Is Life a Poem?

One of the skills at which I excelled in school was finding the “hidden meaning” in a poem and answering the question, “What is the poet trying to tell us?”

Now I know that was largely because of all the practice I had gotten at home trying to decipher the real meaning behind my mom’s words. It was also because my mom and dad both loved poetry making it a big part of my life as long as I can remember.

It’s a strangely useless and yet useful skill. I had to learn (as an adult) to resist looking for the hidden meaning because sometimes it just wasn’t that helpful. At the same time, if I did not examine reality, I was lost.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my place in life at this moment in time. I’ve had a hard time figuring that out. What am I supposed to be doing right now? I’m not going to teach anyone. I don’t want to write anything. Painting — uh, shudder. I can’t see doing volunteer work (I already taught for 35 years at slave wages), I’ve seen the seamy side of life and it’s over-rated. What am I here for NOW? It seems like things involving the house and chores take up too much time and are never finished. I don’t like yard work, though I kind of like my garden. It’s a big mystery to me. I like to travel, I like to walk and look at stuff. I love natural phenomenon. I like my dogs and friends. Is there a hidden meaning to all this, or is it right there in front of me and I can’t see it?

Then, last evening — troubled by this problem — I went for a walk with my dogs. This is what I got just by going out the back gate.

Just walked the dogs. It was raining. I got to the high school. Hard claps of thunder. Dusty doesn’t mind it if we’re outside together. I don’t know why, but that’s how he is.

Bear looks for messages. In vain? I don’t know.

Little girls riding bikes in the rain, “Hi!”



They keep riding, I look to the east, there is a rainbow, faint and half, but it’s there.
Rain falls just the way a gardener likes it, evenly, straight down. The sun comes out even more. The rainbow is now very intense and double. I look at it for a while. The rain keeps falling. I turn toward home.

The little girls are riding their bikes in the rain through the sprinklers, back-lit and every bit as beautiful as the rainbow behind me.

I don’t know where to turn. I watch the rainbow, I watch the girls.

I decide to go home for reals and the little girls decide to go home at the same time. They ride away like dragon flies in the rain and sunshine.

It’s a special men’s evening at the golf course and the rain isn’t stopping the play. Two guys are standing in the rain looking at the rainbow.


“Hi! Beautiful rain,” I say then think that maybe my take on the rain and rainbow might be different from that of guys playing golf.

And after all of that wonder the alley wasn’t even muddy.

The moment lasted only as long as my walk. When we stepped outside the gate, there was only a desultory, half-hearted sprinkle. The sky was gray. In the distance, were rumbles of thunder and the sky was flat and obscure. When we stepped out of the alley, the magic began. On our return, turning into the alley, the sky was again obscure and gray, the rain fell in half-hearted sprinkles and the show was over.

I think that was a message…

Archibald MacLeish wrote a poem in defense of symbolist poetry entitled “Ars Poetica.” It’s kind of didactic, but it impressed me a lot when I was in high school. This morning the last line(s) seem to sum up the point of life at this moment of mine.

A poem should not mean
but be.

6 thoughts on “Is Life a Poem?

  1. Martha –if you are good at ‘hidden meanings’ I think if you read between the lines, you are telling us something. Maybe you already know and are pushing it to the back of your mind, but I think you know. I am no help. I am good at word jumbles, though.

    • I might know — but I don’t like the answer. I love poetry, but it’s completely irrelevant in the grand scheme. And I believe the same can be said about my life. We teach our kids that they can “be somebody” and they have this “great potential” and they can “make a difference” and it sounds so grand and we don’t realize, when we’re young, how small we are and how many obstacles and enemies are actually out there. Now, at the end of the day, it seems to me that the only thing that matters is not missing out on 10 or 15 minutes of absolute beauty. The rest? I have no clue at all.

      I think it would be interesting to see what kind of world we would have if that’s what we taught our kids, “Don’t miss out on any moment of beauty that comes your way. The rest is just dross. There is no prize.”

  2. People have found meaning in poems of mine (yes, guilty of writing poetry) that I certainly never intended, and maybe that’s the point: that meaning is everything and nothing, and purely subjective.
    I come back to my ‘link in the chain’ idea. You gave of yourself and influenced more lives than you’ll ever know, and they in turn will influence lives… Is there more than that? I doubt it. The grand ‘meaning of life’ idea might motivate us in our youth, but experience says it’s an illusion. What we’re here for in our old age… to value the things we didn’t have time for? To learn to play again? Or maybe we’ve just outsmarted ourselves and we all live too long!
    But don’t despair. The answer will come. Perhaps it will be as simple as ‘to value contentment’ – like calming children down before you put them to bed.

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