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....
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep...
- By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
- By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
- Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
- Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.
- Dark behind it rose the forest,
- Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,
- Rose the firs with cones upon them;
- Bright before it beat the water,
- Beat the clear and sunny water,
- Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.
Do you know how many verses there are to Hiawatha? My poor mother. There was this one and "Evangeline." I'm not sure which one I liked better. "Evangeline" has a tickly dark feel to it and encompasses the word "primeval" in the first line. That word immediately spins me around and back from this world to another, more pure, perhaps, but not so obvious.
- This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
- Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
- Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
- Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
- Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean
- Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.
With a poem, with one like "The Tyger," say, or Yeats' "Second Coming" even more so, as you get toward the middle, you begin to be anxious about the end...anxious and captivated, intent, mesmerized, rapt. It satisfies something – or perhaps just the opposite; it disquiets the world enough to enthrall, to fulfill the suspicion that there is something else going on out there. Or in here.
I remembered Tennyson’s “The Crossing Of The Bar” and recited it to a church full of people years later at a funeral for my friend Jonathan’s father. (A few years ago, when my Aunt Mig passed away, I scoured the internet and found a wonderful poem about cats waiting for their owners in Heaven at the "purry" gates, and I read it at her memorial service. ) Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach" has the some of the best last lines of any poem I've ever read:
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
My favorites, though, were the fey, haunting and beautifully constructed rhymes of William Butler Yeats.
The Second Coming,
The Lake Isle of Innisfree,
The Cat and The Moon,
When You Are Old,
The Song of Wandering Aengus.
But the poems I used to find in the back of Yankee magazine, when they had a whole page of poems in there, were my bread and honey. No well known poets – to me, at least – yet they matched everything so well, so uneasily at times. I had a bulletin board full of them in my bedroom. They would often cause me to stop and think, what was it about this poem that made me weep or shiver or took my breath away? Then there are a few from New Yorker magazine. (Sometimes I think of all the ones I must have missed, having not read every single issue of either Yankee or the New Yorker. It makes me a trifle glum.)
I've read, and heard, from people who analyze and study and collate poetry, that it was meant to be read out loud.When you stop to think, think of the first things you read to your children, or what your parents read to you: "Patty-cake, patty-cake; this little piggy; baa-baa black sheep..." We are all raised on poetry. What is it about this that so pleases us as children? Is it the cadence? The silliness? The assurance that there is always going to be a word that rhymes?
I guess so, if it were the 1950's and I was lying in bed with chicken pox...but truth to tell, I have never been interested in attending a poetry reading (and there are always plenty of them dotted here and there throughout where I live).
I think I want to read poetry in the quiet, stopping at the end of a line if I feel like it, going back over it and experiencing it in private. My mind can go far astray from reading a poem...and I want the quiet time just afterward that lets me reel back all the lines that have been cast. To turn my mind into a net. To pull in the words and splash in them. To -- thank you William Butler Yeats -- to hopefully, "hear it in my deep heart's core."