Expressing Gratitude With Praise Poems
Last month I talked about gratitude, and so I continue along that vein. Because… well, because don’t we all need it?
I’m not the first to point out how noticing the small things in our lives gives us the opportunity to be thankful when we’re otherwise being hammered by events we’re not thankful for. During the last two years, many poets have turned to writing about their appreciation for nature, which seems to go on no matter what else happens in the world. For example, Jane Hirshfield wrote Today, I Could Do Nothing about saving an ant during quarantine. It ends like this:
This first day when I could do nothing,
beyond staying distant from my own kind,
I did this.
(Read the the rest of Today I Could Do Nothing.)
In the following poem, James Crews has chosen to not just notice, but to savor some of the everyday-ness of life. In very precise language, he gives us enough detail to show us he has really looked. Taking even a moment to look closely is a way of honoring a thing or as he says “pausing to admire” it. And oh, the things we can choose to admire!
Every morning I awaken torn between a desire to save the world
and an inclination to savor it.
—E. B. White
This morning I choose to savor
the spill of yellow lamplight
where lady beetles gather to warm
the armor of their spotted shells,
and blue jays already screeching
at the empty feeders in the yard,
surely a form of speech calling me
to see their need and bring out a few
scoops of sunflower seeds for them.
I savor the way a line of snow
balances on a bare oak branch,
not a flake out of place, and how
creosote dims the woodstove window
until a log inside, hollowed by fire,
resembles a tiny cabin with several
lit windows of its own. How can we
save the world if we’ve forgotten
the simple act of pausing to admire
the slim disc of a winter sun rising
as fog sifts across the mountains,
this ghostly breath the old-timers
still call holy smoke, stopping to point
whenever they see it.
(first appeared in Literary North)
I’d call “Savor” a praise poem, which is described by Poets.org as “a poem of tribute or gratitude.” Traditionally, it was often in praise of a king or deity, but “Praise poems can also widely refer to any poem that expresses gratitude.” A poem such as James’s helps us appreciate the things he appreciated and, in that, to feel the peace he felt. The image of the tiny cabin with lit windows especially touches me.
You can find more uplifting poems in three anthologies edited by James: How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude & Hope, Healing the Divide: Poems of Kindness & Connection, and The Path to Kindness: Poems of Connection & Joy.
Here’s a poem where I’ve taken a different approach. I have a penchant for using some humor in a poem otherwise actually about a serious thing: In this case happiness. Hmm, does that sound odd? No, happiness IS something to take seriously!
I’m always one to praise a bargain, so I got inspired to write this when I lucked out on two unexpected bargains in a row. Besides being a sort of praise poem, this is also a list poem.
What It Takes to Make Me Happy
Free toilet paper—12-pack, double rolls (worth 24)
because the sale price didn’t ring up.
Next day, 10 free chocolate-covered strawberries—
half dark, half milk: Hansel & Gretel Sweet Haus,
closing time, the owner packing a gift box for me,
I’ll have to make fresh tomorrow anyway.
Drafting a poem, even one crowded with bad memory:
The boy clutching me at a dance, 1967,
his Old Spice (like Grandpa’s) singeing my nose,
nervous breath on my neck, and how hearing Cherish
still evokes a cringe, though I sing along.
Today, Levi Stubbs full-throttle Bernadette on the car radio
and learning three different Bernadettes inspired it.
My very old dog living another day, limping to me with a toy,
tail swishing so fast it’s a blur on the photo I take.
Diamonds sprayed from the boat’s wake, July, hydrangea sky
same color as the cabin’s bedroom walls,
which also make me happy—
waking to them
and the white ceiling with heart pine beams.
—Karen Paul Holmes
(first appeared in The American Journal of Poetry)
Your Turn: Praise Poems
Have you read a praise poem lately? Please share it by pasting it or linking to it in a comment below. Or, try writing one of your own, pausing to admire something small and so very important.
(Note, if you plan on submitting your unpublished poem to a journal, please be advised it will be considered previously published if you post it here. Publications like Every Day Poems, however, gladly welcome previously published work! A good poem is a good poem, after all. Worthy of being experienced again.)