Kathy Donchak

Sunday Letter: Solstice

publishedabout 2 months ago
2 min read

There's a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference –
Where the Meanings, are –

None may teach it – Any –
'Tis the seal Despair –
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air –

When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, 'tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –

~ Emily Dickinson, There's a certain Slant of light, (320)

The winter solstice is a time for reflection and new beginnings. To close a chapter and or turn a page. To look back while looking forward. Poetry can enrich this silent time and help you forge a path to follow. The words can be a balm or fire, a companion or muse.

Gather words of wisdom to enter this season of growing darkness, to help you give birth to light.

Be well,


Sometimes even doctors must look to art for consolation. Psychiatrist Rosenthal has observed the ways poems have helped his patients through times of difficulty, giving voice to certain feelings while offering a way forward. “The idea of this book is that poetry can not only inspire and delight, but can actually help you feel better, soothe your pain, and heal psychological wounds,” writes the author in his introduction. “In short, as the book’s title suggests, poetry can act as a kind of medicine.” Rosenthal has collected 50 short poems that he finds therapeutic, covering a wide range of situations and emotions. Each chapter includes a poem as well as a brief essay on the question that the piece addresses. Chapter 1, for example, features Elizabeth Bishop’s famous poem “One Art” (“The art of losing isn’t hard to master”) followed by a discussion of loss from a psychological and biological perspective. Rosenthal includes a list of takeaways (“Accept the loss”; “Beware all-or-none thinking”) as well as biographical information about Bishop and a note about the poem’s villanelle structure. The poetry includes English language classics by the likes of Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, W.B. Yeats, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Derek Walcott as well as a few translations from Rumi, Antonio Machado, Salvatore Quasimodo, Anna Akhmatova, and Constantine Cavafy. Rosenthal’s breakdowns of the poems are clear and therapeutic, as here, where he discusses Steve Smith’s “Not Waving But Drowning,” about a man who drowned without anyone realizing he needed help: “We seek explanations to reassure ourselves that the dead are somehow different from us; we look for some reason to blame them. They did something wrong, which luckily we are clever enough to avoid.” The poets skew White and male, perhaps in part because the pieces are all quite old. The only living poets included in the book are Wendell Berry and Gillian Clarke (both currently octogenarians). That said, the selected poems are excellent and highly accessible, and Rosenthal uses them as a platform for readers’ self-investigations. Learn more on