By Becka Choat
Ah, what a challenge Chief Muse Kelly set for us this month – to introduce four of our favorite poets! Having been blessed to be part of this fellowship for several years now, I knew that my fellow Muses would speak up for some of my own best beloveds, but I don’t grudge them that. In fact, I take it as a part of this particular poetic magic, this sharing of favorites that deepens my love both for the poetry I read and for the friends who also love it.
So with Rilke and Dickinson and Frost and Berry and Oliver and others already gathered, here are a few more I’d like to bring into our little poets’ corner.
When I was very young, my parents had a vinyl record album of musical settings of the poetry of A.A. Milne which my brothers and I listened to over and over. At first glance, most of these poems are rather child-like; but on reading When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six as an adult, I find that many of them are quite insightful, and a few are surely glimpses into that mystical place between here and there that children can sometimes still visit. For instance,
Between the woods the afternoon
Is fallen in a golden swoon,
The sun looks down from quiet skies
To where a quiet water lies,
And silent trees stoop down to trees.
And there I saw a white swan make
Another white swan in the lake;
And, breast to breast, both motionless,
They waited for the wind’s caress . . .
And all the water was at ease.
The first poem that ever moved me deeply was Christina Rossetti’s “Remember.” Much of Miss Rossetti’s body of work is tinged with darkness and doubt, but deep faith underpins her words, and bright joy shines through at times. While some of her poems are rather lengthy, many are quite short – but nonetheless weighted with meaning, such as
What Are Heavy?
What are heavy?
Sea sand and sorrow.
What are brief?
Today and tomorrow.
What are frail?
Spring blossoms and youth.
What are deep?
The ocean and truth.
I’ve read The Lord of the Rings over and over throughout my adult life, but I hadn’t given a great deal of attention to the embedded poetry until a couple of years ago – a common and enduring overlooking, I imagine: Tolkien himself tells son Michael in a late 1968 letter that “my ‘poetry’ has received little praise.” It came into greater focus for me when my good Muse-friend Andrew informed me that I had unknowingly written a piece in alliterative meter. Then he had to explain to me what that was. The light bulb came on brilliantly for me when I realized he was describing the poetry of Rohan: “Arise now, arise, Riders of Theoden! Dire deeds awake, dark is it eastward.” As I’ve read Tolkien’s poems as works in themselves, apart from the narrative of the Quest, I’ve been amazed at the artistry and skill with which he composes verse across many moods and settings, from comic and earthy to epic and ethereal.
I can’t close without bringing my dear friend, poet Malcolm Guite, into the circle. Malcolm is an extraordinary man whose poetry confesses his struggles and our own, muses through hard questions and honest doubts, sees and shows us both the brokenness and the beauty of our world and our own hearts, and reflects the humanity and nearness and never-exhausted love of our God to us. My current favorite of his poems feels to me like a fitting benediction.
A hidden path that starts at a dead end,
Old ways, renewed by walking with a friend,
And crossing places taken hand in hand.
The passages where nothing need be said,
With bruised and scented sweetness underfoot
and unexpected birdsong overhead,
The sleeping life beneath a dark-mouthed burrow,
The rooted secrets rustling in a hedgerow,
The land’s long memory in ridge and furrow,
A track once beaten and now overgrown
With complex textures, every kind of green,
Land- and cloud-scape melting into one,
The rich meanderings of streams at play,
A setting out to find oneself astray,
And coming home at dusk a different way.
Becka Choat is a lifelong lover of words who spends many hours each week in a room of her own, writing or reading and drinking coffee. Her book reviews can be found atwww.beckasbookreview.wordpress.com, and her poetry and other musings at www.beckachoat.wordpress.com. You may also follow @beckachoat and/or @booksbybecka on Twitter.