For many years the poetry books I collected, starting in my teens, sat on our bookshelves untouched. I have no idea why I stopped reading poetry, but I did.
Then, one cold and rainy afternoon last month, I made myself a cup of tea and after pulling several books off a shelf, curled up on the loveseat in front of the fire and began to flip through the pages. I intended to find poems of gratitude to be used for this blog, but I got off track, delighting in rediscovering poems I had loved and admired regardless of topic.
In high school, I was introduced to the Romantic poets: Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Shelly, Byron, and Blake; whose works beckoned me to understand the world through nature, imagination, revolution and those marginalized in society. I memorized stanzas that I can still recite because they so filled my heart.
Later, still in my teens, I was drawn to The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, a lyric poem that presents deep feelings and emotions on subjects such as life, death, love, and religion. Did it help clarify or shape my own identity? Probably not, as my own experiences and travels unfolded in their own unique way, but at the time, I was entranced by it.
As an English major in college, I read and discussed the works, both in and out of the classroom, of contemporary poets like John Barth, who was in residence at my university; Laurence Ferlinghetti; Karl Shapiro; Leonard Cohen; and Wallace Stevens, who, in 1955, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his Collected Poems. To me, his poems resonate like verbal music and his perfect control of language evokes a myriad of complex feelings.
Throughout my college years and beyond, I discovered, read, and admired the works of many more poets, Walt Whitman and T.S. Eliot among those, but also the Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas.
My father, who was born in 1919, graduated college and then went to serve our country during World War II. One of George Patton’s scouts, he received two bronze stars. He was a fierce man: in his morals, ethics, and values; his love for his family and for his country. Towards the end, his fierceness continued as he battled serious health issues that never seemed to daunt or derail him from living the remainder of his life to the fullest.
The eldest of his four children, I was the first to read a eulogy at his funeral. I never could have expressed what I knew of my father’s spirit better than Thomas’ poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night”, written for his dying father in 1947, the year I was born.
So, I guess this blog really is about both poetry and gratitude. Gratitude that I had a family that encouraged education, an education that exposed me to poetry, and a family that embodied and still does today, the meaning and actions of love.