The beauty of words weaving themselves into verse, into poetry, has always been a treasure in my life, an essential part of who I am.
There’s good reason for this. The wonder of language formed around me naturally, an essential part of growing up. The following are my memories how how the joy of poetry eased its way into my my life.
Evening wrapped itself around our campsite, the fire crackled and the s’mores dripped like warm icicles from our fingers. A day of leaping about the sand dunes and the folding of ocean waves one upon another settled upon my cousins, my sister and myself. It was at the perfect moment, orchestrated by the ambiance surrounding us that my aunt would begin to speak.
The words rolled from her heart to her lips weaving its magical spell.
There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold:
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was the night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.
We five young children huddled about the fire hearing crickets chirping in the background with the sound of the Pacific and the heat of the summer sun still upon us as we listened to the tale in rapt silence. Ah, The Cremation of Sam McGee, the chill of the Arctic and then to the final words of the verse.
Then I made a hike, for I didn’t like to hear him
And the heavens scowled, and the huskies
howled, and the wind began to blow.
It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled down my
cheeks, and I don’t know why;
And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak went
streaking down the sky.
My aunt recited Robert Service’s poem with passion, with a kind of grandeur that when I close my eyes all of these years later allowing myself to mentally travel back in time, I can still hear, still feel the power of her voice and his words.
I love poetry. Perhaps it’s somehow embedded in my DNA.
Who knows for certain where love of language comes from? What I can say is that I get what Emily Dickinson meant when she wrote,
If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.
Yes indeed, Emily, that’s exactly how I fell in love with the language of poetry, heard its magnificence and let it take me to lands unknown.
Something primitive in all of us responds to the elegance of beautiful rhythms.
The French composer Jules Cambarieu said,
Music is the art of thinking with sounds.
Poetry like music is elemental in its emotional impact. I’ve heard poems recited in languages unknown to me but the pure sound of it elicits a connection. Poetry for me is emotion distilled to its purest form. It doesn’t need to encumber itself with all the correct parts of speech or grammatical constructs. It simply lives a life of its own.
It’s a wonder that I love poetry when my mother used it as a device to teach me good behavior. When I would indulge in snarky commentary about others when I was a child, she would look at me with an unsmiling face, raise her hands to her sides and quote Portia from The Merchant of Venice.
The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
Okay then, enough nastiness out of me. I wasn’t certain what it meant until I was older, but trust me I remembered those words.
My love of poetry has a practical application as well. Lines come to when when they’re most needed. When contemplating retiring, the poetry of the Bible gave me pause for thought.
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heavens. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
All those Sundays at church as a child finally paid off. I decided that indeed there is a season and a purpose. I retired.
My love of poetry also stems from its timelessness.
Contemporary poets or those whose dates we cannot be sure of all hold in common human emotion and responses: love, passion, sorrow, appreciation, humor. The list could go on and on.
The musical quality of poetry, its tempo brings laughter and smiles to children’s faces. They have no idea why they love the same poetic ditties their parents love, they simply do. I say its a natural human reaction to the flow and beat of the language.
Poetry speaks to me in emotional shorthand. Give me some Billy Collins or Edgar A. Poe. It’s not about who’s famous, it’s about human response to timeless words, the music of my life.