I grew up learning and memorizing poems: starting with nursery rhymes and graduating to poetry of different cultures and languages. A well-turned phrase, an unexpected pairing of syllables has the power to ignite the imagination and stir the senses. We see the brushstrokes of words create a painting. We feel the cadence and rhythm of language tune into the rhythms of our body. We hear and taste the textures formed by stringing together just the right words, just the right ideas.
Poetry, the first among literary genres, served to preserve and to pass down our stories long before writing came to be. Memory keepers, story tellers, and sages of old relied on it to communicate with their audience through the ages. Today, poetry is pushed from the peripheries to where it has been relegated for far too long into the center of public life. To encounter the poet’s rendition at the Inauguration ceremonies and Super Bowl introductions resonates with my yearning for beauty: for beauty of spirit, for beauty of presence, for beauty of hope that finds its source and support in a “Beauty ever ancient, ever new.” (St. Augustine)
Poetry is a gift, given to all, shared by few. Poetry is symbol, for it draws attention to the reality enclosed within. Poetry is prayer, a unique expression of universal reality, uttered on behalf of us whose prose might persuade but cannot distill life into multiple meanings that are waiting to be mined in a poem.
Poetry delights. Poetry soothes. Poetry challenges. Poetry holds tensions without which we fall into disparate digits and desperate disconnection. The poet’s words give shape to what is as yet hidden, obscured or overlooked so we might find our image reflected in the face of the other.
The power of poetry lies in the resonance it can create, amplifying the voice of one, until we all can clearly hear its call to a more humane tomorrow. “For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” (Amanda Gorman, The Hill We Climb)
Read the Vatican Radio interview with Amanda Gorman here.