Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two things stand like stone.
Kindness in another’s trouble,
Courage in your own.
I stumbled upon this stanza by the 19th century poet Adam Lindsay Gordon a month or so ago, and put it up on my Facebook status one morning, as my inspiration for the day.
The wonder of language is that though Gordon’s message could have been formulated in hundreds of different ways and still been understood, it’s how Gordon expressed his thoughts that allows us to find pleasure in them. He chose poetry, crafting his message in a playful, rhythmic form that’s compact, and rhymes so delightfully that it’s easily memorized and feels like it could be sung.
Not bad for four short lines of text!
(It was “LIKED” a lot on Facebook)
Here, at the Online Book Club, with a single exception (see AT THE TOUCH OF A LOVER, EVERYONE BECOMES A POET), we’ve ignored poetry―though we’ve certainly discussed lots of writing that’s poetic.
Why is that, do you think? I wonder if it isn’t that poetry is a bit of a paradox to most people: both simplistic and silly like the tired old “Roses are red, violets are blue…” as well as the province of literary people who never leave university campuses, or perhaps venture out, hanging out in cafés, reading cryptic verse to one another.
To many of us, poems can be pretty intimidating.
If I asked you to quickly name as many different types of poetry as possible, what could you come up with? I was able to name: free verse, haiku, slam, Shakespearean sonnet, ode, limerick, acrostic and alexandrine.
That reveals a few things: that I’ve never taken a poetry class, that I don’t know much about it, and that I kind of like it, because those forms that came to mind are the ones that I’ve heard or read and really responded to.
One of my favorite poems is William Butler Yeats’ He Wishes ForThe Cloths Of Heaven:
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I heard it before ever reading it. l loved this poem the moment I heard it recited by Anthony Hopkins in a lovely, melancholy scene from the movie 84 Charing Cross Road.
What drew me had nothing to do with any sort of intellectual effort. It was the gentleness of it, and the humble loneliness of it; and the references to light and heavens and dreams; and the lovely rhythm of the rhymes and alliterations: “night and light and the half-light” or “the blue and the dim and the dark cloths”, and the way it made me feel, and what it made me see in my mind’s eye.
I think that poetry is most effective when recited, but I also love to turn the pages of volumes of poetry, hoping to make a discovery.
One of my favourite finds comes from a collection of Jane Kenyon’s work, which I bought after seeing her in a PBS documentary at least fifteen years ago, and that made me shiver even as it stilled and silenced me:
She is like a horse grazing
a hill pasture that someone makes
smaller by coming every night
to pull the fences in and in.
She has stopped running wide loops,
stopped even the tight circles.
She drops her head to feed; grass
is dust, and the creekbed’s dry.
Master, come with your light
halter. Come and bring her in.
Many years later, as I watched my father-in-law and mother-in-law fade away together in a seniors’ residence, the poem came back to me, and it reminded me that poet James Dickey was right in saying that:
“The beginning of your true encounter with poetry should be simple. It should bypass all classrooms, all textbooks, courses, examinations and libraries and go straight to the things that make your own existence exist: to your body and nerves and blood and muscles. Find your own way — a secret way that just maybe you don’t know yet — to open yourself as wide as you can and as deep as you can to the moment, the now of your own existence and the endless mystery of it, and perhaps at the same time to one other thing that is not you, but is out there: a handful of gravel is a good place to start. So is an ice cube — what more mysterious and beautiful interior of something has there ever been?”
So today, I propose to you that we set up our own small Poetry Corner here, at the Online Book Club, where all of us can meet and share links to poems or poetry sites, or copy and paste favourite passages of beloved poems in the COMMENTS section, that I will be sure to curate.
To refresh your memory, you can browse here: http://www.poemhunter.com/, where you’ll find a top 500 poems list.
And make sure to check the POETRY CORNER regularly, as I will be adding your suggestions as well as some of my favourites, regularly.
“If poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree it had better not come at all.”
― John Keats