When it comes to poetry, I’ve always been a total philistine. I never got it. I could analyze it, understand it, recite it, and even enjoy it, but it almost never left a lasting impression.
I liked poems that told stories. I liked poetic language. Older poetry had a better shot of finding a home in my memory, but invariably, my school kept sending me to modern poetry. Artsy poetry. Poetry that didn’t rhyme, or had no meter, or didn’t use verbs, because it was trying challenge my expectations or make me feel unsettled.
People who liked poetry, I thought, didn’t care for poetry that rhymed, or had a repetitive structure, or which was just pretty or fun, and that was the poetry I liked best. Those were cliches and antiquated conventions that stifled creativity. Sure, you could appreciate Shakespeare and song lyrics without garnering a scowl, but generally when it came to poetry, weirder was better. I tried to like the “right” poetry, but it all left me cold. Even when I could intellectually see that it was good poetry, I just couldn’t connect, and it made me feel like maybe poetry just wasn’t for me.
It wasn’t until I finished school that I realized there was a whole world of poetry out there that fit my tastes.
Ancient epics. Arthurian Romances. Children’s poetry. Anything Tolkien approved. Poetry that was deep and thought-provoking, but still rhymed, played with alliteration, and felt musical and rhythmic. Poems that could stand alone yet still evoke a larger context. Poems that spoke to me rather than at me. It turns out that I didn’t actually dislike poetry – I just didn’t like the poetry to which I’d been exposed in school.
It came upon me gradually, but now I love poetry. I’m also very, very picky about it. I’ll finish this post with two people who helped save the art of poetry for me: A.E. Housman, who I only just discovered this year (and am still trying to figure out), and A.A. Milne, author of Winnie the Pooh. If you enjoy the same kind of poetry I do, I highly encourage you to click the accompany links and read more of these poets’ works.
From Clee to Heaven the Beacon Burns, by A.E. Housman, from A Shropshire Lad
FROM Clee to heaven the beacon burns,
The shires have seen it plain,
From north and south the sign returns
And beacons burn again.
Look left, look right, the hills are bright,
The dales are light between,
Because ’tis fifty years to-night
That God has saved the Queen.
Now, when the flame they watch not towers
About the soil they trod,
Lads, we ’ll remember friends of ours
Who shared the work with God.
To skies that knit their heartstrings right,
To fields that bred them brave,
The saviours come not home to-night
Themselves they could not save.
It dawns in Asia, tombstones show
And Shropshire names are read;
And the Nile spills his overflow
Beside the Severn’s dead.
We pledge in peace by farm and town
The Queen they served in war,
And fire the beacons up and down
The land they perished for.
‘God save the Queen’ we living sing,
From height to height ’tis heard;
And with the rest your voices ring,
Lads of the Fifty-third.
Oh, God will save her, fear you not:
Be you the men you ’ve been,
Get you the sons your fathers got,
And God will save the Queen.
Wind on the Hill, by A.A. Milne, from the amazing site allpoetry.com
No one can tell me,
Where the wind comes from,
Where the wind goes.
It’s flying from somewhere
As fast as it can,
I couldn’t keep up with it,
Not if I ran.
But if I stopped holding
The string of my kite,
It would blow with the wind
For a day and a night.
And then when I found it,
Wherever it blew,
I should know that the wind
Had been going there too.
So then I could tell them
Where the wind goes…
But where the wind comes from