This week’s Cultivating Creativity challenge was to read some poetry. Easy, huh? Well, okay, there was a little more…We were supposed to highlight passages we especially liked. I figured I could handle that. I had a suspicion that we would be asked to illustrate one or more of the passages for this coming week. Turns out I was right. Week 10’s challenge is just that.
I graduated with a B.A. in English, so perhaps you can understand that I am fond of poetry, some more than others. Among my favorites are some standards: T.S. Eliot, William Butler Yeats (I still giggle at the thought of one of my professors calling him, “Willie B.”), and Wallace Stevens. I have some not-so-usual picks as well, which I’ll tell you about in a minute.
Probably my favorite line of all time from any poet is this, from “Sailing to Byzantium,” by Yeats:
“An aged man is but a paltry thing, A tattered coat upon a stick, unless Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing For every tatter in its mortal dress…”
Those lines evoke such an amazing visual for me, one that I’ve never been able to create. I do keep trying but I think this is one of those things that a friend once commented about: that an artist has to recognize that there are some things so utterly perfect that he or she simply can’t adequately portray them.
Another poem I’m really fond of is T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” I think I love this one so much because I had to really fight my way through to understand it. At the time I was learning it, I was struggling pretty hard with being back in college in my 30s, working full-time, and taking a heavy load of classes. I was poor to boot. So, yeah, life was pretty strenuous! The line
I have measured out my life in coffee spoons
stopped me in my tracks at the time. I was getting up early, going to class, coming home, going to work, coming home to study, just to go to bed, and get up and do it all again the next day. That line definitely rang true for me. Now I don’t think that’s exactly what the poet meant, but it’s still a favorite line.
I also like Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Have you read it? If not, you might be surprised to know that it inspired Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical, “Cats.” It’s a delightful book. My friend Will introduced me to it years and years ago, and I still have the copy of it that he gave me. So, aside from the fun, it’s kind of special to me.
Lest you think I only like the poetry everyone knows, I will share a list of some lesser-known poems I especially like:
“North,” by Seamus Heaney. I first became aware of Mr. Heaney with his translation of Beowulf in 2001. You may not know this, but once upon a time I was a student of Anglo-Saxon literature. I still have a soft spot for it, which is why I like this poem so much. All those kennings still make my scholarly self smile.
Another poet I’m fond of is Robert Seymour Bridges, who was Poet Laureate in England from 1913-1930. Here is an excerpt from his poem, “London Snow:”
…Then boys I heard, as they went to school, calling,
They gathered up the crystal manna to freeze
Their tongues with tasting, their hands with snowballing;
Or rioted in a drift, plunging up to the knees;
Or peering up from under the white-mossed wonder,
‘O look at the trees!’ they cried, ‘O look at the trees!’
“Traveler, your footprints,” by Antonio Machado, is another favorite. Though it was written in 1939, the words are timeless. I can’t get past this:
And when you look back
You’ll see a road
Never to be trodden again.
It’s both sad and inspiring, isn’t it?
Well, I could go on for a long time about poems and poets, can you tell? Do you have a favorite poet? What are some of your favorite poems?