Poetry and Human Nature

I never liked poetry, until I fell in and out love. 

I don’t normally like the term “falling in love.” Because it seems so illogical and cliché. It sounds like I had no choice in the matter, and when I think about love pragmatically, I can acknowledge that love is a choice. I truly believe that love is as much a verb, or an action, as it is a feeling. 

However, when you’re in the thick of it, and you make the observation that you really do love someone, the feeling is intoxicating; it does genuinely feel like falling.

I remember, after my first break-up, having a new appreciation for the art of melancholy. 

I remember listening to sad music, drinking coffee, saying vague and existential one-liners, and reading poetry about love and loss. I had started to relate on a personal level to these artists, and I began to understand what they meant, their pleas and declarations no longer seemed contrite or overdramatic. 

Their words started to resonate with me. I got what they were saying; it no longer seemed so cliché to celebrate love or to mourn heartbreak. The whole thing seemed to click into place, just from actively experiencing it.

Much of the advice we hear, proverbs we’re told, and scripture that is emboldened in the lives of those who surround us, seems cliché. They are things that we’ve heard before, or messages that aren’t particularly new, but I was told something that changed my way of thinking. 

I was a sophomore in college, and I was taking a creative writing class. I had found my way in this beginner class for two reasons. 1) an honest interest in the subject, and 2) a desire to find a good old fashion blow-off course. If I’m being honest, the latter was the paramount reason for my selection. 

However, in the brief weeks and months that made up that course, the professor – a wildly cool and relatable woman, who spoke poetically and yet exuded a raw spirit – told me a great deal of practical truth.

She told me things like, a story without tension is no story at all, or that we write to have others feel something, anything. She said that if someone can walk away from your work apathetic, you’re doing something wrong. However, the nugget of truth I walked away holding the nearest to my heart was this;

Everything is cliché until it happens to you. 

We read stories of heartbreak and loss, and we think it’s cheesy. Wedding vows are a dime a dozen, and divorce is just as common. Love stories make us roll our eyes and sigh, because they are so ordinary these days. We have lost a sense of wonder at the humanity of it all.

However, what my professor pointed out to me –a wannabe poet; a hopeless romantic; a man seeking love– was that things only seem cliché when we’re on the outside looking in. 

When we’re deeply rooted in something, when it is our heart that lies broken, shattered to a million pieces, the pain is intensely real. When it is our loved one breathing their last breath, and we have to eulogize their life, the tears that stream down our faces are not fake.

When we are the ones making martial vows in the presence of friends, family, under God, starring into the eyes of the one that we love, in that moment, our joy and excitement is entirely authentic. 

The love stories we live daily are wonderfully unique to us, even though, to the passive onlooker, it may seem so arbitrarily cliché.

So why is this important? 

I fear too often this world is cynical of emotion. We see social media posts about significant others or expressing the depths of pain one can feel in the wake of a loss or heartbreak, depression, or grief and we roll our eyes, shake our heads, or write it off. 

What I believe my professor was saying, quite simply, was that emotion and experience is hard to understand unless you are the one feeling or experiencing it. She was pleading with us to not merely disregard people or emotion, but rather to understand that human nature is cliché. However, everything seems unique to the person living through it. 

When we’re in love, even if we have been before, it feels entirely new and beautiful. Or when someone breaks our heart, even if it has been done to us in the past, the pain is fresh and uniquely unpleasant. 

I believe that often times we just need to be reminded. Sometimes we need to be susceptible to feel again, to love again, to grieve again. These are intrinsic emotions, and they are cliché only because we all feel them in some regard. 

Bob Goff – author, speaker, and pastor to many – tells a story about how a young man strolled by his house, which had a lake front view, and the man asked if he could use it for a romantic dinner he would be having soon.

You see, the man wanted to propose to his girlfriend. Bob said “yes” immediately. There was no way that he was going to give up the opportunity to play a role in this love story. 

The next day or so, the man came back with another request. Bob said “yes” again, still overjoyed at the thought of his role, and the new beginnings of love. As the days went, and the proposal grew closer, the man came back with more requests. Each one more audacious and grandiose than the one before. Bob continued to agree to help, but he was becoming skeptical, and a little annoyed. 

And then, the day finally came. Bob watched the proposal happen, these two people were so in love, and he was reminded of his own engagement and marriage. 

He notes, as he remembers this story, “Ryan’s love was audacious. It was whimsical. It was strategic. Most if all, it was contagious. Watching Ryan lose himself in love reminded me that being ‘engaged’ isn’t just an event that happens when a guy gets on one knee and puts a ring on his true love’s finger. Being engaged is a way of doing life, a way of living and loving.” [1]

Emotion feels foolish if you have not experienced it before. Falling in love makes men and women do very silly things for the one that they love. Grief makes individuals act out in ways that seem irrational. Fear keeps people from doing things and living in the way they desire. On and on it goes. 

In Bob’s case, he looked on and watched this new love unfold, and he thought Ryan was crazy, until he remembered he had been the same way. He was reminded that he had felt the same way, done seemingly crazy things, all in the name of love. 

Everything is cliché, until it happens to you. This truth helped open my eyes to the beauty of love and loss. Emotions are beautifully unique to those living through it. 

Things only appear cliché, silly, foolish, or even crazy to those who don’t have a prior frame reference.

[1] Bob Goff, Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012), 24.

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