Week Three of #PoetrySummer

It is not my intention to turn this blog into pure poetry memorization and nothing else, but look on the bright side: at least I’m posting something. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I tend to set such a high standard for my blog posts that more often than not I just don’t post anything because I know it won’t be world-changingly brilliant. But that’s a moot point during PoetrySummer because I can just post other people’s poems, and they ARE brilliant! Huzzah! So thank you ee cummings for writing my blog for me is I guess what I’m saying here.

Last week, as promised, I memorized cummings’ “I carry your heart,” and recited it to my loving wife, and she was suitably impressed. She didn’t have time to do Langston Hughes “Mother to Son” like she’d wanted, but she did do Emily Dickinson’s “Success Is Counted Sweetest,” so we’re both still on track. My daughter memorized A.A. Milne’s “Twinkletoes,” because she’s awesome.

This week I want to push myself a little harder, so I’m going to memorize “To Autumn” by John Keats. If I had to pick a favorite poet in the universe, it would be a very hard call between Keats and Emily Bronte, but in the end I’m pretty sure Keats would win. His facility with language and the richness of his imagery is just stunning. “To Autumn” is a great example, with three stanzas each focusing on a different sensory experience of Autumn: smell, sight, and sound. It’s a perfect confluence of form and purpose; every line, every word, every mechanical element is aimed directly at the evocation of a specific place and time and mood. Here’s the full poem:

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
    Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
    With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
    And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
        To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
    With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
        For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
    Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
    Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
    Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
        Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
    Steady thy laden head across a brook;
    Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
        Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of spring?  Ay, where are they?
    Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, –
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
    And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
    Among the river sallows, borne aloft
        Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
    Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
    The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
        And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

This is a good time to announce an upcoming sub-challenge within the larger umbrella of PoetrySummer. While Keats and Bronte may be my favorite poets, my favorite poem of all time is “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot. I even used it in the epigram of I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER. As this is also the favorite poem of my friend Brian, with whom I am doing this challenge, we decided to set a specific week and memorize the whole, gigantic poem together. That week is the first full week of July, ending on the 10th, and you are encouraged to join us; I’m letting you know now in case you want to get a headstart on the memorization, but don’t neglect your intervening poems if you do. “Prufrock” is not easy, to memorize or even to understand, but it’s gorgeous and brilliant and sad and incredibly powerful, and I feel like I learn something new from it every time I read it. I won’t reproduce the entire thing here, but you have Google; do yourself a favor and look it up.

6 Responses to “Week Three of #PoetrySummer”

  1. Rebecca Tayler says:

    “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is also my all time favorite poem. This isn’t the first time that I’ve found a jewel of literature, thought I was it’s only private devotee, and then found out that everyone loves it.

    There is even a MOVIE from the poem with Helena Bonham Carter and Guy Pearse. “Till Human Voices Wake Us”. Which is hard to say without following with..”and then we drown”.

    I think I have the whole poem half memorized in the back of my head already. I might as well take the challenge to officially memorize it.

  2. What a lovely poem for this week. I’m just too old to take on really long poems, but I admire those of you young enough to do it. Memorizing poems not only keeps the gray matter working, it arms the mind with beauty that can be drawn upon at a moment’s notice (if you’ve worked to keep it fresh).

  3. admin says:

    Keeping it fresh is the trick. Sunday night we recited our week two poems and then tried to recite our week one poems again, just to see if we could. We each flubbed a line, but only one.

  4. You should just do what I do, and blog about whatever random thing you feel like. Step 3, PROFIT!

  5. Robin Weeks says:

    Um, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is twice as long as The Bells. Here I was feeling all good about myself for having memorized such a long poem and BAM.

    Dang you, Dan Wells.

  6. Wendy says:

    I almost forgot about this last week, but I remembered just in time and called my husband, who was at a hotel in Atlanta, just so he could hear me spew some Millay! (I have a good husband.) He used his google powers and says I got it right. This week, I’m doing a poem by George Scarbrough, a great southern Appalachian poet who passed away a few years ago. It’s called “Lines for an Early Returning Home.”

    No, it was not fear that returned me here.
    I would have come back some day at morning,
    Shedding signs of strange earth by the way
    I came, breaking the monstrous vision. No,
    It was not fear. Only the hogback ridge, it was,
    In the other land, only the field of sedge,
    Purple as night, over the hogback growing.
    Let me assure you it was not fear,
    Only the sound of leaves, the sigh of leaves,
    And the way of mountains in the other land.

    I know it’s short…but I can’t help it. I like it, and my brain still needs to warm up for a while. I’m not sure about the Prufrock challenge…I’m feeling wimpy!

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