Happiness Tip: Memorize Two Lines from a Poem

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We often forget that inspiration — along with its cousins elevation and awe — are positive emotions that make us feel more content, joyful and satisfied with our lives. One way to bring more of these positive emotions into our lives is to memorize a part of a poem that inspires us.

This is one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems:

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

The lines I say to myself for inspiration are, “the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting — over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”

Take Action:
Use the Internet to find a poem you remember loving. Print it out, highlight your favorite lines, and commit them to memory.

Join the discussion:
What is your favorite line from a poem? Inspire others by commenting below.

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  • Sandra Stricker

    “Gentle breath of yours my sails must fill, or else my project fails, which was to please. As you from crimes would pardoned be…let your indulgence set me free.” from Shakespeare’s The Tempest

  • act_on_love

    The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you
    Don’t go back to sleep
    You must ask for what you really want
    Don’t go back to sleep
    People are going back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch
    The door is round, and open
    Don’t go back to sleep.
    - Rumi

    • Christine Carter

      Wow. That is really moving, and inspiring. I love Rumi.

  • d rey

    for every mother if you like reading it, watch him recite it on youtube…..

    The Lanyard – Billy Collins

    The other day I was ricocheting slowly

    off the blue walls of this room,

    moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,

    from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,

    when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary

    where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

    No cookie nibbled by a French novelist

    could send one into the past more suddenly—

    a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp

    by a deep Adirondack lake

    learning how to braid long thin plastic strips

    into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

    I had never seen anyone use a lanyard

    or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,

    but that did not keep me from crossing

    strand over strand again and again

    until I had made a boxy

    red and white lanyard for my mother.

    She gave me life and milk from her breasts,

    and I gave her a lanyard.

    She nursed me in many a sick room,

    lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,

    laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,

    and then led me out into the airy light

    and taught me to walk and swim,

    and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.

    Here are thousands of meals, she said,

    and here is clothing and a good education.

    And here is your lanyard, I replied,

    which I made with a little help from a counselor.

    Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,

    strong legs, bones and teeth,

    and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,

    and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.

    And here, I wish to say to her now,

    is a smaller gift—not the worn truth

    that you can never repay your mother,

    but the rueful admission that when she took

    the two-tone lanyard from my hand,

    I was as sure as a boy could be

    that this useless, worthless thing I wove

    out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

    • http://www.facebook.com/diana.fingal Diana Elliott Fingal

      I’m teary reading this. Now I’m sending it to my mother. Thanks.

      • Christine Carter

        Holy cow, me too. I can’t think of a more beautiful expression of gratitude for my mom, or a more potent expression of what the little gifts our children give us mean. (My daughter, this morning after I dropped her off at school, turned to the dean of students who was standing there and said, “My mom is so awesome.” Just as great as a lanyard.)

  • d rey

    It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll.
    I am the master of my fate:
    I am the captain of my soul.

    • Christine Carter

      Love that. Who is the author?

  • dawn

    “and children’s faces looking up,
    holding wonder like a cup.”

    Barter, by Sara Teasdale

    not sure if that’s one line or two, but that’s what i think of all the time. i love the image it brings to mind.

  • Clare

    I’m a big fan of Rudyard Kipling’s If.

    If

    If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
    If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
    If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
    Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

    If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
    If you can meet with triumph and disaster
    And treat those two imposters just the same;
    If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
    Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
    And stoop and build ‘em up with wornout tools;

    If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
    And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breath a word about your loss;
    If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
    And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

    If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch;
    If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
    If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
    Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

  • Susanne

    I love this quote, even though it’s so oft-quoted and questionably attributed. I think it’s from Marianne Williamson.

    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
    Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our
    light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who
    am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are
    you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve
    the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
    people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as
    children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is
    within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let
    our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do
    the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence
    automatically liberates others.”

    • Christine Carter

      “There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
      people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as
      children do.” So inspiring, such a good reminder.

  • Pamela

    I just helped my 90-year-old aunt look up Henry Van Dyke’s “America For Me.” She had a two volume book called something like “Poems You Half-Remember.” I like it mostly because she still had lots of it memorized and it evokes school days even older than mine…

    Oh, it’s home again, and home again, America for me!
    I want a ship that’s westward bound to plough the rolling sea,
    To the blessed Land of Room Enough, beyond the ocean bars,
    Where the air is full of sunlight and the flag is full of stars.
    I also think it’s funny that Arthur C. Clarke in his “2061″ (the last novel in his Space Odyssey series) has the spaceship pilot decide NOT to look up a line of poetry on his computer because *it would tie it up for so long.* OK, he wrote it in 1987 but undershot by about 50 years since I can already do that in seconds from my hand-held phone. You can tell I’m a former sci-fi nerd.

    • Christine Carter

      That’s funny — so great that we can access all of these inspiring words in seconds!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/kimberly.moses2 Kimberly Moses

    I love Mary Oliver – her immediacy – her joining of the ephemeral to the physical world. So many of her poems inspire me. But another, less clear writer, Theodore Roethke “In a Dark Time” also speaks to me.

    What’s madness but nobility of soul At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!

  • Karen H

    Kahlil Gibran “On Children”
    Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you. You can give them your love but not your thoughts. They have their own thoughts.” That is more than two lines, but there you go!

    • alma

      You can house their bodies but not their souls for their souls dwell in the space of tomorrow which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams
      You can try to be like them, but you cannot make them just like you.

      • Christine Carter

        Wow. Such a great reminder.

    • Christine Carter

      Beautiful.

  • Grace Clark

    The poem Hope, by Emily Dickinson:
    Hope is the thing with feathers

    That perches in the soul,

    And sings the tune without the words,

    And never stops at all,


    And sweetest in the gale is heard;

    And sore must be the storm

    That could abash the little bird
    
That kept so many warm.


    I’ve heard it in the chillest land

    And on the strangest sea;

    Yet, never, in extremity,

    It asked a crumb of me.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/carrie.pickett.16 Carrie Pickett

    “Let us go then you and I when the evening is spread out against the sky like a patient anesthetized upon a table” from TS Eliot’s “Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock” which I read in college and always think of as we head off to school. Fun exercise! I love poetry.

  • Lynn Eikenberry

    I love Mary Oliver. She uses words so sparingly, sharply, vividly. I would add this one of her poems: The Journey

    One day you finally knew

    what you had to do, and began,

    though the voices around you

    kept shouting

    their bad advice–

    though the whole house

    began to tremble

    and you felt the old tug

    at your ankles.

    “Mend my life!”

    each voice cried.

    But you didn’t stop.

    You knew what you had to do,

    though the wind pried

    with its stiff fingers

    at the very foundations,

    though their melancholy

    was terrible.

    It was already late

    enough, and a wild night,

    and the road full of fallen

    branches and stones.

    But little by little,

    as you left their voices behind,

    the stars began to burn

    through the sheets of clouds,

    and there was a new voice

    which you slowly

    recognized as your own,

    that kept you company

    as you strode deeper and deeper

    into the world,

    determined to do

    the only thing you could do–

    determined to save

    the only life you could save.

    • Christine Carter

      Oh, this makes me weep to read again. I had it taped to my wall and read it each morning for a year, the year I got divorced…

      • Laura Braaten

        this was “my” poem to when I divorced — SO empowering.

  • Julie Mann

    Two favorites…

    INTO THE POSSIBLE

    Even after a thousand failed attempts, success is possible. In fact, each disappointing result brings you closer to the result you intend to achieve.

    Your past may be filled with failure and disappointment, or it may be filled with achievement and joy. But no matter how it has been, it doesn’t have to hold you back right now.

    Right now, you can choose to learn from what has been, and to use that knowledge to move forward. You can build on the past achievements and completely leave behind the past disappointments.

    Don’t let the past become an excuse. Life proceeds forward from this moment, so choose to proceed forward with it.

    Let go of resentment, regret, anger, envy, blame and disappointment. Focus instead on the extraordinary positive possibilities of now, and on your desire to make your life and your world the best they can be.

    Now is when you can make now count in good and meaningful and significant ways. Step beyond the past and into the possible.

    And…

    Love After Love
    The time will come when, with elation you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
    and say, sit here. Eat. You will love again the stranger who was your self.Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
    all your life, whom you ignored for another, who knows you by heart. Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
    the photographs, the desperate notes, peel your own image from the mirror. Sit. Feast on your life.
    Derek Walcott

    • Christine Carter

      Fabulous! Thank you for sharing!

  • Liz

    “wait. Trust the hours. Haven’t they carried you everywhere up til now” Galway Kinnel

    • Grace Clark

      I love that line – what’s the name of the poem?

      • Christine Carter

        I love it too! Would love to know title and author.

  • Lindsey

    You live that you may learn to love, you love that you may learn to live. No other lesson is required of you. – Mikail Naimy

    • Christine Carter

      So sweet, and so true.

  • http://www.facebook.com/simonrwaters Simon Waters

    What is this life if, full of care,
    We have no time to stand and stare.

    (although I also like “do not go gentle into that good night….” and Coleridge was the first book of poems I bought myself so really anything by Coleridge “Tis mine and it is likewise yours..” and then that evil friend repeated “This be the verse” by Larkin so much I now know it, which is worth memorizing just to upset the prudes).

    • Christine Carter

      Give us links to the full poems — so fun! And I love those first 2 lines — I’d love to read the full poem. Seems like a good reminder for the busy busy busy life.

  • Linda

    Then may Thy glorious, perfect will
    Be evermore fulfilled in me,
    And make my life and answering chord
    Of glad, responsive harmony. -Jean Sophia Pigott

    • http://www.raisinghappiness.com Dr. Christine Carter

      beautiful

  • http://twitter.com/midlifemixtape Nancy Davis Kho

    In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a saintly pleasure dome decree. From Kubla Khan by Coleridge – because it’s my mom’s favorite line from a poem, and she’s the real writer in the family.

    • http://www.raisinghappiness.com Dr. Christine Carter

      Your MOM is the real writer? Really? For all of you who’ve never read Nancy’s blog, it is hysterical. Check it out at midlifemixtapes.com!