I’m always on the lookout for poems and short stories for my Shared Reading Groups. I avoid anything too maudlin or focused on death with the Hospice Groups and generally with the Dementia Groups I look for a poem with strong rhyme and rhythm. On a one to one the rhyme and rhythm isn’t always necessary if the poem contains soft or gentle words that we can linger on. One such poem is, ‘Things Men Have Made’, by D. H. Lawrence (1929)
Things men have made with wakened hands, and put soft life into
are awake through years with transferred touch, and go on glowing
for long years.
And for this reason, some old things are lovely
warm still with the life of forgotten men who made them.
Everyone in the group is given a copy of the poem. Sometimes it is difficult enough to overcome the barriers erected as soon as poetry is mentioned – fears it will be too obscure, memories of having to memorise, the acute embarrassment of having to read aloud, the feeling that everyone else seems to understand what’s going on – without producing a piece of poetry that looks like a piece of prose. With this in mind I typed up the poem with much shorter lines, disguising Lawrence’s extremely free verse.
Things men have made
With wakened hands,
And put soft life into
Are awake through the years
With transferred touch,
And go on glowing for long years.
And for this reason
Some old things are lovely
With the life of forgotten men
Who made them.
I wouldn’t presume to know better than Lawrence, but I do know how uncomfortable people can become when presented with a poem. Much has been written about prose v poetry, but for me, poetry creates the space and time to linger on words and phrases that prose rarely affords. The more slowly and deliberately one reads prose, the more it takes on a poetic form.
I was wearing the new white dress,
A birthday present,
And a wreath of frangipani.
A frangipani tree grew
Not far from the house;
It was sometimes quite bare,
Even of leaves,
The suddenly covered
With pink sweet-smelling flowers.
If you broke a branch
It bled copiously,
Not red blood,
Hibiscus, at least the Hibiscus I know,
fades soon after it is picked,
But Frangipani flowers last
And are very easy
To make into wreaths.
by Jean Rhys (Ok – so it is not a poem. It is an extract from her short story Smile Please but it could be a poem, couldn’t it?)
Rhys, Jean Smile Please (Penguin 1981, London) page 23