Poetry Day Ireland: Three Poems That Inspire Me

Today (Thursday May 2nd) is Poetry Day Ireland! The craft of poetry means a lot to me, so I wanted to celebrate this day by highlighting three poems that speak very deeply to my heart. ❤️

Mary Oliver

The amazing Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver passed away in January of this year. Her powerful poem The Journey means a lot to me. It cuts right to the indescribable heartache of moving on and embracing what is right for you, because you know you must, even when that means leaving behind those who do not – or cannot – understand. I have seen this poem move others to tears too. 💔

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voice behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life that you could save.

— From Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver

BK

One of my favourite poets is the Kerry-born Brendan Kennelly. He has written over twenty books of poetry, in addition to plays, novels and critical works. He was Professor of Modern Literature at Trinity College, Dublin for thirty years. I love Begin because it describes the irrepressible nature of the human spirit so well.

Begin

Begin again to the summoning birds
to the sight of the light at the window,
begin to the roar of morning traffic
all along Pembroke Road.
Every beginning is a promise
born in light and dying in dark
determination and exaltation of springtime
flowering the way to work.
Begin to the pageant of queuing girls
the arrogant loneliness of swans in the canal
bridges linking the past and future
old friends passing though with us still.
Begin to the loneliness that cannot end
since it perhaps is what makes us begin,
begin to wonder at unknown faces
at crying birds in the sudden rain
at branches stark in the willing sunlight
at seagulls foraging for bread
at couples sharing a sunny secret
alone together while making good.
Though we live in a world that dreams of ending
that always seems about to give in
something that will not acknowledge conclusion
insists that we forever begin.

— From The Essential Brendan Kennelly

w-b-yeats

The third poem that has had a huge impact on me is W. B. Yeats’ Lake Isle of Innisfree. The closing lines – ‘While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey, / I hear it in the deep heart’s core’ – speak so powerfully to me of the hints of wonder and magic that are never too far away, even in a world that can seem very ‘grey’ indeed.

Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

— From The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats

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