I wanted to be a poet.
Some of my earliest memories are of my father reading to us from his collection of books. Verses, humorous and nonsensical, rhythmic and livening, melodic and moving. A lot of them were “moral verses” that poured lessons and inspiration into our young ears. Love. Bravery. Faith. Perseverance. Wonderment. And fun.
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night
Sailed off in a wooden shoe,—
Sailed on a river of crystal light
Into a sea of dew.
“Where are you going, and what do you wish?”
The old moon asked the three.
“We have come to fish for the herring-fish
That live in this beautiful sea.”
The light stuff prepared us for the more serious journeys later.
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
Verses that rhymed and marched along to meter were going out of style long before I was taught to appreciate the stuff, with the result that my interest in modern poetry has been minimal at best; but I encountered 20th Century gems in the oddest places. Like fantasy literature.
Through Rohan over fen and field where the long grass grows
The West Wind comes walking, and about the walls it goes.
“What news from the West, O wandering wind, do you bring to me tonight?
Have you seen Boromir the Tall by moon or by starlight?”
“I saw him ride over seven streams, over waters wide and grey.
I saw him walk in empty lands until he passed away
Into the shadows of the North, I saw him then no more.
The North Wind may have heard the horn of the son of Denethor.”
“O Boromir! From the high walls westward I looked afar
But you came not from the empty lands where no men are.”
(Note: I loved the Lord of the Rings movies, and the absence of even a few lines of the Lament of Boromir was one of my few true disappointments.)
I forgive Rudyard Kipling a lot because he created not just memorable and real characters but stirring verse. For one of the funniest poems of all time, I dare you to read A Code of Morals (but before you do, learn about how the British military used heliographs for signaling). MacDonough’s Song gets deadly serious, and The American Rebellion gets very thoughtful about war.
The snow lies thick on Valley Forge,
The ice on the Delaware,
But the poor dead soldiers of King George
They neither know nor care.
Not though the earliest primrose break
On the sunny side of the lane,
And scuffling rookeries awake
Their England’ s spring again.
They will not stir when the drifts are gone,
Or the ice melts out of the bay:
And the men that served with Washington
Lie all as still as they.
They will not stir though the mayflower blows
In the moist dark woods of pine,
And every rock-strewn pasture shows
Mullein and columbine.
Each for his land, in a fair fight,
Encountered, strove, and died,
And the kindly earth that knows no spite
Covers them side by side.
Do I get too serious? Fact: I rarely am for that long.
Jenny kiss’d me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in!
Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,
Say that health and wealth have miss’d me,
Say I’m growing old, but add,
Jenny kiss’d me.
From here I could drift into some choice Shakespeare or Lewis Carroll, but I won’t. I wrote a few verses of my own back in high school and college, none of them good, most of them forgotten. In the Wearing the Cape books I not only can’t seem to refrain from dropping a few verses in as chapter-headers or references, I’ve even snuck some verses of my own in as in-setting lyrics and poetry.
Because I love beautiful words.
So, favorites? Does anyone have similar tastes? Or find their poetry elsewhere? (I’ll admit some song lyrics approach the beauty of poetry–some are poetry.) I’ll even read good blank verse. If it’s good.
18 thoughts on “I Need Beautiful Words”
My favorite poet is T. S. Eliot, and my favorite poems by him are Four Quartets. There are sections of clunk in there, but at its best, they are breathtakingly beautiful.
And, of course, Shakespeare’s sonnets are masterful – my favorite being 130, with the magnificent twist in the final couplet.
You won’t get argument from me about either of those two, though to be honest to me most sonnets tend to drag. My favorite is probably Sonnet 29.
And there’s Choruses from the Rock.
Shakespeare’s Sonnets are also cool
Choruses from the Rock is rewarding, but HARD WORK. Sort of like The Hound of Heaven.
“Still with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
Came on the following Feet,
And a Voice above their beat—
‘Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me.’”
“Stone and sea are deep in life,
Two unalterable symbols of the world.
Permanence at rest,
And permanence in motion,
Participants in the power that remains.”
― Stephen R. Donaldson
Not what I consider poetry except in the central image you can conjure from it–an upward thrusting rock standing alone in the waves of the sea (but again as I mentioned my tastes incline to rhyme and meter). Thanks for sharing!
Beautiful words? Virtually anything by Pablo Neruda – even translated from the Spanish, they are exquisite. Then a personal favorite of mine is Walt Whitman – Song of Myself is amazing!
“An odor stayed on in the canefields;
Carrion, blood, and a nausea
Of harrowing petals.
Between the coconut palms lay the graves, in their stilled
Strangulation, their festering surfeit of bones.”
As to unusual places to find poetry, I was first introduced to Shelley’s Ozymandias at the end of an Avengers comic by Roy Thomas. A kid found Ultron’s “shattered visage” in a vacant lot and tossed it aside as he walked away. And to this day I can’t hear “Dust in the Wind” without thinking of that poem.
And Peter David used I Must Go Down to the Sea when he did his very sentimental “Death of Captain Kirk” story during his Star Trek run. Fit the mood perfectly.
“Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
Yup, echoes of an ego so big it never failed to bring to mind echoes of Jadis, Queen of Charn.
I’ve fallen off poetry recently, just got so much going on. But I did do “A Year of Poetry” on my blog a few years ago, and pulled a lot of things from various sources.
For fun and silly, I’ve got to say Shel Silverstein usually gets a laugh out of me. For more serious stuff, I’ve always been a fan of William Blake. Slow and philosophical? Robert Frost, not always, he’s got some energetic ones, but a lot of them are slower.
Wow, the more I think the more I write. Walt Whitman? Emily Dickinson? Diane Di Prima (love the stuff about the Loba)
Love me some Robert Frost.
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold.
I endorse whole-heartedly your embrace of Kipling. I found excuses to use some of his works whole-cloth in scientific academic presentations. Recessional is my favorite. Barrack-Room Ballads is always good to just flip through and strike gold on almost any page.
Here’s two others to share:
Forst, I think WW1 cranked out more poetry and poetic writings per capita than any other war. My personal favorite from that conflict is W.B. Yeats’
“An Irish Airman Foresees His Death”
I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.
Secondly, I’ll close with Robert Louis Stevenson’s
Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
Both good, and I wasn’t familiar with the Yeats poem so thank you. It borders on the maudlin, but that’s no defect; maudlin has its proper moment too.
Yesterday was May 25th, Memorial Day. Because of Jennifer Crusie (her blog is Argh Ink), I spent a fair chunk with a sprig of lilac in my button hole, remembering Sir Terry Pratchett and Night Watch. I even Googled for the song they sang at the barricades, All the Little Angels. Not great poetry. Just good enough.
Ah, Terry. Deeply missed.
For Beautiful Words I have always gone to James Dickey’s (Yes, that James Dickey) The Heaven of Animals:
Here they are. The soft eyes open.
If they have lived in a wood
It is a wood.
If they have lived on plains
It is grass rolling
Under their feet forever.
Having no souls, they have come,
Anyway, beyond their knowing.
Their instincts wholly bloom
And they rise.
The soft eyes open.
To match them, the landscape flowers,
Outdoing what is required:
The richest wood,
The deepest field.
For some of these,
It could not be the place
It is, without blood.
These hunt, as they have done,
But with claws and teeth grown perfect,
More deadly than they can believe.
They stalk more silently,
And crouch on the limbs of trees,
And their descent
Upon the bright backs of their prey
May take years
In a sovereign floating of joy.
And those that are hunted
Know this as their life,
Their reward: to walk
Under such trees in full knowledge
Of what is in glory above them,
And to feel no fear,
But acceptance, compliance.
Fulfilling themselves without pain
At the cycle’s center,
They tremble, they walk
Under the tree,
They fall, they are torn,
They rise, they walk again.