Poetry & the Meaning of Emotions

I invite you to explore the wonder of poetry in its capacity for conveying the kinds of emotional experience that beset us, overwhelm us, and leave us feeling exhausted and confused. For this purpose I've chosen a poem that I have found myself reading and re-reading since my college days, Birches, by Robert Frost. Especially in difficult times, it seems to provide consolation and encouragement.

I won't impose the personal meaning I find in this poem upon you. The beauty of poetry is that it allows us to enter an imagined experience and find our own meaning. Having said that, some poems, like Birches, do explore with particular poignancy the perennial theme of losing our way and searching for a way back. This poetic search for meaning and reorientation finds a psychological parallel in the graphic above.

As young children, mother helps us cope with rising levels of emotional dysregulation and return to the zone of adaptive functioning (see graphic). We internalize the coping resources we're fortunate enough to acquire in early life. But even as adults, in today's world, the frantic pace and intense pressures can overwhelm us. So, we must cultivate the capacity to pause, breathe, return to the center line of self-regulation of emotion.

Now, I invite you to read Birches and notice how these perennial themes of world weariness are seen through the eyes of the poet. I hope that in doing so you can find the company, compassion, consolation, and encouragement it has so often given me.