I have three books on display on my office that I’ve received as gifts during the last year:
- The Poetry Pharmacy by William Sieghart
- The Novel Cure by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin
- Art as Therapy by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong
The therapeutic value of writing has been clear to me for many years.
When I cannot find the words to express how I am feeling I pick up the pen and write poetry.
Recently, when something profound happens I write a letter to Terry Anne.
When I realise I have learned something that others may want to learn I write a book, or a blog, or an article.
Ever since I studied literature at school I have had recourse to quote from plays, novels and poetry when I recognize that my own explanation or description of what is happening to me would come a poor second to something a real, much wiser writer already wrote. Two of my favourites are:
“And thus the native hue of resolution
is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,”
which comes from Hamlet in The Prince of Denmark’s To Be Or Not To Be speech.
“Where ignorance is bliss,
’Tis folly to be wise,”
written by Thomas Gray in his poem Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College.
My father, as you know, is terminally ill. Last week found me in England again, supporting my mother and visiting Pa in hospital daily. He has become very thin. His skin is both transparent and translucent and no flesh now separates it from his bones. I hug him often, hold his hand, and doing this is. I imagine, just like I would hold an as yet unfeathered baby bird, fallen from its nest. Gently. With tenderness. Holding and hugging him is easy. What is far more difficult is bringing myself to speak the words that fill my chest and throat and that I know I must say before, before, before… well you know.
How do I tell him that he has been a wonderful father a) without crying and b) without making the fact that he is dying real to me, to him, to the Universe? The words burn in my gullet. They seem solid, jagged and made from fire. See? I am trying to describe how it feels to have so much to say yet somehow I make a pretty poor attempt. But then the perfect phrase landed in my lap.
I had been snatching the odd quiet moment to beta-read a manuscript for a friend of mine. Just as those three books, above, came to me by chance, the quote below was ‘gifted’ to me at exactly the right time. It was spoken by Cordelia in King Lear. A play I saw once, in London with Lear played by Richard Harris. I have no memory of the line that has now become my constant companion:
“Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth.”
Cordelia, King Lear
And so, thanks to this phrase, more powerful than any I could write myself, I summon all my strength and heave my heart up past the cluster of hot, sharp rocks. I find the words and I tell him.