There is a crack in everything

Sage CohenProductive writing, The life poetic14 Comments

I believe we don’t live in our lives; we live in the stories we tell about our lives. What happened is far less significant than how we interpret what it means to us—and how this leads us forward.

Which is why I have dedicated a lifetime to studying the possibilities of language, poem, and story. One of my great teachers on this path has been Leonard Cohen. This singer-songwriter-poet first insinuated himself into my nervous system with this chorus from his song Anthem:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.

imagesThroughout my adult life, I have clung to this wisdom. I made it my North Star. I developed a practice of living alongside the unsolvable, of welcoming myself as I am, of leaning into my deepest fissures in search of illumination. In effect, a single chorus of a single song has initiated me into the alchemies of acceptance and transcendence.

And because I have persistently sought the light through my broken places, this is where I have learned to find it.

When Leonard Cohen left us a few weeks ago, I was already immobilized by reflections of my culture and my country that I could not yet comprehend. I looked to poems, as I always have, to help me navigate my grief and return to center.

These are some of the poems that help me let the light in. I offer them to you with respect for your broken places and gratitude for your commitment to show up at the page and navigate by the truth of what moves through you.

A Ritual to Read to Each Other by William Stafford

The Layers by Stanley Kunitz

The Well of Grief by David Whyte

Good People by W.S. Merwin

May you read and write exactly what you need to find your true way forward—now and always. And may each offering you make bring you closer to what illuminates you.

Wishing you and yours a nourishing Thanksgiving.

P.S. What poems, stories, or books do you turn to for help letting the light in? I’d love to hear!

14 Comments on “There is a crack in everything”

  1. I look to poems by Wiiiam Butler Yeats to bring some energy into my life. I also love the books of Natalie Goldberg and their multi-faceted words and images to give my life meaning. I do love your new book that just came out and find it inspirational and lovely to read.

    Thank you Sage for all your writing and interests as I recently got divorced and am also a writer and visual artist. Poetry is one of my favorite mediums to use to express my pain and joy.

    1. Thank you for sharing your go-to authors and poets, Lisa. I also love Natalie Goldberg and seek assurance from Yeats. I’m thrilled that Fierce on the Page is proving good company for you. Wishing you the very best on your healing and creative journey.

  2. Sometimes I don’t know the cracks, until I write my way into them. And then the light there leads me back out into someplace new, renewed.

    Thank you for such a beautiful rendering, Sage.

  3. “And I again am strong”

    536 Ode

    Intimations of immortality from recollections of early childhood

    William Wordsworth


  4. I often turn to Brene’ Brown’s “Daring Greatly” where I am reminded that resilience doesn’t fix the cracks, it makes them count for something.

    1. Ah, Brene’ Brown…Such powerful wisdom for navigating our vulnerable places. Thank you, Laura!

  5. Dearest Sage,

    Forget your perfect offering. I love that. Who knew? It is in our brokenness, our vulnerabilities, our less-than-perfectness, that is our true and best selves. That’s where the Light is!

    Here are 3 poems that have been shared with me over the last 2 weeks. I share them here. With love. <3

    If Each Day Falls by Pablo Neruda

    If each day falls
    inside each night
    There exists a well
    where clarity is imprisoned.

    We must sit on the edge
    of the well of darkness
    And fish for fallen light
    with patience.


    The Inside Chance by Marge Piercy

    Dance like a jackrabbit
    in the dunegrass, dance
    not for release, no
    the ice holds hard but
    for the promise. Yesterday
    the chickadees sang fever,
    fever, the mating song.
    You can still cross ponds
    leaving tracks in the snow
    over the sleeping fish
    but in the marsh the red
    maples look red
    again, their buds swelling.
    Just one week ago a blizzard
    roared for two days.
    Ice weeps in the road.
    Yet spring hides
    in the snow. On the south
    wall of the house
    the first sharp crown
    of crocus sticks out.
    Spring lurks inside the hard
    casing, and the bud
    begins to crack. What seems
    dead pares its hunger
    sharp and stirs groaning.
    If we have not stopped
    wanting in the long dark,
    we will grasp our desires
    soon by the nape.
    Inside the fallen brown apple
    the seed is alive.
    Freeze and thaw, freeze
    and thaw, the sap leaps
    in the maple under the bark
    and although they have
    pronounced us dead, we
    rise again invisibly,
    we rise and the sun sings
    in us sweet and smoky
    as the blood of the maple
    that will open its leaves
    like thousands of waving hands.


    Any Common Desolation by Ellen Bass

    can be enough to make you look up
    at the yellowed leaves of the apple tree, the few
    that survived the rains and frost, shot
    with late afternoon sun. They glow a deep
    orange-gold against a blue so sheer, a single bird
    would rip it like silk. You may have to break
    your heart, but it isn’t nothing
    to know even one moment alive. The sound
    of an oar in an oarlock or a ruminant
    animal tearing grass. The smell of grated ginger.
    The ruby neon of the liquor store sign.
    Warm socks. You remember your mother,
    her precision a ceremony, as she gathered
    the white cotton, slipped it over your toes,
    drew up the heel, turned the cuff. A breath
    can uncoil as you walk across your own muddy yard,
    the big dipper pouring night down over you, and everything
    you dread, all you can’t bear, dissolves
    and, like a needle slipped into your vein—
    that sudden rush of the world.

  6. “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry is always so soothing to me.

    I also turn to Krista TIppett and the podcast On Being for such amazingly wise, compassionate and thoughtful conversations and perspective

    1. Thanks so much, Petty. I agree that these are two powerful resources for reassurance and perspective!

  7. For poetry, perhaps Mary Oliver, Lorna Crozier and Jane Hirshberg. A book I read several years ago has stayed with me, and I have given copies at times to friends. That is Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. A simple book, really, and it it, the author compares sea shells to aspects of her life and what she learns from such a consideration. Simple explorations, but a memorable read.

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