Because the language of poetry is not linear and is allowed to construct its own rules, it can express feelings and ideas differently from prose. Because therapy is done sometimes in prose, but other times in poetry, I often read a poem that, while sometimes not of the exact same sentiment, evokes for me a client’s story in a way that the prose of progress notes cannot. It may reflect the challenge of transition, or the wonder of transformation. It may carry the soft moisture of love lost or the harder bite of betrayal. It may scream for justice or whisper for redemption. It may simply tell of one fleeting state of consciousness, co-existing with others for a moment in time.
Here is one such poem. Thematically, the sentiment expressed in this poem is not an uncommon one. It is often expressed by people who have made a significant change yet tenderly remember the ”other self”, for example by someone who is gaining control of manic symptoms and misses that exhilarating yet debilitating high energy. But it may also be expressed by those who simply are making a positive and slightly nostalgic change to a more sustainable set of choices– yet mourn the loss of the unsustainable. In many cases, it can feel as though some part of them has been lost, or has died… or perhaps simply been confined inside a self-imposed constraints where the glimpses of the “other” flash and leap, then fall… and fail.
I recently had a client who, in the process of making a needed and significant change in his life, expressed grief at the loss of what had felt like a “self” that was connected to a wondrous and powerful life energy. That life had to be relinquished in order to adopt a more sustainable and realistic life style. He told me that it felt very much like he was a cat, a cheetah or leopard, going back into the benign, socially acceptable cage where, in the end, he said, we all must reside. He felt it was the right thing to do. But still, he sometimes mourned the loss… and his acceptance of this change was optimistic yet tinged with sorrow. His story brings to mind this poem by Rilke, given to me by someone else who also understood both the optimistic determination and the shadow of sorrow when first we see the lingering loom, then quiet dimming, and quieter death, of a former “self.”The Panther – by Rainer Maria Rilke
(Translated by D.C. Barranco) From seeing only bars, his seeing is exhausted.
It holds nothing, nothing more. To him, the world is bars,
100,000 bars, and behind the bars, nothing. The lithe swinging of his rhythmic, easy stride
circles an inner hub – a dance of energy,
‘round a central point. Inside, a gigantic Will stands stunned and numb. Only, at times, the curtains rise. Silently, a vision enters,
slips though the focused silence of his shoulders,
reaches his heart,
That vision of what once was, or might have been, is what my client, every now and then, needed to share with me, as if to make sure that it had not been just a dream. But also to reaffirm his new choices, and reaffirm he did, until new was ordinary and change was no longer fresh or scary or mournful, or even change. It just was.
Therapy as poetry, and poetry as therapy keeps his story alive. The prose, in its own way descriptively accurate, is still in the progress notes, where it belongs.