Purple Coneflower with Bumble Bee, Copyright Joan Z. Rough 2009

A friend recently shared this poem with me, saying that reading poetry gives her hope.  I concur.  In just a few short lines a poem can lift me from a deep, dark pit of despair into a world glowing with joy.  For me, the poem below speaks of how life can bring us to our knees and fills us with its essence.  A life lived in kindness is a life fulfilled.


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Naomi Shihab Nye

This entry was posted in Navigating Through Life, Poetry, Wise Words. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Kindness

  1. Sharon says:

    A friend of mine just lost her husband and has had to go back to work and be “normal”. I think kindness from others is what gets her through the days. A year ago this week, my mother was in Hospice and as we all sat with her in the death watch, it was the kindness of others that got us through.
    Thank you for sharing one of my most favorite ever poems.

  2. Lailey says:

    Beautiful Joan thank for the reminder… are with me everywhere I go… that was a very special weekend we shared and it was you being part of it and sharing your kindness that made it so!

    • jzrart says:

      Thank you, Lailey, for your kind words. It was a very special weekend and you too are with me always. I hope we’ll get together again very soon!

  3. Clara says:

    Joan, this has become one of my favorite poems. Thanks for reminding me of it. It always makes me think of the value of contrasts and opposites: we appreciate light so much more once we’ve experienced darkness. Coincidentally, my husband and I were talking about poems over breakfast this morning and, after a trip to the bookstore, I now have a new book of Ted Kooser’s poems to read.

    • jzrart says:

      I am in the process of getting my books of poetry in order. They have been missplaced since our move but I’m now ready to begin rereading so many wonderful poems!

  4. Becca says:

    I love this poem, and I think it speaks volumes about the power of simple kindness to change lives.

  5. jzrart says:

    You are so right, Becca! From kindness comes love and gratitude!

  6. Everyone’s taste in poetry is personal, of course, and this poem doesn’t land within my own sensibilities, but it is always reassuring that people can draw some restorative power from poetry. Obviously more people feel support from shallow feel-good sitcoms. On the subject of loss, some of your friends might not yet have found Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art,” probably her most famous poem, and well worth finding. And for poetry about loss there are few poems more moving than the Iliad (I recall the end of Book 6 when I grieve for families of all countries who lose people they love to war). As Elizabeth Bishop writes, “The art of losing isn’t hard to master.”

    • jzrart says:


      Thanks for visiting my blog! Yes, it is heartening that many people find solace within poetry. As for feel-good sitcoms, I’ve never been a fan and never will be. I find Bishop’s poem, One art, lacking in a particular soul catching quality. She doesn’t say how one overcomes the overpowering feelings one is subject to when a major loss has occurred. I find her “telling” me to “just get over it ,” rather than showing me, a bit flip. And she suggests nothing like “Kindness” to take the place of the loss one has experienced. But we are all individuals and like our taste in poetry, have our own ways of dealing with life’s mysteries.

      Again, thanks for visiting and do come back. I always enjoy a good discussion. Reading what others think and feel helps me to expand my own take on life.


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