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There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Ernest Hemingway
Image from Blake’s Book of Urizen, via The William Blake Archive

The idea of ‘suffering for our art’ is nothing new when it comes to writing, and especially not when it comes to poetry. Perhaps this is because poets, like most artists, are naturally empathetic beings. We feel and suffer not only our own pain, but that of others around us, and even those whose suffering we only hear of second hand.

Coleridge’s ‘Dejection: An Ode’ is a Paean to the art of suffering. Take, for example, the opening of the second stanza:

A grief without a pang, void, dark, and drear,
         A stifled, drowsy, unimpassioned grief,
         Which finds no natural outlet, no relief,
                In word, or sigh, or tear—
O Lady! in this wan and heartless mood,
To other thoughts by yonder throstle woo’d,
         All this long eve, so balmy and serene,
Have I been gazing on the western sky,
         And its peculiar tint of yellow green:
And still I gaze—and with how blank an eye!

As the poem progresses, he realises that both joy and pain are not derived from external things, but rather reside within us:

I may not hope from outward forms to win
The passion and the life, whose fountains are within.

By contrast, here is Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30:

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,

I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unus’d to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
And moan th’ expense of many a vanish’d sight;
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor’d, and sorrows end.

What I find particularly effective in this sonnet is the poet’s examination of his emotions from a distance, almost mocking his own suffering: ‘then can I grieve at grievances foregone,’ ‘the sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,’ etc. Then, through his suffering, he arrives at a resolution, in thinking of a friend for whom he feels so much affection that his sorrow is transformed into hope, beauty and poetry.

What I would like you to do for this challenge is a kind of therapeutic exercise. I do NOT want you to open any old wounds which are too painful to approach, or torment yourself by reliving painful moments. Let’s always keep in mind Wordsworth’s definition of poetry as ’emotion recollected in tranquillity.’ If you are able to, I want you to revisit a time in your life when you have felt pain (emotional or physical, acute or chronic) and come out on the other side stronger. As hard as it is to go through, we learn from our pain and grow as a result of it. So let’s examine the personal and artistic growth which can be achieved by finding the silver lining behind the cloud of suffering.

You alone understood that the broken heart has finally opened
and the wound is only the knowledge it asked for.” 

A Poem for Rumi
© N Nazir 2021

The above quote is from N. Nazir’s response to a dVerse prompt earlier this year. I thought it was so perfect that I noted it down. Now try your hand at writing your way out of a place of pain, and when you’re finished, follow these simple rules in order to take part:

  • Write a poem in response to the challenge.
  • Enter a link directly to your poem and your name by clicking Mr. Linky below,
    and remember to check the little box to accept the use/privacy policy.
  • You will find links to other poets and more will join so please do check
    back later in order to read their poems.
  • Read and comment on other poets’ work– we all come here to have our poems read.
  • Please link back to dVerse from your site/blog.

The bar is open!

I leave with you a reminder that this week’s Open Link Night on Thursday 14th October will be live: you are invited to join us, link up and read a poem: hope to see you there!