One of my favorites? Matthew Arnold, the great Victoria poet best known for his work On Dover Beach. My always-go-back-to pick from Arnold, however, is The Buried Life. An excerpt:
Only—but this is rare—
When a belovèd hand is laid in ours,
When, jaded with the rush and glare
Of the interminable hours,
Our eyes can in another's eyes read clear,
When our world-deafen'd ear
Is by the tones of a loved voice caress'd—
A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast,
And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again.
The eye sinks inward, and the heart lies plain,
And what we mean, we say, and what we would, we know.
A man becomes aware of his life's flow,
And hears its winding murmur; and he sees
The meadows where it glides, the sun, the breeze.
What poems speak to you, my sister Reds?
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yay, Julia! I love poetry day. I can't even read this one without crying.
by C. P. Cavafy
As you set out for Ithaca
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.
Keep Ithaca always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.
Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithacas mean.
JULIA: Hank, they read that poem at my graduation from Ithaca College. Since then, it's held a special place in my heart!
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: I'm in London doing research now (and thus thinking of war, murder, and mayhem), so my thoughts have turned to T.S. Eliot:
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying “Stetson!
You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!
That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,
Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again!
You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!”
LUCY BURDETTE: I don't have many poems memorized but here are two snatches that do circulate in my brain, the first from Longfellow's The Blacksmith:
UNDER a spreading chestnut tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.
And this one by Paul Verlaine:
Il pleure dans mon coeur
Comme il pleut sur la ville.
Quelle est cette langueur
Qui pénêtre mon coeur ?
(It rains in my heart like it rains on the village. What is this sadness that penetrates my heart?)
The first one my father loved. The second, I love to hear John recite:)
JULIA: I had to memorize the Longfellow poem at some point in school! I remember we would say, "The smith, a mighty man is he, with arms like rubber bands." It was perhaps funnier to ten year olds...
HALLIE EPHRON: One of my favorite poems is short, but it says it all about why I write.
Homo Faber by Frank Bidart
Whatever lies still uncarried from the abyss within
me as I die dies with me.
Heavy. I know.
I can also recite the entire first book of Madeleine (In an old house in Paris all covered with vines...) as well as Dr. Seuss's Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? (Mr. Brown is a wonder He makes thunder He makes lightning ZAP ZAP ZAP And it's very very hard to make a noise like that....)
RHYS BOWEN: We had to memorize so many poems in school. I think I can still recite the whole of the Forsaken Merman, probably the Ancient Mariner and lots of Shakespeare.
But my definite favorite: The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, since it sums up my life's journey so well. I can identify three or four "road not taken" moments that would have made all the difference.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And feeling I could not travel both and be one traveler
Long I stood and looked down one as far as I could
Till they diverged in the undergrowth
Then took the other, just as fair and having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear
Though as to that the passing there had left them almost about the same
And both that morning equally lay in leaves no step had trodden black
I left the first for another day, though knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence
Two roads diverged in the wood and I,
I took the one less traveled by
AND THAT HAS MADE ALL THE DIFFERENCE.
And I once visited Robert Frost's farm in New Hampshire and did the poetry walk through his land. Poems were tacked up on trees where they had been written... the woodpile, the woods at sunset etc. My friends and I took turns to read them aloud and got chills.
JULIA: How about you, dear readers? What are the poems that mean much to you? Share them with us in the comments!