Thursday, April 22, 2010

On the benefits of poetry to parents

Elliot Vanskike of The Poetry Foundation muses about clinging to poetry of moments of high emotion or extreme vulnerability in life. He mentions Yeats's "A Prayer for My Son," Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Spring," Stevie Smith's "Not Waving but Drowning," Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," George Garrett's "Or Death and December," and his small children can now recite e. e. cummings and Blake's "The Tyger."

I can recite my favourite poem, Yeats' When You Are Old:"

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Other than that, my head swims in T. S. Eliot (usually Prufrock - ugh, what does that say about me? "I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker"?), and scads of Canadian modernists (Purdy, MacEwen, Atwood, Kroetsch), with a smattering of Neruda (my cousin Kielan kindly read out "It Is Born" at our Uncle Michael's funeral, at my request).

Vanskike also briefly makes fun of the poetic gems of Lily Allen, but it reminded me that there are many musicians who are poets (or should be) - and I don't mean Leonard Cohen. I'm thinking of Aimee Mann, in particular. Some of her rhymes are inspired: one autumn, I was quite hooked on "Ray, can we repay/Ourselves for days that we've lost through indecision/With one of recognition?/If so, then here I go/'Cause some things you know/And some you just believe in/And hope it comes out even." She also has my undying love for rhyming "here" with "chanticleer."

What are the snippets of poetry or musical lyrics that stay close to you? What have you memorised? What have you read at weddings (or funerals)? Comments encouraged!

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