Old Poems, Old Lines, Old Memories

In high school and college, our English/Literature professors included a lot of poetry. When I come across some of the best poems in the canon–The Waste Land, Leaves of Grass–I admire them today even though my favorite lines come from a smattering of other work.

Sara Teasdale | Walk of FameI’m aware that Pulitzer Prize winning poet Sara Teasdale (1884-1933) was once popular and now appears unknown or ignored. Nonetheless, I’ve never forgotten “The Coin”:

Into my heart’s treasury
I slipped a coin
That time cannot take
Nor a thief purloin,
Oh better than the minting
Of a gold-crowned king
Is the safe-kept memory
Of a lovely thing.

I’m not sure how the powers that be rate Poe’s poetry today. Yet the first stanza of his “To Helen” sticks in my mind as one of the best stanzas I’ve read, especially the last two lines:

Helen, thy beauty is to me
   Like those Nicéan barks of yore,
That gently, o’er a perfumed sea,
   The weary, way-worn wanderer bore
   To his own native shore.
 
New Directions Publishing | Dylan ThomasMy favorite poem is “Fern Hill” written by Dylan Thomas in 1945:
 
Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
     The night above the dingle starry,
          Time let me hail and climb
     Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
          Trail with daisies and barley
     Down the rivers of the windfall light.
 
This and the following verses are wonders and, perhaps a cautionary commentary on the paths our lives take. I identify quite strongly with this poem. Perhaps more peolple are familiar with his “Do not go gentle into that good night.” My generation more or less memorized it and saw it as dogma as age approached. Here are the first two verses:
 
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
 
Like many who were in high school and college in the 1960s, I liked RodMcKuen’s bestselling poems. They seem dated now, but there was a time when everyone knew every word. As  we said then, his poem’s were a happening, fresh and new, as in “Listen to the Warm”:
 
I was rich in those days, for a week I had everything.
I wish I’d known you then.”
 
Joy Harjo | Poetry FoundationNow, I think, my tastes run more toward the work of poet and sax player Joy Harjo, as in “She Had Some Horses”:
 
She had some horses.
She had horses who were bodies of sand.
She had horses who were maps drawn of blood.
She had horses who were skins of ocean water.
She had horses who were the blue air of sky.
She had horses who were fur and teeth.
She had horses who were clay and would break
 
What about you? Do you find yourself thinking–seemingly without foundation–of bits and pieces of poems you studied in school” They bring comfort to me like old songs.
 
 
Some have said that bits and pieces of my work are somewhat lyrical. Yes they are. Poetry’s influence is always in the background.