Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing
your place in the family of things.
——from The Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
There are a large number of poems that could be offered as potentially healing. I’m offering here a handful that I’ve come across, and written about briefly, because they seem to me to resonate especially well with the process of healing, and because any one of them seems like it could be a springboard—a trampoline?—to one’s own writing.
I. Poems that conjure a healing place
Last Night As I Lay Sleeping by Antonio Machado
The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry
The Lake Isle of Innisfree by WB Yeats
Island of the Raped Women by Frances Driscoll
Keeping Quiet by Pablo Neruda
What I Want by Alicia Ostriker
II. Poems about a quest
The Journey by Mary Oliver
Instructions by Neil Gaiman
Diving into the Wreck by Adrienne Rich
III. Poems that might offer company during a difficult time
The Guest House by Rumi
Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye
A Ritual to Read to Each Other by William Stafford
Satellite Call by Sara Bareilles
One Art by Elizabeth Bishop
The Armful by Robert Frost
The Spell by Marie Howe
Talking to Grief by Denise Levertov
Sweetness by Stephen Dunn
My Dead Friends by Marie Howe
III. Poems for looking at the world in new ways
The Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens
Eighteen Ways of Looking at Cancer by a group of women in a writing workshop
Shine by Joni Mitchell
If by Rudyard Kipling and Joni Mitchell
Desert Places by Robert Frost
Report from a Far Place by William Stafford
who knows if the moon’s a by e.e. cummings
The Snowman by Wallace Stevens
Notes in Bathrobe Pockets by Raymond Carver
A New Path to the Waterfall, a collection by Raymond Carver and Tess Gallagher
The Summer Day by Mary Oliver
IV. Poems about the process of reading
Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins
V. Poems for considering purpose
Every Craftsman by Rumi.
Poems recently posted are included below.
I love that Kestenbaum’s poem begins with a question: What was it we wanted to say anyhow? There’s so much we could say, and perhaps there’s something ready to emerge—be spoken—but what was it exactly? What word or string of words out of all the ones we’ve learned? There’s so often some external condition to consider—to remind us—something happening in the world—in the case of this poem a bowl of alphabet soup! And the letter J floating up the surface—that letter so often-neglected and thus surprising— Kestenbaum writes: The ‘j’, a letter...
Not long ago I noticed that I was afraid of something—I can’t remember what now—and the words that came into my head—unexpected—as if dropping into my mind—were from Robert Frost’s poem, “Desert Places”: You cannot scare me with your desert places . . . I have it in me so much nearer home To scare myself with my own desert places. I misremembered that first line—but still I found the lines oddly comforting—a feeling I haven’t always associated with this poem. Oh. It’s my inner landscape where the terror...
I’ve for a long time been interested in poems and excerpts that can invite writing and I’ve recently come across this poem by Neil Gaiman that seems especially well suited for this. The poem is a set of instructions for “what to do if you find yourself inside a fairy tale.” It begins: Touch the wooden gate in the wall you never saw before. Say “please” before you open the latch, go through, walk down the path. I like the way the poem begins with such direct instructions—we’re in this...