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Poetry, for a Time of Family, Quiet and Introspection

This is a time when families are spending more time together since, perhaps, the dark ages, before the cellular telephone was invented. Perhaps it’s the perfect moment to return to a traditional way for parents and their children of all ages to spend time in the evening: Sitting together and reading poetry out loud.

Many and perhaps most Americans didn’t memorize or even learn poems in school and might not know where to start with evening poetry readings.

Here are suggestions from Lakeville residents Susan Kinsolving, who is poet in residence at The Hotchkiss School and whose new book of poems is “Peripheral Vision;” and her husband, William Kinsolving (actor/screenwriter/playwright).

 

1) “#1286” by Emily Dickinson

At first, like many of Dickinson’s poems, this may seem mystifying.

Once you know that a frigate is a sailing warship and a book can take the imagination faraway, the poem becomes clear. I think it promotes good books and reading during quarantines!

“#1286”

Emily Dickinson

There is no Frigate like a Book

To take us Lands away

Nor any Coursers like a Page

Of prancing Poetry –

This Traverse may the poorest take

Without oppress of Toll –

How frugal is the Chariot

That bears the Human Soul –

 

2) Haiku reminds us to engage in the small fleeting pleasures of the natural world.

Though they are transient, they are paradoxically reliable.

 

The Moon in the water

Broken and broken again

Still it is there.

— Choshu

 

3) “anyone lived in a pretty how town” by E. E. Cummings

Cummings is among the most playful of poets. Here he mixes the joy of community with the fun of rhyme and musicality. This poem is best read aloud and not overly analyzed.

“anyone lived in a pretty how town”

E. E. Cummings

anyone lived in a pretty how town

(with up so floating many bells down)

spring summer autumn winter

he sang his didn’t he danced his did

Women and men (both little and small)

cared for anyone not at all

they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same

sun moon stars rain

 

children guessed(but only a few

and down they forgot as up they grew

autumn winter spring summer)

that noone loved him more by more

 

when by now and tree by leaf

she laughed his joy she cried his grief

bird by snow and stir by still

anyone’s any was all to her

 

someones married their everyones

laughed their cryings and did their dance

(sleep wake hope and then)they

said their nevers they slept their dream

 

stars rain sun moon

(and only the snow can begin to explain

how children are apt to forget to remember

with up so floating many bells down)

 

one day anyone died i guess

(and noone stooped to kiss his face)

busy folk buried them side by side

little by little and was by was

 

all by all and deep by deep

and more by more they dream their sleep

noone and anyone earth by april

wish by spirit and if by yes.

 

Women and men(both dong and ding)

summer autumn winter spring

reaped their sowing and went their came

sun moon stars rain

 

4) “Inversnaid” by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Hopkins was a poet of intense musicality. Here he writes about a “burn,” a Scottish word for a stream. His language flows, rushes, and turns to create the sounds of his subject matter. Reading this aloud is the best way to hear his mastery.

“Inversnaid”

Gerard Manley Hopkins

This darksome burn, horseback brown, 

His rollrock highroad roaring down, 

In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam 

Flutes and low to the lake falls home. 

 

A windpuff-bonnet of fáwn-fróth 

Turns and twindles over the broth 

Of a pool so pitchblack, féll-frówning, 

It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning. 

 

Degged with dew, dappled with dew 

Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through, 

Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern, 

And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn. 

 

What would the world be, once bereft 

Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left, 

O let them be left, wildness and wet; 

Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

5) “A Noiseless Patient Spider” by Walt Whitman

Whitman, the father of American poetry, observes a spider in its solitude and patient effort to make connections. Perhaps this is a metaphor for self-isolation while seeking community.

“A Noiseless Patient Spider”

Walt Whitman

A noiseless patient spider,

I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,

Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,

It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,

Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

 

And you O my soul where you stand,

Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,

Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,

Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,

Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

 

William suggests:

These two poems, he says are, “both basically for the young.”

“Of History and Hope”

Miller Williams

We have memorized America,

how it was born and who we have been and where.

In ceremonies and silence we say the words,

telling the stories, singing the old songs.

We like the places they take us. Mostly we do.

The great and all the anonymous dead are there.

We know the sound of all the sounds we brought.

The rich taste of it is on our tongues.

But where are we going to be, and why, and who?

The disenfranchised dead want to know.

We mean to be the people we meant to be,

to keep on going where we meant to go.

 

But how do we fashion the future? Who can say how

except in the minds of those who will call it Now?

The children. The children. And how does our garden grow?

With waving hands—oh, rarely in a row—

and flowering faces. And brambles, that we can no longer allow.

 

Who were many people coming together

cannot become one people falling apart.

Who dreamed for every child an even chance

cannot let luck alone turn doorknobs or not.

Whose law was never so much of the hand as the head

cannot let chaos make its way to the heart.

Who have seen learning struggle from teacher to child

cannot let ignorance spread itself like rot.

We know what we have done and what we have said,

and how we have grown, degree by slow degree,

believing ourselves toward all we have tried to become—

just and compassionate, equal, able, and free.

 

All this in the hands of children, eyes already set

on a land we never can visit—it isn’t there yet—

but looking through their eyes, we can see

what our long gift to them may come to be.

If we can truly remember, they will not forget.

 

2) “Sonnet 15: When I consider everything that grows” by William Shakespeare

Something from another plague-time, from one who survived it.

“Sonnet 15: When I consider everything that grows”

William Shakespeare

When I consider everything that grows

Holds in perfection but a little moment,

That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows

Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;

When I perceive that men as plants increase,

Cheered and check’d even by the selfsame sky,

Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,

And wear their brave state out of memory;

Then the conceit of this inconstant stay

Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,

Where wasteful Time debateth with Decay

To change your day of youth to sullied night;

And all in war with Time for love of you,

As he takes from you, I engraft you new.

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