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.