July 24, 2013

3 Poems to Heal a Broken Heart. ~ Lisa M. Cole

Does everything suck today?

Read these poems, and you’ll feel better—I promise.

Yes, the Buddha told us to be our own lamp and refuge, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t sometimes need a little shove towards the light, a little word to awaken in us what was already there sleeping inside us. As a life-long bibliophile and wordsmith, my chosen lamp has always been poetry.

Voices of the dead and the living come speak to me; take the shape of black lines on a page, and become my prayers, my psalms, my anthems and affirmations. Please, let me share with you three poems I carry with me as talismans on difficult days.

Perhaps one of these poems will also be a lamp for you.

Snowdrops by Louise Gluck

Do you know what I was, how I lived? You know

what despair is; then

winter should have meaning for you.

I did not expect to survive,

earth suppressing me. I didn’t expect

to waken again, to feel

in damp earth my body

able to respond again, remembering

after so long how to open again

in the cold light

of earliest spring —

afraid, yes, but among you again

crying yes risk joy

in the raw wind of the new world.

In Louise Gluck’s Pulitzer Prize winning poetry collection, The Wild Iris, the poet utilizes nature and the plants in a garden as a frame to discuss the trouble with being alive in a physical body. A dialog of sorts takes place between the gardener and the flowers she tends.

Where is God in this garden? How do we pull ourselves up from depression after we “did not expect to survive”? The speaker becomes the environment she inhabits, and while she exists as a flower, is able to find redemption. So do we as readers of the poem.

Though parts of this poem may seem bleak, we often find the most comfort in poems that reflect to us what we are feeling during our darkest moments. F. Scott Fitzgerald once said,

“That is part of the beauty of literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”

This poem also allows us to stare sadness in the eye, get to know it, make friends with it, until we can finally let it go and “risk joy” again, even if we may be crying until we get there. This poem reminds us that there is no use in repressing our emotions, because what is bottled up will eventually spill out.

“Snowdrops” enables us to pour out the bottle before it becomes too full.

“Love Poems to God”  from Rilke’s Book of Hours (translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Marie)

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,

then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,

go to the limits of your longing.

Embody me.

Flare up like flame

and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.

Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.

You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

For me, the poems in Rainer Maria Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God are not so much love poems to God, but encouraging notes from God to us. In fact, for me, all poems are like love letters from God, even if the poem I am reading does not mention God outright. Poems remind me that there is still beauty in the Universe, even if I sometimes don’t believe it.

Indeed, isn’t each person who exists on the earth a kind of love letter?

This is what Rilke’s poems help me to believe. In concise, straight-forward language, poems like this one offer both beautiful imagery and practical advice for traversing life as a human being. The emotional center of the poem is in the lines:

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.

Just keep going. No feeling is final.

These 15 words speak to life’s groundlessness. The only thing we can really count on is change, but that should not stop us from loving, and living, and feeling everything, because at some point things will shift. Though this philosophy may seem a bit dark to some, Rilke frames this reality in a comforting way.

Chaos can be exquisite. What is dark will eventually become light again.

What is heavy now will soon become lighter.

“Flare up like flame” “go to the limits” push past yourself, despite the pain, and you will not feel alone.

“Antilamentation” by Dorianne Laux

Regret nothing. Not the cruel novels you read

to the end just to find out who killed the cook.

Not the insipid movies that made you cry in the dark,

in spite of your intelligence, your sophistication.

Not the lover you left quivering in a hotel parking lot,

the one you beat to the punchline, the door, or the one

who left you in your red dress and shoes, the ones

that crimped your toes, don’t regret those.

Not the nights you called god names and cursed

your mother, sunk like a dog in the livingroom couch,

chewing your nails and crushed by loneliness.


You were meant to inhale those smoky nights

over a bottle of flat beer, to sweep stuck onion rings

across the dirty restaurant floor, to wear the frayed

coat with its loose buttons, its pockets full of struck matches.

You’ve walked those streets a thousand times and still

you end up here. Regret none of it, not one

of the wasted days you wanted to know nothing,

when the lights from the carnival rides

were the only stars you believed in, loving them

for their uselessness, not wanting to be saved.


You’ve traveled this far on the back of every mistake,

ridden in dark-eyed and morose but calm as a house

after the TV set has been pitched out the upstairs

window. Harmless as a broken ax. Emptied

of expectation. Relax. Don’t bother remembering

any of it. Let’s stop here, under the lit sign

on the corner, and watch all the people walk by.

Like a hand-written note in your lunchbox from your mother, “Antilamentation” by Dorianne Laux is the perfect poem to read on those sleepless nights when you toss and turn, and replay all of those “should-haves” and “could-haves”over and over again.

Part pep talk and part kick in the butt, the poem gets us back on our feet again.

Laux uses everyday longings and objects—novels, the coat with the loose buttons, a bottle of beer, onion rings on the floor—to reassure us that though we may feel lonely, we are not alone in our struggle against regret.

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Asst. Ed: Linda Jockers/Ed: Bryonie Wise

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