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Swimming to the Light by J. Patrick Lewis - a Poetry Friday post

Today's poem by former Children's Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis is in celebration of Helen Keller Day. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued a proclamation making June 27th (Helen Keller's birthday). Helen Keller was left deaf and blind following a childhood fever, and the popular play The Miracle Worker by William Gibson has made generations of American children aware of how her teacher, Annie Sullivan, helped reconnect Helen to the world.

Helen went on to attend a variety of schools, including Radcliffe College, where she became the first deaf blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts. She learned to speak and to read lips by touch. Later in her life, she became a noted public speaker and author, and she was an advocate for people with disabilities. (She also became a noted socialist speaker, which landed her in some hot water with some folks.)

Alabama chose Helen Keller to be on their "state quarter" when the U.S. Mint decided to issue fifty different quarters in order of states joining the nation. It is the only coin in the United States to include Braille on it.

And now, without further ado, the wonderful villanelle by J. Patrick Lewis:

Swimming to the Light
      Helen Keller
      1880 – 1968
      Deaf and blind American author
      and political activist


by J. Patrick Lewis

Descending through the roaring silent sea
Of blackness, I don’t know what I don’t know.
I am alone, there’s no one else but me.

Which way is up? What dread adversity
Prevents me seeing either friend or foe,
Descending through the roaring silent sea?

There, swimming into my vicinity,
A hand—a teacher’s hand!—that won’t let go.
I’m not alone, Anne Sullivan’s with me!

The hand maiden of fellow feeling, she
Signs “water,” the first word in my talk show,
Ascending through the roaring silent sea.

I cannot learn enough! Her art sets free
Words painted on my hand, her studio.
I’m not alone, Anne Sullivan’s with me.

Blind-deaf, I earn a Bachelor’s degree,
And bow to her for my portfolio.
Ascending through a roaring silent sea,
I’m not alone when all the world’s with me.

Many thanks to Pat for allowing me to share his poem with you today. For other Poetry Friday entries, you can click on the box below:






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Tags: lewis, poetry, poetry friday, villanelle
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