In my last post for Soul Quest Gateway I suggested that poetry has great importance and relevance in the modern world. In particular, I noted how reading – and writing – poetry deepens our connection to the land, to nature. I also hinted at something else; the ways in which poetry invites the patient reader to explore himself/herself on a deeper and more interpersonal level. Without using the expression “Soulcraft practice”, this reference to poetry taking us deeper into ourselves, beneath the layers of our personality, is exactly what I was referring to. And the value of this work, the value of approaching poetry in this way, is incalculable at this time of planetary crisis when we are cut off from ourselves, others and nature to an unprecedented degree.
In this post, I want to dig a little deeper into the idea of poetry as SoulcraftÔ. That is, the ways poetry can “shape the human soul toward its fulfillment in its unity with the entire universe”, as Thomas Berry put it. Berry’s language may seem highbrow or even esoteric, and there’s no denying that he was a formidable wordsmith, but his words are rooted in both basic biology and a respect for indigenous cultural traditions across the world. First the biology: soul is the primary organizing unit or principle of all living beings. It is soul, in its myriad expressions, that enables birds, fish and other migratory creatures to cross oceans of time and return to their birthing grounds, for example. With respect to indigenous cultural traditions, the universe has long been viewed as a presence and a teacher, not a collection of raw materials or “natural resources” to be plundered for pecuniary gain. If I might invoke Thomas Berry once more:
The winds, the mountains, the soaring birds, the wildlife roaming the forests, the stars splashed across the heavens in the dark of night: these were all communicating the deepest experiences that humans would ever know.
When we read poetry we can be transported to another time and place, taken deep into an imaginal realm of strange – or not so strange – scents, tastes, and sensations; a place of magical beasts and other presences that might remind us of our dreams. If we follow this shimmering trail of images and symbols, we are beginning to engage with our soul. Bill Plotkin puts it well when he says that poetry is “soul speech” that “brings together the linguistic, linear part of the psyche with the imaginal, holistic part, enlisting the thinking mind in the service of soul, image and feeling”.
When we give ourselves the gift of time in nature, at an unhurried pace, and practice the art of listening with our whole body, our senses are often flooded with images – and poetry can convey those images that have revealed themselves, that have spoken to us. Are we willing to risk expressing that which might seem impossible to express? This is the opportunity, the joy, and the responsibility of the poet at this time of planetary evolution. What is being evoked in us when we listen to the earth? Might it be the world behind this world, the embodied conversation between the dream of the earth and our own soul? And if we linger there, what might we discover? What if we discovered our soul’s greatest desires? Even better, what if we had the courage to strive and make those desires visible to others? This is what poetry can do.
When we write poetry we are conjuring our own magic, a magic borne of the rhythms, textures, and felt sensations that we have experienced – in nature, in our dreams, in our imaginings. Our poetic expression of these is a way of passing experiential knowing, soulful knowing, to another. And there is no greater thing that we might offer to our people than to open a gateway to the essence of our experience.