The Surprising Poetry of Arianna Huffington’s ‘Thrive’

When you think The Huffington Post, what comes to mind?

It might not be poetry.

But poetry is at the heart of its founder, Arianna Huffington, and it’s at the heart of her wise and ambitious book, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder.

Overall, the book is a clarion call to mindfulness and sanity, in place of the insanity of stressful, overworked, disconnected, sleepless, shallow lives. Huffington heard the call herself after taking a fall from exhaustion and landing on the floor with a broken cheek and an injured eye. It was a rather literal “wake-up call” to take life slower and to care for herself more seriously, instead of sacrificing herself only to her business and the goal of “success.”

In a fascinating look into Huffington’s most passionate concerns for healthier lives, work practices, relationships, and communities, one can’t help but notice the poetry. And one can’t help but notice that the poetry isn’t just on the page but often kept close through memorization. Like this, from Albert Huffstickler…

We forget we’re
mostly water
till the rain falls
and every atom
in our body
starts to go home.

The poem came to her mind in an airport in Munich, while Huffington listened to other travelers complaining about the rain. As it went, the poem was a continued exercise in “wonder,” preserving what could have been an irritating travel event as a beautiful memory instead.

From Wordsworth to Eliot, Rumi to Rossetti, Nepo to Cavafy, Thrive is filled with poetic quotes and thinking. One of the most beautiful passages in the book is truly poetic prose, though it’s penned not by any established poet. It is simply the account of Huffington’s mother’s last day, and it will make you weep with the kind of detail and poignancy that good poetry offers. The end of the several-page account relates:

We scattered my mother’s ashes in the sea with rose petals, as she had asked. And we gave her the most beautiful memorial, with music, friends, poetry, gardenias, and, of course, food, lots of food: a memorial that truly honored her life and spirit.

It is Huffington’s mother who might be the true poetry behind the book, which is broken into four main sections: Well-Being, Wisdom, Wonder, and Giving. While research, studies, quotes, and Huffington’s own work experiences may be the top-level forces, her mother is always near, as Huffington relates many of her mother’s insightful, to-the-point, generous, awe-inspiring sayings, practices, or attitudes.

When Huffington was a child, she and her sister Agapi memorized the Greek poem “Ithaka,” by Constantine Cavafy. She notes that the memorization came “long before we could actually understand what it meant.” In an uncanny way, the poem seems to capture both the sending-off that Huffington’s mother gave her into life and the sending off Huffington later gave her mother at life’s end:

As you set out for Ithaka,
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.

If Thrive does its job well, which it aims to do through well-reasoned, well-supported, passionate thinking and practical advice (like, yes, even writing a poem a day), then we too will be part of an Ithaka-style journey. And awake and full of wonder enough to enjoy the ride.

Photo by Sue Salisbury, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by L.L. Barkat.

We recommend reading a poem a day to thrive. Start with Every Day Poems, today.

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As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

—C. P. Cavafy
(translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard)


    • says

      Thanks, Maureen. :)

      If you were to read nothing else in the book, it would be worth getting to experience the section I reference about her mother’s passing. Like poetry, it’s hard to explain. You have to be there.

  1. Marcy says

    L. L. Barkat

    This was such a soft, beautiful story, one that leaves you with a smile upon your lips. Sweet memories of my dear Mother, her passing quick as kidney cancer took over her belongings. It was fall, her favorite season, the night was warm, I felt her spirit leave like a gust of wind. It’s been 28 years now, I was her last child and we had such a close bond. Being in my early thirty’s I felt like the orphan that she was when her parents died when she was five.


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