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Posts Tagged ‘Great Poetry’

“The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.”

Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”

In my lifetime I’ve read English language poetry, French poetry in the original French, and the poems of many world cultures in translation.  My passion for the poetic voice grows as I age.  There are many poets (including me) and poems (including mine).  But then there are GREAT POETS AND GREAT POEMS!   I have volumes of “GREAT”, and I’m wearing the pages down while building my soul with reading.

Of all the poets I love—including John Keats, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Emily Dickinson, Alfred Tennyson, Robert Louis Stevenson, William Butler Yeats, John Masefield, Dylan Thomas, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and many others—two rise to the top like cream:  William Shakespeare and Robert Frost.

The significant feature that Shakespeare and Frost have in common is a combination of clarity and simplicity, clothed in rhyme and meter which the music loving reader can never forget.  The clarity of message has “holding power”, as lasting insights are gleaned and preserved from the simplicity of language used by these two poets.  There is no embellishment, no embroidery work in their verse—no tricks to stumble over and confuse the reader, unless you can call alliteration a “trick”.  I don’t think it is, any more than the classic use of harmonic chords in a musical composition could be called a “trick”. 

Clarity is impossible apart from simplicity.  Consider the plain language used by both Shakespeare (if you discount a few archaic words like “forsooth”) and Frost.  Plain language conveys life wisdom, as nothing else on earth can do.  Apart from reflecting on life wisdom, we humans cannot live sensitively and circumspectly as we were designed to live.  When plain language is embodied in soul-imprinting rhyme and meter, the reader grows in his or her understanding of life!  Here is a case in point:

“Blow blow, thou winter wind.

Thou are not so unkind

As man’s ingratitude;

Thy tooth is not so keen,

Because thou art not seen,

Although thy breath be rude.”

William Shakespeare, AS YOU LIKE IT

Simple English words, clarity of meaning, and universal life wisdom—-encompassing many cultures and customs!

Robert Frost spins his life messages in earthy symbols and metaphors, which any lover of poetry (and nature) can easily decipher.  “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep” (inviting the poet to retreat and give up,  or just “get away from it all”).  “But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep . . . .”  (The poet cannot give up because he has people who need him, loved ones who depend on him, work yet to be done on earth). 

Metaphors and symbols are never obscure when 1) They are based on widely familiar visuals, 2) They are expressed in plain language, and 3) They speak to universal emotions and issues.  Great poetry may be profoundly personal, but it is never entropic; it is universal in scope.  Great poetry is simple, clear, understated, and it is musicalhence its lasting power.  Just as haunting scores (such as the melodies from PHANTOM OF THE OPERA) role around in our head, structured poetry stays in our mind.  Great poetry is unforgettable.

Robert Frost wrote “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” at what may have been the darkest hour of his personal life.  He wanted to give up, but he didn’t.  Instead he focused on the fact that he had promises to keep.  Dark times are a human universal.  You have dark times.  I have dark times.  But like the poet, we have promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep!  We are inspired and uplifted by Robert Frost’s resolve!

Clarity, Simplicity, Musicality, Wisdom:  These are the ingredients of a fine poem.  These are also some of the ingredients of a good life!  The ages have provided a wealth of great poetry.  The world would do well to slow down, read the work of past poets, and reflect!

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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April is National Poetry Month.  I’m kicking off an early celebration here at Northern Reflections.  I may feature some of my own poetry as April progresses—but most of all, I want to share lines from some of my most beloved great poets.  Let’s begin!

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with gold and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet;

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

William Butler Yeats—1865-1939

(William Butler Yeats was born in Dublin, and grew up in County Sligo.  His family was Protestant Ascendency, but Yeats’ sympathies and energies were focused on freedom for Ireland.  While his contemporaries fought the bloody battles of those early 20th century years, Yeats was a major player in the Irish literary revival.  He did much to unearth and preserve Irish legendry and lore–most of which had been buried in centuries of British oppression. 

A few summers ago I had the unforgettable experience of hearing an Irish actor, Batt Burns, recite the above poem at Milwaukee’s Irish Fest.  I believe there is no accent on earth more arresting than the Celtic voice—be it Irish, Scottish, or Welsh.) 

Margaret L. Been

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