The deeply personal nature of poetry

The deeply personal nature of poetry

Terry Waite’s new book Travels with a Primate will publish in February 2019. He’s on our blog to discuss Out of the Silence, his deeply moving and personal collection of poetry and narrative.

Terry Waite’s new book Travels with a Primate will publish in February 2019. He’s on our blog to discuss Out of the Silence, his deeply moving and personal collection of poetry and narrative.

Out of the Silence is not simply a book of poems. In it the reader is taken on a journey through different experiences in life which are explained in narrative form. The poems convey in simply language something of that experience.

As I said in the introduction to the book, I have attempted to trace some of the inner pathways that I have trodden though life.

It has sold exceptionally well and many readers keep a copy by their bedside and read a chapter each night, or re-read a poem before sleeping.

Some of the poems had their genesis during the years I spent in solitary confinement as a hostage. When I was first captured, I was angry. I had to try to understand how to deal with this emotion. The answer, as this poem shows, is to try and turn the force generated by anger into something creative. If anger gets the better of you it will do you more harm than those against whom it is held.


Anger rages
Like a consuming fire,
Destroying all
That would impede
It's relentless pathway.

Do not extinguish
The flames totally.
Calm them.
And warm yourself
By the gentle glow
Of the embers.

When the composer Karl Jenkins was writing his internationally acclaimed work The Peacemakers, he wanted the text of this work for choir and orchestra to be made up of the words uttered by different individuals who have worked for peace in the world. He wrote to me and asked if I would contribute something. The following lines became the soprano solo:


Peace is the fragile meeting
Of two souls in harmony.

Peace is an embrace
That protects and heals.

Peace is a reconciling
Of opposites.
Peace is rooted in love,
It lies in the heart,
Waiting to be nourished,
And flourish,
Until it embraces the world.

May we know the harmony of peace,
May we sing the harmony of peace,
Until in the last of days,
We rest in peace.

Over the course of my life, I have lived in Africa and have worked in very many different African countries. Having lived through the Amin coup in Uganda I have experienced the trials and hardships that many African people have to experience. I have also experienced something of the peace and serenity of that wonderful continent.

Lake Victoria

An early morning mist,
Spreading like tattered cotton sheets
Across Lake Victoria.
The silence at dawn
When slowly
The horizon emerges
From slumber
And a thousand colours
The blackness of night.
The pungent odour of damp earth.
Earth that gave life.
Earth to which we shall return.
A gecko,
Motionless on a window pane,
Waiting to strike
As Africa waits
To smite the unwary.
Thin wisps of smoke
Spiral upwards
Into the once black sky.
A baby cries.
A skeleton of a dog,
Eyes ablaze,
As all Africa scavenges,
For life.
A woman,
Busuti clad,
Sings as she walks.
An old man,
White kanzu,
Black coat,
Leans heavily on a gnarled stick.

Now the tattered mist
Is no more.
Now the colours have faded.
Now the red dust swirls through the air
As the sun pursues
Its merciless trek
Across the heavens.
A new day
Is born
As the dog scavenges
And the old man
Leans on his gnarled stick.

Many of those who live on the streets of our country are like lost souls. They live from day to day with little hope for the future. Many years ago, I helped in the establishing of Emmaus for the homeless in the UK. There are now 30 communities aiding people to return to mainstream life.


Words elude me.
I search for words
That will capture
The depth of my feeling.
That will hold within their shape
The pictures in my mind
And preserve them
Until the page fades
And dies,
As I shall die.

I see faces,
Many faces.
Eyes that once sparkled with the innocence of childhood;
Eyes that once held promise;
Eyes now dulled
By the bitterness of life.

The room is full of faces.
They look at me
Each face holds a story
Of a life
That meanders aimlessly
Along grimy streets
Seeking scraps of meaning
Amongst the dereliction
Of the city.

I sit on a rough bench
With my ragged companions.
Some smile,
The wistful smile
Of souls
Condemned ever to wander,
Lost in the wilderness of mortal time,
Waiting for that day,
That hour,
When the flickering light
Will be no more

My neighbour
Meticulously packs scraps of food
Into a plastic package.
Her head remains bowed.
The beauty of her face,
Enhanced by sadness,
Carries within it a lifetime of suffering.
A voice from across the table addresses me:
'She's blind you know'.

We all suffer pain during the course of our lives, be it physical or mental pain. It is never easy to bear. This short poem gives hope to those who are in distress. This poem took shape during the days of my captivity.


The pain
Sears my soul,
Penetrates to the very depth
Of my being.

At night,
I weep
The tears
Of anguish,
Of loss,
Of despair.

Take heart.
Through pain
You have entered
A new realm.
You have joined
The community of compassion.
Your sorrow will be turned
To joy,
Your tears
Will become laughter,
Your wound will remain,
But now through suffering,
You have a new depth of soul.

Sometimes there is little we can do in the face of acute suffering. We cannot really explain why the innocent suffer. One thing we can do is to enter the suffering of others and help ease their burden. Simply take their hand in ours.

You Ask Me Why?

You ask me why
The innocent suffer,
A child dies at birth,
A father remains
As sole provider,
A victim cries
When vandals
Destroy his home?
You ask me why
And I am silent.

Suffering stalks the land
Striking whom it will
With inhuman vengeance
And bloody force.

You ask me why?
And I am silent.
I take your hand in mind
As together
We tread the pathway of sorrow.
No words suffice
At this time of anguish.

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