Hello, and welcome back to the blog.
I much prefer reading poetry to writing it. It’s not that I don’t like writing poetry— it’s more that I’m not very good at it. There are some people who are blessed enough to be good at both poetry and prose, and I admire and envy those people because I am Not One Of Them.
But I do like reading poetry. If I had to pick a favorite poet, right off the top of my head— I would say Walt Whitman. Which is odd, because I generally prefer Romantic poetry and Walt Whitman wasn’t really a Romantic— he was kind of a stepping-stone between the Transcendentalists and the Realists. Which, okay, cool. But I have a very special place in my heart for several of his pieces and I like the way he writes.
Let me put it to you simply: I am not having a great day, physically. I went to bed late and my body is achy and doesn’t like me today, so I am going to do a list, for this blog post. I like lists. They are easy and organized and I don’t have to think too hard. When I’m done with this post, I am going to drink All Of The Water and take some ibuprofen and either browse LinkedIn or play Minecraft for the rest of the day— haven’t decided which yet. It’s going to be one of Those Days.
Without further ado: Sarah’s Top Ten Favorite Poems of All Time.
10. William Wordsworth— Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood
At every point in every life, we come to realize that we are going to die, and it’s sort of this jarring revelation because we start to wonder things like, What happens to my writing? Who’s going to go through all of my underwear and get rid of it? Who gets my books? And then some more serious questions, like Where am I going after this? Is there an afterlife? Do I get eternal milkshakes if I do Good Things in this life? Does God exist? Is he the Christian/Jewish/Muslim God, the same deity with different characteristics applied, or is Greek mythology a thing and I’ll get to go up and fangirl over the nine Muses? You don’t know the answers. Some people deal with this by turning to nihilism and saying, “Life is a void and we’re fast going nowhere, there’s no afterlife and someday we’re all going to be dust.” I find this terribly depressing, which is why I am a theist. Religion can be a very comforting thing, when you’re thinking about death. It’s not just a disappearance; it’s opening a door, to look for what’s next. I have an insatiable curiosity about what’s behind that door, which sort of eases the general existential crises I have about dying and possibly causing someone to have to go through my underwear and get rid of it.
9. Walt Whitman— O Captain! My Captain!
The historical context of this poem is Whitman’s mourning of the murder of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln— again, about death; I am a very cheery sort of person. I have always loved it because it is so emotional, so passionate. “It is some dream that on the deck, You’ve fallen cold and dead” (Whitman 15-16). THESE LINES GIVE ME FEELINGS OKAY.
This poem is what comes to mind every time I watch a TV show or a movie and someone dies and their best friend/spouse/significant other comes running over in slow motion and kneels and kind of shakes them, like “No, I don’t believe it. You’re not really gone. You’re not really dead. You can’t be.” It’s always slow motion, and it’s always overlaid with sad music, and there’s usually police lights and sirens and then it will fade to black but the next shot is either at the funeral, or somewhere that shows how despondent the best friend/spouse/significant other is feeling afterward. It’s always this poem, that describes those deaths.
Anyway, I think it’s one of the best poems ever written, but that’s an opinion. If you disagree with me, I’ll probably judge you a lot. But not out loud.
8. Emily Dickinson— There’s a certain slant of light, (320)
I love winter. It’s my favorite season, despite seasonal depression and whatnot. This poem has a lot to do with it. Winter has this stark, cold beauty, from snow and the gray-white skies and the barren trees that look like witch fingers. Ugh, I love it so much.
7. Dylan Thomas— Do not go gentle into that good night
I’ve always liked this poem, but I like it even more after watching Interstellar, because holy wow was that a good movie. I want a sequel where Matthew McConaghey makes it to the planet where Anne Hathaway is in cryosleep and they just raise clone babies and grow old together.
6. Walt Whitman— Passage to India
This poem makes me want to TRAVEL THE ENTIRE WORLD AND SEE ALL THE THINGS AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH
5. Walt Whitman— That Music Always Round Me
This poem is what comes to mind when I think about my high school choir, or about my church choir that I play for now. Also whenever I listen to MoTab: this.
4. Pablo Neruda— One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII
This is me we’re talking about; are you really surprised that we’ve got a love poem? No, no you are not. You may be sort of surprised that it’s Neruda, because Neruda is kind of, um, sexual and I’m not usually about that in my poetry of choice; but this poem is just beautiful and I love it.
3. John Keats— Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art
John Keats would be my literary husband of choice, after Walt Whitman. (Because obviously Walt Whitman.) This poem is written to Fanny Brawne, Keats’ fianceé. I still haven’t seen the movie Bright Star but I want to because a) John Keats and b) John Keats played by Ben Whishaw. I will probably cry like a small child, because John Keats died young and he didn’t get to marry Fanny Brawne.
2. Elizabeth Barrett Browning— Sonnet 43 (How Do I Love Thee)
You can’t claim to enjoy (r)omantic poetry and not have read this poem. EBB is awesome and I love her dearly.
1. e.e. cummings— somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
I have a paper clipping of this poem tacked to the wall above my bed. This poem is… special. I’m not usually an e.e. cummings kind of girl, but this poem. This poem. This is the poem that makes me want to write poetry, even though I am objectively terrible at writing poetry. This is the poem that tells me it’s okay that I can’t explain why I fall in love with people; it just happens. This is the poem that tells me it’s okay that I am a hopeless romantic. This is the poem that celebrates hopeless romantics. This is the poem that makes my heart ache because I want to find someone “whose texture compels me with the colour of its countries” (cummings 15). I want to find someone in whose “most frail gesture are things which enclose me” (3). I want to find someone whose “slightest look easily will unclose me” (5).
The reason I’m terrible at writing poetry is because it reminds me that I am alone. When I’m writing a story, I’m not alone. I’ve made life, and it surrounds me. When I’m trying to write poetry, it comes from me and my heart and it reminds me that I am so very, very alone— not just in life and love, but in death. Nobody dies together. We all die alone. I believe that we end up somewhere better, an afterlife where maybe we get eternal milkshakes for Doing Good Things (and it’s more complex than that, there’s this whole Plan of Salvation thing that the Mormons have but I’m not explaining it here, you can check out lds.org if you’re curious) but the space between life and afterlife still sounds lonely. The light at the end of the tunnel is visible, but you have to go through the tunnel alone and I’m scared of tunnels. I’m scared of the wind, the darkness, the opposition, the chance that there could be cockroaches lurking in the shadows or a train coming up behind me. I think I’ll have to do it, someday; but it scares me.
I am terrible at writing poetry because it reminds me that I am afraid of so many things. Not anxiety afraid— that’s different. Just human fear. Everyone is afraid of life and death and love; we just have different ways of admitting it, or coping. My coping mechanism, especially on days like today, is to drink All Of The Water, take ibuprofen for my achy muscles, and either browse LinkedIn or play Minecraft for the rest of the day— still haven’t decided which.
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