This week, as a way of celebrating National Poetry Month, I'm posting a favorite poem, and I encourage you to add your own in the comments section below. Hopefully, we can get an interesting little anthology going. At the very least, we'll have a collection of poems that have profoundly affected somebody.
I don't think that choosing a favorite poem is easy. In grad school, we all had to record one for Robert Pinsky's Favorite Poem Project. After waffling all day (it felt so permanent), I finally settled on Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ozymandias"-- a poem I liked but didn't have a real emotional connection with. It was as if I didn't want to cause offense to any of the poems I really cared about (I don't pretend that it makes sense).
And those poems I've really cared about have changed a lot over the years. The British Romantics were my first poetic love, and Shelley's "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" was my favorite. I'm still struck by his passionate belief in the spirit behind the art:
The awful shadow of some unseen Power
Floats though unseen among us,
Later on, I discovered T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (still one of my favorites). And in my early twenties, I fell for Larry Levis' "Adolescence":
And if death is an adolescent, closing his eyes to the music
On the radio of that passing car,
I think he does not know his own strength.
Just this past year, I discovered Robert Pinsky's "Samurai Song":
When I had no roof I made
Audacity my roof. When I had
No supper my eyes dined.
But my choice today is "And Yet the Books" by Czeslaw Milosz -- a poem that celebrates literature at a time when I feel like celebrating it. Take a look and please submit a favorite of your own. I'm looking forward to reading it.
And Yet the Books
And yet the books will be there on the shelves, separate beings,
That appeared once, still wet
As shining chestnuts under a tree in autumn,
And, touched, coddled, began to live
In spite of fires on the horizon, castles blown up,
Tribes on the march, planets in motion.
"We are, " they said, even as their pages
Were being torn out, or a buzzing flame
Licked away their letters. So much more durable
Than we are, whose frail warmth
Cools down with memory, disperses, perishes.
I imagine the earth when I am no more:
Nothing happens, no loss, it's still a strange pageant,
Women's dresses, dewy lilacs, a song in the valley.
Yet the books will be there on the shelves, well born,
Derived from people, but also from radiance, heights