I have the Poetry Foundation‘s Daily Poem brought into my feedreader every day. There’s a number of things I like about this, the most obvious being that it delivers a fresh new poem to me every day that more often than not I really like and enjoy. Another feature I like is that I can save my favourite poems – I’ll just log in with my e-mail and I can save every poem I want to keep. And even though I have a lot of them saved by now, I still know exactly which one’s which and what I felt with each one and so on.
So this morning when I read the title of the Daily Poem in my feedreader my heart gave a glad little skip and I could smell the salty tang of the ocean and the harbour, hear the voices of a city waking up, could feel the exhilarated tiredness, the itching eyes, the smiles tugging at the corners of the mouth through the yawns, the glad-eyed blinking in the sunlight after a night talked through with a friend. I just love poetry for being able to make me feel all that! The poem was one that I’d saved as a favourite some time ago and reading it again was like meeting an old friend. I really like it and here it is, just for you:
BY EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY
A friend’s status on facebook, quoting Walt Whitman, reminded me to go back to my old copy of ‘Leaves of Grass’ and thumb through it. As usual, I ended up reading ‘Song of the Open Road’, which is something of a personal hymn. Who couldn’t be enchanted by a beginning like this?
Afoot and light-hearted, I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.
And then, later on, my favourite part of that poem:
From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines,
Going where I list, my own master total and absolute,
Listening to others, considering well what they say,
Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,
Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.
So yes, Whitman is a bit wordy. And yes, sometimes that can deter from what he has to say, and sometimes it’s plain annoying. And then, just when I’m about to put down the book, I’m caught by the rhythm of the repetition – I get a shiver down the spine from the honest, straight-forward love of humankind that flows from his writing – I stumble across a single, little gem hidden inside the repetitions and the big words
I am larger, better than I thought,
I did not know I held so much goodness.
I and mine do not convince by arguments, similes, rhymes,
We convince by our presence.
– and I forgive the repetitions, the overflow of words, and am left only with a sense of grandeur and gratitude. Grandeur in the small things, in small ideas, in small people. Gratitude that there are people like Whitman who was able to see that grandeur, and love it, and express it.
This is an awesomeness-appreciation post. Today, I’m appreciating Dylan Thomas all over again.
To begin at the beginning:
It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters’-and-rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea.
The first sentence. The very first time I read it, years ago, I was irrevocably hooked. It goes on to describe how the whole town is sleeping, and I love every single word, but the part that I love especially, apart from that first sentence, is this:
Young girls lie bedded soft or glide in their dreams, with rings and trousseaux, bridesmaided by glow-worms down the aisles of the organplaying wood. The boys are dreaming wicked or of the bucking ranches of the night and the jollyrodgered sea. And the anthracite statues of the horses sleep in the fields, and the cows in the byres, and the dogs in the wetnosed yards; and the cats nap in the slant corners or lope sly, streaking and needling, on the one cloud of the roofs.
Is there anything more effortlessly vivid, more neatly expressive, more beautifully evocative than that?!? Somehow it’s the ‘anthracite statues of the horses’ that always send a chill down my spine. If you’ve never read Under Milk Wood, you’ve missed out. Go and get it. Even better, listen to it. It’s a radio play, after all.
Which reminds me… You can hear Dylan Thomas read it himself: