Beauty of Broken Things (continued)

For the last Poetry Party I invited you to reflect on the theme of the “beauty of broken things.”  Your poetic responses were marvelous, spanning a wide spectrum of possibility and exploration.  Many of the images moved me, such as “I am the hidden underside of things” and “ice so cold it is also fire” from Tess, “fierce winds sprung from God’s deep lungs” from Rich, and “swampy depths of truth” from Kievas, or the stark simplicity of Kayce‘s poem: “dark / broken / desperate… / still / i reach for the heavens.”

Many of the poems offered probing questions like Sue‘s “will you let me break you?”, Ashley‘s “why not lift your eyes and swallow?”, Milton‘s “How did I become accustomed / to a life of unfinished and disrepair?”, Cathleen‘s “Can I honor this pain? Can I dare call it sacred?”, or Elaine‘s “Beauty of brokenness. . . do I really / see you?”  Brokenness does seem to lead to more questions rather than answers.

I’ve been reading Crispin Sartwell’s book Six Names of Beauty.  Each chapter focuses on a different word for beauty each from a different language.  The one that has most resonated with me and captivated by imagintion is the Japanese word wabi-sabi.  

Sartwell writes: “wabi-sabi is an aesthetic of poverty and aloneness, imperfection and austerity, affirmation and melancholy.  Wabi-sabi is the beauty of the withered, weathered, tarnished, scarred, intimate, coarse, earthly, evanescent, tentative, ephemeral. . . Wabi-sabi is a broken earthenware cup in contrast to a Ming vase, a branch of autumn leaves in contrast to a dozen roses, a lined and bent old woman in contrast to a model, a mature love as opposed to infatuation, a bare wall with peeling paint in contrast to a wall hung with beautiful paintings.”  (p. 114)

To me, this speaks in essence, to the beauty of broken things.  It is easy to be plunged into awe and wonder at the setting of the sun or the magnificent flowering of spring.  In some ways it is more challenging to ask where beauty dwells in what is dying and broken and falling apart.  What happens when we begin to look for gift dwelling between the rough edges of things?

Part of my walking practice when I am at the beach is looking either for the wonderful white oyster shells that seem to call my name again and again, or these spiral shells that sing out to me.  I have only found a couple that are whole and intact, most of them are missing fragments, edges chipped and broken.  There is something so beautiful to me about their brokenness.  Perhaps it is because out of the 30 or so that I have found and gathered only one or two are cracked through the core.  Most of them, under the weight of the thrashing sea are able to hold onto an intactness with the strength of that center spiral . 

Reading Bette‘s poem last week especially resonated with me:  “after a long walk / my pockets are full of prayers / worn and broken shells.”

I empty my pockets of broken prayers and spread them out along my windowsill as an offering to my own broken places.  This sill is also my altar space, the border between my hermitage and the vision of the sea just beyond, a reminder of the edges to which I am called.

(an apology for those poems I did not mention in this post, truly all of them were beautiful and moved me in different ways, what a gift to have so many to reflect with — thank you again) 

-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts

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