Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Poetry of Our Lives

As a way of dealing with the heat, I've watched more television in the past few weeks than usual ~ no AC, so immobility is a primary goal.

Yesterday afternoon I watched most of an episode of Law and Order Criminal Intent.  It's a quirky show, very dark psychologically and no glitz or glamor for the actors. I was struck yesterday by the layers of Detective Goren's character, layers being peeled off like an onion.  

The guilty parties were a young couple trying to cover up the death of their baby; the husband was a wanna-be poet. Goren noted at one point that a poem the husband claimed to have written was actually one of Christina Rosetti's.  And at the end of the show, reading the verse the husband had left with his daughter's remains, Goren commented, "Elizabeth Barrett Browning -- he can't even come up with something original for his own daughter."

The intriguing juxtaposition, of course is that this hard-nosed and psychologically astute investigator has such an easy and wide-ranging familiarity with poetry classics.

I studied a lot of poetry in school, and I still read quite a bit of it.  But I can seldom do that ~ identify a fragment in casual conversation.  Although today, reading a new book that Michelle sent to me, I took in a sentence and said immediately to myself, "Dylan Thomas."

I do have  a few of my own favorites, though  ~ bits and pieces that occasionally come out of my mouth or appear on my computer.  A little Dante, a little Mary Oliver.  Perhaps a bit more T.S. Eliot and Emily Dickinson.  Shakespeare, of course, but mostly from Macbeth and Hamlet.  Some John Donne, some Anne Sexton, some Hopkins.

Detective Goren's Browning quote?  A paraphrase, but one I plan to remember, for obvious reasons: 

"You are held not by death, but by love."

What about you?  Do you have lines of poetry accessible to the immediate reaches of your mind and heart?


  1. A few, but the poems I know by heart (or at least can quote a bit of) are a very eclectic bunch. I can reel off the ending of Prufrock. I once knew all of "Carrion Comfort" by Hopkins, and probably could pull most of it out of my memory if I tried hard enough. Some Emily Dickinson. "When You Are Old" by Yeats. "Not Waving, but Drowning" by Stevie Smith. Oh, and I used to know the first 18 lines of the Canterbury Tales in Middle English, but now I can do only 3 or 4. That particular bit is the legacy of having been a literature major.

  2. Ruth:

    Whan that Aprille with his shores sote
    The droughte of March hath pierced to the rote
    And bathed every veyne in swiche licour
    Of which vertue engendered is the flour . . .

    Than longen folke to goon on pilgrimmages . . .

    11th grade, 1969

  3. As much as I love poetry, I really don't remember much. Aed I The Cloths of Heaven has stayed with me, but a line of Mary Oliver's has absolutely stalked me. It won't let go. "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your wild and precious life?" I ought to know the answer to that by now.

  4. Cynthia, yeah, I think that Mary Oliver line stays with us all.

  5. Whan zephyres eke with its sweete breath
    Inspired hath in every holt and heath
    the tendre croppes and the younge sonne
    hath in the Ram his halve course yronne
    So pricketh him natur in her courages
    than longen folk to go on pilgrimages
    And specially from every shires ended
    of Engelond to Caunterbery they wende
    the holy blisful martyr for to seke
    that hem hath holpen, whan that they were seke.

  6. Other than that, lots of Mary Oliver, John Donne, Emily Dickinson, Marge Piercy, and Denise Levertov. Oh, and a sweet poem on hyacinths my mother taught me:

    When thou of fortune be bereft
    And in thy store there be but left two loaves
    Sell one, and with the dole,
    Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.

  7. "Do not go gentle into that good night" (Dylan Thomas). I also enjoy Mary Oliver and some Rumi. Not sure if you consider Bob Dylan a poet, but I do and many of his words have sustained me throughout my life. And my 11th grade English teacher agreed with me!

  8. sometime my thoughts cause me to think in poetic form and lead me to write a poem. Often I find a poem that suddenly hits me as - oh, wow, this poem speaks right into this moment in time...however I have had almost zero formal study of poetry - most of what I learned came from Diane and our discussion early on in blogging and from reading Mary Oliver's book on writing poems...

  9. William Carlos Williams on emerging spring.

    Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
    dazed spring approaches—

  10. Sadly for me my oldest 'sticky' poetry is Burns (learned at primary school)about 40 years ago!!

    Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie,
    O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
    Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
    Wi' bickering brattle!
    I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee
    Wi' murd'ring pattle!

    and so on for 7 more verses!!

    This is redeemed by TS Eliot from my teenage years - 'The return of the magi' memorised for an exam. And I still love Eliot he has so many good lines :)