The Therapeutic Benefit of Poetry

From the beginning of time, poetry has been a means for people to express their deepest emotions and create healing in ritual and ceremony. In Greek mythology, we know that Asclepius, the God of Healing, was the son of Apollo, god of poetry. Hermes served as messenger between the two worlds to communicate between the gods and humanity. He carried the caduceus, “the winged rod with two serpents intertwined, which has become a symbol of the medical profession” (Poplawski, 75). Poems have also been viewed as carriers of messages from the unconscious to the conscious mind. Wherever people gather to mark a moment, they speak from heart to heart, with poetry.

In the counseling office, perhaps you have read a poem to a client that seemed to capture an issue she/he was struggling with, offering not only understanding, but hope. After the tragedy of 9/11, the airwaves and internet rang with poems of solace. When war in Iraq was imminent, a website developed where people could send poems expressing their feelings: Poets Against the War. Within days, thousands of poems were posted.


Mary Oliver, in her poem, “Wild Geese,” says, “Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.” (Oliver, 110) Joy Harjo, in “Fire” says. “look at me/I am not a separate woman/I am the continuance/ of blue sky/I am the throat of the mountains.” (Harjo, 25) The fourteenth century Persian poet Lala speaks about poetry:

I didn’t trust it for a moment
but I drank it anyway,
the wine of my own poetry.

It gave me the daring to take hold
of the darkness and tear it down
and cut it into little pieces. (Barks, 11)

These are lines to carry in our hearts, because they open us to beauty, a sense of self, healing, truth, and human connection, and all this in just a few words!

At conception, we are born to the rhythm of the heart, growing in the fluid darkness until one day we stretch our way into light. With our first cry, we make our first poem, a sound that reverberates in our mother’s heart, and when she cries in response, we hear our first poem. And so it continues, the voices of those who care for us convey all of the emotions we will come to know as our own, words, that if written down, would be poetry. It’s that simple. Poetry is giving sound and rhythm to silence, to darkness, giving it a shape, turning it to light. When we read a poem that speaks to our experience, there is a shift, a click within. Someone has understood our darkness by naming their own. We feel less alone. Therapeutically, the “I” of us gathers energy and insight. Our world expands.

The following poem illustrates the concept of writing a poem to give darkness and suffering a voice. It was written by a participant in Phyllis’ poetry therapy group, part of an intensive day treatment program for women addicted to alcohol and drugs. This poem states the truth of the author’s experience in a haunting and beautiful way, giving the reader the opportunity to relate to what it feels like to be “broken.”

News About Poetry:
Poetry Foundation
Shore poets
Poetry pairing


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