Content to live—with Yeats, with myself

I spent the better portion of last night sitting around a table in a back room of a cafe/bookstore talking poetry with strangers. It was invigorating and enlightening and enjoyable, and a reminder of how important it is to tend my intellectual garden.

Intellectual discovery is an important contributor to emotional wellbeing. When we aren’t discovering new things, learning new things, we can start to feel stagnant, and that can lead to feelings of ennui and unhappiness. But as busy adults—parents, bread-winners, professionals—it’s easy to overlook our own intellectual needs. We might read articles or books related to our work, attend professional conferences, or educate ourselves about the latest best practices in caring for our loved ones, but fail to nurture our real intellectual passions. While we gain valuable knowledge, we don’t engage our emotions in the process—or at least not in the same way as when we just go learn something for the sake of learning it.

For me, poetry is something to enjoy for its own sake. It has next to nothing to do with my work, and it isn’t a way to help other people (aside from the poets whose work I might buy). But it makes me happy. And it takes me away from the immediate demands of my life–the being responsible–and centers me somewhere else. It takes me out of time.

And suddenly two hours have passed, and it seems like 45 minutes. And I’m happy.

That’s what happened last night. The occasion was a free discussion of W.B. Yeats’ poetry, led by a University of Chicago instructor. Yeats is one of my favorite poets, and this discussion focused on the women in his poetry—specifically, the strong or “wild” women—a focus that was new to me and intrigued me. Thus I found myself surrounded by about a dozen like-minded souls, most of them women, reading poetry aloud and discussing. Mostly we read poems I already knew, some that I love (If you’ve never read “He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” or “Leda and the Swan,” go do it now!). But there also were poems I didn’t know. And, most especially, there were new ideas, some of them my own. There was also laughter, fellowship, camaraderie.

I left with renewed energy, and also a future reading list: three poems by John Donne, which I plan to track down for a reading session this weekend.

The photos here are from Yeats’ Ireland, mostly in and around the Sligo area, where he lived and was buried. I traveled there a couple of years ago. I was overcome with tears at his grave.

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