Poetry as a game changer

There was this beautiful, orange sherbert sunset today. It looked like… what? Ice cream? Topographical ridges? Light stencils? Anyhow, as I tried to describe it to myself at MadCap, I remembered a poem, one that first introduced a concept to me I had not previously thought about.

I was in junior high. We were reading S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, which I remember now only in broad strokes. Robert Frost‘s poem was seminal for me.

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Our teacher led us into a discussion around loss of wonder and a myopia that thickens with age. Things become less shiny, less of a discovery with each round as our naivete gives way to experience and assumptions. It opened my eyes to what I read essentially as a loss of innocence.

Mark Epstein hits upon it in his book, Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart. He relates an anecdote about a young actress whose talented-but-stern voice coach reminds her too much of her abusive father.

Assessing the situation with her rational mind and fearing the dangers of the past, she was preventing herself from having any kind of new, and unanticipated, experience.

I remember the weekend following our class analysis. I got on all fours, cocked my head and stared at a bug ambling across the garage floor. Two black lacquered panels framing a deep red. I took note of the wobble, the light curling around its shell, the way my palms and knees tried for some sort of temperature osmosis with the slabs beneath. I told myself that, at least with nature, I don’t want to lose that sort of notice and appreciation. The poem became a mantra, then a reminder throughout my high school years.

Frost’s was the first time I had experienced self-actualization through poetry. Sure, I’d read poetry before, but till then, poetry to me was lukewarmth for Shel Silverstein and maybe ballyhooing Jack Prelutsky‘s It’s Valentine’s Day.

So I’m really itching to know: What was that poem for you? The first poem you can remember contributing to self-actualization – what did it say to you?


Filed under: Storytelling, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Responses

  1. Magueycita says:

    Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
    Dylan Thomas

    As a former high school teacher, I love this post.

  2. J.Ross says:

    I am an EA in a “Gifted Autistic” middle school classroom in Albuquerque, and we just started our unit on poetry. It is a challenge get any student to appreciate poetry, I think, let alone students like mine who seem to be only fixated on their own , singular interests. I asked one student how HE read/analyzed poetry (after he dismissed Billy Collin’s poem “Introduction to Poetry”) and he spat this out: (I formatted it to enhance the beauty of what he offhandedly said)

    (its like i)

    “…Catch a bird.

    Examine it.
    Count it’s feathers,
    and the scales on it’s feet.

    Look at it from every angle
    and then let it go.”


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