There’s more than one way to satisfy the need to see mankind’s highest and best aspirations, but one way that I most enjoy has been reading and studying poetry.  Over the last two weeks, I’ve been looking at it pretty steadily, with definite purpose.  In the process, I feel happier and rested– almost a vacation from the mundane.

For decades, I’ve always have a blank book dedicated to collected-by-me poems I liked.  Since I write them all out in longhand, some favorite-but-really-long poems never get included (T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, for instance).  No portable anthology could include every poem I like, anyway. 

The first of such books, which I have taken camping, on airline flights, on car-trips, to restaurants, coffee shops, the houses of strangers and families, the post office, etc, etc. has served me well.  That anthology has been taped, re-covered, glued, and all other methods of finite, ad-hoc conservation.  The poor book finally broke beyond repair–its glue, once yellow, then orange, is now brown, and the pages are flying out one by one.  As in the words of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73, this book is done for, except as a relic of happy life experiences. 

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang

Yes, with few leaves still attached in the old copy, I started a new one.  And I’m almost done: this time I decided upon a semi-alphabetical order, and I’ve finally got to Yeats.

The new book I have used is a more expensive type with hand-sewn signatures, so if I don’t douse it in a Wordsworthian brook or lose it in Szymborska’s lost-and-found, I should have it for decades.  Fortunately, though expensively-made, I found this new blank book on a close-out sale.  The real expense was in the time to fill it in: slightly over 400 pages, and I am on page 360-something.  My hand hurts, but that is nothing compared to the words I have been revelling in and ‘Marvelling’ over.

Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball:

The old book versus the new one invites comparisons.  Handwriting: most of the time, my handwriting has devolved into a scrawl, but in this book I’ve managed to contain the careless, sprawling jot-down and come up with something decent, if somewhat more pointed than before.  But so what: what’s really interesting is that so many of the poems I thought important before still seem important to me now.

Observation No. 1: Thank you, Mrs. Reese.
Again, I am forced to acknowledge that  the stuff they forced down my throat in grade-school and high-school English class about poetic tropes like alliteration and assonance are really true.  There is nothing like copying a poem in longhand to make you realize that the word-choices that poets make are really specific and deliberate, and that they help create the engine that drives the message, the feeling, the ecstatics of the art . . .

Observation No. 2: O! Innovators!
I am newly grateful to Thomas Wyatt for bringing the sonnet to the English Language.  Three hundred years later, Walt Whitman really opened up the sphere of poetry subject matter: love, death, age, yes; but new details and new approaches to these matters, a different diction.  Again taken up by Pound, and others post-World War I, in terms of subject matter . . . . and Pound also further globalized poetry in the English language.

Observation No. 3: Time changes everything, including tastes
Though I loved Wallace Stevens much the first time, I’m finding him limited and pretentious this time around.  Though many poets got more room in the new book, he received less.  Also receiving less room: Sylvia Plath, who seems more selfish (though still tormented) at my now older perspective. 

Observation No. 4: Those that wrote the best also failed completely
Even the best poet wrote howlers, including Shakespeare.  I found a sonnet (No. 50) in which his love is evinced by the way he maltreats his horse; and a couple of dreadful soap operas in Wordsworth.  I mention these two poets in particular because they were the ones, this time, that also made me drunk on their words.  Excellent, excellent works, and some, like Wordsworth’s “Lines Written at Tintern Abbey” I’ve never been able to read all the way through before, and now want in my hand forever. 

Observation No. 5: More greatness, an expanded world
Better-discovered: Gerald Stern, Siegfried Sassoon, Mr. Coleridge, Sir Wyatt, Jane Kenyon.  Newly-discovered: Wislawa Szymborska, Sir John Harrington, Martial.  Still awe-inspiring: Philip Larkin, John Keats, John Donne, Seamus Heaney, and so many others.

Yes, it’s true love: great poems that grow with one and sustain one.  The beloved ones.  Here’s just a little bit of Tintern Abbey.  If you can, read it aloud:

The mind that is within us, so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall e’er prevail against us, or disturb
Our cheerful faith, that all which we behold
Is full of blessings. Therefore let the moon
Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;
And let the misty mountain-winds be free
To blow against thee: and, in after years,
When these wild ecstasies shall be matured
Into a sober pleasure; when thy mind
Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,
Thy memory be as a dwelling-place
For all sweet sounds and harmonies; oh! then,
If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,
Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts
Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,
And these my exhortations!

Dear Mr. Wordsworth: indeed I will always remember thee.

Further reading:
Robert diYanni’s Glossary of Poetic Terms at McGraw-Hill

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