Both music and poetry have been used for centuries to sooth the mind, and bring peace to the soul. The ancient Greeks recognized the virtues and healing powers of music . They believed that music was Divine, and assisted in healing both the body and soul. It soothed and relaxed. They applied their theory in everyday work, to make tedious and hard work more tolerable. Flute players would accompany women as they performed arduous tasks in the home and the kitchen, drummers and flautists accompanied men into battle to excite, motivate and create a feeling of unity and allegiance. During Greek games music was always a part of sport events to motivate the players.
Over the centuries, music and poetry have been included along with story telling, dance, painting, as the collective healing arts. Today, music and poetry are an integral part of healing and transitional ministry, whether it be to sooth a dying person, calm babies in neonatal units, assist in reducing blood pressure, or to stimulate a memory.
In the hospital where I work as a nurse, we have a harpist who plays to individual patients, based on their clinical needs. Research supports the theory that harp music in particular, resonates with the heart, and can significantly influences cardiac rate, can bring down blood pressure and anxiety. . Physiologic mechanisms in response to carefully chosen musical selections help to enhance mood, alleviate pain, anxiety, and nausea and induce sleep.
Evidenced based practices using the healing arts are being applied in many settings, in hospitals and nursing homes, as well as yoga centers and self discovery sessions to bring about positive change in the human condition.
Poetry too can have a healing effect on the mind. Memorizing and reciting poetry develops the mental powers of visualization, association and recall. Reciting poetry can help you enjoy the rhythm and rhyme of a verse. Nursery rhymes are a good example of how rhythm, repetition, pitch, sounds and music helped children to memorize poems or a song.
The Greeks taught their mathematical tables by rote learning, which essentially is akin to learning by rhythm and voice tone. That is how I learned my tables in school, and despite my mathematical dyslexia, I can always remember my times tables, often only if I recite a sequence in my head first. I was also taught to memorize chunks of literature, which, despite my dislike of it at the time, allows me to recall many quotations and phrases that are stored in my memory banks.
Once poetry is memorized, it becomes part of you. Those parts become an integral part of your language and vocabulary. One of the last things to decline in the Alzheimer patients is language. There has been much research to suggest that poetry and song can be powerful tools to tap into old memories. Hearing a poem or a favorite song seems to help people remember, feel confident in their memories, bringing joy and more dignity to their lives. That feeling of joy, even though transient, can have a profound and lasting effect on the chemistry of the brain and the overall mood of the patient.
My sister, Bridget Cousins has been working with people with Dementia and Alzheimer's patients, playing her harp, and singing, popular old songs in group workshops. She has may rewarding stories of how elderly Alzheimer's patients arrive with flat affects and non participatory interest, and who quite suddenly become animated and engaged, even showing remarkable talent, and a gift for singing, or reciting, or just being entertaining and funny.
There was an article in the Dallas Morning News this week about a therapist, Molly Middleton Meyer, who runs poetry facilitation sessions with Dementia patients. Her own observations are that words have healing power, and seniors with memory loss can take enormous emotional comfort in reconstructing memories with the use of words skillfully teased into poems with her coaching.
The social isolation that creeps in along with dementia is soul destroying. Exposing Alzheimer's patients to music, poetry, dance, anything that stimulates the need to memorize, or to be creative, can strengthen the mind and reduce that feeling of social isolation. It can reduce depression, and agitation.
The article includes several examples of poetry spawned from Molly's sessions. One of them, written by the residents of Belmont Village, is called Memory Box
I waited to sop the pan
Mother's lemon meringue pie-
Creamy Taffy made with syrup
stretched by my sisters
My recipe box is filled
with family memories
The Alzheimer's poetry project, the APP, is a nonprofit movement initiated, by Gary Glazner who initially had received a small grant from Poets and Writer's Magazine to give a series of poetry workshops in North Carolina.
He says that the main goal of the now national program is to increase the quality of life for the Alzheimer's patients and care givers.
Sparking Memories, The Alzheimer's Poetry Project Anthology, is based on a simple idea.
" To read classic poems to patients that they might have learned as children. This in turn helps to stimulate memories and provide enjoyment for the patients. Reading poems can help to reduce the stress in both care givers and loved ones. "
Poetry workshops are also springing up in prisons to give prisoners a different perspective, and stimulate positive creativity. Our prisons are full of men and women whose lives reflect an increase of violence and hostility.
For the last 40 years, the poet, Richard Shelton has been helping prisoners in Arizona reclaim their humanity through poetry.
He says, "Prison can create a kind of psychic death. It does terrible things to people to have them cut off from the natural world. Charles Dickens said it destroys them. They will be destroyed for life. They often become almost catatonic"
He says that conjuring images of the outside world, of trees, of the moon, of nature, can soften even the hardest of inmate's hearts and bring enrichment to their existence. When a man on death row wrote to ask for feedback on his poems, Shelton was astonished, and it motivated to write a new memoir, "Crossing the Yard." , in which, Shelton writes many extraordinary experiences.
I will conclude with a few poems chosen to reflect the nature of Poetry.
Poetry, by Dame Edith Sitwell
Poetry ennobles the heart and the eyes,
and unveils the meaning of all things
upon which the heart and the eyes dwell.
It discovers the secret rays of the universe,
and restores to us forgotten paradises.
The Spirit Of Poetry
Poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
There is a quiet spirit in these woods,
That dwells where'er the gentle south-wind blows;
Where, underneath the white-thorn, in the glade,
The wild flowers bloom, or, kissing the soft air,
The leaves above their sunny palms outspread.
With what a tender and impassioned voice
It fills the nice and delicate ear of thought,
When the fast ushering star of morning comes
O'er-riding the gray hills with golden scarf;
Or when the cowled and dusky-sandalled Eve,
In mourning weeds, from out the western gate,
Departs with silent pace! That spirit moves
In the green valley, where the silver brook,
From its full laver, pours the white cascade;
And, babbling low amid the tangled woods,
Slips down through moss-grown stones with endless laughter.
And frequent, on the everlasting hills,
Its feet go forth, when it doth wrap itself
In all the dark embroidery of the storm,
And shouts the stern, strong wind. And here, amid
The silent majesty of these deep woods,
lts presence shall uplift thy thoughts from earth,
As to the sunshine and the pure, bright air
Their tops the green trees lift. Hence gifted bards
Have ever loved the calm and quiet shades.
For them there was an eloquent voice in all
The sylvan pomp of woods, the golden sun,
The flowers, the leaves, the river on its way,
Blue skies, and silver clouds, and gentle winds,
The swelling upland, where the sidelong sun
Aslant the wooded slope, at evening, goes,
Groves, through whose broken roof the sky looks in,
Mountain, and shattered cliff, and sunny vale,
The distant lake, fountains, and mighty trees,
In many a lazy syllable, repeating
Their old poetic legends to the wind.
And this is the sweet spirit, that doth fill
The world; and, in these wayward days of youth,
My busy fancy oft embodies it,
As a bright image of the light and beauty
That dwell in nature; of the heavenly forms
We worship in our dreams, and the soft hues
That stain the wild bird's wing, and flush the clouds
When the sun sets. Within her tender eye
The heaven of April, with its changing light,
And when it wears the blue of May, is hung,
And on her lip the rich, red rose. Her hair
Is like the summer tresses of the trees,
When twilight makes them brown, and on her cheek
Blushes the richness of an autumn sky,
With ever-shifting beauty. Then her breath,
It is so like the gentle air of Spring,
As, front the morning's dewy flowers, it comes
Full of their fragrance, that it is a joy
To have it round us, and her silver voice
Is the rich music of a summer bird,
Heard in the still night, with its passionate cadence.
By James McIntyre
Poetry to us is given
As stars beautify the heaven,
Or, as the sunbeams when they gleam,
Sparkling so bright upon the stream ;
And the poetry of motion
Is ship sailing o'er the ocean
Or, when the bird doth graceful fly,
Seeming to float upon the sky;
For poetry is the pure cream
And essence of the common theme.
Poetic thoughts the mind doth fill,
When on broad plain to view a hill ;
On barren heath how it doth cheer
To see in distance herd of deer.
And poetry breathes in each flower
Nourished by the gentle shower,
In song of birds upon the trees
And humming of busy bees.
'Tis solace for the ills of life,
A soothing of the jars and strife;
For poets feel it a duty
To sing of both worth and beauty.
Have a great week.