Monday, September 7, 2009

Poems to Remember

Do you memorize poetry? Did you have to in school? Do you still read poetry? Is there any poetry that you can recite by heart? I read this great post the other day at I Will and it inspired me to think about my own love of poetry.

I used to read and memorize a lot of poetry, just for the sheer fun of it. I was particularly fond of 20th century American poets like Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Frost. In my 20s, I read contemporary voices like Lyn Lifshin, Frank Bidart, and Ronald Wallace. And I love the British classics like Shelley and Wordsworth and Tennyson. Americans Dickinson and Poe. Travel introduced me to French masters Jacques Prevert and Paul Eluard and Irish poets Eavan Boland and Brendan Kennelly. These days I like to read Kim Addonizio and Ellen Steinbaum. And more.

So how much can I remember? Let's see. I'm probably going to make some mistakes but I'll do the best I can without cheating!

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
and sorry I could not travel both
and be one traveller, long I stood
and looked down one as far as I could
to where it bent in the undergrowth.
Then took the other, as just as fair,
and having perhaps the better claim
because it was grassy and wanted wear,
though as for that the passing there
had worn them really about the same.
And both that morning equally lay
in leaves no step had trodden black.
I saved the first for another day
yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted I should ever come back.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
and I, I took the one less traveled by
and that has made all the difference.

Nothing Gold Can Stay
Nature's first green is gold,
its hardest hue to hold.
Its early leaf's a flower
But only so an hour.

(I forget the rest!)

Indian Serenade, P. B. Shelley
I arise from dreams of thee
in the first sweet sleep of night
when the moon is hanging low
and the stars are shining bright.
I arise from dreams of thee
and a spirit in my feet
hath lead me- who knows how- to thy chamber window, sweet!

(that's all I remember!)

Daffodils, by W. Wordsworth
I wandered, lonely as a cloud,
that floats on high o'er vales and hills,
when all at once I saw a crowd- a host of golden daffodils
beside the lake, beneath the trees,
fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

(there's more- but that's all I remember.)

A little from Prévert-

Et la verre était vide
et la bouteille brisée
et le lit était grand ouvert
et la porte fermée

et toutes les étoiles de verre
du bonheur et de la beauté
resplendissaient dans la poussière
de la chambre mal balayée.

Et j'étais ivre mort,
et j'étais feu de joie,
et toi ivre vivante,
toute nue dans mes bras.

(that's all I got- please pardon any grammatical or spelling errors in the French- I am doing this from memory!)

When I was in my teens I memorized poetry as a hobby. Probably one of my all-time favorite individual poems was Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art," from her wonderful book Geography III. It's written in a French formal style called a villanelle, a 19-line-long poem with an interesting and echoing rhyming structure. It starts
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I wish I could still remember the rest!

What about you? What are your favorites? I used to really love reading (and writing) poetry and it's something I really miss. I need to make some kind of resolution about reading poetry more regularly and trying out new voices. Any suggestions?