By Andrew Lazo
Do you ever find yourself so busy doing that you have no time to muse? Such is my recent dilemma.
I have clearly done the Muses deep disservice these last couple months. A friend of mine sweetly, wryly refers to me as the River Otter–the loveable creature from Wind in the Willows that from time to time disappears without a trace, with no harm intended.
And so too I. It appalls me especially to have slighted two of my favorite muses, and I hope the myrtle of my musings that I attempt to spread before Clio and Erato will buy me some patience and forbearance, from them as well as from their faithful medium, Kelly.
You see, I’ve been busy about the business of Love and History. As many of you know, I’ve recently gotten engaged. In fact, Christin is visiting this week from Florida, inspiring much of this post. In addition, I’ve done a lot of traveling and speaking, while also struggling mightily to convince teens to read and understand Elizabethan love in the form of a star-crossed set of teens from Verona. But I always have time for my favorites–I seldom stop hearing their words in my head.
Here follow my four. I’ve offered instead of the poems themselves some links so you can encounter them. Call it a versiforous treasure hunt. I’ve included, in honor both of recent events and of Erato’s month, four of my favorite love poems:
I start with Billy Collins of course. He virtually holes up here and you can find his poems nearly everywhere, but I particularly love “Litany” (click here for a pretty adorable version of a three-year-old reciting it by heart). Christin and I regularly chuckle when I do my best Billy impression and intone the line “There is just no way you are the pine-scented air.”
His work speaks softly and at great volume, and says so much. I’ve taught whole classes on the brilliantly-layered “Divorce,” and often begin a term with “Introduction to Poetry.” Find in him warmth, sad sweetness, and a twinkle that will find its way from his fingers into your eyes.
In wildly inappropriate pedagogical moments I call Billy Collins my boyfriend. Equally ridiculous, so do I love her, I call Mary Oliver my girlfriend. My fiancee seems not to mind too much.
Oliver’s latest collection Felicity (my copy a gift from dear friend-Muse Becka), stuns me. The cover painting “Fog over Mendocino” alone makes it worth the price of the book. And almost everything I read from the section on Love seems as though Erato let a page slip from her full notebook to flutter onto my floor. Try “Everything That Was Broken” here (from Goodreads, with a couple others thrown in for very good measure).
Now from the Dead Poet’s Society my soul has selected:
Zhang Jiuling’s “Looking at the Moon and Thinking of One Far Away” stands as the representative of a vast array of T’ang Dynasty poetry. Think Tu Fu and Li Po, and plunge into almost any anthology.
You’ll find short, crafted, evocative, drunken, lonely, nature-influenced wisdom in small little swaths. I find it irresistible; get a native speaker to read it to you in Mandarin. One of my students (from China) tells me the script is full of moon puns in the characters. There’s your Clio bit, though she seems to have wisely strayed eastward.
And finally, the one poem I shall quote: Sonnet 7, from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portugese. See if you can find the version annotated with letters from EBB and her husband Robert, directly commenting on the poems.
Here’s the one that led me to ponder my marital status then take the plunge (the water is so much more than fine):
The face of all the world is changed, I think,
Since first I heard the footsteps of thy soul
Move still, oh, still, beside me, as they stole
Betwixt me and the dreadful outer brink
Of obvious death, where I, who thought to sink,
Was caught up into love, and taught the whole
Of life in a new rhythm. The cup of dole
God gave for baptism, I am fain to drink,
And praise its sweetness, Sweet, with thee anear.
The names of country, heaven, are changed away
For where thou art or shalt be, there or here;
And this… this lute and song… loved yesterday,
(The singing angels know) are only dear,
Because thy name moves right in what they say.
Seriously? “The footsteps of thy soul”? This sonnet along with several of her sisters swept us both away. I didn’t know Browning, but have you ever made a friend or fallen in love with literature woven in, forming the fabric of budding affection? This poem and many others has surprised us.
Pace Crystal, but Eliot has miscarried–for April is NOT the cruelest month. The Confederate Jasmine blooms and sends forth its benediction of blossom and fragrance all over Houston, and Erato herself has been lingering about my door, stepping in with jeweled sandal and having her way with us. What can we do but let her?
Andrew Lazo is a teacher, writer, and sought-after speaker on C.S. Lewis and the Inklings. Read more from him at his website: http://andrewlazo.com