United Church of Christ

Into the Mystic: On Byron and Good Poetry

Art and poetry have the ability to emote passion and healing in one's spirit.

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes.

These are among my favorite lines in the English language. I relate to them on at least three levels.

First, it’s just good poetry. I’m a bit of an old school Lit major who loves the rhythm of language and whose favorite meter is iambic pentameter. And the skills of those Romantic poets to turn a phrase are, in my opinion, among the most refined. It gives me a bit of a thrill to hear words that don’t often get used the way they do here: the alliteration of cloudless clime, the juxtaposition of contrasting realities in dark and bright melded by the single word ‘meet’, and the genius of suggesting that where they meet is in her aspect – a use of a word much known, just not in this context.

Second, and this is purely an accident of unforeseen and ill-calculated circumstances over which I had no control. Call it pure serendipity. Call it Karma. Call it fate. But I first came across this lovely poem the summer after I graduated from college and during which I was falling in love with my life partner. It wasn’t only the beauty of the language, imagery, and rhythms in word and pacing that Byron crafted that drew me to it – it was that when I read them I thought of her. I imagined two things: that Byron had seen her and found the words to capture what I felt when I looked at her; and that these the words I could have written to express what my heart was feeling every time I gazed into her eyes.

And third, there were the nights I spent in the hospital with my daughter after she recovered from her coma. A brilliant student before the accident, when she came out of the coma her language skills were fully intact. Not so much with math. So, I would open my books of poetry and read to her every night as she fell asleep. This became her own favorite. Of all the poets I would read to her, Byron was her favorite; of all his poems, this was her favorite.

And so a heart opens, thrills, and heals at words well composed.

I don’t need to understand that – only observe it and repeat the observance for as long as the healing holds.

There is poetery.

There is lyric.

There is art.

They heal the soul, arouse the passions, settle the troubled breast, inspire the best within us, amuse the idle, and remind us of that precious line from Shakepeare: “What a piece of work is man, How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, In form and moving how express and admirable, In action how like an Angel, In apprehension how like a god.”

May the art that moves you and reminds you what a piece of work is this human heal you and give you peace and joy on this, our journey Into the Mystic.


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