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Posts Tagged ‘Wordsworth’

poetry books

Recently, Alyssa tweeted about having “a personal canon of poems” – a few lines or poems she depends upon to be “permanently in [her] head.” Of course, I immediately started thinking about my own essential poems – the ones that rise up to comfort me after a loss, or get me through a tough day.

I stumbled on most of them in college or thereabouts, studying them in classes or discovering them via friends. I’ve quoted some of them here during Poetry Fridays, but today I wanted to gather them up, like a bouquet of words, and share them all with you.

“The world is charged with the grandeur of God / It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.” I love Gerard Manley Hopkins’ words about “the dearest freshness deep down things.” In the face of deep and unrelenting darkness, the world is still heartbreakingly, powerfully lovely.

Since I came across it a few years ago, Wendell Berry’s “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” has been saving my life, line by line. I read it aloud from the pulpit in church this summer, and it was as good as any biblical exhortation.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.”

And a few lines down: “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.” (This is hard but so necessary.)

I am a lifelong bookworm, and I love Wordsworth’s “The Tables Turned” because it pushes me to get out of my head and into the beautiful world around me. The last lines are my favorites: “Come forth and bring with you a heart / That watches and receives.”

Marie Howe’s poem “What the Living Do” stopped me in my tracks the first time I read it, on Sarah’s blog. I later read it aloud to a roomful of college freshmen one Sept. 11, as a way of paying tribute to those who died. The last lines still choke me up: “I am living. I remember you.”

I first encountered W.S. Merwin’s “Thanks” as the epigraph to Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies. It speaks powerfully to the beauty and the difficulty of life, and the continued impetus to keep saying thank you.

Mark Strand’s poem “The Coming of Light,” discovered years ago in a rickety cabin at a camp tucked deep in the hills of northern New Mexico, always reminds me how magic lives in the everyday.

“My work is loving the world.” Mary Oliver’s “Messenger” reminds me of this again and again.

These poems have worked on me in different ways through the years. Sometimes they comfort me; sometimes they wake me up, through rhyme and rambling meter and startling images. But they all do what Seamus Heaney talks about in the last line of his wonderful poem “Postscript“: they “catch the heart off guard and blow it open.”

What poems have made it into your personal canon? I’d love to hear.

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boston public garden pink tulips

The Tables Turned (An Evening Scene on the Same Subject)

(A response to “Expostulation and Reply.”)

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you’ll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?

The sun, above the mountain’s head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.

Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There’s more of wisdom in it.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless—
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:–
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

uni parks

This is my favorite Wordsworth poem, especially at this time of year, when the budding trees and plants are begging for “a heart that watches and receives.” I love books, probably more than the next person, but I believe there is a time to set them aside and soak up the loveliness and wisdom of nature. (Though it’s turned chilly again in Boston, and I am hoping for more warm weather soon.)

Also, this poem fits perfectly with my word for the yearattention.

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Recently, I had one of those can’t-put-my-finger-on-it moments, the kind where you think of a line of a song or (in this case) a snippet of poetry, and cannot remember where it came from. I was pretty sure this line – “Come forth, and bring with you a heart that watches and receives” – was from Wordsworth, and thanks to the magic of Google, I searched for it and had the whole poem in front of me in short order.

This made me think three things:

  1. Google is so convenient, and in a sense, it eliminates the need for those bulky anthologies I carted around in college.
  2. I don’t think I own any Wordsworth in hard copy (to my shame, because I really do like him).
  3. Why don’t we, as a culture, memorize poetry any more?

I know, I know – after graduating college, it seems a bit arcane to commit lines of poetry, or mathematical formulas, or anything else on flash cards, to memory – unless those things are part of your day job, in which case you probably don’t need said flash cards. We’re so used to having all the info we need (well, a lot more than we’ll ever need, really) at our fingertips. Even before the advent of the Internet, libraries largely replaced the need for people to carry all their knowledge in their brains.

But I rather like the idea of having a store of poetry tucked away in my mind, words to carry with me and pull out when I need them, even if Google is usually just a few clicks away. (This probably has its roots in the many Bible verses I had to memorize as a child – some of which, I’m happy to report, are still imprinted on my heart in adulthood.)

So I printed out the poem (and made plans to buy some Wordsworth in hard copy, stat), and have spent the past week memorizing it. And now (I hope) I’ve added it to the storehouse of words in my memory, to be called up and ruminated over when I need a lift or some encouragement. And I like the idea so much I’m going to try memorizing one poem a month, at least for now. Up next (called to mind by Sarah’s post the other day) is “Desiderata.”

Do you memorize poetry (or anything besides the million passwords required for life these days), or is it just me?

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Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie
One of Dame Agatha’s most famous, of course – and the first mystery I’d read featuring Hercule Poirot, the little Belgian with the curled moustaches and the sharp brain. Quite an ingenious solution to a seemingly impossible murder story. (And quite amazing how Poirot always knows – or guesses – when people are lying to him.)

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick
A truly extraordinary novel in words and pictures – part graphic novel, part children’s book. Beautifully written, and set in my beloved Paris (though Hugo’s Paris is quite different than mine). My favorite lines: “You know, machines never have any extra parts. They have the exact number and type of parts they need. So I figure if the entire world is a big machine, I have to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason, too.”

Maine, J. Courtney Sullivan
I’d head a lot of buzz about this book – it was a big summer hit, and an online kerfuffle about its cover image resulted in a sweet love story. But I didn’t finish it. I wanted to like the Kelleher women, and I wanted to care whether they all could stop griping and just enjoy each other’s company for once, but I found them all rather irritating – and found their dislike of each other unutterably sad.

Essays of E.B. White, E.B. White
I am a longtime fan of White’s children’s books (who doesn’t love Charlotte, Wilbur, Stuart and Louis?), but hadn’t read many of his essays before. I loved every one of these gems, though – White writes with humor, wisdom and a keen observer’s eye about American life in the middle of the last century. I particularly loved his paean to New York and his musings on farm life in Maine.

The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food, Judith Jones
I knew Jones only as the editor who championed Julia Child – and came up with the title for Mastering the Art of French Cooking. But in this lovely, lyrical memoir, I discovered a woman brave enough to move to Paris and carve out a life for herself – and fearless enough to try any food once. I loved reading about her relationship with her husband, Evan, and her connections to so many culinary giants – Julia, James Beard, Marion Cunningham and many more.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsburg
A childhood favorite (read to me in sixth grade) and bought at the Strand during my weekend in New York with Allison. I read it on the bus ride home for the first time in 16 years, enjoying it even more because I’ve been to the Met now. (And appreciating some nuances of the story I didn’t quite catch as a 12-year-old. This is the magic of rereading.)

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, Trenton Lee Stewart
Fast-paced, compelling and often very funny – this is the second installment in Stewart’s series about the adventures of four unusually bright, quirky children. (A bit like Harry Potter, but lighter, and with logic and puzzles instead of magic.) I enjoyed it, and can’t wait to read the third.

Freud’s Couch, Scott’s Buttocks, Bronte’s Grave, Simon Goldhill
A wryly funny, deeply thoughtful meditation on literary pilgrimage – Goldhill visits five writers’ houses-turned-museums, wondering what compels us to make the trek to Wordsworth’s cottage and Bronte’s moors (among other locales). He’s a bit of a skeptic, so he skewers the myth of the literary pilgrimage rather than having any great epiphanies himself – but the journey is highly entertaining and thought-provoking. (To review for the Shelf.)

Heist Society, Ally Carter
I love Carter’s Gallagher Girls series (about teenage spies-in-training), and thoroughly enjoyed this story about a 15-year-old art thief, who plans a heist with a bunch of her friends to save her father’s neck (he’s also an art thief). Fast-paced, witty and full of fun characters (including a handsome love interest). I’m looking forward to reading the sequel.

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