When Poetry Converts to Prayer

One thing we can all agree with . . . poets are observers. Of people, patterns, and paradox. Of emotion,  enigmas, and ethos. In silence, sleep, and seclusion we ruminate and reflect. We roll around in the spring pansies and willow boughs and write their joy. In winter, we examine snowflake designs and compose similes. On the street, we trade sighs with strangers, mirroring life’s struggles, and we sculpt  slant rhymes to save for a sonnet or cinquain.

Our hearts are often saturated with emotion. Our minds are like Spirographs. This sometimes makes it difficult to honor our craft. We feel what belongs to others. It’s impossible not to. Is this intuition? Or instinct? Empathy? Insight?

William Wordsworth said,

“Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.”


For me, digging into this avalanche of emotion can make it difficult to unearth the tranquility necessary to whittle a poem with artistry and skill. Even in seclusion my mind often races. I struggle to burrow through my mind’s Spirographed agitation (inspiration?) to expose versed thoughts.

When this happens, I turn my rough-hewn poetic thoughts  into prayers.

My mother is slowly dying of Alzheimer’s.  Sometimes she doesn’t know me. One thing she does know, however, is that something is not right. She just  doesn’t know what.

Yesterday she asked me to pray for her.

Today she prayed to die.

I need to do something with the overflow of emotion in my heart. I cannot write a poem to express the powerful sorrow and pain I feel for her.  I cannot write of my grief. I am unable to dig through the sands of sentiment to even find a poem inside me.

So, I turned to prayer and other poets to do what I cannot.

C.S. Lewis writes of death after prayers. I find it comforting. Even in his despair and after his death, he has connected with me through his poetry and prayers. Isn’t that what poetry is supposed to do?  Isn’t this why we write it? This season of my life,  I’ll hold onto my faith and the poetry of others to express what’s hidden in my heart.

“After Prayers, Lie Cold” by C. S. Lewis

Arise my body, my small body, we have striven
Enough, and He is merciful; we are forgiven.
Arise small body, puppet-like and pale, and go,
White as the bed-clothes into bed, and cold as snow,
Undress with small, cold fingers and put out the light,
And be alone, hush’d mortal, in the sacred night,
-A meadow whipt flat with the rain, a cup
Emptied and clean, a garment washed and folded up,
Faded in colour, thinned almost to raggedness
By dirt and by the washing of that dirtiness.
Be not too quickly warm again. Lie cold; consent
To weariness’ and pardon’s watery element.
Drink up the bitter water, breathe the chilly death;
Soon enough comes the riot of our blood and breath.


Maybe tomorrow, after my prayers,  I’ll feel inspired to write my mom a poem.


6 thoughts on “When Poetry Converts to Prayer

  1. J.Lynn, Even though my thoughts are almost 3 years too late, I am with you when you lost your mother. It’s so hard, isn’t it? And yet it happens to every one of us.

    Warm and comforting thoughts,

  2. My mother spent 7 years disappearing into Alzheimer’s, and now my aunt is in the same descent. There are no words, but poetry helps. We used to read poetry to my mother, and even when she no longer knew us she would respond to that.

Speak to me of thoughts unspoken.

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