Complex Simplicity

Have I lived enough?

Have I loved enough?

Have I considered Right Action enough, have I come to any

Have I experienced happiness with sufficient gratitude?

Have I endured loneliness with grace?

I say this, or perhaps I’m just thinking it.
Actually I probably think too much.

Then I step out into the garden,
Where the gardener, who is said to be a simple man,
is tending his children, the roses.

- The Gardener, Mary Oliver


In high school I learned about Frost, Whitman, Poe, Byron, and Plath. I learned to analyze the text and the composition. I was tested on why the poet chose to use a particular word in a particular way, and to discern what message was embedded within the spaces that connected each word.

I don’t remember being asked how poetry made me feel, and I find that terribly sad.

I find it almost a crime that, in school, the analytical aspects of poetry were emphasized to a greater degree than the emotional. Granted, it was my teachers’ job to get the nuts and bolts of the text into my mind for the next exam, but I lost the composition in favor of knowing individual notes.

At 31, I wish, instead of textual analysis, I was put on an emotional scavenger hunt. Here are some poets, famous and obscure. Find a poem that makes you weep. Another that deepens your joy. One more that sets fire to your anger.

When I find myself overthinking. Which is often. I recall part of Mary Oliver’s “The Gardener”. After a moment, my thoughts slow, I perceive my environment more broadly, and I feel content.

Poetry continues to be the best way in which I can feel the world and my place in it. It has gotten me through some of the worst my depression and anxiety could offer, and, I feel, it can provide those that do not live with mental illness far more than an analytical understanding of the disease.