Searching for Soul Through Poetry

Why do Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, Billy Collins, William Stafford, Naomi Shihab Nye, among others, speak to us so deeply? Because they touch in us a core, our inner teacher, our innate wisdom we sometimes forget to access.

David Whyte speaks about why poetry matters:

Poetry is an intimate conversation with the wonders and difficulties of the world, a pilgrim path to a place where we are able to combine our fear, our fierceness, and our faith to make a life we can call our own—no matter the difficulties that seem to surround us.

Every few weeks a small group gathers at Healing Circles Langley to explore with others their own “pilgrim path” through poetry, mine their own internal wisdom and guidance, and deepen the connection to what it means to be human.

After brief check-ins and a review of the Healing Circles agreements and practices, the first poem we explored together was “Fire” by Judy Brown. Our focus was not on what the author meant, or on analyzing the structure, the rhythm and meter, but rather on how the poem spoke to us.


What makes a fire burn
is space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs packed in too tight
can squelch a fire,
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water can.

So building fires
requires tending in a special way,
attention to the wood
as well as to the spaces in between,
so fire can catch, can grow, can breathe,
can build its energy and warmth
which we so need in order
to survive the cold.

We need to practice building open spaces
just as clearly as we learn
to pile on the logs.
It’s fuel, and absence of the fuel
together, that make fire possible,
let it develop in the way that’s
possible when we lay logs in just the
way the fire wants to go.

Then we can watch it as it leaps and plays,
burns down and then flames up in unexpected ways.
Then we need only lay a log on it from time to time.
Then it has life all of its own,
a beauty that emerges
not where logs are
but where spaces can invite the flames
to burn, to form exquisite
patterns of their own,
their beauty possible
simply because the space is there,
an opening in which flame
that knows just how it wants
to burn can find its way.

After reading it through twice, we took one stanza at a time, and participants shared their thoughts and feelings, carefully listening to each other, knowing there were no right or wrong answers.

We spoke of images and memories of fire and the central role fire has played in human communities since early time. We spoke of fire as metaphor, our own fire within, and the flame of passion that animates us: Is it a pilot light? A steady flame? What kind of kindling does it require? What logs do you lay on your fire? What logs do others lay on your fire?

Following our group sharing, we had time for individual written reflections to go deeper in exploring four possible questions:

  1. What are some sources of fuel for fire in my own life?
  2. How/when do I pile on too many logs?
  3. How/where do I practice building open spaces?
  4. What are some ways I tend my fire … my passion?

After 20 minutes, I rang the bell and invited each to find two others with whom to share their reflections, (remembering of course the Healing Circle agreements and practices), with as much detail as they felt comfortable.

We re-gathered as a larger group, sharing any insights, questions or observations, before bringing our circle to a close.


“Fire” published by permission of the poet.

Header photo courtesy of Callanish.