writing-arts-fountain-penRita Dove said that “Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.” I totally agree with that. Whether it is painting a beautiful picture or capsulizing an ugly truth, a poem is language used in simplicity and beauty to help us see what can often not be captured by the naked eye.  A favorite poem can say a lot about love, about life, about the author but it also tells a bit about the person who loves it. Here are a few of the AAR staff’s favorite poems:

Haley:  Most of my favorite poems are in French, because I read them in undergrad. This is one of my favorites and its translation.

La Musique by Charles Baudelaire

La musique souvent me prend comme une mer!

Vers ma pâle étoile,

Sous un plafond de brume ou dans un vaste éther,

Je mets à la voile;

 

La poitrine en avant et les poumons gonflés

Comme de la toile

J’escalade le dos des flots amoncelés

Que la nuit me voile;

Je sens vibrer en moi toutes les passions

D’un vaisseau qui souffre;

Le bon vent, la tempête et ses convulsions

 

Sur l’immense gouffre

Me bercent. D’autres fois, calme plat, grand miroir

De mon désespoir!

Music

Music often transports me like a sea!

Toward my pale star,

Under a ceiling of fog or a vast ether,

I get under sail;

 

My chest thrust out and my lungs filled

Like the canvas,

I scale the slopes of wave on wave

That the night obscures;

I feel vibrating within me all the passions

Of ships in distress;

The good wind and the tempest with its convulsions

 

Over the vast gulf

Cradle me. At other times, dead calm, great mirror

Of my despair!

 

Pat:  Theodore Roethke’s poem “Dolor” changed my life.  Even though I enjoy teaching, for many years I resisted post graduate academia and became a writer because I was afraid of this:

Dolor by Theodore Roethke

I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils,

Neat in their boxes, dolor of pad and paper weight,

All the misery of manilla folders and mucilage,

Desolation in immaculate public places,

Lonely reception room, lavatory, switchboard,

The unalterable pathos of basin and pitcher,

Ritual of multigraph, paper-clip, comma,

Endless duplicaton of lives and objects.

And I have seen dust from the walls of institutions,

Finer than flour, alive, more dangerous than silica,

Sift, almost invisible, through long afternoons of tedium,

Dropping a fine film on nails and delicate eyebrows,

Glazing the pale hair, the duplicate grey standard faces.

 

Lee: this one reminds me of spring and all that the season encompasses.

The Pasture by Robert Frost

I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;

I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away

(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):

I shan’t be gone long.  You come too.

 

I’m going out to fetch the little calf

That’s standing by the mother.  It’s so young

It totters when she licks it with her tongue.

I shan’t be gone long.  You come too.

 

Heather: When I was little, my grandmother would recite poetry to me. One of the poems she frequently recited was Invictus by William Ernest Henley. It wasn’t exactly what one might term “age appropriate” for a child. But the imagery and power of the words were striking and I have always loved its message of resilience in the face of adversity. I still call upon it when I need to find my own strength and will to push forward.

Invictus by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

 

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

 

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

 

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

 

Dabney:  I am, in all art forms, a sucker for a story.

Biography of Southern Rain by Kenneth Patchen

Rain’s all right. The boys who physic

through town on freights won’t kick

if it comes; they often laugh then, talking

about the girl who lived down the block,

and how her hair was corn-yellow gold

that God could use for money. But rain,

like memory, can come in filthy clothes too.

 

The whole upstairs of space caved in that night;

as though a drunken giant had stumbled over the sky—

and all the tears in the world came through.

It was that. Like everyone hurt crying at once.

Trees bent to it, their arms a gallows for all

who had ever died in pain, or were hungry, since

the first thief turned to Christ, cursing…

 

Then, out of the rain, a girl’s voice—her hand

on my arm. “Buddy, help me get this train.”

Her voice was soft… a cigarette after coffee.

I could hear the clickdamnitclick of the wheels;

saw the headlight writing something on the rain.

Then I saw her face—its bleeding sores—I didn’t

ask her if she had ever been in love

or had ever heard of Magdalen and Mary

or why she wanted to leave that town.

 

Do you see what I mean about the rain?

 

Blythe: This is my sister’s poem that I love. I know it sounds cheesy to pick something written by your sister, but she won awards for her poetry in college. This was written toward the end of my grandmother’s life and read at her funeral.

Thinking About my Grandmother Dancing by Dawn Pulsipher

“Yes” said my aunt, nodding severely,

“She has Real Trouble getting around.”

But what if it were July,

and her wheelchair cast aside,

lined up with some others on the lawn.

The sun melts the red vinyl seats

and reflects off a row of silver wheels,

 

and she’s dancing,

 

spinning on the grass

until she’s dizzy, staggering,

falling down laughing,

and nothing breaks, even.

Her dress is long and has white flowers on it,

the hem caught on the heel of her shoe

is what made her laugh so hard.

 

And I imagine her in love,

Love so hard she falls back on her bed,

and stares at the ceiling with young eyes

thinking, “My heart has been stolen,

it’s gone and I’m empty.”

Maybe her sister hits her with a pillow then,

says, “Stop dreaming and come to dinner

silly Lois,”

and wheels her on in.

 

Her eyes might be empty

looking at our young faces,

so many,

but I guess she’s probably thinking

about dancing.

 

Maggie:  I love poetry so it was hard for me to pick! Acquainted with the Night is so evocative of how it can feel to be alone that I find myself mesmerized by it.

Acquainted with the Night by Robert Frost

I have been one acquainted with the night.

I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.

I have outwalked the furthest city light.

 

I have looked down the saddest city lane.

I have passed by the watchman on his beat

And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

 

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet

When far away an interrupted cry

Came over houses from another street,

 

But not to call me back or say good-bye;

And further still at an unearthly height,

One luminary clock against the sky

 

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.

I have been one acquainted with the night.

 

So these are a few of our favorites, what are yours?