In this fast-moving technological world, lines of poetry can be food for the soul and help people with mental illness

How can learning poetry by heart help us to be more grounded, happy, calm people? “Let me count the ways,” says Rachel Kelly, who has suffered from anxiety. Whenever she’s feeling wobbly, she finds reciting lines of poetry is grounding, validating and connects her to others who have felt as she is feeling in this moment. And it’s something we can all do: poetry we’ve learned to recite means we have another voice inside us that’s always there, a kind of on-board first responder in times of psychological need.

There’s also a certainty and stability about being able to conjure those words: they’re a crutch, we can lean on them, they can even do the thinking for us. Kelly describes how two lines from Invictus by WE Henley can make all the difference to what happens to her next: “I am the master of my fate/I am the captain of my soul.” When all she can hear in her head are negative voices, she can drown them out by repeating, over and over, positive lines from poetry: they’re substitutions, life-giving mantras rather than life-sapping ones.

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