At least one corner of the internet (so it must be true!) proclaimed yesterday, January 13th, National Poetry at Work Day. [NB: This is not to be confused with Take Your Poet to Work Day, which appears to be scheduled for July 16. Mark your calendars now.] The idea is to celebrate by reading poetry at work, but also to discover the “poetry” already in the work world. And of course, some of the best poets had day jobs, too (T.S. Eliot in his bank, Wallace Stevens at the insurance company, William Carlos Williams and his medical practice, and the list goes on).
Now as an English professor, poetry at work is no big thing, obviously. But still, I’m never one to shirk my responsibilities to a literary holiday (there are so few of them, after all). And attentiveness to the holy in the ordinary, in this case particularly in the work to which we are called, seems mighty Reformed to me. The gorgeous Psalm 104, for example, chronicles a God for whom work (and working mightily–in a range of metaphorical professions) is a central aspect of God’s identity–and central for God’s people as well (verse 23). I commend that psalm for your reading this week.
Here are two of my favorite “work” poems: Jane Kenyon’s “Finding a Long Gray Hair” and George Herbert’s “The Windows.” One shows us the way work connects us to each other; the other explains how essential it is for God to be connected to our work.
Finding a Long Gray Hair
by Jane Kenyon
I scrub the long floorboards
in the kitchen, repeating
the motions of other women
who have lived in this house.
And when I find a long gray hair
floating in the pail,
I feel my life added to theirs.
by George Herbert