I have never really been able to understand poetry. It’s a failing of mine that I’ve never tried to correct either. When pushed I can write a haiku, but I wouldn’t really call that being a poet, or understanding poetry.

I’ve tired a few times. I remember in high school reading poems by Pushkin because of a National Geographic article. In college I figured I should read more Yeats given my love of all things Irish, but I know I didn’t fully appreciate it. As a full fledged adult, I haven’t read any poetry outside of Will’s Haiku Year.

Folks, I want to read, and really comprehend, a poem. Link it here.

10 thoughts on “Poetry

  1. Frost:

    She is as in a field a silken tent
    At midday when the sunny summer breeze
    Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,
    So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
    And its supporting central cedar pole,
    That is its pinnacle to heavenward
    And signifies the sureness of the soul,
    Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
    But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
    By countless silken ties of love and thought
    To every thing on earth the compass round,
    And only by one’s going slightly taut
    In the capriciousness of summer air
    Is of the slightest bondage made aware.

    Appropriate, I think, for the day.

  2. You had to know I’d go with this one (and, like, MenD, appropriate for the day):

    John Donne, “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”

    AS virtuous men pass mildly away,
    And whisper to their souls to go,
    Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
    “Now his breath goes,” and some say, “No.”

    So let us melt, and make no noise,
    No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move ;
    ‘Twere profanation of our joys
    To tell the laity our love.

    Moving of th’ earth brings harms and fears ;
    Men reckon what it did, and meant ;
    But trepidation of the spheres,
    Though greater far, is innocent.

    Dull sublunary lovers’ love
    —Whose soul is sense—cannot admit
    Of absence, ’cause it doth remove
    The thing which elemented it.

    But we by a love so much refined,
    That ourselves know not what it is,
    Inter-assurèd of the mind,
    Care less, eyes, lips and hands to miss.

    Our two souls therefore, which are one,
    Though I must go, endure not yet
    A breach, but an expansion,
    Like gold to aery thinness beat.

    If they be two, they are two so
    As stiff twin compasses are two ;
    Thy soul, the fix’d foot, makes no show
    To move, but doth, if th’ other do.

    And though it in the centre sit,
    Yet, when the other far doth roam,
    It leans, and hearkens after it,
    And grows erect, as that comes home.

    Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
    Like th’ other foot, obliquely run ;
    Thy firmness makes my circle just,
    And makes me end where I begun.

  3. A good friend of mine mentioned this poem by Lewis Caroll. He said that it might have influenced D&D – I think he (my friend) liked it because it was one of the first poems he memorized.


    ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
    All mimsy were the borogoves,
    And the mome raths outgrabe.

    “Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
    The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
    Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
    The frumious Bandersnatch!”

    He took his vorpal sword in hand:
    Long time the manxome foe he sought—
    So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
    And stood awhile in thought.

    And as in uffish thought he stood,
    The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
    Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
    And burbled as it came!

    One, two! One, two! and through and through
    The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
    He left it dead, and with its head
    He went galumphing back.

    “And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
    Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
    O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
    He chortled in his joy.

    ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
    All mimsy were the borogoves,
    And the mome raths outgrabe.

  4. I was going to put Metaphors by Sylvia Plath, but I just like the riddle (metaphor) that she’s talking about pregnancy.

    I really like this poem by Philip Levine, Among Children – part of his book “What Work Is”. Can’t say why I like it – other than it’s a little sad but also observant. I’m not really one for rhyming poems – much more the prose poems or stream of conciousness.


  5. Tennyson: Crossing the Bar

    Sunset and evening star,
    And one clear call for me!
    And may there be no moaning of the bar,
    When I put out to sea,

    But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
    Too full for sound and foam,
    When that which drew from out the boundless deep
    Turns again home.

    Twilight and evening bell,
    And after that the dark!
    And may there be no sadness of farewell,
    When I embark;

    For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
    The flood may bear me far,
    I hope to see my Pilot face to face
    When I have cross’d the bar.

  6. Robert Browning: My Last Duchess

    That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
    Looking as if she were alive. I call
    That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf’s hands
    Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
    Will ‘t please you sit and look at her? I said
    ‘Frà Pandolf’ by design, for never read
    Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
    The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
    But to myself they turned (since none puts by
    The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
    And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
    How such a glance came there; so, not the first
    Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ‘t was not
    Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
    Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps
    Frà Pandolf chanced to say, ‘Her mantle laps
    Over my lady’s wrist too much,’ or ‘Paint
    Must never hope to reproduce the faint
    Half-flush that dies along her throat:’ such stuff
    Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
    For calling up that spot of joy. She had
    A heart — how shall I say? — too soon made glad,
    Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
    She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
    Sir, ‘t was all one! My favour at her breast,
    The dropping of the daylight in the West,
    The bough of cherries some officious fool
    Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
    She rode with round the terrace — all and each
    Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
    Or blush, at least. She thanked men, — good! but thanked
    Somehow — I know not how — as if she ranked
    My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
    With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
    This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
    In speech — (which I have not) — to make your will
    Quite clear to such an one, and say, ‘Just this
    Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
    Or there exceed the mark’ — and if she let
    Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
    Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
    — E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
    Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
    Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
    Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
    Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
    As if alive. Will ‘t please you rise? We’ll meet
    The company below then. I repeat,
    The Count your master’s known munificence
    Is ample warrant that no just pretence
    Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
    Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
    At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
    Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
    Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
    Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

  7. I adore Robert Frost beyond belief, and would probably adore him even more if he had a Southern version; he’s so intimate with the trees and country of his home that it makes me wish for someone who could write that well about the country I’m intimate with. (Barbara Kingsolver comes close, but she’s mostly prose.)

    My favorite’s Two Tramps in Mudtime:
    Out of the mud two strangers came
    And caught me splitting wood in the yard,
    And one of them put me off my aim
    By hailing cheerily “Hit them hard!”
    I knew pretty well why he had dropped behind
    And let the other go on a way.
    I knew pretty well what he had in mind:
    He wanted to take my job for pay.

    Good blocks of oak it was I split,
    As large around as the chopping block;
    And every piece I squarely hit
    Fell splinterless as a cloven rock.
    The blows that a life of self-control
    Spares to strike for the common good,
    That day, giving a loose to my soul,
    I spent on the unimportant wood.

    The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
    You know how it is with an April day
    When the sun is out and the wind is still,
    You’re one month on in the middle of May.
    But if you so much as dare to speak,
    A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
    A wind comes off a frozen peak,
    And you’re two months back in the middle of March.

    A bluebird comes tenderly up to alight
    And turns to the wind to unruffle a plume,
    His song so pitched as not to excite
    A single flower as yet to bloom.
    It is snowing a flake; and he half knew
    Winter was only playing possum.
    Except in color he isn’t blue,
    But he wouldn’t advise a thing to blossom.

    The water for which we may have to look
    In summertime with a witching wand,
    In every wheelrut’s now a brook,
    In every print of a hoof a pond.
    Be glad of water, but don’t forget
    The lurking frost in the earth beneath
    That will steal forth after the sun is set
    And show on the water its crystal teeth.

    The time when most I loved my task
    The two must make me love it more
    By coming with what they came to ask.
    You’d think I never had felt before
    The weight of an ax-head poised aloft,
    The grip of earth on outspread feet,
    The life of muscles rocking soft
    And smooth and moist in vernal heat.

    Out of the wood two hulking tramps
    (From sleeping God knows where last night,
    But not long since in the lumber camps).
    They thought all chopping was theirs of right.
    Men of the woods and lumberjacks,
    They judged me by their appropriate tool.
    Except as a fellow handled an ax
    They had no way of knowing a fool.

    Nothing on either side was said.
    They knew they had but to stay their stay

    And all their logic would fill my head:
    As that I had no right to play
    With what was another man’s work for gain.
    My right might be love but theirs was need.
    And where the two exist in twain
    Theirs was the better right–agreed.

    But yield who will to their separation,
    My object in living is to unite
    My avocation and my vocation
    As my two eyes make one in sight.
    Only where love and need are one,
    And the work is play for mortal stakes,
    Is the deed ever really done
    For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

    One of my pet peeves in life is the “studied ironic detachment is coooool” viewpoint. I like this poem as a counterpoint. But…I’ll read pretty much anything Frost, really. I used to read his stuff to the Nublet to keep her calm while nursing.

    …also, “My Last Duchess” gives me the screaming creeps. Yay Pill?

  8. A great place to first immerse yourself in poetry is in the work of former US laureate, Billy Collins, where the water is sometimes the same temperature as the air: Billy-Collins.com is out of date, but still good.

    He also founded Poetry 180, which was meant to teach poetry to schoolkids. It’s not only got a wonderful, wide array of poets in the mix, but is also good.

    And there’s this, by William Carlos Williams:

    This is Just to Say

    I have eaten
    the plums
    that were in
    the icebox

    and which
    you were probably
    for breakfast

    Forgive me
    they were delicious
    so sweet
    and so cold

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