The Poetry Pharmacy

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Another favourite was the lyrics to Oscar Hammerstein’s song ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, which my mother would repeat as she held my hand. Later, as my concentration improved, I turned to the 17th-century poet George Herbert. When I read the first verse of Love (III), I felt a bolt of electricity pierce through me. All the hairs on my arm stood on end.

Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin

The idea that my soul was ‘guilty of dust and sin’ seemed the most perfect description of depressive illness. The poem pinpointed a sense of guilt that I should be depressed even though I was blessed with a loving home, husband and children, feelings of shame that I had not previously acknowledged. I would also repeat phrases from The Flower, another Herbert poem. One of my favourites was Grief melts away/like snow in May; I wrote it on a Post-it note and stuck it on the bathroom mirror.

George Herbert
George Herbert quote

“In those moments of the day when I held hands with Herbert, the depression couldn’t find me.”

It felt as though the poet was embracing me from across the centuries, wrapping me in a cocoon of stillness and calm. Here was a new welcome voice in my head, preaching the virtues of acceptance and hope rather than struggle and despair.

1 thought on “The Poetry Pharmacy

  1. There are lots of Bauhaus exercises that I feel link with this, for example experimenting with words by creating ‘sound images’ or writing within a structure like having to omit one vowel or taking a line for a walk – finding your total freedom from within, basically. Depression has been truly ‘outed’ now and is heading towards a place of post-stigma, but just because society is more accepting doesn’t mean that we needn’t heed Rachel Kelly’s excellent suggestions to aid the alienated soul in expressing its creative side. She addresses all of these aspects equally well in this personal and poignant piece.

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