Like all the arts, poetry can be used as medicine for your soul (https://poeticmedicine.org/about/). No training, experience, talent or skill is required when you use poetry as medicine, because the point of doing it is solely for you to express and heal yourself. No one needs to ever read your healing poems but you.
Want to try it out?
A Poem that Points towards the Divine In Us
Many poets of the past have created works that speak to the deeper, truer realms inside us. We can use these poems, those that capture our imagination and move our emotions, as starting points for exploring poetry as medicine.
Today we’ll play with a lovely piece by the 14th century Persian lyrical poet Hafiz called “A Golden Compass”.
Have a read for yourself and see if anything resonates for you:
A GOLDEN COMPASS
by Hafiz, translation by Daniel Ladinsky
Forget every idea of right and wrong any classroom ever taught you
Because an empty heart, a tormented mind, unkindness, jealousy and fear
Are always the testimony you have been completely fooled!
Turn your back on those who would imprison your wondrous spirit
With deceit and lies.
Come, join the honest company of the King’s beggars –
Those gamblers, scoundrels and divine clowns and those astonishing fair courtesans
Who need Divine Love every night.
Come, join the courageous who have no choice but to bet their entire world
That indeed, indeed, God is real.
I will lead you into the circle of the Beloved’s cunning thieves,
Those playful royal rogues, the ones you can trust for true guidance –
Who can aid you in this blessed calamity of life.
Hafiz, look at the Perfect One at the circle’s center:
He spins and whirls like a Golden Compass, beyond all that is rational,
To show this dear world that everything, everything in existence
Does point to God.
Interpret the Poem through your own Experience
Anything speak to you? I personally like the lines “Come, join the courageous who have no choice but to bet their entire world/ That indeed, indeed, God is real.” I also like the paradoxical phrase “this blessed calamity of life”, and the ending line “everything in existence/Does point to God.”
I resonate with Hafiz’s characterization of himself and his friends as those who “have no choice but to bet their entire world that indeed, God is real.” I relate to that position of having no choice but to rely on Higher Power – that speaks to the truth of the recovery path.
Finally, when Hafiz describes “playful rogues” it makes me think of the fact that AA meetings are often full of laughter, filled with people who have had colorful lives. It is not a holier-than-thou kind of crowd, as people there span the full spectrum from darkness to light.
What do you relate to?
Poetry Medicine Exercise: Your Own Version of “A Golden Compass”
Remembering the goal is soul medicine, not good poetry, write your own version of this poem. You can do whatever you want of course, but two helpful creative constraints are:
- Use your own name at least once. The poem should be from you to you. The original poem is written, apparently, to himself, as the line, “Hafiz, look at the Perfect One…” suggests (many of his poems are). Do the same, make sure it is for you and from you.
- Be encouraging, offering some kind of an inspiration or nudge. Lead yourself, your attention and your focus somewhere, invite yourself to look at something wonderful. Tell yourself what you need to hear, about what you should turn away from, and what you should turn towards.
Step One: Freewrite on Jumping Off Points taken from the Original Poem
Set a timer for 12 minutes, then start freewriting anything that’s coming to your mind, beginning with the phrase “Forget every idea you’ve had of…”
My example line, so you get the idea: Forget every idea you’ve had of what a good life is, dear Holly Mae, and come back to the origin of all things. Seeds sprout, they grow, they want to live, and so do you. Is that such a bad thing? It is not. It is a good thing….
When you feel this jumping off point has been exhausted, try writing lines that start with “Turn your back on…” and then “Come, join the….”.
Feel free to follow your own intuition and feeling as it flows, there isn’t a right or wrong way to this, these are suggestions more than rules.
Step Two: Harvest Lines from Your Freewrite
After the timer goes off, look back over what you have written and underline any lines that seem interesting or intriguing to you for any reason. You will take those lines, change them as you see fit, and use them to make your poem in the next step.
Step Three: Shape It Into a Medicine Poem
Now create your poem using the harvested lines as inspiration (which you can feel free to change.) At this stage, do not worry about your poem directly referencing or mirroring the original poem. Maybe it does, or maybe it doesn’t.
The Fearful Seed (Poetry Medicine Response to “A Golden Compass” by Hafiz)
If you find yourself splitting
open helpless and wet
like a seed soaked in rainwater
something green in you
Do not be so scared, Holly Mae.
Growing is a good thing
is it not?
You have known for a long time
what you are. You like to see saplings growing.
It’s your time
to be a tree.
May your poems be meaningful to you!