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Poetry and High Sensitivity

By: Shailendra Chauhan

Sensitive poetry

Pearl S. Buck, (1892-1973), recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 and of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1938, said the following about Highly Sensitive People:

The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this:

A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive.

To him… a touch is a blow,
a sound is a noise,
a misfortune is a tragedy,
a joy is an ecstasy,
a friend is a lover,
a lover is a god,
and failure is death.

Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create – – – so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.” -Pearl S. Buck

While death as a theme in poetry is not uncommon; witness death as one of the main themes of Emily Dickinson:

More than the Grave is closed to me
More than the Grave is closed to me –
The Grave and that Eternity
To which the Grave adheres –
I cling to nowhere till I fall
The Crash of nothing, yet of all –
How similar appears –

According to Dr. Elaine Aron, “About 15 to 20 percent of the population have this trait. It means you are aware of subtleties in your surroundings, a great advantage in many situations. It also means you are more easily overwhelmed when you have been out in a highly stimulating environment for too long, bombarded by sights and sounds until you are exhausted.” An HSP herself Aron reassures other Highly Sensitives that they are quite normal. Their trait is not a flaw or a syndrome, nor is it a reason to brag. It is an asset they can learn to use and protect.

In my case, I experienced high sensitivity as both.

There was a time that I cursed the curse that lay upon my veins.

Wild spirit chained
Flaming fire quenched over and over
til it can consume no more
til it can arise no more
with passions that blaze within my soul…

I’ve cursed my curse
and then I realized –

I’ve also cursed my gift.”

There is a high price to pay for being an HSP, but there is a great joy in it as well, for in being able to harness one’s gift, one is able to understand many things, one is able to penetrate even the deepest parts of another person’s heart. In transcending the barriers that usually imprison a suffering soul, one is able to soothe another’s pain, one is able to heal.

It has a high cost indeed, for before one can heal, one must be wounded first; before one can understand, one must accept to be misunderstood.

Aron has described Carl Jung, Emily Dickinson, Rainer Maria Rilke as being highly sensitive persons, adding that HSPs are “traditionally poets, writers, teachers, doctors, healers, lawyers, scientists, philosophers and theologians.

Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development,
invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears.
Edgar Allen Poe ~

One in five people are born highly sensitive or are HSP ~ that means 20% of our population is highly sensitive.  Being a HSP means your nervous system absorbs & processes ten times more information than an average person.  Your nervous system is more sensitive to subtleties, your brain processes and reflects more deeply, you are prone to over stimulation, get easily stressed out and overwhelmed.
Being born HSP interacts with experiences of trauma in childhood ( due to being misunderstood) producing symptoms of depression, anxiety and shyness later in life. 

George Gordon Byron was born with a lame foot, and his sensitivity to it haunted his life and his works. Overhearing a girl he was infatuated with refer to him as “that lame boy” certainly must have deepened his disappointment at being born with this deformity. A fragile self-esteem made Byron extremely sensitive to criticism, of himself or of his poetry, and he tended to make enemies rather quickly. His poetry, along with his lifestyle, was considered controversial in his time and often deemed “perverted” or even “satanic,”. The fact that he was often discontent and unhappy, combined with a constant desire for change meant that he created an unstable world for himself, though he never gave up his individual freedom to choose his own path and his own destiny.

HSP are born with special antennae to receive subtle signals.  Though this is physically & emotionally exhausting, it is also a gift.  HSP can comprehend faster, are generally more aware than others of beauty and pleasure, are better able to sense other’s moods.  HSP know what is needed to improve their environment, take greater delight in Art & Music and are conscientious.

When entering a room, HSP are able to pick up subtle nuances, sounds, smells, energy; sometimes even catch some lingering energy from an argument that happened before they entered.  HSP are also very creative, intuitive, artistic and detail oriented; they have stronger emotional reactions, are spiritual, and posses a rich & complex inner landscape.  HSP are loving and caring and feel a deep internal connection with people, animals, plants and the earth.  Conclude that their spiritual life equals their physical life.


© Darren Harris

Depression is running through my head,
These thoughts make me think of death,
A darkness which blanks my mind,
A walk through the graveyard, what can I find?
Black shadows walk in between the graves,
How many lives have not been saved?
Six feet under if not more,
How I’d like to go down and explore,
The feeling of lying in a box,
I can’t get out, is it locked?
Is it day or is it night?
Are birds singing or have bats taken to flight?
I know one day this is where I’ll go,
Am I afraid? I don’t think so!
Will I be able to explore the feeling of death?
After I’ve taken my last breath?
Or will I be a shadow in between the graves?
Will I know how many lives have not been saved?
After this life is there another one?
With a different moon and a different sun,
I won’t go to hell as I’m already there,
A place full of sadness, a place full of despair,
So there’s nothing to live for, no future no past,
So I might as well end it, end this life at last.

The darkerside of this extreme sensitivity is that they quickly and easily loose footing due to loud noise, harsh light, chaos.  Even particular medicines, foods, or smells can throw them off.  HSP will need time and rest for recuperation often.  It is important to learn at an early age how to protect Self, as HSP are more often than not, extremely misunderstood.

Sensitive people are twofold,
sometimes fine tuning to nature,
sometimes their own enemies in mold,
depends on mature or immature.

Better to be sensitive than cold and hard,
the fine tuning can awaken the senses,
you can see what others miss in their yard
and jump high over many exciting fences.

Try not to feel to much of the world’s pains,
they have always been there,
use your sensitivity for local gains
and smile everyday to show you care. 

Sensitive people are in urgent need
to heal the hardness of hate and war,
the stealing of freedom and incessant greed,
fine tune sensitivity more and more

Jishi Santos

Special gifts such as these bring with them special responsibilities.  However, not many people are aware, and a highly sensitive person (HSP) rarely gets recognition.  While a HSP needs more comfort and attention than the average person, unfortunately they often get pushed aside without being valued or getting acknowledgment for their positive attributes.  HSP quickly get the message that things are  not ‘normal’ according to the ideal, and develop at early age a negative self image.  Many HSP  hide their true nature and try hard to adjust themselves into our fast paced, loud and chaotic society.  Unfortunately HSP will burn out fast and need periods of rest and quietude.  Because of  ‘shame’ infested feelings, many HSP live in solitude and therefore it is not a known fact in their circle of family & friends that they are indeed highly sensitive with special needs. 

Not much has been written on this subject; many people are unaware and unable to detect and/or aid a HSP.  Often when a HSP comes out with their truth, they are ridiculed and considered a nuisance.  This shows that the negative aspect of HSP is more on the forefront than their positive attributes. 

20% of humanity is highly sensitive.  Different cultures have different reactions toward HSP; in Asian culture and Native American Indian culture HSP are regarded much higher than in Western Society.  In Western society, outgoing, bold, extroverted personalities are rewarded, while sensitive personalities are treated as a flaw that can be conquered and defeated.

Why write poetry? Because poetry is one way of telling the truth, a way often superior to others. How so?

One argument goes back to Aristotle, to his famous distinction between history and poetry. History reports what happened, and is therefore subject to all the constraints and imperfections of actual life. No general is a perfect embodiment of courage in battle, steadfastness in adversity, far-sightedness in decision-making, etc. But poetry uses words in their fuller potential, and creates representations that are more complete and meaningful than nature can give us in the raw.

A second argument borrows the approach of the Postmodernists, who claim that what we experience of the world is with and through language.  The claim is greatly exaggerated, since we all have experiences not readily conveyed in words — riding a bike, listening to music, etc. — and meaning is not finally anchored in mere words but in bodily physiology and social usage. But language undoubtedly does colour our perceptions and modify responses, which politicians and the media understand very well. Words are not therefore neutral entities, but have intentions, associations, histories of usage, which in poetry are given their truer natures by employing the traditional resources of language. Rhythm, segregation into lines, metaphor etc. are not ornament, something added and inessential, but a means to a more exact commentary and expressive power. In this sense, the ordinary language of commerce and the professions, as that of everyday speech, is a stunted, stripped down and abbreviated shadow of what poetry should achieve.

Furthermore, there is no “standard language”, but only a wide spectrum of usage from which we select for the purpose in hand. Even everyday speech is not a natural benchmark since each of us — as every playwright knows — uses speech slightly differently: according to our personality, the occasion, our social standing, whom we’re addressing, what we want to express or get done. Our words may be apt or off the point, but they are not more natural for being used loosely or ‘instinctively’. We admire the speaker who achieves exactly what is needed in a certain situation, and that exactness, but more honest, more personal, more considered, is what we look for in poetry. Poetry has more time at its disposal, and much greater resources of language, and its appropriateness is indeed governed by what the classical and renaissance worlds knew as rhetoric.

The point needs emphasizing. Unbeknown to most poets, British and American philosophy has attempted to find a language that should be logically transparent and free of ambiguity. That language should express the truth when all paraphrase is stripped away. It should state irreducible facts that are independent of their expression. The search has lasted the better part of a century, and has comprehensively failed. It cannot be done. What has emerged, amongst a greater understanding of such enterprises generally, is the extent to which philosophic enquiry itself is governed by rules, standard expressions and agreed procedures. In this regard, philosophy seems close to poetry, though its creations are very different. Both aim at truth, but a truth based on different perceptions.

So arise some important consequences for poetry writing. Poetry is not exempt from the requirements of the other literary arts. It is not mere fancy, but an attempt to tell the truth in a fuller and more authentic manner. We still want that truth to be new-fashioned and not simply imported from other experiences or situations — one argument against cliché — but we do not judge that truth by originality. We need the new-fashioning to be appropriate, illuminating, to sharpen rather than distort perception and understanding. We judge a particular phrase or line in the context of the poem as a whole, and the poem itself against the poet’s larger work and outlook. To say of a novel “I didn’t believe in the setting” is to make a damaging criticism, and poetry needs also to be underwritten by experience.

However different we may be from other members of the animal kingdom in constructing our own world through thought, insight and artistic creation, human beings also need coherence and consistency in their surroundings. In this broader sense, the history of western art is a search for purpose in a increasingly strange and hostile universe. Since the demise of medieval theology, and the fragmentation of knowledge, the great intellectual traditions of the west have attempted to find some bedrock of belief, something that is fundamental and cannot be questioned further. The attempt seems to have failed. Whatever else this century has learned, one thing has become clear: the world is stranger and more various than anything our intellectual equipment can encompass.

There has grown the great influence of the arts in western societies. The arts are not reductive, but seek pattern, order and consistency in the very midst of variety.  Poetry may not change the world — much though Marxists insist that it should — but it can enable us to see life whole, with clarity and understanding. The great theatre of the world is written in verse, and its poetry reconciles us to the manifest absurdities, injustices and cruelties of our natures.  In art we put aside the struggle for individual preeminence, said Schopenhauer, and learn to see life as it is directly given to us through timeless ideas.

                HSP’s could contribute much more to society,
if they received the right kind of attention.
~ pioneer in HSP ~ Dr. Elaine N. Aron

With awareness and education (understanding), much can change, and HSP, such as myself can live happier, more peaceful lives and develop deeper, more meaningful relationships.  One negative aspect of HSP is that we quickly get into ‘overload’ mode, because of the many subtle stimulants we pick up, from the outside (sound, light, smell) as well as inside (thoughts, feelings, ideas, memories).  We also pick up energies from other people around us, which will exhaust us mentally as well as emotionally. 

           It is usually the imagination that is wounded first,
rather than the heart; it being much more sensitive.
~ Henry David Thoreau ~

Physical symptoms, such as blushing, sweating, heart palpitations, feverish feelings, will often turn into high adrenaline and tightening of muscles.  The body then will go into ‘fight or flight’ mode and produce Cortisol (a stress hormone; the most potent glucocortitoid produced by the human adrenal) which in turn can stop digestion, metabolism ( causing stomach disorders), and other functions ( bone & muscles get weak/fragile, cell regeneration is decelerated).  This is the body preparing for emergency.  This influence will result in internal confusion and the HSP will often times just  ‘give up’.  Cortisol can also produce feelings of fear.  When this goes undetected or gets ignored over time a HSP can become severely depressed. 

One of the first things we can do to move forward from this, is to repair our ‘low self image’ .  It is significant to recognize that we have the inner capability to ‘cleanse & heal’ our selves.  Everybody does, not just HSP.  There are ways to change thinking and behavior. 

By training the mind to move from problematic thinking into visualizing desires, we step away from pain, fear and judgment.  We embrace desires and needs, working on what makes us peaceful and happy.  As we get older we find our self apologizing less about who we are, developing a sense of pride towards our special gifts.  And when  misunderstood, we’re able to walk away rather than trying desperately to ‘convince’.

It is essential to realize that we are responsible for our own feelings and sensitivities, and that we, as HSP, learn to protect ourselves properly against societal ridicule, knowing that we are oft misunderstood and will not be accepted immediately nor unconditionally.

             Health is defined as Inner Peace.
Jerry Jampolsky,  Author of  ~ “Principles for Attitudinal Healing” ~ 

It is vital that we (HSP) learn to claim quietude to gather our ‘self’.  We can do this by being concrete about ourselves, for instance when in conversation we can say, “Hold on a minute, let me think about this.” or “Give me a moment to gather my thoughts”.  This will allow time to go inward and breathe, to conclude what we are actually feeling.   Effective communication is one of the most important life skills you can learn.  For HSP communication is KEY, and taking a moment to gather self is a sign of strength and inner knowing (self knowledge). 

It is beneficial to stay centered, balanced at the core, when coming into contact with others, as we are quick to let their energy envelop and overpower our own.  We can build a strong centered self by meditation and breathing exercises.  Some other activities that have calming & centering effects are gardening, writing, painting, reading, massage, yoga, listening to beautiful music…etc.

A heavy load for HSP is that it is impossible to bypass the energy of others.  When I encounter angry people, full of negative energy, I suddenly become negative as well, and often find myself agitated long after I have passed them by.   It is therefor imperative to learn to protect ‘self ‘, to find ways to build resistance in handling such situations. Find neutral ground inside the heart, so that energetic information can be processed properly. A HSP who has a strong inner core, a strong sense of ‘self’ will be able to withstand the energy of others.

Fear & insecurity is another pitfall of HSP.  But if/when we change the labels around, in other words start thinking differently, we can embrace the signals as signs of change and we can show gratitude towards self, for the capacity to recognise

 When HSP are paired with non HSP, they find themselves less  happy because they demand more depth in their relationship in order to be satisfied, reflect more and therefore worry more.  They will also see more threatening consequences in their partners’  flaws and behavior.  Most people are ignorant to the reality of the drastic differences that exists among nervous systems.   HSP are better off partnered with other HSP, as they understand each other better, and are more accepting of the emotionality attached to HSP.

Always go inside ‘Self ‘ and take inventory of thoughts and feelings.  Accept ‘Self ‘  as is, and develop forgiveness and pride.  Find ways to control emotion and balance at the ‘core’. 

                               ~ Always find peace ~ Never dwell in fear or shame ~
~ Don’t look for confirmation from others ~
Give your ‘Self ‘ permission to be and LOVE WHO YOU ARE!





  1. Its very informative and a serious piece of criticism. Congrats to writer and Litrary yard for publication of this article.

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