On poetry and being authentic...
This morning I awoke with the line ‘the time will come when, with elation, you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror…’ from the poem ‘Love after Love’ by Derek Walcott.
In preparation for a workshop I am delivering later this week on ‘Being Authentic’ and the power that authenticity holds for each of us, I decided to take this poem into my heart, and weave it, like an alchemical medicine into my cells. The poem reminded me of how, as a little girl, I loved performing poetry. Until one day, standing on the stage at a Feis Ceoil (concert), I became self-conscious for the first time. Feeling vulnerable and exposed I rushed through my chosen poem so as to get off the stage as quickly as possible. Afterwards, I felt embarrassed and silly and hearing the accusation ‘no one likes a show off!’’ I stopped attending my poetry lessons.
It wasn’t until many years later I reconnected with poetry and my love for reciting a poem out loud. During that time I discovered the medicinal properties of poetry and how certain words and phrases can become food for the soul, whether I needed inspiration, courage, care, or vision. In the words of poet Kim Rosen ‘Many of us have searched for guides to help unravel the riddles of our existence and point us toward aspects of ourselves we cannot uncover on our own. We have turned to gurus, friends, lovers, and mentors for help. A poem you love can be such a teacher’. (2009)
With this in mind, I wanted to learn from the wisdom in the poem ‘Love after Love’. It speaks of the disconnection we can have from ourselves when we expend all our energy and focus outwards, wanting to be seen, recognised, or acknowledged by others when in fact it is ourselves we need to see, value and hold dear. The lines I stumbled on ‘Give back your heart to itself, to the stranger who has loved you all your life, whom you ignored for another’ alerted me to the message I most needed to hear. Having completed a PhD in women’s studies and international relations, I felt guilty about not pursuing an academic career. My soul said ‘follow your heart’ and my mind said ‘think of all the time and energy you have put into your research!’
‘Love after Love’ reminded me of the importance of not trying to ‘fit in’ to be accepted. Whether it is fitting into an institution, or others expectations of you, a job, a particular life path, or a group of friends you have outgrown. As academic social worker Brene Brown says: ‘authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be, and embracing who we are’. (2010)
Encouraged by Brene’s words I began to consider how I could weave together my passion for women’s rights and advancement, which I had previously expressed through my PhD research and my activist work with Hanna’s House; with my love for creativity, expressed through poetry and playwriting; and my desire to support alternative leadership models by empowering women to articulate their vision. From there my ‘Inspiring Woman Programme’ was born, blending together what I love being and doing by researching, designing and delivering programmes for women and girls that support them, to step into evolutionary leadership roles, and make a difference in the world.
When I reflected on my childhood experience with poetry and the joy and pleasure poetry had given me and others, by sharing it, and moving listeners to laughter or tears, I appreciated the wisdom of the line ‘whom you ignored for another, who knows you by heart’ and the importance of continually connecting with what brings us alive, what gives our life meaning, and what being authentic truly looks like for each one of us.
Do you have a favourite poem? If so, please share it here. I’d love to know how it has touched your life …
Love after Love
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will great yourself arriving
at your own door,
in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread.
Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
By Derek Walcott