My Life as a Poem

As I mark another birthday this weekend, I share a beautiful few lines from Parker J. Palmer. Inspired by a brief couplet from Thoreau, Palmer considers life as poetry and our words as the stuff of life.  

The Poem I Would Have Writ

My life has been the poem I would have writ
But I could not both live and utter it.

-Henry David Thoreau

The first words are the hardest.
Sound surrounds you in the womb,
grows louder when you're born.
You listen, for the day will come
when you must speak words, too -
that's how we make our way
thru this trackless landscape
called the world. But how?
And what to say? And what
does saying do?

Later, words come easily. You learn
to speak the language of what you
want and need, to help you find a
pathway into and through your life,
to make clear what you believe,
reach out to friends, find work to do,
heal your wounds, ease your fears,
get chance on chance to give love
and receive. Sometimes words leap
out of you in ways you soon regret -
or in ways so magical you silently
rehearse them, hoping never to forget
how they came out of the blue,
demanding to have life
breathed into them by you.

Then you learn that first words aren't
the hardest. The hardest are the last.

There's so much you want to say,
but time keeps taking time and all your
words away. How to say - amid the
flood of grief and gratitude you feel -
"Thank you!," or "How beautiful, how
grand!," or "I don't know how I survived,"
or "I was changed forever the day
we two joined lives and hands."

As you reach for your last words,
you realize, this is it - this ebbing tide
of language called your life, words
trailing into silence, returning to
the source - this unfinished poem
you would have writ, had it not been
for the heartache and the joy
of all the years you've been living it.

- Parker J. Palmer


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