Thursday, March 26, 2009

Poet Laureate

I wouldn't call myself a fan of poetry. I literally read books full of it in college, but mostly because it was assigned. I remember that the US poet laureate of the late 90s, Robert Pinsky, visited Eureka College and because I was one of about the six English literature majors and good friends with the head of the English department, I got to have lunch with him. He was v. hip, as I suspect this is a prerequisite for anyone who pens poetry for a living. I saw this article about the new poet laureate, Kay Ryan, which was strange timing because I had been reading poetry between novels and plays lately. It was also strange to find that Pinsky is actually the editor of the poetry section at Slate magazine.

I really like this Ryan poem (it's in the article):

You will cast aside
something you cherish
when the tailors whisper,
"Only you could wear this."
It is almost never clothes
such as the emperor bought
but it is always something close
to something you've got.


If you are interested in more of her stuff, you can do a quick Google search and get plenty of results. Anyway, reading poetry again is all about revisiting items I've forgotten about. One of the bigger endeavors of the last couple months was tackling Lycidas again in all its complexities. To be honest, I still don't understand the damn thing. But there have been nuggets I've found and really enjoyed. Carl Sandburg, who I always thought was poetry's answer to Hemingway, made me appreciate the workingman again and I always loved Langston Hughes and found some stuff I never read by him. It's something to pass the time though I will never be a huge poetry fan and well over half the time I have no idea what I'm reading. My tastes lean toward politically or socially charged poetry but I also hadn't read this Tennyson poem, Ulysses, since college and it reminded me that I also enjoy reminding myself "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield". Yes, it's v. hip.

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoy'd
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breathe were life. Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge, like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle--
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port: the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd and wrought, and thought with me--
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads--you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

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