Do you remember studying poetry in school? Do you cringe? I think two activities have added to our negative feelings about poetry: the deconstruction exercises we do/have done in school where we are asked to take a perfectly crafted and evocative poem, pull it apart, and point out every poetic device so that we can “interpret” it. And then our understanding of the poem is judged by some little understood yardstick. Often, we are required to bare our souls in the writing and sharing of a poem.
Do you remember those? Or have you wiped them from your memory?
Is it any wonder that poetry is so little read. But for thousands of years the very heart of life has best been expressed through poetry. So many people cannot be wrong. We need a new approach to an old and precious means of expression.
I love this acrostic:
Because I love poetry, I have put together a tutorial, just some hints that I think might make reading more enjoyable. I hope you will enjoy these wonderful poems and maybe re-find your love of the beauty of words and power of expression through poetry.
*The first hint to reading poetry is all about attitude. You no longer have to try to impress anyone. It doesn’t matter if the poem is “good” or not. Does it touch you? Does it make you feel something? Remember something? Laugh? Cry? Not many teachers would call limericks “good poetry,” but they can be lots of fun. Treasure the pure joy of clever words and sounds.
There was a faith-healer of Deal,Anon
Who said, “Although pain isn’t real,
If I sit on a pin
And it punctures my skin,
I dislike what I fancy I feel.
Clever limericks still tickle me. Funny/silly children’s poems are wonderful too. I love a good pun or a double entendre.
*Read one poem. You don’t have to finish an anthology. There is no deadline—and no test. Read your poem as you would read prose. Ignore line endings. Pay attention to punctuation.
When a friend calls to me from the roadRobert Frost
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don’t stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven’t hoed,
And shout from where I am, What is it?
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.
*Look up unfamiliar words (if there is more than one meaning to a word, try them each, or it could be all the meanings at the same time). Try putting it in your own words.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod? (Reck: to take heed, or be concerned with)
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell; the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;Gerard Manley Hopkins
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and will ah! bright wings.
*Note the title. (Sometimes it is a clue or integral to the poem).
THIS IS JUST TO SAY
I have eaten
That were in
You were probably
Forgive meWilliam Carlos Williams
They were delicious
And so cold
*Ask questions before and as you read. (Ask: Why winter? What’s her secret? Does it matter what it is? Does she want to share it? Who’s she talking to?)
Winter: My Secret
I tell my secret? No indeed, not I:
Perhaps some day, who knows?
But not today; it froze, and blows and snows,
And you’re too curious: fie!
You want to hear it? Well:
Only, my secret’s mine, and I won’t tell.
Or, after all, perhaps there’s none:
Suppose there is no secret after all,
But only just my fun.
Today’s a nipping day, a biting day;
In which one wants a shawl,
A veil, a cloak, and other wraps:
I cannot ope to every one who taps,
And let the draughts come whistling thro’ my hall;
Come bounding and surrounding me,
Come buffeting, astounding me,
Nipping and clipping thro’ my wraps and all.
I wear my mask for warmth: who ever shows
His nose to Russian snows
To be pecked at by every wind that blows?
You would not peck? I thank you for good will,
Believe, but leave that truth untested still.
Spring’s an expansive time: yet I don’t trust
March with its peck of dust,
Nor April with its rainbow-crowned brief showers,
Nor even May, whose flowers
One frost may wither thro’ the sunless hours.
Perhaps some languid summer day,Christina Rossetti
When drowsy birds sing less and less,
And golden fruit is ripening to excess,
If there’s not too much sun or too much cloud,
And the warm wind is neither still nor loud,
Perhaps my secret I may say,
Or you may guess.
*Notice the sounds—not for a test—for pleasure—the sounds as much as the words paint a picture.
It’s too long to quote here in its entirety, but this is an excerpt from Kubla Khan
In Xanadu did Kubla KhanSamuel Taylor Coleridge
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
*Share the poems that you love. When my daughter was struggling with men who didn’t hear “No,” I found this poem. It hung on our refrigerator for about six months. At least she was able to laugh.
Why so pale and wan, fond lover?
Prithee, why so pale?
Will, when looking well can’t move her,
Looking ill prevail?
Prithee, why so pale?
Why so dull and mute, young sinner?
Prithee, why so mute?
Will, when speaking well can’t win her,
Saying nothing do ‘t?
Prithee, why so mute?
Quit, quit for shame! This will not move;John Suckling
This cannot take her.
If of herself she will not love,
Nothing can make her:
The devil take her!
*Do go with associations or symbols. If it reminds you of something, incorporate that memory into your reading of the poem.
There is no frigate like a bookEmily Dickinson
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!
* Try to see a picture–an image
The Last Word
When I saw your head bow, I knew I had beaten you.
You shed no tears—not near me—but held your neck
Bare for the blow I had been too frightened
Ever to deliver, even in words. And now,
In spite of me, plummeting it came.
Frozen we both waited for its fall.
Most of what you gave me I have forgottenPeter Davison
With my mind but taken into my body,
But this I remember well: the bones of your neck
And the strain in my shoulders as I heaved up that huge
Double blade and snapped my wrists to swing
The handle down and hear the axe’s edge
Nick through your flesh and creak into the block.
Flower in the Crannied Wall
Flower in the crannied wall,Alfred, Lord tennyson
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, and in my hand,
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.
And in life and in reading, this poem by an unknown poet:
Did you write a poem? Are you still thinking about it? Think of it as an exploration and adventure. It might also change the way you read and definitely the way you listen to music lyrics.