Poetry is not just words on a page nor is it a code to be deciphered. Former Poet Laureate of the U.S., Robert Pinsky says, “…poetry is a vocal, which is to say a bodily, art. The medium of poetry is a human body: the column of air inside the chest shaped into signifying sounds in the larynx and the mouth. In this sense, poetry is just as physical or bodily an art as dancing.”
Kim Rosen says, “Poetry was created to be experienced in the body and spoken aloud. Made of breath, sound, rhythm, meaning, and silence, a poem is a physical event. It needs a human body to give it life.”
Ted Andrews shares in “Toning for Health” that Pythagoras understood the therapeutic power of human speech. “He treated diseases through the reading of poetry. He taught his students how a skillful, well-modulated voice, with beautiful words and pleasing meter, could restore balance to the body and soul.”
Studies have shown that reading poetry out loud has physical benefits:
“When patients read or recite poetry, the rhythms have been shown to improve the regularity of their heart and breathing rates.” Indeed, a study published in the International Journal of Cardiology showed that when volunteers read poetry aloud for 30 minutes, their pulse rates were slower than those of people in a control group who engaged in conversation.
“Porter didn’t have to completely understand the poems in order to love their sound and force. Indeed, doubters often believe that to appreciate poems you must decipher their obscure messages. Actually, much of a poem’s power lies in the simple elements of imagery and rhythm. ‘The content isn’t always so important,” Campo says. “Poems can enter us through visceral channels that don’t depend at all on cognitive processes.’ ”
~ Ann Japenga, Balancing Act—The Poetry Cure
Shamans have employed poetic devices such as simile and metaphor in creating healing chants and incantations. “…the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria uses the concreteness of the simile to clarify a direct command: ‘As the river always flows forwards and never back, so your illness will never return.’ ”
“The Navajo employ patterned songs and antiphonal singing (call and response) during curing sessions. “First the sing-doctor pleads: ‘His feet restore for him, his mind restore for him, his voice restore him.’ The patient responds: ‘My feet are getting better, my head is feeling better, I am well all over.’ ”
~ Abraham A. Blinderman, Ph.D., Shamans, Witch Doctors, Medicine Men and Poetry
Chants like these create a hypnotic effect leaving one more receptive to the words or commands in the chants.
Gila Cadry, a healer who uses sound says, “The sacred writings, the psalms and the prayers, are encoded. Through sounding these words with intention, we can move into altered states of consciousness and avail ourselves with insights and healings at all levels: physical, emotional, and spiritual.”
This all ties into the practice of Science of Mind since the tools it employs such as prayer treatments and affirmations use the voice and words.
When doing treatments we become connected to or remember our Divine Source. When we reach that place our speech often turns to verse. Phil Hine says, “The Deep Mind often speaks to us in verse. Cross-cultural studies of the vocal patterns of people in the throes of possession show a striking similarity, that of a rising and falling intonation at the end of each phrase, with each phrase punctuated by a pause or groan. This pattern emerges regardless of native language and cultural background. The English version of this rhythm is known as Iambic Pentameter.” Iambic Pentameter is a commonly used metrical line in traditional verse. The da-DUM of a human heartbeat is the most common example of this rhythm. Ben Crystal says that “iambic pentameter is the rhythm of our English language and of our bodies – a line of that poetry has the same rhythm as our heartbeat. A line of iambic pentameter fills the human lung perfectly, so it’s the rhythm of speech.”
Perhaps we could employ this rhythm in our affirmations as well as other poetic devices to make them even more powerful.
Kim Rosen says, “You see, poetry is actually the most ancient form of prayer or affirmation. So when you read a poem you love, especially if you read it aloud and really take it into your heart, it will actually harmonize all levels of your being—mental, emotional, physical and spiritual. And it’s not only about the meaning. The poem is a medicine that literally comes into your body and can affect your very biochemistry. Literal physiological changes happen through what I call the “Shamanic” elements of the poem: the rhythm, the sound, the shape and, of course, the meaning.”
The following early Irish poem employs repetition and metaphor. It is a powerful piece on the page, but take note of how you feel when you hear it read out loud. Later try reading out loud yourself. Read other poems, meaningful to you out loud to learn more about the healing power of poetry.
By Amergin Glúingel
I am the wind which breathes upon the sea,
I am the wave of the ocean,
I am the murmur of the billows,
I am the ox of the seven combats,
I am the vulture upon the rocks,
I am a beam of the sun,
I am the fairest of plants,
I am a wild boar in valour,
I am a salmon in the water,
I am a lake in the plain,
I am a word of science,
I am the point of the lance of battle,
I am the God who created in the head the fire.
Who is it who throws light into the meeting on the mountain?
Who announces the ages of the moon?
Who teaches the place where crouches the sun?
(If not I)
-- Trans. Douglas HYDE
Amergin Glúingel ("white knees") or Glúnmar ("big knee") was a druid, bard and judge for the Milesians in the Irish Mythological Cycle. He was appointed Chief Ollam of Ireland by his two brothers the kings of Ireland. A number of poems attributed to Amergin are part of the Milesian mythology.
Erik Goodwyn, MD, Psychiatrist, Psychotherapist says:
Irish Theologian John O’ Donohue, in his Anam Cara adds “This ancient poem reverses the lonely helplessness of Descarte’s ‘I think therefore I am’”.
I couldn’t agree more. The lesson of the Poem of Amergen is that we are not isolated minds floating about the universe like billiard balls. We are interconnected with everything. We have within us the land, the sea, the gods, the sun, and everything within the world. The ancient Celts and Norse both viewed the world in a non-dualistic fashion–they saw everything as interconnected. That was their genius and their contribution to the understanding of the soul.