Psychological Resilience

Poetic Expressions of Resilience

James Neill
Last updated:
16 Apr 2006

Poetic Expressions of Resilience

The poets have captured resilience better than psychologists, whether through tragedy, comedy, love stories, biography or autobiography.  Resilience is also exemplified in war, sport, psychological battles of the mind, and other triumphs of the human spirit. 

Japanese poet Masahide eloquently expresses a resilient outlook:

Barn's burnt down...
Now I can see the moon

And Master Cheng Yen's prayer (Tzu Chi), asks for resilience:

I ask not for good health, but for an alert and discerning mind.
I ask not that things go my way, but that I have perseverance and courage.
I ask not for less responsibility, but for increased strength.
- Master Cheng Yen, Tzu Chi

Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem about the qualities of a resilient person, called If.  Perhaps the central line which captures resilience is:

If you can keep your head about you, when all are losing theirs...

There is also a famous anecdote attributed to Buddha, which captures the essence of resilience:

A man travelling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him.  Only the vine sustained him.

Two mice, one white and one black, little by little began to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted! (Reps, 1971, p. 32)

Resilience is that quality which lays the foundation for and gives rise to the triumph (albeit temporary) of the human spirit.  Remember, a triumph of the human spirit is often much less about external outcomes or achievements than it is about an internal experience and journey and simply daily activities.