How long has it been since you’ve read (lingered over) a poem? How long since you’ve shared one? Or (gasp!) written one? How long has it been since you embraced the rewarding work of committing a beautiful poem to memory? “Too long,” you think, in answer to all of the above…..and perhaps feel bereft of something necessary but inexplicable…..
Tomorrow can be a day to change all that and fill the void. Its National Poem In Your Pocket Day and Poets.org has everything you need to give the gift of poetry to yourself, your family, children, and friends.
The Gift of Poetry
I’ve written before about the great gift poetry can be, both as an expression of beauty and hope in this fragile world, as well as how it can assist in sharpening and refining the writer’s skill and ease with words. In a culture in which so much of our thinking and perception is reduced to ambiguous sound bytes and abbreviated made-up acronyms that barely resemble what they mean to suggest (l.o.l. — really?) poetry and the deep immersion in thought, emotion, and lived experience it reflects is, I would argue, crucial to our maintaining a sense of human dignity and reverence for language and the existence it signifies.
I was blessed to grow up surrounded by poetry and the written word. My grandparents saw to it that I had the best books to satisfy a burgeoning craving for literature that was evidenced from a very young age. And my grandfather, a skilled orator and lover of words with a poet’s heart, would regularly burst in dramatic recitations of Hamlet‘s soliloquies and speeches, Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade,” Poe’s “The Raven,” and any random bit by his beloved Robert Service. He held me in awe and taught me many lessons about life and language from these great pieces. And he gave me a great gift in that I remember what he shared even now. He took a serious interest in my early efforts to write and he read everything I scribbled with enthusiasm, always encouraging and giving me helpful feedback. Later, whether I was charged with choosing a poem to memorize and recite in front of my English class peers, learning to recite a scene from Shakespeare, or committing to memory and reciting Chaucer’s Prologue to the Canterbury Tales in perfect Middle English as a final for my university exams, my grandfather was there to coach me and help me see the beauty and truth in the task I’d been given. He always told me it was important to commit poems or bits of poetry to memory because that way you could carry them with you always and share them with others. Ever faithful, they’d be there when you needed them, proffering their gift of beauty immutably.
That is the beauty of National Poem In Your Pocket Day. What poem will you choose as a gift to yourself? What poem will you share?
So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years –
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l’entre deux guerres
Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate – but there is no competition –
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.
From section V, “East Coker,” in Four Quartets, by T.S. Eliot