April 27, 2016

What I Knew as A Teenager: Lessons from the Pure Poets.

Anais Gomez-C/Flickr

Those teenage years…I look back and know without a doubt that I knew more then than I know now.

I wish I could feel now what I felt then. I wish I could understand the world now the same way. And though I know some of them were the hardest of my life, I wish I could go back to the days that everyone else says they wouldn’t go back to for anything. Maybe, it’s different for me because I had poetry.

See, I remember reading poetry and believing that poets held the answers to life’s questions.

Kahlil Gibran explained love and parenting, friendship and marriage. I believed he was The Prophet and he was explaining the secrets of how to make it through the chaotic journey of life. All of life’s stages had meaning and purpose after reading his work.

Lawrence Ferlenghitti offered me Wild Dreams of a New Beginning after explaining that “even in heaven they don’t sing all the time.” And there was a comfort there, in seeing that life really was perfect in all its imperfections, because within those difficult times, pain held the promise of comfort or at least understanding, and it was all ok.

Rudyart Kipling made ethics as simple as “keep[ing my] head when all about [me were] losing theirs and blaming it on [me].” And it made sense that it just wasn’t that hard to be a decent person and succeed.

And then Max Ehrmann who wrote the words that reassured me that I was “a child of the universe, no less than the tress and the stars and [I] have a right to be here.” In my darkest days I knew “no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”

It was as if there were such simple answers to life’s most pressing questions held in meter and rhyme and language more beautiful than the reality of life itself.  Poetry was where life lived out loud.

Back in those days I believed that a poet’s heart was pure and his words were honest.

I trusted that anyone who spoke in imagery must actually see the world with clearer vision. I had faith in the men who could sing life off the pages in a book, and even in the torture of dying through the experiences of love and loss, they were proof that resurrection was possible, because they went on to say it happened.

I knew in my heart that a poet couldn’t lie because only the Truths of existence can be told in euphonious words placed on blank spaces that could then breathe life into someone else. Poets were decadent and worldly and rebellious, yet so pure and innocent that they could dance drunk and naked on a city street just to say they felt the rain.

I learned to live with a book in my lap and a pen in my hand. How would I even know I lived if I did not write it down? I know I actually “lived life twice” according to Anaïs Nin. And it was beautiful.

I would go back to those days just to fall in love again with the poems and the poets who write them. I would go back to falling in love with the poet who did not fall in love with me, because unrequited love from a poet is the reason new poets are born. I collected his words as if they were written for me and I cherished them because they were his soul bled out in ink on pages that I would keep sacred.

You never stop loving the first poet you love because he was the one who made life real. The girl who kisses a poet knows nothing but the beauty of it, even in the days that follow him leaving and living a life in a world she would never see.

I think it is a cruelty of the universe to give this romance with poetry to the teenagers who are looking for love for the first time. Because those of us who fall in love with the cadence of iambic pentameter never hear a heart beat any other way.

And there are very few poets among us anymore. I do not hear the spectrum of color that a poet can sing anymore, but I am haunted forever by the distant memory of that song.

There was a time I believed that words would always save my soul from disappearing. And I know now I was right. And here I am looking for the same answers I already found back then, but back then I believed a poet’s words would save me.

I want to feel that way again.


Relephant Read: 

So You Want to Be a Poet?

Author: Andrea Byford

Editor: Sara Kärpänen

Photo: Hilary Dotson  / Flickr & Anais Gomez-C/Flickr 

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Andrea Byford