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Lines by Heart: Comfort by Elizabeth Jennings

Written by Rachael Norris, 18th April 2021

Today's Lines by Heart reading is brought to us by Head of Shared Reading Programmes, Helen Wilson. Helen recites Comfort by Elizabeth Jennings - put yourself to the test and see if you can memorise this poem too.

 

I have been on The Reader’s list to do ‘Lines by Heart’ for some time now and have, if truth be told, been avoiding taking my turn. I have never been very good at, or particularly interested in, learning things by rote and have never committed poetry to memory as an active choice. Lines will often come back to me when I am busy thinking about or doing something else and I enjoy being visited by these moments from poetry and novels, which usually bring a helpful connection with them that I may not have made – or made in the same way – without their assistance. This really is part of the joy of what we call literature for me: a kind of holding place for human experience, captured in ways that we might otherwise struggle to find the words for.

Saying this, I did remember last minute a short poem that I first heard read at a Reader conference many years ago, which seems to have stuck with me, in its entirety, since. I was very moved by it at the time and have read it with countless people over the years. I always remember one woman in particular, generous enough to give Shared Reading a go despite her reservations, who told me she thought it was, ‘Lovely. Lovely. More like a prayer than a poem.’

 

Comfort

 

Hand closed upon another, warm.

The other, cold, turned round and met

And found a weather made of calm.

So sadness goes, and so regret.

 

A touch, a magic in the hand.

Not that the fortune-teller sees

Or thinks that she can understand.

This warm hand binds but also frees.

 

Elizabeth Jennings, Selected Poems, Carcanet Press, 1987

 

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