hope” is the Thing with Feathers. I thought it a perfect poem to usher us through the last days of winter and into a lovely spring. Little did I realize the Belle of Amherst might help us find hope during a pandemic.

In this well-known poem, Dickinson uses a beautiful extended metaphor to compare hope to a selfless little bird perched in the soul of every human being. The poet reminds us hope and optimism are positive qualities we can all summon, especially during adversity.

In the first stanza, Dickinson creates the imagery of a bird endlessly singing a song of no words, just the purest form of hope. She reminds us in the second stanza that hard times don’t dissuade the little bird. In fact, that’s when the song is the sweetest. The pronoun I appears for the first time in the third stanza, revealing that hope helped her survive the tests and trials of her own life.

Dickinson is often thought of as a hermit, but perhaps she was practicing a healthy form of social distancing. She spent most of her adult life at her family home enjoying nature, writing poetry, and nurturing a close relationship with her siblings.

It seems we can all help stop the spread of the Coronavirus by following her lead and hunkering down for a little while. Maybe we can find time to relish the pleasures of home, watch spring miraculously unfurl, and hear the universal song of hope Emily Dickinson wrote about more than a century ago. §

(No. 314) “Hope” is the Thing with Feathers by Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

The third Sunday of the month, The Simple Swan is devoted to poetry. Nature has inspired poetry for as long as there have been poets. Reading these poems helps us slow down, contemplate the beauty in our world, and connect with timeless and universal themes. As a retired literature teacher, I want to do my little bit in keeping the classics alive. Thank you for joining me!

Winter Morning Poem by Ogden Nash

Winter Morning Poem by Ogden Nash

Winter is the king of showmen,
Turning tree stumps into snow men
And houses into birthday cakes
And spreading sugar over lakes.
Smooth and clean and frosty white,
The world looks good enough to bite.
That’s the season to be young,
Catching snowflakes on your tongue!
Snow is snowy when it’s snowing.
I’m sorry it’s slushy when it’s going.

About the Poet ~ Frederic Ogden Nash was one of America’s most successful poets of the twentieth century. He became well-known through his work at The New Yorker and as host of a radio quiz show called Information Please.

Nash was famous for his light-hearted verse, unconventional rhymes, puns and humor. He died in 1971 at the age of 68. The US Postal Service issued a stamp featuring Nash on the centennial of his birth in 2002.

About this Poem ~ Winter Morning Poem is about the simple joy of snow. Nash uses an end rhyme scheme that makes the poem fun to read aloud. Other poetic devices in this little poem include alliteration, sensory language and a touch of irony.

While acknowledging snow can be a mess, Nash helps us regain our childlike wonder of waking up to a winter snow. Maybe this poem can remind us not to let our grown-up practicality keep us from seeing the innocent beauty in the world.

I must admit I enjoy poetry that isn’t heavy and dark or loaded with obscure vocabulary and symbolism. I hope you agree this poem is perfect for celebrating nature on a cold January day. Though it’s slushy when it’s going, don’t you love the snowy snow when it’s snowing? §

Answering the Call to Create

On a cold January day, I trudged into our patch of woods holding a hand saw. At this time of year, I could trace the delicate shape of the saplings rising from the ground. I was looking for one about twelve feet tall with an inch-round trunk and several pretty limbs branching out from its center.

When I found it, I cut it down and dragged it through the woods to our house, through the front door and into our home. The tree was taller than it seemed outdoors, so I cut off another foot and firmly planted it behind our bed frame.

I spent the afternoon making little origami birds to hang from the branches, while my husband, who is almost always amused by my quirky ideas, safely secured the tree to the wall.

I realize my natural, minimalist aesthetic isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. When asked her opinion, my daughter said it reminded her of the Blair Witch Project, demonstrating that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. In my mind, I’d brought the whimsy of nature indoors. I felt a surge of accomplishment, joy and creativity.

In his book The Courage to Create, Rollo May wrote, “We express our being by creating. Creativity is a necessary sequel to being.”

We were created to create.

Our desire for creativity is seen in the popularity of television programs featuring ordinary people being creative. Watching other people bake cakes, plant gardens, and build tree houses may make good television, but it doesn’t garner the same positive benefits as doing it ourselves.

So what stops us from exploring our creativity? Here are my top excuses and what I tell myself in response.

  1. I don’t know how. You learn by doing. You’ll figure it out.
  2. I’m not good at it. You create for your own enjoyment. If it turns out great, that’s just a bonus.
  3. I’m uninspired. Go outside. Nature holds all the inspiration you’ll ever need. 
  4. I’m lazy. Girl, get up and carpe the heck out of that diem. 

Get rid of your excuses. Even if you haven’t made anything since that diorama for your seventh grade literature class, you are creative.

Boldly answer your call to create.

Paint. Dance. Weave. Sing. Bake. Carve. Invent. Cook. Design. Sculpt. Fix. Plant. Decorate. Sew. Draw. Write. Act. Quilt. Build.

Research shows being creative can improve happiness, stress, confidence, focus, problem-solving, authenticity, anxiety, self-expression, sense of freedom, resilience, open-mindedness, risk-taking, decision-making, and mental clarity.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, wrote this beautiful and motivating quote, “The creator made us creative. Our creativity is our gift from God. Our use of it is our gift to God. Accepting this bargain is the beginning of true acceptance.” §

The Lady & the Bird

The sun had just risen on a cold, crystal clear morning. My mates and I stopped for breakfast at one of our favorite spots serving a smorgasbord of thistle, suet, mealworms, peanut butter and, my personal favorite, black oil sunflower seeds.

After a posh breakfast, I was ready to warm up in the sunshine. I made a flourished circle around the feeders. Good day, chaps!

I spread my bright red wings and felt the wind at my back. What a brilliant morning! Not a cloud in the… WHAM! I hit the glass door hard. Lying on the ground, I saw my impeccably groomed feathers slowly flutter to the ground around me.

Bullocks. So this is how it ends. Bloody windows. Goodbye mates. Goodbye blue sky. Goodbye…wait a minute. I’m still alive! 

I tried to move but couldn’t. My heart was beating fast. I couldn’t catch my breath, and I was freezing. My thoughts turned to the red-shouldered hawk we’d seen hanging around lately. And just yesterday, there were two red foxes in this very yard. I was a sitting duck, so to speak.

The lady came out of the house wrapped in a blanket. “Oh no,” she said. “You poor thing.” She knelt down to get a good look at me. I slowly blinked my eyes to let her know I wasn’t completely snookered just yet. She hurried back inside and watched me through the blasted window.

Suddenly, I felt myself rising into the air. Blimey! What’s happening here? This is highly unusual. I’m going up to heaven. Yep, that’s what’s happening. Goodbye beautiful world!

The next thing I knew I was lying on a soft blanket in a box inside a warm house. I couldn’t have fought it if I wanted to. The lady sat next to me on the floor. “You’re going to be fine. Just warm up and rest,” she said.

I heard her on the phone with her husband, the nice bloke who keeps our feeders filled. “But it’s really cold out,” she said emphatically. “Yes, it would be very silly to bring him in the house,” she said in agreement.

For the next hour or so she stayed with me. It was an odd scene. Me, a wild cardinal, in the kitchen of a woman who chatted as if she’d invited me over for tea. After a proper nap, I was starting to feel like my old self. My breathing returned to normal, and I could wiggle my feet. Looking directly in the lady’s eyes, I cocked my head in my trademark adorable manner.

“Well, look at you!” she said. “You sure are handsome,” commenting on my impressive scarlet crest, ink black markings and mesmerizing eyes. I puffed out my formidable chest and moved my wings a bit.

She gently lifted me, box and all, and set me outside on the porch. “Well Sir, let’s see if you’re ready to fly,” she said. I gently tested my wings.

I was gobsmacked! They work! My wings work! I’m going to live! Well, this day wasn’t  complete rubbish after all. 

I settled back on the soft blanket for a few seconds and looked at the lady.

Cheers, my lady! I’ll be seeing you.

With a tear in her eye, she said goodbye. I flew out of the box and showed off a bit by doing a fancy loop. I perched on the porch railing and looked at her. If I’d had a hat, I would have tipped it.

With a wink and a nod, I asked a cheeky favor. Please don’t clean your windows quite so well. §

Robert Frost’s Christmas Trees

December was always the most wonderful time of the year to share holiday classics with my literature students. The words and images in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and O’Henry’s The Gift of the Magi had magical calming effects on eighth graders whose visions of sugarplum fairies were sprinkled with raging adolescent hormones.

Though sometimes panned as boring by my students, one of my favorite holiday poems is Christmas Trees by Robert Frost. I’m partial to anything written by Frost who, like me, loved writing about the simplicity of nature. How I wish I’d written this lovely line. Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon. Sigh.

Frost wrote Christmas Trees in 1916 to address consumerism at Christmastime. (My, what he would think of it today!) The speaker in the poem is a country farmer who tells the story of being approached by a slick businessman who wants to buy the young trees in his woods to sell as Christmas trees back in the city.

The businessman offers to purchase a thousand trees for a total of thirty dollars. The farmer is wise enough to know that Christmas trees are sold in the city for a dollar, so the offer amounted to a mere three cents a tree. The reader understands the farmer loves his trees and would not likely sell them for any price. I doubt if I was tempted for a moment to sell them off their feet to go in cars and leave the slope behind the house all bare.

In the end, the farmer is writing Christmas letters to friends and thinks of giving them one of his trees. Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter. I can’t help wishing I could send you one, in wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas!

I hope you enjoy this free-verse poem as much as I do. It reminds me to focus on my relationships with nature and people above money and material things at Christmastime and always. §

Christmas Trees by Robert Frost

The city had withdrawn into itself
And left at last the country to the country;
When between whirls of snow not come to lie
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,
Yet did in country fashion in that there
He sat and waited till he drew us out
A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.
He proved to be the city come again
To look for something it had left behind
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;
My woods—the young fir balsams like a place
Where houses all are churches and have spires.
I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas Trees.
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment
To sell them off their feet to go in cars
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.
I’d hate to have them know it if I was.
Yet more I’d hate to hold my trees except
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,
Beyond the time of profitable growth,
The trial by market everything must come to.
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.
Then whether from mistaken courtesy
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether
From hope of hearing good of what was mine, I said,
“There aren’t enough to be worth while.”
“I could soon tell how many they would cut,
You let me look them over.”
“You could look.
But don’t expect I’m going to let you have them.”
Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few
Quite solitary and having equal boughs
All round and round. The latter he nodded “Yes” to,
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,
With a buyer’s moderation, “That would do.”
I thought so too, but wasn’t there to say so.
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,
And came down on the north. He said, “A thousand.”
“A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?”
He felt some need of softening that to me:
“A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars.”
Then I was certain I had never meant
To let him have them. Never show surprise!
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents
(For that was all they figured out apiece),
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends
I should be writing to within the hour
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.
A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,
As may be shown by a simple calculation.
Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.
I can’t help wishing I could send you one,
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.

An Artist, a Tree, a Poet and Me

In the heart of Nashville, Indiana, on a walking trail that runs along the banks of the Salt Creek is a sycamore tree that would stop most observant travelers in their tracks. If they heed the call to come closer, they are rewarded with gifts of man and nature’s creative collaboration.

The tree stands about a hundred feet tall with two big trunks of equal size rising from a massive exposed root system. The thick roots naturally form what looks like a bench, perfect for a person to rest, or think or pray.

Upon closer examination, the gnarled roots at one end of the bench are expertly carved to look like a large benevolent hand. Five sturdy curved fingers rise out of the flat root bench to gently hug anyone who stops to sit under the sycamore on the bank of the Salt Creek.

As I relaxed in the tree’s embrace and absorbed the beauty of nature and art, I was struck by the deep relationship between the two. I imagined the sculptor reverently asking the sycamore for its permission to cut into its roots to co-create something that would celebrate its magnificence.

When I rose from the comforting spot, I noticed a piece of paper hanging by a nail on the primary trunk of the tree. I climbed up the roots to get a closer look. At the top of the page it read ~ Friends, if you like this poem, please take a copy. The poem was titled View of Life by Andrew Hubbard.

Ceremoniously, I removed the white laminated paper off the rusty nail. My heart soared before I even read the poem. Under the fading fall canopy of a sycamore, I felt I’d stumbled upon a secret society of poets, artists and mystics as inspired by nature as I.

The irony of a poet posting a poem on a tree amused me. At a time when people hastily share their every thought on social media and the Internet, I found Hubbard’s post refreshingly clever, quaint and genuine.

On the back of his poem, Hubbard wrote that this month marks five years since he began hanging poems on the tree “partly in an attempt to publicize myself, and partly just for fun.” He posts a poem every other month and replaces copies as they are taken.

With my eyes on my gift from the sycamore tree, I slowly walked down the Salt Creek Trail feeling crispy leaves crunch underfoot. The dappled sun danced on the page through yellowing limbs and wild sounds along the creek vibrated as I read Hubbard’s poem and contemplated my own tiny mark. §

View of Life

Of all nature’s metaphors

The one that takes my breath

Is the blast of October wind

(Sometimes with a slap of rain)

Tearing loose a million leaves

And twirling them to crisp drifts

That will fade and collapse 

Under the stern weight of winter.

On every tree each fallen leaf 

Left a tiny mark, a place

For a new leaf to push 

Its way into sunlight

When the infinitely slow, infinitely certain

Pulse of spring sings to it.

The ones who went before, 

Leaves and people,

Have little trace or memory

And there is sadness in that

But grandeur also.     

Andrew Hubbard is a poet who lives in Nashville, Indiana. He has published three books of poetry titled “Things That Get You”, “The Divining Rod”, and “Meeting the Moon Halfway”. Hubbard’s books are available at Amazon.com or by contacting him at ahubbard1050@yahoo.

 

Forever in a Day

Happy Easter, friends! I wrote a poem to celebrate this morning and every morning. I’m far more comfortable writing prose, but I was inspired by springtime, Easter and National Poetry Month. I hope it offers you a positive message that you can interpret as you wish. Enjoy a week filled with the beauty, promise, and renewal of spring.

Forever in a Day

To see forever in a day, wake up and lift your voice to pray
Watch sunlight spread across the land, just as it’s done since time began
Feel the earth so lush and green, where brown and dormant ground had been
Hear sweet birdsong fill the air ~ Smell the flowers everywhere

To see forever in a day, ask for wisdom come what may
Seek timeless lessons to be learned ~ Toil for honest wages earned
Heed tales told by wrinkled eyes ~ Sing a baby lullabies
Reach for a neighbor’s hand in love ~ We look the same from up above

To see forever in a day, have faith that stones can roll away
Let starlight fall upon your face, older than the human race
Allow great mysteries to unfold ~ Dream of ancient stories told
Sleep peacefully until the morn ~ Each break of dawn we are reborn §

A Poem as Lovely as a Tree

I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree… 

So begins Joyce Kilmer’s poem Trees. I was about ten when I first read the poem in a book at school. I was drawn to its uncomplicated rhythm and rhyme. At such a tender age, I was also excited to understand a poem not written for a child. Gazing out the library window, I could see Kilmer’s beautiful trees joyfully reaching towards the heavens.

I find it amusing that Mr. Kilmer’s well-known poem is sometimes disparaged for being overly simple, sweet and straightforward. Funny, because that’s exactly how I like things to be! There are more sophisticated poems about nature, but Trees was one of the first to offer me a poetic reminder to be filled with gratitude, acceptance, and humility for my own existence.

Trees

I think that I shall never see  

A poem lovely as a tree

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.

~Joyce Kilmer, 1913

Gratitude ~ Kilmer personified a tree that lifts its leafy arms to pray in appreciation for its life and the nourishment it receives from the sweet earth’s flowing breast. Like the tree, shouldn’t we rejoice and give praise for our creation and the abundance of earthly resources that allow us to live and grow?

Acceptance ~ The poet uses clear imagery to portray a tree that in summer may wear a nest of robins in its hair. The tree gladly accepts its purpose of providing shade and shelter for birds and other creatures. It may be covered deep in snow and pounding rain, yet it stands sturdy through the seasons. Can you and I accept our responsibilities and challenges with as much as grace?

Humility ~ More than one hundred years after writing this poem, Kilmer’s message still rings true. As we try to make our mark on the world in whatever way we’re led, we’d be fools to think our accomplishments could ever match the perfection found in nature. It’s humbling (and a bit of a relief) to remember no matter how creative and productive we become, man-made things will never compare to God’s handiwork.

National Poetry Month seems a perfect time for us to reflect on this poem. It encourages me to humbly, though perhaps foolishly, continue writing about the peace, joy, and gratitude I feel for nature’s beauty created by the greatest poet of all. §