Poetry as a comfort blanket
Our local cemetery is about to be yarn bombed and in preparation a group of us have been meeting regularly to knit and crochet.
Since the meeting is in a cemetery it’s natural that at times the conversation turns to death.
Yesterday, after a few jokes of the woolly urns and knitted coffins type, the conversation delved deep into our experiences and thoughts of death and bereavement.
Several people spoke of ‘the great leveller’. Then one recited, from Ozymandias, ‘Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!/Nothing beside remains.’
The response was immediate. I think all the group were familiar with the poem and several said they found its ideas comforting.
I started to think about this feature of some poems. What is it about poetry that can have this effect? Why do so many turn to it in times of crisis?
My first thought was that it is the music of rhythm and rhyme; an adult version of the dum-de-dum pleasure of Dr Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham. In that case most modern poetry will not follow Ozymandias into the comfort blanket department.
Later, I decided that this is nowhere near the whole story. There are certain poems that pass something, through space, time and differences of culture, from writer to reader; something we recognise and draw on to come to terms with our own feelings and their place in the scheme of things.