The Joy of a Hopeful Spirit

Like a tired child, America is having a melt-down. Overwhelmed by the pandemic, wildfires, hurricanes, injustice, unemployment, violence, and division, she sobs breathlessly, too distraught to make any sense at all. She needs an adult, someone like you, to pick her up and soothe her with a lullaby of hope.

Speaking of hope in times like these may seem excessively optimistic and naive, but Eleanor Roosevelt said, “It is more intelligent to hope rather than to fear, to try rather than not to try.” Where can we find hope enough to calm ourselves, let alone ease others?

First, we can find hope in our country’s history. America has pulled through many times of darkness. In his book The Soul of America, author Jon Meacham reminds us that periods of public dispiritedness are not new and offers reassurance that they are survivable. Through slavery, war, inequality, depression, and disaster, our nation has marched steadily forward to a hopeful chorus touched by what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”

Secondly, we can find hope in our country’s citizens. Mr. Rogers often told the story about being a young boy who was frightened by things he saw in the news. Fred’s mom told him, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” It’s as true today as it was then. Each and every day there are good people working for the well-being of others, and good people always bring out the good in people.

Finally, we can find hope in ourselves. Emily Dickinson wrote, “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.” The famous poem honors the individual’s capacity for hope. Think of all the times you mustered hope to get through a difficult challenge. Facing our personal trials and tribulations with a spirit of sanguinity offers inspiration to those around us.

With everything that’s going on right now, we may want to throw ourselves on the floor in an all-out temper-tantrum fueled by fear, anxiety, or anger. But we are adults, and children are watching. We must choose to face our struggles head-on while humming a song of hope. As Helen Keller said, “Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible.”

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 §

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!

The Mourning Doves’ Call for Peace

Note: This post was written in response to a weekend marked by gun violence in our country. 

A quiet sadness hung in the air defying the bright August morning. The rising sun was still behind the treetops, but slivers of light cut through thick branches in stark, illuminating shafts. Nature seemed to know mankind awoke again to unnatural hate and violence.

Under the mysterious stillness was a low, haunting call of a mourning dove. Oo-woo-oo oooo oooo! Oo-woo-oo oooo oooo!  

A pair of doves landed on the ground, their fluttering wings breaking the strange silence. They moved gracefully searching for seeds below the bird feeders. Oddly, they foraged alone. No squirrels scurried around them. The cardinals, finches and orioles reverently relinquished the morning to the soft gray, slender-tailed doves.

In the distance another soft, slow coo was heard. Oo-woo-oo oooo oooo! Oo-woo-oo oooo oooo!  

Their distinctive melancholy song gives mourning doves their name, but the birds are not associated with despair. To the contrary, they are universally recognized as symbols of peace. Since the beginning of time, the dove has represented a transformative symbol of optimism and hope in folklore, mythology, literature and scripture. Doves are referenced in the Bible more than any other species.

Artists and musicians often turn to doves for inspiration. In 1949, the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso drew the iconic Dove of Peace-Blue for the World Peace Congress, becoming a lasting symbol of respect and harmony between people of all nations.

The mourning dove is one of our country’s most common birds. It’s found in nearly every environment and has adapted well to man-altered habitats. Yet despite their abundance, despite their well-known symbolism, despite our love for the idea of peace on Earth, we aren’t getting their message. We’re moving further and further off the path of civility, kindness and goodwill that leads to peacefulness.

A third mourning dove joined the other two at the bird bath. Noticeable was their calm and serene demeanor. They sipped the water delicately, occasionally looking up with round, dark eyes. They elegantly cocked their heads as if understanding the sacred beauty of the world and their role in it.

Just as the sun peeked over the top of the trees, flooding the new day with golden light, a mourning dove sang its pleading song of peace. Oo-woo-oo  oooo oooo! Oo-woo-oo oooo oooo! §