Please Hear What I'm Not Saying
A Poem's Reach Around the World
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Standing at that magical place where sand meets sea, you likely have imagined putting a message in a bottle, consigning it to the waves, hoping it might some day reach another shore, and then not only be read but, incredibly across space and time, make a difference in other lives now connected to your own. It has happened to me, and I must sing of it.
In the autumn of 1966 I let the waves carry off a poem—passed around to students, family and friends, no need for even my name on it. Its message was simple: Keep heart, you are not alone; love, stronger than strong walls, will come, helping your heart in hiding grow wings, feeble perhaps at first, but wings! Word astoundingly began to come back in 1969, and has continued since, that “Please Hear What I’m Not Saying” was indeed reaching other shores, across space and time was indeed making a difference in other lives.
What follows attests to the power of words from the heart to touch other hearts, sometimes even to change other lives. Read on. You, too, will sing of it.
I am sometimes asked what inspired me to write "Please Hear What I’m Not Saying,” what my frame of mind was at the time that I wrote it. This is what I can remember.
First some background. I had entered the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in 1959 after graduating from St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati. Seven years into my training for the priesthood (I left the seminary after my tenth year) I was beginning a three-year stint as an English and Humanities teacher at St. Ignatius College Prep on the near south side of Chicago. It was autumn of 1966 and I had just turned 25.
While appreciating poetry back in high school, I had never given a thought to writing it until encountering a young priest in my early Jesuit years whose enthusiasm for the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Charles Peguy ignited my soul. I was awakened not only to the beauty and power of the words of Hopkins and Peguy, transmitted by one alive to them, but as a consequence to an exhilarating sudden desire to put down on paper my own words! My fledging efforts perhaps not surprisingly resembled at times Hopkins’ compactness and intensity and Peguy’s fluid type of free verse, particularly evident, I now recognize, in “Please Hear What I’m Not Saying.”
When I sat down to write Please Hear, I did not have it in mind to write a poem. I was simply jotting down ideas that were coming to me, only realizing at the end that, hey, this is kind of a long poem that I could type up and share with some friends and students. Which I did. I had no inkling it would go beyond the people I was giving it to, who knew it was mine, so I didn’t even put my name on it. In retrospect I have wondered if my vulnerability in the poem had something to do with leaving off my name.
I had no one in mind that I was writing to but realized by the end, as I put it in the final four lines, that it was really everyone I was writing to, because it was everyone, deep down, that I was writing about. I don’t recall being either agitated or depressed at the time. I simply was pondering on paper what I had come to believe was a basic human reality—vulnerable, to be sure, but is that not where we all begin our fraught-with-peril-and-promise human journey, and where we remain behind masks and walls until love progressively has given our hearts wings?
What surprised me in the writing of Please Hear was how quickly the poem flowed from me, in but two days as I recall, contrary to my normal grunt and grind efforts with far shorter poems. In retrospect I'm guessing it was precisely because my ego wasn't straining to craft a poem that something long percolating was able spontaneously to rise. I didn't give it further thought until, beginning in 1969, word started getting back to me of publications across the country printing it, conferences using it, people sharing it, and two albums recording it.
I was intrigued to read, for instance, that one of the conferences at the 1973 Association of Humanistic Psychology convention in Chicago was entitled "Please Hear What I'm Not Saying" and decided to attend it. I had no sooner sat down than the conference was begun with a reading of my poem. Imagine my amazement listening to it and then to the spontaneous applause for this poem from an unknown author by an audience of over a thousand people. Then imagine the presenter’s amazement afterwards to learn that he was looking at that no longer unknown author. And then there was the woman in one of my counseling groups at Loyola University who was moved to share with us on our final night a favorite poem that she carried everywhere with her. She proceeded to take Please Hear out of her purse and read it to us as her gift to the group.
One of the albums containing Please Hear that an ex-student brought back from college, entitled “Rosko Speaks,” remained a mystery to me until I was hitchhiking up the Spanish coast in 1972 and learned from an Englishman giving me a ride that Rosko was a London DJ who recorded albums of his favorite poems. How thrilling to learn that my poem had crossed the ocean!
In all of these early instances of its spreading, the poem's author was "anonymous" or "unknown" or "traditional." You can imagine the incredulity bordering on awe that I felt to realize how far Please Hear was reaching and knowing that the anonymous author was me. It was dawning on me that I had given birth (actually it's more like serving as midwife) to something so deep and true that others, upon discovering it, had to pass it along. The fact that I was personally not getting credit for it seemed unimportant—in fact, I've often mused that its very anonymity may have contributed to its success.
Upon discovering in 1975 another's claim to have written Please Hear (sadly, this was but the first time), I decided that when the time came to publish a collection of my poems I would not only include Please Hear but this time attach my name. The copyrighted volume of poetry that contains “Please Hear What I’m Not Saying,” For the Mystically Inclined, was published by AuthorHouse (Bloomington, IN) in 2002.
With the internet revolution, the spread of my poem not only across the country but around the world, especially in the past decade, has been little short of phenomenal. The amazing journey of a poem about vulnerability and hope, about how hearts grow wings, clearly is not over yet.
Finn spent ten years in the Society of Jesus after graduating from high school in Cincinnati. With degrees in literature and psychology from Chicago’s Loyola University, he taught high school and then became a mental health counselor before relocating to Virginia with his wife in 1979. He lives near Fincastle with his family and commutes to nearby Roanoke where he is a licensed professional counselor. Among Finn’s writings is the internationally-known poem “Please Hear What I’m Not Saying.” His published works, which can be obtained through his website (www.poetrybycharlescfinn.com) or e-mail address (email@example.com), include the following: Circle of Grace: In Praise of Months and Seasons Natural Highs: An Invitation to Wonder For the Mystically Inclined Contemplatively Sweet: Slow-Down Poems to Ponder Earthtalks: Conjectures on the Spirit Journey The Elixir of Air: Unguessed Gifts of Addiction Deep Joy, Steep Challenge: 365 Poems on Parenting Earth Brother Jesus: Musings Free of Dogma Embraced It Will Serve You: Encounters with Death If a Child, Why Not a Cosmos? Lovesongs to Earth and Evolution Fuel for War: Patriotic Entrancement Earth Pleasures: Pets, Plants, Trees and Rain Ithaca is the Journey: A Personal Odyssey Steppingstones to the Civil War: Slavery Integral to Each Aging Liberal Nostalgic for Vision Empathy is the Key: Toward a Civil War Healing Gentle Warrior John Yungblut: Guide on the Mystic’s Journey Full Heart Singing: Letters and Poems to a Girlchild The Mastery of the Thing! Transcendence in Counseling and Sports Crafting Soul into Words: a Poet Sings of the Journey All of Finn’s writings relate to the spirit journey. His own has been grounded in Catholicism and nourished by Jesuit, Taoist, Native American, Creation-Centered, and Quaker spiritualities.
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