Awake for the first time

National Poetry Month, Day 29  //  At the beginning of this series celebrating National Poetry Month, I quoted Wallace Stevens, who described the poet as “the priest of the invisible,” and I set out to share each day a favorite poem of mine that mediates between me and the unseen Mystery in which we live and move and have our being. The poems I’ve shared have done more than merely that. Each of them in its own way has drawn me into a way of living, a way of being in life as more than an observer. So I appreciate Walt Whitman’s idea of the poet as a recruiter. In this little manuscript fragment, he doesn’t say for what the poet recruits me, but it can be nothing less than an open-eyed, open-hearted embrace of life in all its fullness. “I cannot be awake,” he wrote elsewhere, “for nothing looks to me as it did before. / Or else I am awake for the first time, and all before has been a mean sleep.”

It’s true for any of us that to live in that awareness is to be a poet, no matter the form or language we use. The poet invites us to see life afresh, to be drawn into new visions and new possibilities, and so to participate in the act of creating something new. We don’t have to string words together in verse to be a poet. Each of us individually is a word, part of a great poem, a great song. The poet calls to me: Hold nothing back; be the honest-to-God, gracefully eccentric person you are being created to be. Who would not join that troop? What would keep you from it?

[The Poet Is a Recruiter], by Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

The poet is a recruiter
He goes forth beating
the drum, —O, who
will not join his troop?

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