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Featured Poem: The Comforters by Dora Sigerson Shorter

Written by The Reader, 14th November 2011

Did you know that yesterday was World Kindness Day? The worldwide recognition and appreciation of random - or entirely planned acts - of kindness was introduced on 13th November 1998, the idea of the World Kindness Movement, but Kindness Day UK was observed for the first time last year. So hopefully, you’ll have done something kind for someone to celebrate the day; maybe let your nearest and dearest have a lie-in while you take on the household chores, let someone else jump the queue while at the shops, sacrificed the last roast potato for a stomach that rumbled louder than your own. Maybe you did something fairly marginal without knowing you were making a world of difference to another. Of course, any time is a perfect time to be benevolent to your fellow man or woman; some might say that having a designated date to show consideration or compassion is perhaps stretching things a tad, that surely it is just straightforward manners, common courtesy and should be done all year round. But having a reminder comes in quite useful, acting to give us a gentle nudge when it does slip our minds in these hectic times. Plus, there’s enough stress and strain that any excuse to focus on the positives in life is always welcome.

The thing about kindness is that it stretches beyond all boundaries. Its effects are multiple, measurable and really quite remarkable – performing an altruistic deed gets the endorphins flowing, contributing not only to a better state of mind but also making you physically healthier, relaxing the nervous and cardiovascular systems (never mind laughter; it would appear that kindness is the best medicine). Being kind also creates emotional bonds between the benefactor and beneficiary – not only does it make everyone feel good (perhaps the true unselfish deed really is impossible to achieve…) but is invaluable in providing important points of human contact. Most importantly, kindness is not all about grand gestures; it is often the simplest, apparently understated things that are often those that are held precious. In the same respect, kindness is not only to be found in actions or even within the immediate moment. Words written centuries ago carry their kindness through the ages and, whether carefully crafted or composed quickly, come as a considerable source of comfort to many. In the absence of a person, literature can be the next best thing to offer empathy – in the best circumstances, the two will be combined. And it would seem that regular readers are indeed more empathetic to others, with a number of studies revealing that reading fiction increases emotional perception and makes us more likely to do kind things for those around us. Yet another reason to be proud to read – as if the list wasn’t already endless.

Reflecting the fact that kindness is to be found everywhere and in everything if it is warranted is this poem by Dora Sigerson Shorter. It is in the guise of nature that the kindness that is much needed comes; a never-ending, ever-reliable supply available to soothe in the hardest of circumstances. It’s somewhat interesting to note that the elements classified as the comforters are those that are more typically viewed as being destructive or at the very unleast, unwanted – the wind and the rain being transformed into empathetic and human forces. Not only is this poem well suited to commemorating World Kindness Day but also provides recognition of another incredibly significant event of the weekend just passed, as it was written during the First World War; no doubt, as a response to its many overwhelming atrocities, tragedies and human losses. And the power of the comfort has not lessened over ninety years on, be it through the touch of kind lips or little feet – or, more collectively experienced, through kind words.

The Comforters

When I crept over the hill, broken with tears,
When I crouched down on the grass, dumb in despair,
I heard the soft croon of the wind bend to my ears,
I felt the light kiss of the wind touching my hair.

When I stood lone on the height, my sorrow did speak,
As I went down the hill, I cried and I cried,
The soft little hands of the rain stroking my cheek,
The kind little feet of the rain ran by my side.

When I went to thy grave, broken with tears,
When I crouched down in the grass, dumb in despair,
I heard the soft croon of the wind soft in my ears,
I felt the kind lips of the wind touching my hair.

When I stood lone by thy cross, sorrow did speak,
When I went down the long hill, I cried and I cried,
The soft little hands of the rain stroked my pale cheek,
The kind little feet of the rain ran by my side.

Dora Sigerson Shorter (1866-1918)

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