Today, 6 October 2016, is National Poetry Day and Twitter is full of celebrations for everything from best-loved verses to unusual and little discovered gems.In the spirit of the day, I thought I would share a silly sonnet I wrote as part of an Open University course, which is a take-off of a well-known Shakespearean composition (apologies to the Bard for taking such liberties…):
If Shakespeare were a hypochondriac…
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
I think I’d rather not.
All spring and summer I suffer from hay
fever. Out! Out! Damned yellow snot!
So what can I compare thee to instead?
Perhaps an autumn morn?
But with the onerous onset of SAD
Would I feel too forlorn?
Could I compare thee to a winter’s eve?
Of virgin snow just laid?
Unfortunately there’d be no reprieve
From Lemsips freshly made.
Believe me, darling, you are beautiful
Alas my illnesses are plentiful.
This however is not the Pantheist poem that I alluded to in the title of this post. That refers to the poem I have chosen to share with you today, a poem that apparently has been voted one of Britain’s favourites but whose authorship has been greatly disputed.
The piece in question is ‘Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep’ by Mary Elizabeth Frye (1905-2004), a comforting reflection of what happens to our loved ones when they die. I’d come across the sonnet years ago and loved it for its simple message that, once our physical bodies cease to exist, our souls find homes in the marvels of the natural world, and that God is reflected, and can be found, in Nature. I believe this is a sort of pantheistic view (you can read more about Pantheism here).
The poem took on special meaning to me more recently as I lost my stepfather Keith just over a week ago. He came into my life when I was already an adult but has been there for me and my family over the past two decades, providing love and support, friendship and kindness. He was a much-loved grandfather to Holly, teaching her how to play hide and seek (making her laugh by always standing underneath the coat stand in the hallway so she would just see a pair of legs sticking out from under a mountain of jackets) and amusing her with Mini-Cheddar tricks.
When my mother, stepsister and I were discussing the service for his funeral next Monday we all agreed that this poem expressed the sentiments of our own beliefs and provided a comfort that we needed at this sad time.The idea that we can remember Keith every time we see a sunset, or a flock of birds, or in the stars seemed apt – he loved the natural world and was a keen and skilled gardener. And with all the atrocities taking place in the world at the moment, it’s vital that we look to Nature for reassurance and peace because, while warring governments and regimes insist on tearing apart our planet and displacing or killing innocent people, Nature carries on regardless. The sun rises and sets and the seasons change despite our actions. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that there are things out there that bigger than us, although we also play a hugely important role in ensuring their survival.
Apparently Mary Elizabeth Frye wrote this, her only poem (that we know of), on a brown, paper shopping bag after hearing the story of Margaret Schwarzkopf, a young Jewish girl who had stayed with the Frye family. The young woman wasn’t able to return to Germany to see her dying mother because of the increasing anti-semetic violence in the country leading up to the Second World War, and was forced to mourn her at a distance. Frye’s words attest to the fact that we can still ‘be’ with people spiritually even if we cannot be with them physically and it’s easy to see how Schwarzkopf’s experiences could have inspired the sentiments expressed in this poem.
So many people liked Frye’s sonnet that she wrote out her own copies and gave them away. She never copyrighted the poem or officially published it, which is why its origins came into dispute a little while ago. But it has become one of the most popular poems in this country and abroad for its simple beauty and its timelessness. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
Which is your favourite poem? Who is your favourite poet? Please share, and Happy National Poetry Day!