Here is a wonder-working poem which I have shared with dozens of people in reading groups and one of the first poems I chose for the Reader anthology, A Little, Aloud. I suppose I had known of it for ages but it had never quite come to life for me until I read it with my groups of elderly people in care homes. Hearing it read aloud in that context, watching people listening, it was impossible not to feel the meaningfulness of the poetry.
People have found it soothing, calming, uplifting but also full of things to think about; full of images to fill the mind. What is ‘a thing of beauty’? Everyone has something different to offer and for my group members, living the last years of long lives, the question is important so that the highly personal answers are always sincere: my wedding ring; a bluebell wood; a particular moment at dawn on a troop ship to North Africa; my husband’s face. The answers are very rarely purely aesthetic, they come with stories and emotions attached to them, even for the man who said his beautiful thing was a full English breakfast. As we share these seemingly small things of great personal consequence, the promise ‘it will never pass into nothingness’ is hugely stirring and the very power of our ‘things’ – ‘spite of’, ‘in spite of all’ is wonderful and heartening to realize. For me, this poem is definitely, a thing of beauty.
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases, it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits.