Poetry for the Soul

Ruth Davidar Paul   |   March 19, 2019 

 

There are many things one can write about caring for one’s soul, but the one that comes to my mind is the habit of reading poetry. I’m honestly not sure what it is about poetry that reaches the core of my being – perhaps it’s the words themselves, strung together in poetic harmony that trigger thoughts, feelings, and emotions – but I do know that it has a profound effect on my soul.

Reading poetry doesn’t come naturally to most of us. It didn’t to me. Yet, once the veil was pulled aside and I realised the treasures to be unearthed on the other side, there was no going back. Poetry is prose for the soul. They are words that dig deeper, forcing one to think and ruminate. Reading poetry should never be rushed; it is a habit that requires patience and quietness of heart and mind. It thrives in silence and solitude. It cannot be appreciated when one is in a mad rush to complete tasks or tick off that to-do list. It requires deliberation and intentionality. Yet, I’ve realised, if one is caring for one’s soul, a little deliberation and intentionality would not go amiss.

In our day of skimming through news feeds, blogs, bullet point articles, memes, and tweets, we are in danger of losing the art of soaking into words. We no longer appreciate a turn of phrase. Everything has to be short and to the point. Yet, what a wealth of meaning and profundity we miss when we do not allow our minds to slow down and drink deeply from the well of poetry. And I’m not talking about limericks here! Rather the skill to express simple yet profound thoughts and beliefs through language that effectively touches a chord in the reader. That requires the reader be in a state of quiet anticipation and complete focus. Not many of us would describe our attitude in those words, would we? We’ve been spoilt by too much instant gratification; perhaps it is time we made an effort to quieten our souls and explore and pursue the deeper mysteries and joys of life.

Personally, I have found anthologies of Christian poetry especially those by Ruth Bell Graham, Amy Carmichael, and George MacDonald to be immensely soul caring. My husband, on the other hand, who loves to read too but has completely different taste from mine, recently realised that the lyrics of songs constitute poetry too. As a lover of music, he has been spending the last couple of weeks, going over old favourites of his (not necessarily Christian but profound nonetheless), and has been overwhelmed by the wealth of thought and emotion behind most of them.

Poems are heart cries. They give voice to inner doubts, fears, and anxieties but are also paeans– exulting in the face of calamity. And as we allow the words to soak into our souls, we find ourselves responding in prayer to our Heavenly Father. Poetry unlocks our innermost desires and apprehensions, but also provides an avenue to channel the negative towards the only One who can truly care for our souls - Yahweh.

Below are a few lines of my favourite poems. I hope they provide succour to your soul as they have to mine:

The load
that lay
like lead
lifted;
instead:
peace.

The dread
that hung
fog-thick, gray,
faded away;
and with release,
day.

The trial
the same...
unsolved,
but this:
now
it is
His.

- Ruth Bell Graham from Sitting By My Laughing Fire

Sunk in this gray
depression
I cannot pray.
How can I give
expression
with no words
to say?
This mass of vague
foreboding
of aching care,
love with its
overloading
short-circuits prayer.
Then in this fog
of tiredness,
this nothingness, I find
a quiet, certain, knowing
that He is kind.

- ‘In This Fog’ by Ruth Bell Graham from Clouds Are The Dust Of His Feet

To heal a hate
takes grace
that isn’t. There
is churning hurt
and bitterness
—and black despair.
No love. No grace.
No power to choose.
I heard a stillness.
Then
I felt His face.
His searching eyes
held mine
and would not turn me loose.
Then through hot tears
I saw and understood:
He hung cross high,
a spear was in my hand
that dripped with blood,
a helmet on my head.
I watched Him die;
but just before, He said,
“Forgive them for
they know not what
they do”...
then He was dead.
Slowly I raise my head:
the clouds were unarranged,
the sky was fair,
the warm sun shone
nothing had changed:
the hurt still there
only...
the hate was gone.

- Ruth Bell Graham from Collected Poems

Come to me, Lord: I will not speculate how,
Nor think at which door I would have thee appear,
Nor put off calling till my floors be swept,
But cry, “Come, Lord, come any way, come now.”
Doors, windows, I throw wide; my head I bow.

- George MacDonald from The Diary of an Old Soul

If I say, “Yes, I forgive, but I cannot
forget,”
as though the God,
who twice a day washes all the
sands on all the shores of all the
world,
could not wash such memories
from my mind,
then I know nothing of Calvary love.

- Amy Carmichael from If

 

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

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Ruth Davidar Paul is a freelance copy editor and content developer, who loves rummaging through used books stores and collecting old books. Apart from filling her home with overflowing bookcases, she enjoys deep conversations, jigsaw puzzles, painting, and daydreaming. She currently lives in Chennai with her husband Abhishek and their children Abigail, Jordan, and Amy.

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2 comments on “Poetry for the Soul”

  1. Hi Ruth,
    Thank you for your thoughtful article I also recommend Frances Ridley Havergal's poetry. I have read through more than one hymnal, one hymn a day, in my devotions. A. W. Tozer collected his favorites into The Christian Book Of Mystical Verse. Thanks for reminding me about Ruth Bell Graham. I will pull one of her books off my shelf right now!
    I also have overflowing bookcases! I am a church librarian and I used to be the book buyer for a Christian bookstore. I also used to live in Bangalore, in college, many years ago! That was quite an adventure for a girl from California.

  2. Hi Jeanne, church librarian and book buyer - those would be my ideal jobs! 🙂 Thank you for the recommendation, I'll check it out. And Tozer's book as well. Glad you enjoyed the article.

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