While holding a side plank in a yoga class, I thought, My hands are getting stronger. As I moved back to a regular plank, then to a side plank on the other side, I began to think about how often my workouts involve doing something by hand. You might say my career as a writer and editor depends on hand strength.
When I’m working out, the connection between my hands and my heart is obvious. My hands push and pull the water while swimming laps, and my heart is happy to be made to work. My heart is equally happy when my hands write out a poem, and the words sink in.
Next month Tweetspeak will encourage its readers to memorize the end of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses” as part of its initiative to put a poem in every heart. I’ve been reading these lines every afternoon all month, when I take my tea outdoors.
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
This is a poem I printed and saved a few years ago; it sounds different to me now, sadder. As I used my hands to write it out, my heart found a new favorite line: “Tho much is taken, much abides.” Who knows when I’ll need that one.
When my hands and heart are connected, I reach the Happy Isles. So next month this column will push off from By Hand and seek the newer world of By Heart. Put your oar in the water and join us.
And with that, I’m off to an indoor row workout.
1) If “workout” is a seven-letter word for you, start small. Take a walk and give your hands something to do, such as hold a 2-pound weight. Or put a leash in your hand and take your pet for a stroll. As soon as you get home, write! (Your shower can wait.)
2) Do you have a workout buddy? A friend and I share our workouts, writing a note to each other to say how we used our hands and hearts. It’s a simple connection that can lead to further writing, like this poem I wrote for her based on one of her updates:
Early morning, late night,
no time for the elliptical.
Tomorrow: two hours on the tractor.
1) Throughout October, Tweetspeak will create “memories with friends,” by memorizing together— verses 55-70 of Tennyson’s Ulysses. To hide the poem in your heart, start by using your hands and write it out longhand.
2) If you memorize “Ulysses,” share with this community of friends in the first By Heart column, October 26, using the hashtags #ByHeart and #MemoriesWithFriends and tagging us @tspoetry. Feel free to post audio or video of yourself reciting the poem.
3) If you write about “Ulysses” on your blog or elsewhere, feel free to share the link with us in the October 26 comment box of “By Heart.” That way, you can truly create “memories with friends,” by sharing your experience with us, as well as memorizing the poem together.
See you next month for By Heart.
Browse more By Hand
“Megan Willome’s The Joy of Poetry is not a long book, but it took me longer to read than I expected, because I kept stopping to savor poems and passages, to make note of books mentioned, and to compare Willome’s journey into poetry to my own. The book is many things. An unpretentious, funny, and poignant memoir. A defense of poetry, a response to literature that has touched her life, and a manual on how to write poetry. It’s also the story of a daughter who loses her mother to cancer. The author links these things into a narrative much like that of a novel. I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro