Do you get lines from a poem stuck in your head?
I do, just as often as I get lyrics from a song in there. But lines from a poem linger in a different way; they seem to be trying to tell me something. The choice of lines is diagnostic.
Poets through the centuries have furnished us with a marvelous dictionary of terms describing grief, depression, infatuation, anger, fear and every other emotion. When I’m in a certain emotional state, my subconscious dredges up an appropriate fragment.
“Oh,” I might say to myself, “I’m depressed, so these lines fit.” But I’m cheating myself if I do that, because it’s more subtle than that. There are a thousand nuances to despair, and looking deeper at the choice of lines might give me clues to what lies beneath.
Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” is one of my favorite somber and despairing poems. It rings with love, and pain, and twisted hope that seems to ebb with the waves.
But that’s not my whisperer today, or for the last week. What’s whispering to me is from “Bereft” by Robert Frost. Specifically, the end:
“Something sinister in the tone
Told me my secret must be known,
Word I was in the house alone
Somehow must have gotten abroad,
Word I was in my life alone,
Word I had no one left but God.”
If I welcome the whisperer, and consider its words, and apply their shades to my view of what’s going on with me, I get bits of insight. I find there’s a reason for this particular whisper. In this case, I needed a way of painting that cold, bleak feeling that comes when I know it’s up to me; that no human agency is going to have mercy on my soul. I needed to see that I really have been thinking about God a lot, and thinking about my need for God. Frost’s lines beat in my head with a gentle but implacable rhythm, wanting me to stay with this cold and this emptiness until I find the right remedy.