Saturday, July 24, 2004

We Should Read More Poetry

I know, I'm a physicist (or a wannbe), and physicists with blogs are supposed to do the popular science thing. Probably I will. I sieze on the least excuse to explain at innocent victims, almost every day. I still have hopes of writing popularizations for print, and maybe better textbooks than the ones I've used.

But before I was a physicist, I was an open-mic-night, high school literary magazine, poetry geek.

I'm not particularly good at writing it, though there are a couple attempts I'm not ashamed of. And I think there's a lot to be said for mediocre poetry, actually. You can't really go wrong, trying to make your language more beautiful, your metaphors more powerful. Any attempt at poetry is better than no attempt.

But it's even more important to read it. I still worry that I'll grow out of reading poetry someday, and then I won't be myself at all anymore. I've made great efforts to change my identity, to become an adult, but I don't want to betray the child that I was. I still want to someone I would've identified with, admired, when I was ten years old. It's important that I still take pleasure in words.

So I'm going to steal an idea from Jaquandor and post a poem, for the good of all our souls, when I think I need an entry. And maybe I'll have something to say about it, or maybe I'll just let it speak for itself. You'll probably be able to figure out my taste in verse from the selections themselves.

So here's the first...

A Portrait

Old: yet unchanged -- still pottering in his thoughts;
Still eagerly enslaved by books and print;
Less plagued, perhaps, by rigid musts and oughts,
But no less frantic in vain argument;

Still happy as a child, with its small toys,
Over his inkpot and his bits and pieces--
Life's arduous, fragile, and ingenuous joys,
Whose charm failed never -- nay it even increases!

Ev'n happier in watch of bird or flower,
Rainbow in heaven, or bud on thorny spray,
A star-strewn nightfall, and that heart-break hour
Of sleep-drowsed senses between dawn and day;

Loving the light-laved eyes in those wild hues!
And dryad twilight, and the thronging dark;
A Crusoe ravished by mere solitude--
And silence -- edged with music's faintest Hark!

And any chance-seen face whose loveliness
Hovers, a mystery, between dream and real;
Things usual yet miraculous that bless
And overwell a heart that still can feel;

Haunted by questions no man answered yet;
Pining to leap from A clean to Z;
Absorbed by problems which the wise forget;
Avid for fantasy -- yet how staid a head!

Senses at daggers with his intellect;
Quick, stupid; vain, retiring; ardent, cold;
Faithful and fickle; rash and circumspect;
And never yet at rest in any fold;

Punctual at meals; a spendthrift, close as Scot;
Rebellious, tractable, childish -- long gone grey!
Impatient, volatile, tongue wearying not --
Loose, too; which yet, thank heaven, was taught to pray;

'Childish' indeed! a waif on shingle shelf
Fronting the rippled sands, the sun, the sea;
And nought but his marooned precarious self
For questing consciousness and will-to-be;

A feeble venturer -- in a world so wide!
So rich in action, daring, cunning, strife!
You'd think, poor soul, he had taken Sloth for bride,
Unless the imagined is the breath of life;

Unless to speculate bring virgin gold,
And Let's-pretend can range the seven seas,
And dreams are not mere tales by idiots told,
And tongueless truth may hide in fantasies;

Unless the alone may their own company find,
And churchyards harbour phantoms 'mid their bones,
And even a daisy may suffice a mind
Whose bindweed can redeem a heap of stones;

Too frail a basket for so many eggs--
Loose-woven: Gosling? cygnet? Laugh or weep?
Or is the cup at richest in its dregs?
The actual realest on the verge of sleep?

One yet how often the prey of doubt and fear,
Of bleak despondence, stark anxiety;
Ardent for what is neither now nor here,
An Orpheus fainting for Eurydice;

Not yet inert, but with a tortured breast
At hint of that bleak gulf -- his last farewell
Pining for peace, assurance, pause, and rest,
Yet slave to what he loves past words to tell;

A foolish, fond old man, his bed-time nigh,
Who still at western window stays to win
A transient respite from the latening sky,
And scarce can bear it when the Sun goes in.

-Walter de la Mare


Andy Nelson said...


I like this, and I think I should steal the idea you stole from Jaquandor. Speakmuse should have a blog where we collectively post a poem a day. This would not only give a definition to group membership (you're "really" in Speakmuse when you are assigned a day to post on the blog), but expose us to a broader audience (*anyone* could use a poem a day). Let me know what you think.

Mary said...

Um... Wait, what's Speakmuse again? It's the thing I was saying was such a great idea because it reminded me of the Midnight Beatnik Society, right? I'd nearly forgotten... Sure. Why not a blog?

By the way, I intend to title a post "Clandestine Bathroom Poetry Society" as soon as I can come up with an excuse for it. Is it still clandestine, or am I allowed to talk about it?