off the cuff

The taste of words on the tongue

Poetry is the ultimate expression of our emotions as human beings and an art form pure and often purposeful

16:47 January 6, 2018

As we seep gently into a new year and brush off last year’s excesses and excuses with promises of change, the realisation dawns upon us that we have another opportunity to make ourselves better people and do things that we might not have done before. I’ve been thinking about poetry this week and how we never really see much of it in our daily lives as perhaps we should.

There was a time when I dabbled when I was younger, but I haven’t written or read any poetry in a while. I suppose at this time of the year, we begin to think about days gone by and how we might improve upon our lives. We remember all the things that have given us joy and peace over the years. For me, this has included poetry; with the taste of words on the tongue and vivid images that shock and delight. For me poetry is the ultimate expression of our emotions as human beings and an art form that is pure and often purposeful.

My memories of poetry began in my school days, with English classes that brought the greats to the ears of my younger self along with my fellow pupils; some of them begrudging, others beguiling. I’ll never forget my introduction to the words of the war poet Wilfred Owen and being transported directly to the battle fields of First World War, bringing the terror and truth of the horror of war to our young minds. The words linger with me to this day:

‘If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,

Bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.’

Such writing has always moved me as the way that words should always be written. Part of me feels that we should have more poetry in our lives to make us think and to bring more art into our world.

Another poem that has stayed with me is the one I discovered while reading Emily Bronte, who is best-known for her dark and brooding novel, Wuthering Heights, which is set in the Yorkshire Moors. I was struck by one of her poems that was printed in the copy of the book, a familiar lament over countryside that is beautiful and yet terrible.

‘Redbreast, early in the morning

Dank and cold and cloudy grey,

Wildly tender is thy music

Chasing angry thoughts away.’

But Emily’s tone changes towards the end of the poem and she brings a deep sorrow to the writing.

‘I heard it then, you heard it too,

And seraph sweet it sang to you;

But like a shriek of misery,

That wild, wild music wailed to me.’

These are the words that have stayed with me and I’ve often wondered why; they speak of the feeling of being trapped in a world that is perhaps not of your making and which doesn’t seem to fit with an ideal. But there also exists beauty and we can all relate to Emily’s conflicting feelings.

We live in a busy world today that seems to be getting much more unpredictable and daunting, with so many distractions that it seems too much to ask to sit and take the time to explore ourselves, to find out what gives us pleasure and pain, as well as those around us.

There is probably a poem out there that perfectly describes our feelings at any given time; it’s just a matter of having a look and seeing what, if anything, you like. This New Year is the perfect time to become the people we are seeking to be and to try and make sense of the world around us. And who knows, we might feel something we haven’t in a while; even if it’s just bafflement, anger or cynicism — it is something. And that’s what being alive is all about.

Christina Curran is a freelance journalist based in Northern Ireland.