Letters of Life

Poetry Revisited

They say youth is wasted on the young.

Well, I say, Donne, as in John Donne, is likewise wasted on the young.

I should know. I remember signing up for The Metaphysical Poets because the Children’s Literature class was full, and deeply regretted it. I was too impatient to appreciate lines like

She’s all states, and all princes I;
Nothing else is;
Princes do but play us ; compared to this,
All honour’s mimic, all wealth alchemy. — From The Sun Rising

and thought he was a lovesick old fool. For me, there was a life to be lived outside of the classroom, parties to plan and to go to, movies to watch, friends to discover, midnight grocery-shopping, midnight chats, the works. An entire universe from the 17th century seemed as dull as yesterday’s newspapers, and reading Donne was casting pearls before (young) swine who dreaded her third-year English class with a professor who mumbled.

If ’twere not so, what did become
Of my heart when I first saw thee?
I brought a heart into the room,
But from the room I carried none with me.
If it had gone to thee, I know
Mine would have taught thine heart to show
More pity unto me ; but Love, alas !
At one first blow did shiver it as glass. –– The Broken Heart

And says of women,

Hope not for mind in women ; at their best,
Sweetness and wit they are, but mummy, possess’d. —Love’s Alchemy

I know I am doing his beautiful, sophisticated poems (for so I think them now) a great injustice by excerpting it indiscriminately, but ah well…that’s blogging for you. Tee hee.

I was indifferent to Donne, but grew to like George Herbert and tolerated Andrew Marvell. The next semester, I enrolled in The Romantics. Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Blake, William Wordsworth, John Keats.

We are the clouds that veil the midnight moon;
How restlessly they speed, and gleam, and quiver,
Streaking the darkness radiantly!–yet soon
Night closes round, and they are lost forever:

Or like forgotten lyres, whose dissonant strings
Give various response to each varying blast,
To whose frail frame no second motion brings
One mood or modulation like the last.

We rest.–A dream has power to poison sleep;
We rise.–One wandering thought pollutes the day;
We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep;
Embrace fond foe, or cast our cares away:

It is the same!–For, be it joy or sorrow,
The path of its departure still is free:
Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow;
Nought may endure but Mutability. –Mutability by PB Shelley

It was the dead of winter, and The Romantics’ wild visionary styles and temperamental mood swings made the cold classroom a little warmer.

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