Poetry That Helps Shape Our Lives

Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - 5:50 am

Poetry That Helps Shape Our Lives

“Why Should I Ever Be Sad” came to me a few months when I was hiking the Aspen Vista Trail not far from Santa Fe. I was feeling my age, as they say, feeling melancholy about the brevity of life, when I stopped to rest, sitting on a rock and silently taking in all that was above, below, and around me.

Suddenly I felt joy in being there, simply being there! As that feeling settled in, I wrote the first draft of this poem as a way of taking the feeling home. I can still feel it…

I often post great poets in this column — Mary Oliver, William Stafford, Naomi Shihab Nye, Rilke — because they speak truth with grace and help keep my spirit alive. I am not a great poet, but I no longer feel awkward about sharing my poetry here. I believe that everyone has poetry in them. I also believe it’s important to “speak” the poetry that’s in us — not necessarily on the printed page but with the lives we lead at home, in the workplace, in the world.

When I find or write a poem that feels true, my aspiration is to let it shape my life. “Why Should I Ever Be Sad” is not in the same league as the greats, but it helps me remember the kind of life to which I aspire. Is there a poem you want to live, whether or not it’s in print?

Why Should I Ever Be Sad?
by Parker Palmer

Why should I ever be sad,
knowing the aspens are
always here dancing along
this trail, slim as willowy
girls, swinging their arms,
tossing their hair, swaying
their hips in rhythm with
the mountain wind? Above
the aspens, intensified sky,
a dream of blue seen only as
cities fade from view. Below
them a rocky slope covered
with clotted clumps of leaves
and fallen, rotted branches,
laying down a love bed where
Indian Paintbrush and white
violets grow amid a flourish
of green. All of the tumbled
boulders and rocks have found
their angle of perfect repose,
so why should I ever be sad?
All of this waits for me when
at last I stumble and fall,
waits for me to join in this
dance with all that turns and
whirls—a dance done to the
silent music of our dappled,
singing, swaying world.

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is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include Healing the Heart of Democracy, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

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