Pain Gives Birth to Poetry
On Creating and Growing in the Time of COVID-19
I’ve been thinking about the suffering (much of it solitary) that people are going through, and about the changes taking place, and about my own emotional processing and reacting to what’s going on.
I was having trouble finding my words, and I didn’t have any confidence in what I wanted to communicate. While I was typing and deleting and typing and deleting, a poem came to mind:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders Fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields."In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae
“In Flanders Fields” was written by Major John McCrae after the passing of his friend during WWI. In the midst of the poem’s call to honour the sacrifice of these soldiers by continuing their fight, the red poppy flower has bloomed and is blowing over a field stained with death and littered with crosses. The flower is a symbol of remembrance and growth still popular in Canada and throughout the Commonwealth.
2020 has laid out a battlefield before us. We didn’t choose it and it caught us by surprise, but we’re here now and we all have different roles in this war: some are on the front lines, some don’t care, some are waiting for dawn, and some are already gone.
What will grow out of this field?
How will our communities, cities, and world change after this? Crises that shock always shift. Wars, attacks, famines, and floods — they all present you, me, and we with an opportunity to change.
Out of problems can come solutions; out of constraints can come creativity; out of pain can come poetry.
Battlefields are tilled with the marching of boots and fed with the fertilizer of human loss. What is planted in these fields grows and grows and grows. In the coming years, these fields will be the ground on which we walk, the farm from which we feed, the unquestioned way things just are.
“Remember that the future is not somewhere we are going, it is something we are creating. Every day we do things that make some futures more probable and others less likely.”
— Ian Lowe
Future flowers are, today, just seeds. And so the fruitful question we must each ask of ourselves is not, “what will the future hold”, but “what are the seeds I’ll now plant?” Will our lack of imagination lead us to replant the same old stock of seeds? Or will these be new seeds? Will they be seeds of selfishness or seeds of solidarity? Will this field sprout into a more simple, beautiful world where our singular, collective goal is to increase the quality of every single life? Or will we forget and return to finish what we’ve already started?
This is not a call to do more, but to consider carefully.
The choice is ours. The field doesn’t care about any of this. It’s just a big ocean of opportunity, an environment of potential energy. It doesn’t demand our action. In this field’s soil, seeds will grow whether or not we consider their sowing.
Maybe you think what you have to plant is small and insignificant? Legend has it that even McCrae, after he had written his poem, threw it away, thinking it lousy — only for it to be saved, planted, and absorbed into the consciousness of a generation.
Whatever you have to plant, plant it; to create, create it; to dream, dream it; to do, do it. But consider it carefully. What we plant will grow, and what we pick up today, we bring with us tomorrow.
The field is before you, full of pain. Will you turn it into poetry?