Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things ...

-from "Kindness" by Naomi Shihab Nye


April is poetry month!


This week we explore "Kindness."

click here  for full text and poem study



Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things,

feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand,

what you counted and carefully saved,

all this must go so you know

how desolate the landscape can be

between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride

thinking the bus will never stop,

the passengers eating maize and chicken

will stare out the window forever.


Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,

you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho

lies dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you,

how he too was someone

who journeyed through the night with plans

and the simple breath that kept him alive.


Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow.

You must speak to it till your voice

catches the thread of all sorrows

and you see the size of the cloth.


Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,

only kindness that ties your shoes

and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,

only kindness that raises its head

from the crowd of the world to say

It is I you have been looking for,

and then goes with you everywhere

like a shadow or a friend.


                        —Naomi Shihab Nye


Exploring the Text


What is kindness?


How does this poem portray kindness? What language and imagery does it use to describe it, or to describe its absence?


What things does the poem tell us we must do in order to know kindness? Describe the journey it instructs us to take?


In what kind of world do we land after such a journey? In your own words, describe the landscape of the poem’s final stanza. What changes between the first and last stanzas? What stays the same?


Traveling through the Layers


When were you first aware of kindness? What loss might have enabled this awareness?


Describe the “regions of kindness” you’ve encountered in life, as well as the “desolate landscape” between those regions. What colors, textures, temperature, and even taste mark each?


Where have you had to travel in order to “learn the tender gravity of kindness”? Who or what has been the “Indian in a white poncho” lying “dead by the side of the road” showing you the relationship between loss and kindness? What life experience or perception has provided you the power to “see how this could be you”?


With what sorrow have you awakened? What words have you spoken to it? Describe a time in which you felt your voice catching “the thread of all sorrows”? What did you notice about the size of the cloth?


Living in the Layers


Enlist your right brain in a creative exploration of the “deepest things inside.”  Using crayons, markers, or watercolor paints map out the regions of kindness and sorrow in your inner landscape. Don’t worry about making art for show and tell. Rather, allow yourself five or ten minutes to play—to give kindness and sorrow color and shape so you might perceive something new about their relationship to one another in your life.


Afterwards, place your drawing or painting before you and imagine it as a conversation about a current life situation. What does it say to you about those things you now “hold in your hand, count, and carefully save”? What thing, attitude, or relationship might have to go or be dissolved in order for you to “know what kindness really is”?