Given that we’ve had a substantial celebration of National Library Week, it seems only fair to acknowledge a few shelves within those libraries of ours whose own month is concluding; we’re near the end of National Poetry Month.
I’m not here to even attempt to do justice to this vast subject in a few hundred words. I think all I can do is to suggest that each of us think what poetry might mean to us, and to remember that there is poetry, always there, from childhood rhymes to the vastest, most sweeping power that language affords.
Think, for example, of the opening lines of poems you can recall. You’ll quickly wish you had the entire poem in your memory, or that book containing the poem somewhere close at hand.
“Arms and the man I sing.”
“I met a traveler from an antique land.”
“Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment.”
“I sing the body electric.”
“He clasps the crag with crooked hands/Close to the sun in lonely lands.”
“So we’ll go no more a-roving, so late into the night.”
“When you are old and gray, and full of sleep/And nodding by the fire, take down this book.”
In that November off Tehuantapec/The slopping of the sea grew still one night.”
“There was a child went forth every day.”
“The sea is calm tonight/The moon is full ….”
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot hear the falconer.”
There are funny and sad and comforting and disturbing and enlightening poems — the entire range of what a person can express.
In the latter part of his life, Jorge Luis Borges turned, of all things, to the study of Anglo Saxon, which endears him to all us fans of those lingual progenitors of ours. What did a writer whose native language was Spanish find in studying an archaic form of a language that was not his own? He told us, and his comments, I think, stand as a testament to what anyone who has loved a poem or poetry also feels. I offer his poem as a brief acknowledgment of the power of poetry.
“Poem Written in a Copy of Beowulf”
by Jorge Luis Borges (trans. by Alastair Reid)
At various times, I have asked myself what reasons
moved me to study, while my night came down,
without particular hope of satisfaction,
the language of the blunt-tongued Anglo-Saxons.
Used up by the years, my memory
loses its grip on words that I have vainly
repeated and repeated. My life in the same way
weaves and unweaves its weary history.
Then I tell myself: it must be that the soul
has some secret, sufficient way of knowing
that it is immortal, that its vast, encompassing
circle can take in all, can accomplish all.
Beyond my anxiety, beyond this writing,
the universe waits, inexhaustible, inviting.