Life Lines

‘Life Lines’: How to find a reason in rhyme

Laurence Coupe              Writer

 Buxton Advertiser 19 October 2023

Derbyshire Times 27 October 2023


Every remembrance day it’s customary to recite these key lines from Laurence Binyon’s ‘To the Fallen’: ‘They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: / Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. / At the going down of the sun and in the morning / We will remember them.’ Few people can remain unmoved by those words in that order.

Poetry is well worth turning to when we want to make sense of our lives. We can find a reason in rhyme.

W. H. Davies offers good advice in the form of a question: ‘What is this world if, full of care, / We have no time to stop and stare?’ The radical Christian poet William Blake invites us to open up our imaginations and see the beauty of nature and the mystery of the cosmos: ‘To see a world in a grain of sand / And a heaven in a wild flower, / Hold infinity in the palm of your hand / And eternity in an hour…’

To say that poetry helps us live is not to say that it should ignore the fact of death. Shakespeare puts it into perspective:Fear no more the heat o’ the sun, / Nor the furious winter’s rages; / Thou thy worldly task hast done, / Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages: / Golden lads and girls all must, / As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.’

Those of us who are well advanced in years might often turn to W.S. Landor’s reflections: ‘I strove with none, for none was worth my strife. / Nature I loved and, next to Nature, Art: / I warmed both hands before the fire of life; / It sinks, and I am ready to depart.’

Interestingly, there are a lot of poems about poetry itself and how it can help us live. W.H. Auden wrote a powerful poem on the occasion of the death of a poet he admired, W.B. Yeats, conveying the function of all great poets: ‘In the deserts of the heart / Let the healing fountain start. / In the prison of his days / Teach the free man how to praise.’ That’s exactly what I’m trying to say – but said many times better, in the form of verse!