I thought I would take a respite from all my angst of recent days. In an attempt to enforce some positivity, I am endeavoring to focus on some topics that uplift. I thought this week I might do a little list-making of things that have influenced me for the better.
The lists are, of course, highly subjective.
Today I wanted to list the 20 most influential poems I have read, numbers 20-15. Poetry has always been something I have enjoyed. The ‘theater of the mind’ is more powerful than any movie or television program. These have been selected because they presented a new idea to me, remind me of someone or someplace special, or just plain move me. Like I said it’s highly subjective.
One of the few textbooks I still have from college is my Poetry book from 19th and 20th-century poetry. The text is full of notes I scribbled by the poems I read, sometimes the records were questions the poem evoked, such as why was this person feeling this? Who is this poem to?. Sometimes the note simply stated ‘huh?’ then later, after pondering it, I would scratch out the huh and write down what I thought, sometimes I didn’t. I admit, I don’t ‘get’ every poem I read instantly, some I never do. It is a lot like people. I want to include a line or two from each poem to illustrate what it was that got my attention, but definitely check out these poems if they intrigue you
. #20 “My Grandmother’s Love Letters” by Hart Crane The Author finds an old love letter from his Grandmother, presumably whom he has never met, he asks ” Are your fingers long enough to play Old keys that are but echos: To carry back the music to its source, and back to you again. As though to her?” It only takes something straightforward such as a letter or a personal item to make a person you’ve never met, real. When I was in Poland, I had a chance to visit the Auschwitz camp. They had a building there that had some of the personal effects of the prisoners. One of the windows contained shoes, they were mostly drab brown boots and clogs, but in a pile were some coral colored pumps that had rhinestones embedded on them. The shoes stood out, probably much like their former owner. The boots were flamboyant and lively. I probably would have liked the person who wore them. I will never know.
#19 “Among school children” W.B. Yeats, One thing you have to understand about Yeats is he had a great unrequited love, a woman named Maude Gonne, she was a muse to him, and her presence is felt in much of his work. ‘Among school children’ is one such poem. Yeats was visiting a class of children, and he saw a little girl who reminded him of what Maud may have looked like when she was that age. “I look upon one child or t’other there, And wonder if she stood so at that age?” he ponders of his longed love and how time has marred her beauty, even considers the children they may have had together. About the time I was going through the breakup of a relationship with my first ‘grown-up’ love. (or as much as knew of love at the time. which wasn’t much) I was working at a shoe store saving money for my big trip to Europe. One day this beautiful little girl came in and looked just like I would imagine my former girlfriend had looked at her age, I went through everything Yeat’s went through. I thought of my lover as a little girl, imagined our little girl child we would’ve had together in my never realized fantasy. But Like Yeats, my love had moved on. And I did too (eventually).
#18 “Buffalo Bill’s” e.e. cummings. What can I say, Cummings was cool. I loved how he would create new words, use punctuation however he says fit, pretty much controlled the words, not vice versa. Like Shakespeare and Lewis Carroll, (both of which appear later in my list) and even John Lennon a few years later, Cummings used words to create mental landscapes. If he couldn’t find the right word, to hell with it, he’d make one up that fit. The punk poet. Some people dislike him for this, I am just the opposite. In the poem, Cummings marvels at the skill he (Buffalo Bill) had in his wild west shows and that he was a handsome man then asks ‘what I want to know is, how do you like your blue-eyed boy, Mister Death?’ Why do you think there are so many ‘Elvis sightings’? They’re nut jobs? Well, No, that’s the easy answer. I think it is because we don’t want to admit that someone who once was so electric and vivacious, could be gone forever. It is one of life’s paradoxes. Life moves ‘within, and without you’ to quote George Harrison.
#17 “Emperor of Ice cream” Wallace Stevens. There is one line in particular I like in this poem “let be be the finale of seem” this is a line that jumped out of me, and I responded with a resounding “huh?”. Then after some thought, it makes perfect sense. Be should equal seem. If something is being something, it should actually be it. Things should be what they seem. No illusions, it is what it is. I think it is a good mantra. Don’t pretend to be something else, be what you are. Easier said than done though (for me, at least) Which incidentally is a good lead-in, to:
#16 “firelight” Edward Arlington Robinson. My parents have been married for over fifty years. I can say without fear of lying, that I have never seen a significant fight between them. They still smooch and giggle like seventeen-year-olds. They set the bar quite high Just like the couple in ‘firelight’ Robinson says they share ‘the blessing of what neither says aloud’, wiser for silence’ I wonder if this is part of my parents success, they know which topics are out of bounds, what not to say to the other one, which bitter pills to swallow. Are they better for it? Robinson implies it is a mixed bag. My parents generally seem very happy. Maybe they have sacrificed some depth for a calmer though shallower seascape. It definitely works for them.
#15 ” A sight in camp in the Daybreak Gray and Dim” Walt Whitman, My first ‘Whitman Sampler’ was in high school I didn’t care much. But I had a million teenage things on my mind, mostly focused on surviving the hostile environs of high school, but when I got to college, I began to reread his poems and realized his genius. This is a nice poem it is shorter than much of his other stuff but has a nice wallop. Whitman was visiting a tent during the (un)civil war. He is at the morgue tent and finds three bodies covered in blankets, he lifts the first one and sees a very elderly man ‘gaunt and grim’ he lifts the blanket on the second body and finds a small child not even a teenager. He then lifts the third blanket to see ‘a face nor child, nor old, very calm as of beautiful yellow-white ivory. Young man, I think I know you-I think this is the face of Christ himself, Dead and divine and brother of all and here again, he lies’ I think of all the young men in Iraq and Afghanistan who have died and regardless of your opinion of the war. You have to ache for the pain those families have felt, like Christ cut down in the prime of life, like Christ they have been martyred for the crimes of someone else.
I read this poem to my Mom once she just scowled, “I don’t like it” and left the room, I ran after her to try and explain it to her then gave up mid tracks. This is getting far too verbose for one entry. What I think I will do is break this down into several entries. If you like this, come back because coming up there is Robinson Jeffers, Dylan Thomas, a little more Yeats, and e.e. Cummings, Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Frost, Tennyson, Keats, Lewis Carroll, William Shakespeare, W.H.Auden, T.S. Elliott and Stephan Vincent Benet though not necessarily in that order