In Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion, Anne Elliot prescribes a greater dose of prose for a young navy lieutenant who has been grieving the loss of his fiancée by drowning himself in melancholy poems.
For myself and my fellow Northerners, though, I’m writing the reverse prescription – more poetry in a season that grows alarmingly prosaic in the winter months. Although taking refuge in a volume of written poems might be one way to do this, I’m thinking more about something I read in The Forgotten Language, a new book by Father Michael Rennier. In it, Father Rennier writes about recovering the poetry of the Catholic Mass, which he says is “the perfection of the Church’s poetic skill,” and he introduces his subject by sharing his great love of poetry but also his belief that “poetics is the art of living.”
He tells how his six children have taught him to “pay attention to the poetic shape of our lives” and paints a beautiful picture of his toddler lingering over a generic tree and then carrying a leaf dropped from its limbs in one hand while holding her father’s hand with the other as stones she has collected jingle in her pocket.
“I’ve missed so much in my need to talk and fuss, my arrogance and busyness,” Father Rennier writes. “Now I make up for lost time. With my children, I look at airplanes in the sky. We look at mommy ducks and baby ducks, bird nests stuffed with mottled blue eggs, and fish flopping and shaking off drops of emerald-green water before we release them with a triumphant cry back into the lake. I love it all.”
During an exceedingly gray, dull Midwestern winter that has offered us precious little to soothe the senses, I’ve taken to wandering about and searching for something lovely, snapping photos along the way, and finding solace in unexpected beauty.
My finds so far:
A nearly perfect dried Oak leaf that I retrieved and have been keeping in my office as a reminder that fall left me a remnant of her seasonal show,
patches of fungus artistically arranged on tree bark,
a dappled sheen on the pond that suggests fairies might have scattered dust on it overnight,
Common Milkweed pods spilling out their silky floss,
and the seedheads on Blue Vervain proving that, like elegant octogenarians possessed of good posture, they can still exude style in the winter of their lives.
Father Rennier says his children have revealed to him that “creation is wildly rampant with God’s love, that it is gratuitously flung from His hand, shattering into shards of diamond. He is waiting for me and you, His little children, to look, to notice the sparkle under our feet and stoop to investigate.”
Reading his book during long winter nights next to the wood stove has rekindled my own quest to look for the poetic and to be a child who notices and investigates, regardless of the season or the setting. Truly, the poetry of our lives is always there, waiting to be discovered. If you are in a gray place geographically or in your circumstances, maybe this would be a good time to dust off your poetic lens and look for something that speaks beauty into your soul. You might be surprised to find a strand of poetry right under your feet.