April 28, 2011

National Poetry Month. Oops.


I had such plans for this month.  And of course I got distracted, because that’s what I always do, get distracted.

But it’s not quite May yet.  So I thought I’d hastily shove a few favourite poems at you.

                Every now and then I am reminded that my formal education was not a total loss.  I first met Theodore Roethke in school.  Probably The Waking:  http://gawow.com/roethke/poems/104.html which I also love–and everyone knows ‘I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow . . . I learn by going where I have to go.’  It’s a poem to live by.  I try to live by it.  Some days it’s easier than other days.*  And My Papa’s Waltz http://gawow.com/roethke/poems/43.html was in one of the dumber anthologies I suffered through in high school, from whose pages it shown like a star.

                  But it’s Elegy for Jane that absolutely blew me away.  And where did I see it for the first time?  Sitting my Advanced Placement English test my senior year of high school, so I could escape Remedial Lit 101 in college.  Imagine, if you will, sitting in a classroom at a non-standard day and time with a few other sweating hopefuls, opening your test booklets to see what you were going to have to read and comprehend sufficiently to write a coherent, judge-impressing-in-the-right-way essay on.  And here was this perfectly amazing poem.  I have always been a visceral reader, and for all my tendency to run on and on** I tend to go blank and speechless when I’m moved.  Words flow in later.  I have no idea what I wrote in this case, but whatever it was it got me out of Lit 101, for which I owe it (and Roethke) a major debt of gratitude. 

Theodore Roethke 

Elegy for Jane
(My student, thrown by a horse) 

I remember the neckcurls, limp and damp as tendrils;
And her quick look, a sidelong pickerel smile;
And how, once startled into talk, the light syllables leaped for her,
And she balanced in the delight of her thought,

A wren, happy, tail into the wind,
Her song trembling the twigs and small branches.
The shade sang with her;
The leaves, their whispers turned to kissing,
And the mould sang in the bleached valleys under the rose.

Oh, when she was sad, she cast herself down into such a pure depth,
Even a father could not find her:
Scraping her cheek against straw,
Stirring the clearest water.

My sparrow, you are not here,
Waiting like a fern, making a spiney shadow.
The sides of wet stones cannot console me,
Nor the moss, wound with the last light.

If only I could nudge you from this sleep,
My maimed darling, my skittery pigeon.
Over this damp grave I speak the words of my love:
I, with no rights in this matter,
Neither father nor lover.

 * * *

* The ‘waking slow’ part I have down really well. 

** Ahem.


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