Saturday, October 22, 2011


This week, I was lucky enough to be sent a poem, which is always such an important gift.

It's a common English phrase about gifts: "it's the thought that counts." What better gift, then, than a poem? It may not cost anything in terms of raw materials - just the letters that compose it. But it is a way of giving something of yourself in terms of time, effort, and honesty.

At the local poetry group's open evening last week, a number of people brought in poems to share. They opened a book of notes, or unravelled a piece of paper, with the care and attention some give to treasured possessions. One gentleman had dedicated a book of poems to his wife after her death. Another had a blue notebook which went with him everywhere, to catch his thoughts; and he read to us with a tremble in his voice, as though he was giving part of himself. And another did not read, but placed his poem in the centre of the table like a sacrifice, for others to pick up if they chose. Everyone in the group listened attentively as each person read their poem, and told their story. There were so many different styles: lyrical, sad, comic, reflective, nostalgic, rhyming, unrhyming, long lines, short lines, long poems, quick poems… But the main thing is, each person was bringing in a piece of him or her self.

The week before last, I was lucky enough to be invited to hear some poems by Christina Rossetti, interspersed between music by Haydn, Puccini, Holst and Schubert. The last verse of 'In the Bleak Midwinter' seems to me to illustrate the importance of simple sharing:

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

This was written as a poem for a magazine, but in the end was set to music and became a famous Christmas Hymn. You can hear a beautiful version at:
So, however hard it is to give, and however much the world puts in the way of our ability to share, a poem is a very special way of giving.

One more thing about the gift of a poem - it's recyclable and sustainable! It can be read again and again in different surroundings, passed on to others, and can last longer than the writer or the reader.

"If instead of a gem, or even a flower, we should cast the gift of a loving thought into the heart of a friend, that would be giving as the angels give." (George MacDonald)