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Guiding Voices

Poetry was a vital component of my own healing, and I am deeply grateful for the guiding voices of the many poets, alive and dead, who held me, reassured me, reminded me, and inspired me along my path. A good poem engages both the seen and the unseen, feelings and thoughts, and speaks to where you are in a way that isn’t as accessible through daily language. A good poem can also hold the vision of the future when your own eyes cannot see very far.

Choose a poem as a healing tincture for a period of time and take it deeply into yourself by printing it out, putting it on your phone, reading it daily, and perhaps even committing it to memory.

I have copied excerpts from some of the most powerful poems for me in my journey across the brutal landscape of loss. If the poem resonates with you I recommend reading the entire poem.

I have divided the page into three sections for poems that I found helpful at different phases.

The Descent:
The initial shock and disorientation that occurs at the beginning of a meaningful loss.

The Initiation:
The hard and transformational path we must walk across the barren landscape of loss.

The Return:
The time when we called to return to the world and discover that we now have eyes that can see in the dark.

The Descent

Traveler, your footprints

By Antonio Machado

Traveler your footprints
are the only road, nothing else.
Traveler, there is no road;
you make your own path as you walk.
As you walk, you make your own road,
and when you look back
you see the path
you will never travel again.
Traveler, there is no road;
only a ship’s wake on the sea.

The Layers

By Stanley Kunitz

In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

Let This Darkness Be a Bell Tower

Written by Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated and read by Joanna Macy

Quiet friend who has come so far,

feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.

And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.

From Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29

What to Do in the Darkness

by Marilyn McEntyre

Go slowly
Consent to it
But don’t wallow in it
Know it as a place of germination
And growth
Remember the light
Take an outstretched hand if you find one
Exercise unused senses

Find the path by walking it
Practice trust
Watch for dawn