I can read a novel for hours, luxuriating in a well-told story; an interesting piece of nonfiction can intrigue me for equally long periods.
But poems . . .
Only one poem can speak to me per day, it seems.
I’ve discovered that reading a poem a day provides me the perfect pace, time spent in a kind of literary devotional, and a couple of years ago I chose E. E. Cummings: Selected Poems, edited by Richard S. Kennedy (1994) as source for a daily selection.
E.E. Cummings was a favorite of mine when I was a teenager, and it has been gratifying to learn more about his life through Kennedy’s editorial and biographical comments and to read his poetry now from the viewpoint of an adult. Cummings’ topics range widely, and Kennedy has chosen a variety of works to illustrate the poet’s inventiveness and flexibility.
In Cummings’ work, I encounter lines that make me catch my breath, such as the closing couplet from “you shall above all things be glad and young” (1938) :
I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing
than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance
I appreciate the perfect iambic pentameter, but more than that, I continue to hear the refrain of those words throughout the day if I limit myself to reading “just one.” And I can continue to muse off and on all day as to what it would be like to learn from nature’s master songsters.
Certainly I don’t “get” every poem, but by reading only one at a time, I find I can spend more thought puzzling it out, akin to doing a daily crossword. This feeds my soul: slowing down, savoring lines that soar (from “i thank You God for most this amazing” (1950) ):
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
That is the point, awaking and opening myself to today, to now, to this moment. With a few lines of poetry in my head, maybe I can accomplish that more often.
What poetry speaks to you? Are there lines that soar?
Complete the following “I’d rather learn ____________ than teach ____________.”