Saturday, June 05, 2010

The Power of a Poem 13

I am enjoying this brief interlude which is basically a pleasant way to relax, that is just flicking through and perusing some few anthologies of poems that help populate my bookshelves.  There are those who argue that most critiques or commentaries on poems are essentially superfluous, because quite simply poems should speak for themselves and that reading them is essentially what it's all about.  I would go further and say that redaing poems aloud is what they are all about.  Poems were originally crafted or made to be read aloud for others.  Hence poetry readings are essential to bringing poems to life.  There is nothing better to my mind that attending a live concert ot being present at a poetry reading.  Oftentimes it's the performance that is the real experience.  Failing being able to be present at such events, either due to financial or other restrictions, reading poems or listening to music on our i-pods is a very good alternative.

However, poems do provoke thoughts, do set us thinking.  Real literature often comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable.  We do not need ersatz verse which offers us nothing but an empty, though momentarily satisfying, jingle.  Like "supermarket or mall music" such poems or musical ditties can never but be superficial and momentarily satisfying.  We do need the heavier stuff, the real stuff that makes us think, real stuff that has an "edge" to it, that stops us in our tracks, that wakes us up, that deepens our awareness of life.  That's the type of poems that our spirit mostly needs.  Now, I'm not arguing that we should be reading the "uber" heavy stuff all the time.  We also have need for nonsense verse like that of Edward Lear which, coupled with his wonderful sketches or cartoons makes us laugh.  We need to be reflective and to contemplate as well as to laugh and poke fun at ourselves.  However, we never need the ersatz or superficial stuff.

Today I wish to reflect upon a poem by Robert Frost (1874-1963) which I really love.  This is the poet who read at JFK's inauguration at the age of 87 in 1961.  He is highly regarded for his realistic depictions of rural life and his command of American colloquial speech.  His work frequently employed settings from rural life in New England in the early twentieth century, using them to examine complex social and philosophical themes. A popular and often-quoted poet, Frost was honored frequently during his lifetime, receiving four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry.  The poem I offer for reflection here is called Desert Places.  It is unsurprising that mental illness, especially depression ran in the Frost family and Robert suffered much from it.

Desert Places

Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
In a field I looked into going past,
And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
But a few weeds and stubble showing last.

The woods around it have it--it is theirs.
All animals are smothered in their lairs.
I am too absent-spirited to count;
The loneliness includes me unawares.

And lonely as it is that loneliness
Will be more lonely ere it will be less--
A blanker whiteness of benighted snow
With no expression, nothing to express.

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars--on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.

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