Wednesday, June 12, 2013

What poem has stayed with you?

Recently, I picked up a poetry collection I've had for a while and dipped into (as you do - one of the pleasures of a collection of poems) - the book was Dear To Me: 100 New Zealanders Write About Their Favourite Poems (Random House NZ, 2007). A lot of the selections were safe - classics by Keats, Byron, Tennyson etc. A few were odd. Some were new to me, and my favourite was Murray Ball's poem about his cat, Horse.

But it did set me thinking about poems that I've remembered for their effect on me at different times in my life. The list would be quite long, but no doubt there are millions of people who couldn't name one poem! Unless it's one they hated from being made to study it at school. Top of my list is the first poem I remember reading at high school - I think this was the first time I realised that poetry didn't have to rhyme, and that it could say things I thought were indescribable!


Love is a universal migraine,
A bright stain on the vision
Blotting out reason.

Symptoms of true love
Are leanness, jealousy,
Laggard dawns;

Are omens and nightmares --
Listening for a knock,
Waiting for a sign:

For a touch of her fingers
In a darkened room,
For a searching look.

Take courage, lover!
Could  you endure such grief
At any hand but hers?

Robert Graves

(from Collected Poems, Cassell 1975)

So what poem would be on your list that you've never forgotten, and why?


BookChook said...

I go way back to fifth class when my teacher opened my head and heart to poetry. Prior to that, poetry meant "anything that rhymed". But at age 10 I suddenly understood that a poem could tell a story and evoke emotion (Southey's The Inchcape Rock), or paint a picture (Cuthbertson's The Australian Sunrise).

However, you asked for one poem that has stayed with us, and I must choose Hopkins' The Windhover. I recite it to myself so often because he chose the exact words that express what i so often feel - "my heart in hiding stirred for a bird - the achieve of, the mastery of the thing." Hopkins made me understand too that some lucky few can use words to do more than communicate meaning, they can communicate layers of meaning. How very lucky we are to have them!

Sherryl said...

Isn't it wonderful when a teacher does that? But yes, certain lines ring so true that they stay with you forever.

Sue said...

Every Mary Oliver poem I come across becomes my favourite. Unfortunately I have an AWFUL memory, so I can't remember anything of them. Which, as Graham Greene said, should hold me in good stead as a writer.

At the risk of being boring, the one that I *do* remember and reread in its entirety every now and then is Four Quartets by TS Eliot.

Sherryl said...

I feel the same way about Ted Kooser's and Billy Collins's poems! My favorite Collins poem is "The Lanyard" and I love reading it with students and seeing their faces.

Sue said...

Oh! I hadn't read that before. The best sort of poem, one taken as inspiration from an everyday situation and made universal. Thanks, this was so awfully sweet.


The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the pale blue walls of this room,
bouncing from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one more suddenly into the past --
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that's what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sickroom,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift--not the archaic truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hands,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

Motivational Speaker said...

A think of beauty is a joy forever- Keats

Sorry mine is rather short!