Reading Poetry Can Help With Your Mental Wellbeing
Many people find poetry therapeutic, here are some beautiful poems about pain that have helped my own mental wellbeing in the past.
There is nothing more comforting than truthful poetry about pain for me. It’s what helped me get through my lowest times. Poetry and art can soothe you so softly, can reach out to you so easily. It can remind you that you are not alone. Poetry can embrace so much grief and so much suffering, it’s a great way to address your own mental health from my experience.
What also helps and astonishes me is that those fantastic poets suffered from mental health issues but still produced an intense, outstanding body of work which lasted for centuries. Even the greatest minds were wounded. And this didn’t stop them, but it fueled them.
Psychologists have run studies that explore whether creativity is linked with mental illness; the old question if poets get depressed or if depressed people write poetry. There even is the Sylvia Plath effect, the theory that poets (or artists) are more susceptible to mental illness. This theory also implies that female poets are more likely to experience mental illness than other types of writers or other eminent women.
Whatever the truth is, here is a small collection of five poems that touched my heart and helped me greatly with my own mental wellbeing, in hopes it might resonate with others too.
The first poem comes from the beloved Sylvia Plath, a beautiful poetess with a tragic life, whose heartbreaking work is loved and celebrated in the present by many. She wrote about death and the fears people were afraid to voice.
Mirror by Sylvia Plath
I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful,
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.
Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.
This poem was written by Edgar Allan Poe, a master of melancholy and madness, whose self-medicating techniques included writing about spectacular visions. His work and persona are iconic, especially adored by English Literature students.
Alone By Edgar Allan Poe
From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were; I have not seen
As others saw; I could not bring
My passions from a common spring.
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I loved, I loved alone.
Then- in my childhood, in the dawn
Of a most stormy life- was drawn
From every depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still:
From the torrent, or the fountain,
From the red cliff of the mountain,
From the sun that round me rolled
In its autumn tint of gold,
From the lightning in the sky
As it passed me flying by,
From the thunder and the storm,
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view.
This heart-wrenching poem comes from Emily Dickinson, the brilliant feminist poet who chose to live an isolated life thriving with creativity rather than face the outer world.
I felt a Funeral, in my Brain, (340) by Emily Dickinson
I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading – treading – till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through –
And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum –
Kept beating – beating – till I thought
My mind was going numb –
And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space – began to toll,
As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race,
Wrecked, solitary, here –
And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down –
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing – then –
The fourth poem was written by the British Romantic poet John Keats, who tragically died at the age of twenty-five from tuberculosis. Despite this, he left a remarkable body of work. His poetry is characterized by sensual imagery and intense, extreme emotion.
Ode on Melancholy by John Keats
No, no, go not to Lethe, neither twist
Wolf’s-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;
Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kiss’d
By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine;
Make not your rosary of yew-berries,
Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be
Your mournful Psyche, nor the downy owl
A partner in your sorrow’s mysteries;
For shade to shade will come too drowsily,
And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul.
But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globed peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.
She dwells with Beauty – Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veil’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine;
His soul shalt taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.
This beautiful poem was written by Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, who wrote prodigiously in several heteronyms including Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis, Alvaro de Campos, and Alexander Search in a mind-blowing manner, with entirely different writing styles. His response to existential melancholy was writing.
Your Eyes Go Sad by Fernando Pessoa
Your eyes go sad. You’re not
Listening to what I say.
They doze, dream, fade out.
Not listening. I talk away.
I tell what I’ve told, out of listless
Sadness, so often before…
I think you never listened,
So you’re away you are.
All of a sudden, an absent
Stare, you look at me, still
You begin a smile.
I go on talking. You
Go on listening – your own
Thoughts you listen to,
The smile as good as gone,
Until, through the loafing
Afternoon’s waste of while,
The silence self-unleafing
Of your useless smile.