Poem of the Week

Whether you are religious or not, it has probably not escaped your notice that this weekend heralds the arrival of Easter Sunday. For some people, this festival remains the most important in the Christian calendar. For others, the long weekend provides an opportunity to spend time with family and eat lots of chocolate. For this week’s Poem of the Week, I wanted to choose a poem that was somehow relevant to Easter without being overtly religious. Such a poem is not easy to find. Older poetry can fixate on it, whilst some contemporary poetry neglects it altogether. Consequently, I was thrilled to come across Elizabeth Jennings’ poem A Return which reflects Easter themes such as re-birth, joy and hope:

 

A Return

 

I have come back to life today,

I have come back into the world of moons and suns

And flowers and trees leaping into the light

And all the earth a-dance.

Somebody told me that I nearly died.

I never knew till today I’d been near death,

Was reduced to half-a-breath,

But I am back and I understand Lazarus

Although he truly died.

I know why he could not say

What death was like. There’s nothing to compare

That country with. But I

Am back with a slightly faulty memory

And a muddled mind. Nonetheless,

I am back rejoicing with an easy air

And beautiful men and women and children who

Smile at me and I smile back and O

I simply want to bless.

 

Elizabeth Jennings

 

Depending on how you read it, this poem may seem religious. The reference to Lazarus (the biblical figure brought back to life by Jesus) and the use of the word ‘bless’ in the final line sort of work together to give you an impression of religiosity. Even the concept of coming ‘back to life’ could hint at the resurrection of Jesus.

 

However, it is entirely possible to read this poem as separate from religion. It is about any return to life – not a just biblical one. Jennings writes about a state of ‘near death’, of living with only ‘half-a-breath’ in a world with no ‘moons and suns’. This is a bleak place, devoid of joy or hope. It seems like a description of the experience of grief or loneliness or even depression.

 

The process of getting over despair or moving on with things or waking up one morning and feeling just a little better is portrayed as ‘return’ to life. It’s a compelling and arresting idea. To be psychologically or emotionally absent from life even if, physically, you’re still living seems terrifying. It makes that idea of ‘return’ so much more joyful. This joy is almost tangible in the last few lines:

 

I am back rejoicing with an easy air

And beautiful men and women and children who

Smile at me and I smile back and O

I simply want to bless.

The world is beautiful once more, and suddenly everything seems a little brighter.

 

However you choose to spend this Easter – whether it’s at church or with family or playing Easter Egg Hunt games with your children or eating vast quantities of chocolate yourself – I hope you have a lovely weekend full of sunshine and happiness.

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Filed under Celebrations, Poem of the Week, Poetry

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