Apparently, World Poetry Day came, and I only realized it as it was ending.
But I did take the time to take out a volume of poems by one of my favorites, Edna St. Vincent Millay. As I turned the pages and drank in each one, I thought about the inseparable bond between poetry and heartbreak.
As I read a number of her sonnets, I was transported to different times in my life when I could identify with those exact words. By reading the words, I could remember that exact pain and what it was like at each stage of my heart breaking and healing again.
It was like opening a portal into the past.
Somehow, broken hearts crack open just enough to allow us to be open to the words of a poem when perhaps we wouldn’t open ourselves otherwise. This shared experience of pain allows us to connect deeply with an author’s words. Millay’s writing has so many poems to help take us from the start of heartache until the end.
Here are just a few.
When a relationship is ending, Millay offers us these words from “Eight Sonnets”:
When you, that at this moment are to me
Dearer than words on paper, shall depart,
And be no more the warder of my heart,
Whereof again myself shall hold the key;
And be no more, what now you seem to be,
The sun, from which all excellencies start
In a round nimbus, nor a broken dart
Of moonlight, even, splintered on the sea;
I shall remember only of this hour––
And weep somewhat, as now you see me weep.
For those times when we’re adjusting to the end of a relationship, there’s, “When I Too Long Have Looked Upon Your Face.” Here are a few lines that have stood out to me in those times of adjusting to a love affair having ended:
I turn away reluctant from your light,
And stand irresolute, a mind undone,
A silly, dazzled thing deprived of a sight
From having looked too long upon the sun.
The end of that poem has always had the power to steal my breath and is worth taking the time to read from start to finish. She also offers these words on lovers who have gone:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone;
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.
Millay also can help us when we’re still grieving a lost relationship. This next poem is for those who feel like the grieving will never end:
Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
Who told me time would ease me of my pain!
I miss him in the weeping of the rain;
I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
The old snows melt from every mountain-side,
And last year’s leaves are smoke in every lane;
But last year’s bitter loving must remain
Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide!
How those words resonate in the soul when our feelings are so strong—the love as strong as the grief! Reading Millay is like a guidebook on love and loss. Then there are times when we’ve moved on, but our hearts still have the ability to grieve—even years later—for what’s lost:
If I should learn, in some quite casual way,
That you were gone, not to return again—
A hurrying man—who happened to be you—
At noon today had happened to be killed,
I should not cry aloud—I could not cry
Aloud, or wring my hands in such a place—
I should but watch the station lights rush by
With a more careful interest on my face,
Or raise my eyes and read with greater care
Where to store furs and how to treat the hair.
Millay so perfectly captures the full experience of love and loss, and it seems that all poetry has an inseparable, timeless bond with our heartache. It holds us captive in its lines as we remember deeply what it was to experience deep love and cutting pain.
Poetry opens up our hearts and allows us to truly explore the depth of our feeling when so often we’re encouraged to move on and simply forget: to have a drink or find a new relationship. To think about something else or just let go.
And poetry reminds us why it is so impossible to love and let go without first processing all of the emotions that rise to the surface when we lose someone we love. Poetry allows us to go deeper than the surface we show the world and really experience love and loss in equal measure, not passing judgment on either experience.
And so in this way, poetry and heartache are inextricably linked because poetry is born of the heart. So when we feel loss, we may write a poem or find one that expresses exactly how we feel. It’s why song lyrics are so soothing when we’re brokenhearted. It’s poetry set to music, and it helps us tell others that this is what the experience is like. It’s a comfort to read our own experience or to write out what it’s like. It helps us accept our feelings and go through them so we can finally begin to heal. We find our lives enriched for having done so.
So in honor of World Poetry Day, I offer you Millay’s guide through heartache, but I also raise a glass to poetry’s role in helping us heal when our hearts are broken. I hope when you’re sitting in darkness and staring at a seemingly endless chasm of grief that you will seek out the words to soothe the pain. Read them aloud or let them whisper quietly in your head. Commit them to memory if you need them and let them come back to you on days when going on seems too tough to manage. And I hope the words give you peace, as they have always given me peace.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Image: Flickr/Rodrigo Benavides
Editor: Travis May