Poems to inspire

You must learn one thing. The world was made to be free in.” — David Whyte, “Sweet Darkness”

I often read favorite poems aloud in my writing workshops. I do this not only because I love good poetry, but because I believe everyone will benefit from exploring it. The right poem can work magic, and even change a life.

Typically, I select poems that remind us to honor our true nature — or encourage us to keep working even when we’re blocked or discouraged. Some, like David Whyte‘s poem, below, ponder the loneliness of being an artist or a creative outsider. Others, including a Billy Collins poem I’ll share later on, offer writing advice with a sense of whimsy and humor. My students seem to enjoy discussing the poems — even the ones who claimed they never cared much for poetry — and many ask for copies to take home.

It’s important to read a poem several times, listening for new meaning to reveal itself.  Whyte’s “Sweet Darkness” is a longtime favorite of mine. But after rereading it in the new year (with middle-aged perspective) I find that different lines touch a chord in me now. This time around, the poem reminds me that life is short. It urges me to fill my days with non-toxic, supportive people — and to get on with the work I was meant to do.

Today I’m excited about launching a new series for this blog. Every week or so, I’ll post a poem here that speaks to the creative process, or inspires me in some way. At the end of each poem I’ll include the name of the book in which the work originally appeared — in case you’d like to read more of the poet’s work. I’ll save all of the poems in a new category titled “Poems to inspire.” I promise they’ll be accessible — and appeal to everyone who dreams big and deep. — CL

By David Whyte

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone,
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your home

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

–Reprinted from The House of Belonging, by David Whyte (Many Rivers Press); 1997

— Top photo, “Winter Sky” (copyright) by Cindy La Ferle —

18 thoughts on “Poems to inspire

  1. Glad you enjoyed! Several writers in my classes who didn’t care for poetry at all have now become serious fans of contemporary poets. Sadly, some poetry isn’t all that accessible to most readers, but the poems I’ll be including here will appeal to everyone — and still have literary merit. I promise.

  2. Beautiful, beautiful verse. At first reading, I could definitely copy those last 3 lines and make it a mantra for life. They say so much, while elevating all that we are.

  3. I’m a normally a non-poem reader…I liked this one. Glad you’re doing this, Cindy. Because you’re doing the winnowing, and we’ll only be reading the good, I’ll probably discover that I didn’t know I loved poetry.

  4. Kathleen — I love doing the “winnowing” for you, and can’t wait to share the other poems next in line. BTW, quotes from “Sweet Darkness” were featured with a gorgeous photo essay in a previous issue of Oprah magazine a while back. Talk about mainstream! 🙂

  5. Cindy, I am so glad you posted this poem. Serendipity. There are some things we can learn only in the sweet confinement of our aloneness. I will read this again and again.

  6. Love your new series, Cindy. I have loved poetry, probably all my life, and use to cut my teeth on Shakespeare, Millay, and Parker. Also did interpretative poetry readings at various times in my life. And of course, as a young girl/woman, wrote poetry. I, too, love the last few lines of his poem which reminds me of something a dear friend told me: It will take 3 positive people to 1 negative person to bring you back to the positive side of life. . .and so I love the phrase “is too small for you.” No truer words have been said.

  7. I am thrilled you are doing this , Cindy.
    I look forward to your selections. I do love poetry , it seems. Even write some :).
    And because I always enjoy your readers insightful comments, this feature will only bring great things!

    And I have to read this a few more times ..

  8. Thanks Cindy! I’m going to enjoy this series very much.

    I agree, a poem should be read several times to take it all in. I also think a poem sometimes also has a different meaning when read later, when we’re in a different head space or place in our life.

    Looking forward to the next one…


  9. I’m happy to see a good response to this series. As Deb points out, the insightful comments left here really enrich the conversation. It’s fun to learn what the poems mean to other readers.

    For those who remain ambivalent about poetry, I want to add that I’ll continue to post news/essays on other topics weekly. Poetry won’t be the main focus.

    Marilynn, you’re so right about the negative comment ratio. Back when I was writing newspaper columns, one negative or mean-spirited letter could bring me down all day — even if I’d gotten several positive notes in the same batch. Of course, we grow from constructive criticism too. But generally speaking, there are a few people out there who’d simply love to take us down a peg or two and watch us squirm. (Sadly, even some relatives and “friends.”) David Whyte’s poem reminds us that those people are “too small” for us.

    • Cafe Pasadena: Thanks for asking about “true nature.” True nature = who we really are underneath the social mask. The authentic self. It’s hard to talk about this stuff without lapsing into what a friend calls “English-major jargon” — a real buzz killer for some people. 🙂

  10. What a fabulous poem. I LOVE reading poetry aloud to my students. It’s one of my favorite things about teaching. I’m looking forward to this series, Cindy!

  11. When I read the poem, the first words of my mouth was,

    “Oh crap! I know this feeling and this struggle.”

    Isn’t it amazing that in our loneliness as creative people, we are so inextricable linked by our common experiences – passions, fears, doubts, struggles with procrastination, perfection and processes, triumphs and success.

    Mr. Whyte captures it all, in his short but or so powerful and inspiring poem.

    Thanks for featuring this poem. I look forward to the series.

  12. Pingback: The Journey | Cindy La Ferle's Home Office

  13. Cindy, I love this new series on your site. I look forward to following your poems!! I love how this poem talks of the darkness as sweetly.
    my fav. lines are:

    [Give up all the other worlds
    except the one to which you belong.

    Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness to learn]


    [anything or anyone that does not bring you alive

    is too small for you.]

    Poetry has always been a part of me, sometimes hidden but always there.

    hugs, Jenn

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