THE BLOG
09/06/2010 10:42 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Searching for the Poetry in Life

I have a defined benefit pension, a 401K and a paid-off mortgage. I keep a calendar to track my appointments and on it we plan our vacations and trips to see my aging mother. I got a sound education, thanks to my parents' foresight, and have had good jobs and a steadily advancing amount of both responsibility and compensation. I set aside money each month for life's uncertainties. My credit cards have a zero balance at the end of each payment period. I am an incredibly fortunate man, because fortune has indeed been kind to me.

People of a more adventurous bent might consider my life prosaic. In truth, and on balance, I have lived it more in prose than poetry. But every life has poetic moments, and I have been fortunate to have those too. My wife, my children and grandchildren, our three dogs, the surprise of each year's spring, fireflies filling the trees on a summer night, and the beauty of light as it surges through my completed stained glass panels have all created unplanned moments and have produced unending joys. Even the loss of my father, my wife's parents, close friends, our pets, and our children's divorces have brought the depth of feeling and the closeness of hearts touching that prose cannot capture, much as I have tried to make sense of these events through thinking about them. Perhaps it is because I think in prose as well.

A balanced life is a mixture of prose and poetry. We all have both in us. We are all writers and poets of life. Some of us - I count myself among them - tend toward the planned life, much as prose is planned. The paragraphs of our lives are structured, thought through, as if following an outline we have fashioned for ourselves. There are still surprises, much as writers may be surprised when their creations take an unexpected turn, but we manage to contain those surprises by bringing them back within the essay that is our lives. Looking back, we are pleased with what we have made of life - and we sense that some of that pleasure is because we have, indeed, made that life.

Some of us - and I count my wife among them - live lives that are more poetic. She has never worn a watch, rarely plans a day much less a life (though she has always honored commitments and met the expectations of employers and family), and she is much more likely to see the beauty outside our breakfast window each morning while I see the breakfast in front of me. She chose me in the single moment we met, connects with the special people who complete our lives through passion, deep love, and the ability to hear their thoughts while I am trying to make sense of their sounds. She sees the magical beauty of the world through the lens of her camera and the words of her novels, while I struggle to express that magic in prose, an art form that never seems enough of a match for what I feel.

Prose, it seems, is the art of fashioning a living. Poetry, in contrast, is the art of experiencing a life. They are two halves of the same whole, and our time on earth is incomplete when we live only half a life. For those of us who are more adept at prose, the struggle becomes one of allowing poetry into our lives or, more accurately, of allowing the poetry in us to emerge and push the prose aside just long enough. Thoreau was right when he said that the "unexamined life is not worth living," but his classroom was not the lecture hall and his teacher was not the philosopher. Until he left the prosaic world behind and entered the woods, he had little hope of truly seeing his inner poetry.

So ends this essay in prose. It has taken me as far as prose can. Poetry beckons.