Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Poets and Poetry

Happy February! February is considered by many to be the month of love! And what better time than now to talk about poetry. Poetry has been a big part of my life. Nerds far and wide, unite! I have taken consolation in poetry over the years, and being an English major, I have had to read my fair share of poetry.  Although sometimes challenging, I love all things reading and writing poetry, and naturally, my favorites have risen to the top over time. ;-)

E.E. Cummings
(excerpt!  ;-)

in Just-
spring   when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles far and wee

What is the value of poetry? I have a memory from when Molly was a toddler and I was pregnant with Frances. One Spring, an elderly lady - very distinguished (instant friends!)- came up beside me at the swings on the playground and started chatting. She asked me several questions about Molly and the baby-to-be as she pushed her grandchild on the swing...😉 Then, out of nowhere, she started quoting this poem:

"How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all-
Over the countryside.

Till I look down on the garden green
Down on the roof so brown-
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!"*

Wow- that was a special moment. It could have happened yesterday, because I remember it so well. Not only did she take me out of my own world, she stamped into my memory a moment I will never forget.  The transcendent spoke to me and stirred something in me- emotions, maybe?- that day.

Poetry is like that. It takes you out of this world. It sparks memories. The elements of poetry: rhythm, meter, rhyme, descriptive words, feeling, creativity, and even rare words occur again and again- which is is what unites all of poetry.  Good poetry leaves behind a moment in time that is never lost. Successful poets transcend our physical modernity, and in turn, their words open a trap door out of the sadness of mortality.  If you haven't found the treasures of poetry, I hope and pray you find it, or it finds you.
A lot of time I see a curriculum list and I think, "Where's the poetry?" Recently, Molly has been encouraged to submit poems to a journal. She came upon this opportunity through school.

Where to start, where to start?!
My favorite poets/poetry:

-Shakespeare's sonnets
-Dante's Inferno
-W.H. Auden
 "Underneath the Abject Willow"
-T.S. Eliot
 The Four Quartets

My favorite poem:

"Morning Song" from Senlin by Conrad Aiken

IT is morning, Senlin says, and in the morning
When the light drips through the shutters like the dew,
I arise, I face the sunrise,
And do the things my fathers learned to do.
Stars in the purple dusk above the rooftops         5
Pale in a saffron mist and seem to die,
And I myself on swiftly tilting planet
Stand before a glass and tie my tie.
Vine-leaves tap my window,
Dew-drops sing to the garden stones,  10
The robin chirps in the chinaberry tree
Repeating three clear tones.
It is morning. I stand by the mirror
And tie my tie once more.
While waves far off in a pale rose twilight  15
Crash on a white sand shore.
I stand by a mirror and comb my hair:
How small and white my face!—
The green earth tilts through a sphere of air
And bathes in a flame of space.  20
There are houses hanging above the stars
And stars hung under a sea...
And a sun far off in a shell of silence
Dapples my walls for me....
It is morning, Senlin says, and in the morning  25
Should I not pause in the light to remember God?
Upright and firm I stand on a star unstable,
He is immense and lonely as a cloud.
I will dedicate this moment before my mirror
To him alone, for him I will comb my hair.  30
Accept these humble offerings, clouds of silence!
I will think of you as I descend the stair.
Vine-leaves tap my window,
The snail-track shines on the stones;
Dew-drops flash from the chinaberry tree  35
Repeating two clear tones.
It is morning, I awake from a bed of silence,
Shining I rise from the starless waters of sleep.
The walls are about me still as in the evening,
I am the same, and the same name still I keep.  40
The earth revolves with me, yet makes no motion,
The stars pale silently in a coral sky.
In a whistling void I stand before my mirror,
Unconcerned, and tie my tie.
There are horses neighing on far-off hills  45
Tossing their long white manes,
And mountains flash in the rose-white dusk,
Their shoulders black with rains....
It is morning, I stand by the mirror
And surprise my soul once more;  50
The blue air rushes above my ceiling,
There are suns beneath my floor....
...It is morning, Senlin says, I ascend from darkness
And depart on the winds of space for I know not where;
My watch is wound, a key is in my pocket,  55
And the sky is darkened as I descend the stair.
There are shadows across the windows, clouds in heaven,
And a god among the stars; and I will go
Thinking of him as I might think of daybreak
And humming a tune I know....  60
Vine-leaves tap at the window,
Dew-drops sing to the garden stones,
The robin chirps in the chinaberry tree
Repeating three dear tones.
My favorite lines:

The robin chirps in the chinaberry tree
Repeating three clear tones.

Why I love this poem:

You might notice right away the "swiftly tilting planet" line and you betcha Madeleine L'Engle fans will catch her reference to Aiken!   Also, in the Mass the bell is rung three times after the priest raises the host, to consecrate it.  This poem has always made me think of that moment in Church!  I love that this poem has more structure than much of the poetry that is the product of modernity and modern culture, and the repetition and references are oh so fine! I know you're not supposed to use textual criticism based on biographical facts, but Conrad Aiken had an incredibly hard childhood. He saw his Dad murder his Mom and then commit suicide. I'm sure was never the same again. He found consolation in poetry.

When I was in high school I had to memorize a few of Shakespeare's sonnets, so to this day they are among my most favorite. I performed as Ophelia in Hamlet and we studied A Midsummer Night's Dream in depth.  In high school we read and studied King Lear in depth, and I took a Shakespeare class in college for my English Lit degree.

And Dante... oh Dante, you are special.
Special, special
Notes, On why I love Dante so much:

Treasures... oh, the treasures. I had a crush on Dante Alighieri in college because of his good looks. Juuuuust joking. I had to read Dante for a class in college, and to this day I hold him in reverence and a higher esteem in my own mind than any other poet.  He deals with the state of the soul; he counts himself a great poet even in his own day. Once you get to reading it, there is so much to mine in each canto.  You could discuss it and analyze it for forever.;) It has been translated from the Italian numerous times-  quite well by Dorothy Sayers, Anthony Esolen, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and (my most favorite translation) Mark Musa. It's hard to bring the Italian into English well. It is hardest to make it understandable ! ;)

Here is a good quotation from my favorite translation of Dante, on the subject of vanity, no less (!!!) :

"If anyone should want to know my name,
I am called Leah. And I spend all my time
weaving garlands of flowers with my fair hands,

to please me when I stand before my mirror;
my sister Rachel sits all the day long
before her own and never moves away.

She loves to contemplate her lovely eyes;
I love to use my hands to adorn myself:
her joy is in reflection, mine is in act.

And now, before the splendor of the dawn
(more welcome by the homebound pilgrim now,
the closer he awakes to home each day.)

Night's shadow disappears on every side..."

Purgatory, canto XXVII, lines 100-112

Poetry also becomes extra special when you're able to share it with others- namely, your kids! This goes for any book... more wonderful when shared.  Make some tea in a big tea pot, fill the table with goodies (or just pop some popcorn) and start reading it aloud! Do you need some encouragement? There is a great (great!) podcast episode from the RAR podcast about poetry teas and you need to listen to it (right! now!) if you want to be inspired. #rarpodcast Also there is a poetry teatime website (um, awesome.... because, me=nerd).

We've also found that poetry is also more wonderful when tried!  If we listen to poetry or read it only, we're missing an important opportunity, and that would be the opportunity to write our own poetry. My kids love to take a song and make up new lyrics. You could even re-write nursery rhymes, borrowing the meter from these to make up a fun game. Lyric-writing is definitely a form of poetry. If you're missing that piece in your life, I would think writing poetry fills a huge hole in education!! #imho

Poets I have loved sharing with my kids: 

Emily Dickinson

Shel Silverstein

Lewis Carroll

Robert Louis Stevenson

*"The Swing" by Robert Louis Stevenson

What poets/poetry do you like or enjoy the most?
Linking up with Tuesday Talk and cross-posting at the ACWB


Michele Morin said...

I used to say that very poem as I swung my boys. My favorite poet is Luci Shaw -- and there are so many others who are good!

Tacy said...

I'll look her up.

I wanted to mention Mary Oliver in my post, but she's more of an adult poet. ;-)

Stephanie Cox said...

I really need to share poetry with our little guy. I've never thought to read it with him.

Nili said...

I love poetry and used to write quite a bit. My current favorite is Barter by Sara Teasdale. My oldest has memorized a couple poems with his language arts curriculum we use.

Leslie @ This is For Keeps said...

I've never been good at writing poetry, but it's definitely nice to read! I was an English major as well, so I've definitely read my share of it. I love the memory you shared from the playground! So sweet!

Our Pretty Little Girls said...

So fun! My oldest has been working on memorizing some pretty great poems for school this year and I am loving it.

Courtney @ Shiraz In My Sippy Cup said...

Shel is a big hit in our home. I'll have to give the others you recommend a try, too! Great post!

Jessica Kessler said...

I love poems and so many times songs we sing or books we read are poems in themselves so I enjoy sharing them that way with my kids, but I need to pull them out more often. :)

Brenda said...

What a sweet post. How nice to hear your "why" about poetry. My husband enjoys it a lot, too. And, isn't Madeleine L'Engle great? :) Thanks for sharing. I don't believe we've crossed paths before. Nice to meet you. :)

Emily: Three boys and a girl blog said...

I love poems and don't read them near enough. Thanks for sharing!!

Heather said...

My grandfather was a poet so I have a great appreciation for Poetry! Great post!

Justine Y @ Little Dove said...

What a neat memory of that day at the park! I must admit, as much as I studied poetry when I was growing up, not much of it stuck with me. Although, I have a wonderful memory for song lyrics which are really just poems set to music.

Wendy J Williams said...

Beautiful comments.
My favorite poem is Psalm 23
The LORD is my shepherd,
I shall not want
He makes me to lie down
in green pastures,
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He lead me in the paths of righteousness
For His name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me....