Captivity of the body, freedom of the mind

As I mentioned in my last post, The Ballad of Reading Gaol is one of my favourite poems. I first encountered it via Nelson Mandela; when he was in prison, he recalled some of the lines of the poem and how his situation had given them new meaning. Primo Levi, in his memoirs of Auschwitz called upon his love of poetry to sustain him, using Dante’ s Divine Comedy to teach other prisoners Italian, but more significantly, to retain his humanity and soul. The freedom of the mind when the body is imprisoned interests me, and it says a lot about poetry that people seldom seem to recall passages of prose or scenes from a book to identify with their personal situations. A search on the internet turned up this project of teaching poetry to prisoners, some of whom had never read or written poetry before. Some of the poems they have produced are surprisingly evocative. My own favourite is this one:

Over two years ago
I knew nothing of
poetry
Of how it allows a
huge part of me to
be free.

How the truth in
it makes people feel

how it allows me
to feel love and sorrow
like a great earthquake
starting from
so deep
within.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Captivity of the body, freedom of the mind

  1. Stefanie

    That poem tells me the prison project is more than worthwhile.

  2. Imani

    There was a series on PBS called “Shakespeare Behind Bars” which I found particularly illuminating. To see the prisoners expound and relate to Shakespeare with such sincerity and eloquence was clear evidence of its worth.

  3. BookGirl

    That is great. Like imani said the Shakespeare Behind Bars is a great project as well. I had the chance to see it at a film festival and I left feeling hopeful.

  4. Rhiain

    Very beautiful. Thanks for sharing that particular project and poem.

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