My favourite poems, part 7

This instalment is about Harlem by Langston Hughes (1902-1967). I think I first became aware of Hughes as a child although I’m not sure if I read any of his poetry then.

I came across this poem recently and just really enjoyed it.

What happens to a dream deferred?

I liked the simple repeated question structure of it, and the way that’s undermined at the end.

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

And I like the message that it conveys.

© bardofupton 2018

My favourite poems, part 6

This installment is about Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath (1932-1963).

My introduction to Plath, like so many other people, was The Bell Jar, which I read in (I think) my late teens. I studied some of her poems at university, including this one, but I think I might have read them before that.

This again is a poem that just spoke to me.

I have done it again
One year in every ten
I manage it

I love the way she uses language:

Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me

I love the attitude she portrays:

Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.

And I love the ending:

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

It’s just a poem that appealed to me instantly, and still does.

© bardofupton 2018

My favourite poems, part 5

This installment features Dirge Without Music by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950). This is another poem that just spoke to me. Once again, I don’t remember when or how I first came across it.

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:

The final section pretty much encapsulates my feelings about losing loved ones.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

Essentially, this is one of those poems that captures exactly how I feel.

© bardofupton 2018

My favourite poems, part 4

This installment is about This Be The Verse by Philip Larkin (1922-1985).

I don’t remember when I came across this, possibly while I was at school. I do remember it being the first poem I’d come across with swearing in it!

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do. 

It definitely appealed to the cynical part of me.

Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

At the time, it seemed to perfectly express something I was feeling, which I suppose is one reason that art, of any kind, speaks to you.

© bardofupton 2018

My favourite poems, part 3

[Series note (which I should probably have said in the previous post): I am in no way looking at these poems through a critical lens or even with much background knowledge about some of them. This is purely a look at why I like them and not any kind of real analysis.]

This one is about A Poison Tree by William Blake (1757-1827). I could probably write this whole series about Blake; he’s one of my favourite poets. But I’m restricting myself to one poem per poet, at least for the moment.

I definitely came across Blake as a teenager – the first of his poems I read was most likely The Tyger, and that encouraged me to read more of his work. But A Poison Tree is probably my favourite.

I like the repeating structure of the first verse:

I was angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And the imagery of the second:

And I waterd it in fears,
Night & morning with my tears:
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.

I like the way it moves from abstract to concrete, the way it seems like a metaphorical tree in the first couple of verses, and then becomes a clearly real entity in the next two.

I just like Blake in general, and this poem in particular.

© bardofupton 2018

My favourite poems, part 2

I kind of already started this series with my post about Not Waving but Drowning, so I am going to make it a recurring series where I discuss poems I like and why. It will be intermittent, however; I’m not committing to a regular schedule.

This installment is To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell (1621-1678). This poem was written in the 1600s, and I first came across it during my English A-level way back when.

I like this poem basically because it amuses me. The very first lines grabbed me:

Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.

It carries on in a similar vein, giving essentially a list of reasons why the “mistress” of the title should get it on with the person speaking in the poem. My favourite of these reasons is this:

The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.

There’s no deep reason why I like it; it’s just fun for me to read.

© bardofupton 2018

Not Waving but Drowning

I’ve always loved this poem by Stevie Smith. It speaks to something in me that’s often felt misunderstood, misinterpreted.

I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning

When I first read this, I felt a sense of recognition, a feeling that I had been seen. I felt I knew what Smith was talking about when she wrote it, or, rather, that she had written it for me, about me, that she knew how I felt.

I felt known, in a way that I hadn’t previously.

For me, this is a poem about appearances, about the way people interpret one another. It’s about how two people can see the same thing, but understand it completely differently. It’s about how easy it is to misunderstand, to read something that isn’t there – it’s about how you never really know what someone else is thinking or feeling.

For me, the reason I love this poem is that I feel that Smith understands the way that a laugh can also be a scream, that you can smile while dying inside. That she understands the way you can spend so long hiding your true feelings that all anyone sees, all anyone knows, is the mask. And sometimes there was good reason to wear that mask initially; sometimes it was only having the mask that saved your life, but eventually the mask becomes a trap, locking you away from those you care about. And that’s when you end up like the man in the poem, where you’re begging for help  while everyone thinks you’re having the time of your life.

Bleak, huh? But it was a realisation that made me resolve to stop being that person, to destroy the mask and to learn to ask for help, or to accept it when offered. It’s still a work in progress, of course: childhood survival techniques are hard to shake, even when you know they don’t help any more.

[Edited to add Categories/Tags]

© bardofupton 2018