Monday, February 22, 2021

Lenten Blogs: Poetry

 I've been doing a series of UU-inspired Lenten bloglets on Facebook, one a day, each centering on a single word. Today's word is POETRY, and here's a topic that really should be fleshed out with quotes and links. 

Now I lay me down to sleep

I pray the Lord my soul to keep

And if I die before I wake

I pray the Lord my soul to take.

The first poem I ever recited, nightly, starting well before I turned four. Because that's what you want three year olds thinking about as they drop off to want them really thinking about how they might never wake up again! I swear, between this and being invited to imagine the floor is lava and therefore everything I love is about to burn up, it's a wonder more of us kids aren't in therapy as adults. 

Hey, at least I'm not of German extraction. Recount THAT little tale to your toddler, and it's a fair bet he'll never suck his thumb. Or anything else. Ever.

Poetry that has left a mark on me: there are dozens of poems that have done so. Among them:

T.S. Eliot, The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock. I took this five years running in high school, along with Conrad's Heart of Darkness, thanks to moves and changes in curriculum. Hated the latter with a white hot passion, but never, ever tired of Prufrock. He felt like me. 

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;

Am an attendant lord, one that will do

To swell a progress, start a scene or two,

Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,

Deferential, glad to be of use,

Politic, cautious, and meticulous;

Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;

At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—

Almost, at times, the Fool.

Life for me has been a long series of "do I dare"s...and I usually don't. 

e.e.cummmings, [i carry your heart with me(I carry it in]

This poem captures falling in love better than most. It's the kind of cloying sentiment (my sweet, my dear, my true) that is infinitely welcome when you're first falling, and seems rather childish soon after. Little secret: a bit of passion will sustain just a hint of this indefinitely. Sprinkle it on the coals and watch the flames roar to life. 

Neil Gaiman, "Sonnet"

I mean, love is a recurring theme in my favourite poetry, because love is a recurring theme in my life. The last line of that sonnet is wrenching

Merrit Malloy, "Epitaph"

I just discovered this gem, and shared it, a few months ago. Powerful. 

I have to include the poem I want either read or at least available at my funeral: Charles MacKay, "I Have Lived And I Have Loved". Bill Richardson quotes this, minus the last four lines that turn something wistful into a mournful pity-party, in The Bachelor Brothers' Bed and Breakfast, which is really worth your while if you can find it. It's been the epigram on this blog since its inception.

Robert Service, "Maternity"

You may know his poems "The Cremation of Sam McGee" and "The Shooting of Dan McGrew". This one is shorter, and really rather risqué for the time period. "Oh, how she adored his thickness..." (giggle) 

I've really found depth in First World War poetry. I share the classics every November 11th -- "Dulce Et Decorum Est", most reliably -- but this one I've never shared. I first ran across it in Dan Simmons' novella "The Great Lover" and was tickled to find out it's real: A P Herbert, "The General Inspecting The Trenches"

Finally, I need to feature Shel Silverstein. Again. Just because. "Just Me, Just Me" 

Silverstein was a master at putting some pretty big concepts into some pretty little poems. 


I'm a poet, myself. As my dad often says, I'm a poet and I don't know feet show it...they're LONGFELLOWS... (groan). A small selection of my work can be found in these linked blogs: 

"What I Would Teach The World"


"And Every Day..."

The best one I have ever written is sadly lost. I wrote it for a woman named Deb who was about four light-years out of my league. She dared me to write a villanelle.  (A woman dares me to do something that doesn't put me in mortal physical terror, that's a dare I'll take.)  A villanelle is  one of the more challenging poetic forms -- three tercets and a quatrain, with a complex internal rhyme scheme. Probably the most famous villanelle is Dylan Thomas, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night". I can't say my effort, "The Sun Will Rise Again At Break Of Day", held a candle to that. But I did get a nice double-take out of Deb. A dog that writes poetry, how interesting.

Why do I love poetry? Every song's a poem, for one thing. Poetry itself sings in a way prose only matches in the hands of a master like Pat Conroy or Cormac McCarthy. Poetry also describes the graceful way my beloved moves; the colours of the aurora or the sunset;  the mournful dirge of the wind on a winter's night (God I love this song...) There is poetry everywhere. Keep an eye and an ear out for it. 

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