Let’s start with this:
Across the brimming fields I go
The road above, the clouds below
And all around, unfurl’d, the ground:
The only canopy I know.
What do you think? I wrote those four lines Monday morning, as I was getting ready for work. I don’t suppose it makes a lot of sense, but for some reason, I like it.
The scrap above, and the sonnet last week, are the first poetry I’ve written in ages. It feels good to be back. I used to write poems all the time, you know? The other day I was going through some of my old writing archives. A lot of my old poems are so bad I can’t stand to read them anymore, but a few are actually still pretty good. Makes me want to do more of it.
But then, I’ve had poems on the brain lately. I finally started reading The Top 500 Poems, an anthology edited by William Harmon. The poems are arranged in chronological order, and I love that, because it’s like getting a guided tour of the English language. You start around 1300 with “Cuckoo Song,” which is Middle English and barely readable without a translation; but the poems get more readable very quickly, and soon you’re reading Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, and a host of other poets whose names you’ve never heard of, all the way up to the current day. Right now I’m in the 1600s with John Dryden.
Poems are a strange thing. I’ll read four or five poems in a row that do nothing for me at all, then I’ll stumble across one that makes me think Yeah, this is why I love poetry. Often it’s not even a whole poem, just a few lines. This is from the anonymous “Tom o’ Bedlam’s Song”:
I know more than Apollo,
For oft when he lies sleeping
I see the stars at bloody wars
In the wounded welkin weeping.
(I had to look up “welkin.” It’s an old word for “sky.”)
Poems hit everyone differently, and maybe those lines do nothing for you. But for me – wow, a hand reaches into my chest and plays my soul like a harp. That sounds a little goofy, but it’s just the best way I can think to describe it. I read those lines over and over. There’s just something about them, you know?
Or how about this one, which despite its brevity is not a poem fragment, but a complete poem:
Western wind, when wilt thou blow?
The small rain down can rain.
Christ, that my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again.
The words are so simple, but to me, the poem seems to encompass a lifetime of sorrow.
In my opinion, this is the purpose of poetry: those brief, transcendent moments when the poet reaches across the miles and the centuries and grabs you, shakes you a little, says Wake up, there’s beauty in the world. That’s what I love. That’s what I want to get back to.
Maybe I’ll write a few more soon. I still owe my wife a poem I promised her a while back.
If you know any poems that reach out and grab you, please tell me about them in the comments!