A lyrical bridge between past, present and future
Recommended by Emily Esfahani Smith
The poet David Whyte spoke at the TED2017, but to call what he did a “talk” wouldn’t totally reflect what happened when he took the stage to recite his poems. I imagine that in ancient times when a bard recited poetry in some grand hall that he effected a transformation on his audience through storytelling and lyricism. So it was with Whyte. Watching his talk was a transcendent experience.
Poetry has always been vital to the human experience. On stage, Whyte recited two poems inspired by his niece Marlene and a journey she took along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, an ancient pilgrimage route in Spain. She decided to do the 500-mile pilgrimage to find the courage to walk into her future. A recent college graduate with a degree in Irish drama and aspirations to be a playwright, that future seemed uncertain to her — frightening even. “What path should I take?” “Who am I supposed to be?” Aren’t those questions we’re all asking and re-asking ourselves? Especially during life’s transitions? For Marlene, and for Whyte, the pilgrimage became a metaphor for how we should walk that path.
Toward the end of her journey, Marlene had a profound experience. I won’t spoil it for you — it’s described in the talk — but I’d like to share a portion of the poem Whyte wrote after Marlene told him about it. It’s called “Finisterre,” which means “the ends of the earth” in Latin:
“the moon rising behind you as you stood where ground turned to ocean: / no way to your future now / no way to your future now except the way your shadow could take, walking before you across water, going where shadows go, / no way to make sense of a world that wouldn” let you pass except to call an end to the way you had come.”
Watching Whyte’s talk made me think: there is too little poetry in the world. Poets seem to be a dying breed. Once revered as the wise men and women of our culture, they’ve been replaced by the polished, PowerPointing “thought leader.” There is so much folly out there posing as wisdom, so much glitz passing as beauty. Why not go for the real thing?