Or it may instruct us. In T. S. Eliot's words from his "Ash Wednesday,"
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will …
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated
And let my cry come unto Thee.
Poetry causes us to be, in the Zen Buddhists' term, "mindful." And to be mindful is to become acutely aware of every moment. It is to cherish each individual moment even in our stunned lack of comprehension of the whole of life and death — as certainly the Newtown tragedy has caused us for even a short while to be so stunned.
The Japanese poet Matsuo Bosho's haiku, the most famous poem in Japan, lets us focus on this Present. No moment is trivial:
mizu no oto
The old pond —
a frog jumps in,
sound of water
This focus on the acute perception that just to hear a frog splash, just to have a chance to be alive, even for a very brief time, as the Newtown children were, is marvelous, a treasure. a revelation, a gift, an unforgetableness. It may also remind us of a poetic admonition by a Zen Master, one expressed to his disciple as they were walking in the rain. The admonition says simply what must be said always:
"Do not walk so fast, the rain is everywhere."
Dick Allen is Connecticut's state poet laureate. His eighth poetry collection, "This Shadowy Place," will be published next year.