Poem of the Week: Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye

In light of International Kindness Day, one of our English tutors looked at the poem Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye with her student, Mia.

Read Mia’s commentary on the poem below:

“I love how Shihab Nye weaves moments from the every day throughout her poem as this encourages readers to empathise with its themes and messages. The line ‘feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth’ is a poignant example of this as it symbolises the notion of things fading and disappearing. It reminds us that we could be doing something so regular and ordinary but in a matter of minutes it could all be gone; your plans can change and you have to rethink everything, like the valuable time that you stupidly wasted and the things that you should have done, but didn’t. For me, this quotation also acts as a reminder to cherish and savour the time that you have with loved ones as you never know what is around the corner.

 

Furthermore, the poem promotes kindness and gratitude from start to finish by employing powerful imagery.

“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”

This passage emphasises how misfortune can happen to anyone of us and to understand how kindness works, we need to make ourselves aware of this harsh reality. Since white is connotative of innocence, the man seems completely undeserving of the pain that he has endured and Shihab Rye seems to be critiquing the unjust nature of this world. Moreover, the passage reminds us to treat others with empathy and compassion as you do not know what they are going through.”

 

Read the full poem here:

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,
what you counted and carefully saved,
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 gaze at 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.

 

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