Poetry and Breath

Welcome to our 2022 series of workshops with Arthur Rank Hospice Charity, aimed at members of the Living Well community.

Here is the second of two sessions guided by topics of interest for our participants. This week you have chosen the theme of breath. We intend to use this prompt to think both about the imaginative and metaphorical possibilities of breath as a symbol of life, and also breath and breathing as a physical process.

This morning we will:

Hear some poetry and prose which might help us to think about breath from a range of perspectives.
Discuss how the authors express their ideas and feelings.
We’ll also hear from Chris about her own poem ‘The Republic of Breath’.
Talk reflectively together, share our perspectives and favourites, and how these poems can give us a new insight.

We know that especially through the pandemic thoughts about breath, breathlessness and intubation have been playing on the minds of many in the hospice community, and the nursing team are on hand if you want to talk more about these things which can be hard to discuss.

The Poems

  1. Caelica 83’, Baron Brooke Fulke Greville

    You that seek what life is in death,
    Now find it air that once was breath.
    New names unknown, old names gone:
    Till time end bodies, but souls none.
    Reader! then make time, while you be,
    But steps to your eternity.

  2.  Extract from When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
  3. Christina Buckton, ‘The Republic of Air’
    From her collection Holding It Together (The Lamplight Press)

    This is the year when breath ran out
    the white foot on the gagging neck
    the black gasp can’t breathe can’t breathe
    this is the year

    This is the year when breath ran out
    the heaving chest of the choking child
    the clutching pall of city smoke
    this is the year

    This is the year when breath ran out
    the unsent text of suffocation
    the thirty nine contained in dark
    this is the year

    This is the year when breath ran out
    the intubation not enough
    the gulps of air can’t quench the thirst
    this is the year

    This is the year my breath runs out
    the whisper from the leaking lungs
    the giving back of air we share
    this is the year


Further Reading

You may like to have a look at Words for our selection of poetry and prose on the theme of death and dying.

We’d love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, and learn from your insights and experiences. Feel free to speak to the nursing team or get in touch with us directly cambridgegooddeath@gmail.com.

Posted: 3rd August 2022