Poetry is out of fashion these days. Nobody has time to muse about the feel of the wind on their face or write rhapsodic rhymes about a daffodil swaying in the tender spring air. Nonetheless, April is National Poetry Month.
I am glad to say that all poetry lovers have not yet departed this mortal coil. I have an Oxford Book of English Verse on my shelf as well as several other anthologies. It seems to me that we ought to still make room for poetic thoughts even in the age of Digital Doom.
There used to be an consensus among educators that every American student should know certain poems. Needless to say, those days are gone. Most of the Western canon of literature written by dead white guys has been jettisoned in favor of “literature” from places like the Coalition to Stop Bullying and Sexting in Schools. Such is the sad state of our culture. But even so, I read A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson to Emmy. Someone has to keep the candle lit for beautiful verse.
I personally still appreciate poetry, at least the kind that is comprehensible. Like this one, for example, by Longfellow, which actually describes the beauty of words fitly spoken on a rainy evening.
The Day is Done
The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of night
As a feather wafted downward
From an eagle in his flight.
I see the lights of the village
Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o’er me
That my soul cannot resist:
A feeling of sadness and longing,
That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
As the mist resembles the rain.
Come, read to me some poem,
Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
And banish the thoughts of the day.
Not from the grand old masters,
Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
Through the corridors of time.
For, like the strains of martial music,
Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life’s endless toil and endeavor;
And tonight I long for rest.
Read from the humbler poet,
Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
Or tears from the eyelids start;
Who, through long days of labor,
And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
Of wonderful melodies.
Such songs have power to quiet
The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
That follows after prayer.
Then read the treasured volume
The poem of my choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice.
And the night shall be filled with music,
And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.
I also like this poem by William Butler Yeats.
WHEN you are old and gray and full of sleep
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true;
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead,
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
And there’s this one.
Pictures Of Memory
by Alice Cary
Among the beautiful pictures
That hang on Memory’s wall,
Is one of a dim old forest,
That seemeth best of all:
Not for its gnarled oaks olden,
Dark with the mistletoe;
Not for the violets golden
That sprinkle the vale below;
Not for the milk-white lilies
That lean from the fragrant hedge,
Coqueting all day with the sunbeams,
And stealing their shining edge;
Not for the vines on the upland
Where the bright red berries be,
Nor the pinks, nor the pale, sweet cowslip,
It seemeth the best to me.
I once had a little brother,
With eyes that were dark and deep —
In the lap of that old dim forest
He lieth in peace asleep:
Light as the down of the thistle,
Free as the winds that blow,
We roved there the beautiful summers,
The summers of long ago;
But his feet on the hills grew weary,
And, one of the autumn eves,
I made for my little brother
A bed of the yellow leaves.
Sweetly his pale arms folded
My neck in a meek embrace,
As the light of immortal beauty
Silently covered his face:
And when the arrows of sunset
Lodged in the tree-tops bright,
He fell, in his saint-like beauty,
Asleep by the gates of light.
Therefore, of all the pictures
That hang on Memory’s wall,
The one of the old dim forest
Seemeth the best of all.
I also like this one by Robert Frost.
A Prayer in Spring
Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.
Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.
And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.
For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfill.
Someone once gave me a small booklet of some of the most popular poems. I page through it every once in a while. It was a lovely gift that I have treasured through the years and have shared with my children. In the ignorance and illiteracy of our present age, there is something wonderful about memorizing some of these beautiful poems that men and women labored over and gave to us. It’s almost a revolutionary thing to do, and you will find lines from poems striking you when you least expect it, a very satisfying thing.
So read a poem this month, or better yet, buy a small anthology of poems and give it to somebody. Dare them to read a few. Pass on the beauty.