There’s a Poet inside Me
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“There’s a Poet inside Me,” Ensign, Mar. 1976, 26–27

There’s a Poet inside Me

Who am I? Well, I’m an English teacher, for one thing, and that means I spend a good chunk of my life studying. But it also means that there is a poet dancing around inside of me; it means that I am a person of feeling, of emotion. That poet inside me wants to live, to jump up and down, to laugh, to run. It’s no accident that but for one letter the words motion and emotion are doubles. In fact, historically, they are synonyms. The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that motion was at one time described as “a stirring of the soul,” and emotion was defined as “a moving … (in a physical sense).” End of English lesson. History cannot separate the two, and neither can I. I like to move because of how it makes me feel. For me, motion is truly emotion.

Why do any of us climb to the top of a mountain? Is it fun to pant for breath we can’t find? to ache in every muscle? to hurt where the pack straps drag on our shoulders? Is it fun to be clinging to near vertical rock, straining to reach a crack that will give a handhold ever closer to the top? Is it fun to run around a tennis court until we’re wet with perspiration and have holes in our shoes? Is it fun to pedal a bicycle against a headwind until our lungs seem ready to burst and our legs to drop off? The answer, of course, is a resounding yes! How better can we know that we’re alive?

When I find myself growling around the house, or inclined to give my students mainly Cs and Ds, I know I’ve been tied to a desk too long and need to get out and bang a tennis ball around or shoot a few baskets or climb a mountain or find a desert. When the grouch happens to a particular friend of mine, she knows that she needs to take up her violin. Another friend restores herself by baking bread. But me? I have to move—throw something or jump over something or hit something or ski down something (or even up something on cross-country skis). It’s funny, but exercise as such, in the name of duty, simply does not satisfy the poet inside me. I’ve tried jogging just because it’s supposed to be good for me. It’s about as exciting to me as swallowing vitamin pills. I’ve started exercise programs too. I think my record for continuance is four days. For me, exercise by design takes the fun out of moving; it doesn’t tell me that I’m alive. For other people, it’s not that way—their inner poets may love to jog or to do deep-knee bends.

Some of my brightest joys come from the sheer abandon of squandering energy. This holds true even in what we label work. When I’m helping my uncle haul hay, it feels good to run instead of walk to the next bale, to load a bale on the rack with more gusto than is really necessary. When I’m off to climb a mountain on a day-hike, I’m glad to be the one to carry the lunch pack because I want to feel my body working just a little harder. Part of the delight I feel in play comes from squandering energy, from indulging in activity that will never make a contribution to the Gross National Product, that will never result in putting anything in the marketplace. Something done for the simple joy of itself. Such an action is a poem, pure and lovely, for what is a poem but squandered energy? The squandering I describe is not waste; in fact, it results in a replenishing and a revitalizing. My energy is like the Dogpatch ham; the more I use, the more I have. Those times of “squandered” energy often turn out to be some of the most valuable times in my life because they are translated into being and are not lost down the drain of time the way so many things I spend my life for are.

The word motion has another obsolete definition that I really like: “A working of God in the soul.” I do feel at times when I am in motion—say, leaping high over desert sagebrush and landing shin-deep in soft sand, or hitting a good, solid volley at the net—that He is working in my soul (I think dancers must have that same feeling too). And I believe that in running and leaping I am not simply indulging my selfish whims; rather, I am recognizing a gift that is in some ways unique to me, acknowledging that He has blessed me with marvelous loves and almost miraculous awarenesses. To deny those gifts would be to demonstrate a terrible kind of ingratitude. My patriarchal blessing says that the Lord will “bless me exceedingly” in my lifetime. I believe that part of that great blessing has been a strong body and a love for movement and a oneness with the out-of-doors.

I was a long time discovering who I really was, a long time learning what my special gifts were, a long time admitting that I was a poet—of motion and emotion. When I finally discovered myself it was like finding what I had always been but had never known. Among other things, I learned that

—It’s all right for me, a woman, to move and play.

—I am most happily liberated by a pair of scruffy hiking boots.

—I have to get to the tops of mountains, come rain, wind, or nightfall.

—My inner poet is perhaps most contented in the desert—following narrow river gorges, trudging through deep, dry sand, walking up unbelievable angles on sticky red rock.

—I would rather eat around a campfire than in the fanciest restaurant.

—I love winter with a passion best expressed by gliding over snow with long boards attached to my feet.

—I would rather play tennis than eat or sleep or see movies or get paid.

—I would rather hear a canyon wren’s crystal notes cascading down a canyon wall than travel around the world.

—I would rather play one game of basketball than watch fifty.

—And finally, I learned that I do not have to apologize to the world for being the way I am.

Lehi says it all: “Men are that they might have joy.” (2 Ne. 2:25.) I have found inexpressible joy in movement.

  • Marilyn Arnold, an assistant to the president at Brigham Young University, is also an associate professor of English there. She serves on a task committee for the Relief Society general board.