What Is Inspiration? | The BridgeMaker

What Is Inspiration?

By on Sep 30, 2012

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. – Helen Keller

For thirty years I have been writing inspirational poems for people in need. And for about the same amount of time I’ve been trying to explain to people what it is I do.

Some require more of an explanation than others, and I don’t know if I’ve ever come up with a one size fits all answer. The format is the same that Nostradamus wrote in 500 years ago.

I don’t actually write the poems, I just write them down. I thought it was strange too, until I realized that a few others had experienced the same thing.

Change Is in the Air
by Robert Longley

To be alone and wonder
Why is it you’re here
Feeling lost and lonely
Without those you hold dear

Our paths don’t always wander
The road we had in mind
The challenges we encounter
With new things for to find

You’re missing what you’re there for
The reason things just are
An idea shared with others
Not need for looking far

There’s more to life than waiting
There’s purpose everywhere
The idea that you’re thinking
Means that change is in the air

In Good Company

I’ve never met anyone who has done what I do, or at least not on the same scale. I write a few poems a year, but I’ve been doing it for over a quarter of a century so they are now over 500.

I’ve actually lost a lot of them because I didn’t always keep a record of them when I wrote them for people. Which is too bad because I actually don’t remember what I wrote most of the time.

I’ve found that I basically hear them in my head and they will stick around until I write them down, and then they go away. Tennyson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and even Helen Keller described similar experiences.

One of my favorite explanations is by Johannes Brahms who wrote, “Straightaway the ideas flow in upon me, . . . and not only do I see distinct themes in my mind’s eye, but they are clothed in the right forms, harmonies, and orchestrations. Measure by measure, the finished product is revealed to me when I am in those rare, inspired moods.”

I don’t know that my work is on the same level as theirs, but they had it happen enough times to quantify the experience. I’d like to think I’m at least following in the right footsteps.

What is Inspiration?

In some respects, trying to explain inspiration is like trying to teach swimming without water. To complicate things, inspiration is different for everyone who experiences it.

For me it is subtle and I feel a compulsion to write down what I am thinking. It’s also an external feeling in that it feels like taking dictation rather than it being an extension of my own thoughts.

Inspiration is by its nature a response to some event. It can be as beautiful as a sunrise or as painful as the loss of a loved one. Most of the time what I write is not a response to things in my own life, but a response to events in the lives of others.

I don’t have a good explanation for this other than at some level we are all connected. I actually find it easier to write things for people I don’t know than I do know. Many times people will ask me for a poem but won’t tell me why they want one.

If there is a need in their life I generally know what to write even if they haven’t told me anything. Often times a rush of emotions accompanies it – the stronger the connection to the event, the stronger the emotions. Generally I see the same reaction I feel writing in the people who ultimately receive the poems.

The Light Will Guide You
by Robert Longley

Spread your winds and set me free
At a lighthouse near the salted sea
Breathe the air and hear the sounds
And know that I am all around

Each moment shared is precious
And that’s what you should know
But time can’t truly measure
The love that two can show

Things will now be different
And will for many years
But soon will pass the longing
The anger and the fears

For strength is there within you
It must just be put to mind
And if in vain you end up searching
A lighthouse you will find


Occasionally I will get a request to write a love poem for someone for Valentines Day, or for a school project and I generally decline. Basically if I have to think about it, I really don’t have anything to share with them. It has to have some specific purpose in their life or I don’t have anything to write.

If someone has a specific life event happening, or if they have lost someone in their life, I almost always have something for them. Almost all of the poems are written in first person and usually convey some piece of information that I didn’t have knowledge of.

It’s rare that they take more than about five minutes to write down. Sometimes I will get them in the middle of doing something and I’ll write down the first part and do the rest later. I’ve actually written a few while driving, which isn’t exactly smart.

For a while I thought I would forget them if I didn’t write them down, but generally I just pick up where I left off. If I’m meant to write something for someone, I’m able to get it finished. After almost 30 years of doing this, I end up writing what I am supposed to write.

New Directions

After about 20 years of writing poems, it occurred to me that I didn’t just hear them.

I also had an idea of what they look like. Sometimes I will tell people it’s not about what the words say, it’s about what you think about when you read them.

So a few years ago I started combining pictures with the words. I sell a print from time to time, but for the most part I simply give them away.

Over the years a lot of poems have been written for military families who have lost family members. Earlier this year the Army outreach organization that helps families when a soldier is killed asked to use one of my pictures. It is now part of the packet that is given the children of service members when a parent doesn’t come home.

I have since done a poem that is used by the American Widow’s Project in their sponsor package. I also have several that have been done for firefighters. I would like to do more in the future with organizations that support the families of men and women in all types of uniforms who give their lives in the service of their community.

Their stories are amongst the most inspiring and deserve whatever support any of us may be able to give them.

Robert Longley writes inspirational poems for people when they need it most. If you or someone you know could use a little hope, comfort, or inspiration visit his site at www.sacredpoems.com.

  • JRM

    Very interesting read. Love the poems!
    Inspiration is very similar for me. When I wrote a poem for my Grandmother’s passing, it came to me in my sleep. I woke up, wrote it down, and went back to sleep.. All within about 10 minutes. Very strange that things are almost complete in my head by the time they make it to paper.

    • Robert Longley

      And you probably didn’t remember it except for the the face that you wrote it down. 10 minutes is about it for me as well. Although if I’m in the middle of something I might start one and come back to it later and it is sort of like pushing the pause button on a recording. I find that they stick in my head until I write them down and then they are gone. I’m often surprised going back and looking at some of them because there is a lot I don’t remember writing.

  • Hey Robert, really good stuff! Interesting to hear what goes on inside you as you analyze or at least express what you feel as you write these. I applaud you too for what you do because it’s really a giving spirit.

    Reaching out like you do is what humanity is all about I think, isn’t it? We’re here for each other but to be that, we have to express openly – or at least it sure helps! I’ve only done a handful of poems in my life but reading yours here suddenly makes me realize how inspirational they can be.

    And yes, inspiration is unique to the receiver in so many ways. I wonder whether inspiration is ever triggered by anything exterior or if it’s always an interior trigger, i.e. how you react to the event or situation, since two people can react completely differently to the same situation.

    Thanks for your poems and for sharing!

    • Robert Longley

      I’m glad you liked them. All of them were written for someone so there is a story behind all of them. For the most part I don’t share the origin because people find connections to their own experiences.
      As far as whether triggers are internal or external, I have a sense that we are all connected in such a way that there may not actually be a difference except for our perception.

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