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.
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.
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