A Poem

Sometimes there is no telling what one can find when reading psychological material. I was very pleased this week to come upon a poem in one such publication.

I have been thinking lately about the similarities between writing poetry and being a psychotherapist. Both obviously require a great deal of listening and attention to words. When sitting with my clients, I try to be especially sensitive to the language that they use. Key words, words that resonate with meaning, are doors to open into the realm of deeper understanding and the unconscious. Such words might be slips (as Freud pointed out). Sometimes they are half-started words. And sometimes they are just evocative, startling words which when we take a moment to ponder them help us reach deeper into the client’s experience.

I’d like to write more in the future about the connection between poetry and psychotherapy. For now, I’d like to share the poem that I found this week. It was written by Stanley Kunitz, who died a few years ago at the age of 100 and who served as the U.S. Poet Laureate at the wise age of 95.

The poem is called “Touch Me.” It is a love poem from the vantage point of an elderly man (which is not often a perspective that we are presented with but which shows that love, and romantic love, is an emotion to be felt throughout one’s life). Reading a wonderful poem such as this, one can experience a sweet moment of life, the stirring of feelings sweet and sad. Moments like that often occur in psychotherapy. Here is the poem by Stanley Kunitz.

Summer is late, my heart.
Words plucked out of the air
some forty years ago
when I was wild with love
and torn almost in two
scatter like leaves this night
of whistling wind and rain.
It is my heart that’s late,
it is my song that’s flown.
Outdoors all afternoon
under a gunmetal sky
staking my garden down,
I kneeled to the crickets trilling
underfoot as if about
to burst from their crusty shells;
and like a child again
marveled to hear so clear
and brave a music pour
from such a small machine.
What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only,
and it’s done.
So let the battered old willow
thrash against the windowpanes
and the house timbers creak.
Darling, do you remember
the man you married? Touch me,
remind me who I am.

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