A Viral Poem For A Virus Time

Empty New York streets

Empty New York streets. Vandan Desai (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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Whether confined to their homes or trying to make it through another long day working to help those sick with COVID-19, people all over the world are turning to poetry in response to the pandemic.

Published and critically acclaimed poets have rallied with words of resilience, and defiance, of reflection and renewal. Inspiration seems to be striking everywhere. A Boston doctor, taking a walk to rest her mind between long shifts treating patients, composed a poem of her own. A Californian reflects on the spiritual impact of social distancing; a Minnesotan names the little things we'll come to savor once we can safely shake hands again. Heck, poetry is even showing up on the sides of shipping containers. People are looking for a way to distill the current moment into something they can share and use to comfort one another. 

And one of the most popular pandemic poems to date was authored by Kitty O'Meara, a retired teacher in Lake Mills.

"It was just a post on Facebook. I don't know that I even considered it a poem," said O'Meara. "You know, it was just a way of offering some comfort to my friends and myself." 

A friend asked O'Meara to share her words, and within a few days her husband stumbled across a video of Deepak Chopra reading her poem aloud. The poem, titled "In the Time of Pandemic," had struck a nerve. It wasn't long before Oprah Magazine was declaring O'Meara "the poet laureate of the pandemic." 

"That's when it was completely surreal," said O'Meara, speaking to Anne Strainchamps for "To The Best Of Our Knowledge."

In the Time of Pandemic

And the people stayed home.

And they read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still.

And they listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. 

Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.

And the people healed.

And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.


—Kitty O'Meara

While she may have shared it as just another social media post, the emotion she shared resonated through a prism of social media remixes, showing up in images on Instagram, in YouTube videos, reposted on Twitter and beyond. It was translated into dozens of languages and even turned into song.

"I thank everyone who has shared their art with me and others; it is so wonderful that we can meet and co-create, and support, and heal each other all the way through this," O'Meara wrote on her blog.

O'Meara says this moment of isolation from the normal rhythms of society might give us a chance to reflect on what really matters in the society we feel cut off from.

"I think in some ways the stillness and the shock of isolation is connecting people to that within themselves and others, again, in their co-creating," she said, adding, "And I love it. I love the way people are taking my poem and doing all kinds of things with it." 

According to O'Meara, one line in her poem — to "meet our shadows" — is an invitation to experience the disorientation and overwhelming nature of the moment we find ourselves in, and to try to find a center within it.

"I think that's when we sit, and sit still, and meet our shadows. Meet those things that take us to deeper places within ourselves and for all of us. That's the point of transformation in life," she said. 

"In a Jungian sense, meeting the shadow is sitting with what we do not want to be with that is true of ourselves and our lives. And it's not necessarily bad, (though) it may be painful."