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The Poetry of Simple Gratitude
A Christmas story about children who are grateful for the simple things in life.
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Poets can teach us a great deal about being grateful. Poets tend to be better attuned than the average individual to the magnificence of nature, the small wonders and miracles of the everyday world, the sacredness of human life and the sanctity of our personal freedom, and they are generally passionate about the need to live each day to the fullest.

How poets give thanks is well worth exploring on the threshold of the holiday season. While the mainstream media explodes with stories about the financial crises plaguing the world economies, and their focus remains riveted upon the specters of deprivation and want, we need to make a special effort to find a source of inspiration for true gratitude. The time seems ripe for a reminder of the things that truly matter in this life, and for that we would be well advised to turn to poetry.

A poem that seems to summarize this attitude of awe and thankfulness, and one which I’ve always found inspirational, is “Auguries of Innocence” by William Blake. He writes:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

Here’s another one of my favorites, from the Biblical Psalms:

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
Serve the Lord with gladness; come before his presence with singing.
Know ye that the Lord he is God; it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise; be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.

(Psalm 100:1-5).

It would indeed be wonderful if we could celebrate life in this manner, with singing and dancing. I recently witnessed this first hand. This past October I thrillingly attended a dance festival in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, in honor of Saint Michael, the patron saint of the city. It was a fascinating blend of both Christian and Pre-Hispanic cultures. The dances included ceremonial performances by groups devoted to preserving the rituals of people such as the Aztec and Maya, as well as local indigenous communities. The dancing to powerfully drummed rhythms was amazing and impossible to describe, except to say that the synchronized performers moved mostly in circles within circles. All the dancers movements spoke of a fervent devotion to the sun and expressed the joy of being alive. Their movements were unquestionably poetic. I was reminded of David dancing without restraint before the ark as it was borne into Jerusalem, as the above psalm suggests. However, we needn’t take this advice literally, of course. We can allow this feeling of thanksgiving to fill our spirit as we sit in quiet contemplation of the glorious mystery of being alive. And we can dance within to the rhythms of poetry, our own or others’.

“Give me the splendid silent sun, with all his beams full-dazzling;” writes Walt Whitman in his poem of the same name. “Give me juicy autumnal fruit, ripe and red from the orchard;/ Give me a field where the unmow’d grass grows; /Give me an arbor, give me the trellis’d grape; /Give me fresh corn and wheat — give me serene-moving animals, teaching content;/Give me nights perfectly quiet, as on high plateaus west of the Mississippi, and I looking up at the stars;/Give me odorous at sunrise a garden of beautiful flowers, where I can walk undisturb’d;/Give me for marriage a sweet-breath’d woman, of whom I should never tire;/Give me a perfect child — give me, away, aside from the noise of the world, a rural, domestic life;/Give me to warble spontaneous songs, reliev’d, recluse by myself, for my own ears only; /Give me solitude — give me Nature — give me again, O Nature, your primal sanities!”

We may take this as Whitman’s list of the things he’s grateful for. He asks to receive but is in fact giving thanks for the simple things that surround him, the things he, and all of us, have already been given, if we but know how to look, how to see, and how to appreciate them.