A poet is a fellow who
spends his time thinking
about what it is that’s
wrong, and although he
knows he can never quite
find out what this wrong
is, he goes right on
thinking it out
and writing it down.
A poet is a blind optimist.
The world is against him for
many reasons. But the
poet persists. He believes
that he is on the right track,
no matter what any of his
fellow men say. In his
eternal search for truth, the
poet is alone.
He tries to be timeless in a
society built on time.
A poet is a fellow who
A sweet disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness;
A lawn about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distraction;
An erring lace, which here and there
Enthrals the crimson stomacher;
A cuff neglectful, and thereby
Ribands to flow confusedly;
A winning wave, deserving note,
In the tempestuous petticoat;
A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility:
Do more bewitch me, than when art
Is too precise in every part.
~ ~ ~
This one’s from 1648. Yeah, look at the cool guy with his 362-year-old poetry. Seriously though, I really like this little poem and I’ll tell you why. To me this poem perfectly describes poetry itself. Poetry is an ancient thing, originally born from earth and pure emotion, out of the wild. It is humanity’s oldest way to explore and think about the natural world, our place in it, and the mysterious forces that we feel govern it. But poetry is also an art of kings and scholars; and this duality is shown here. “Sweet disorder,” “fine distraction,” and of course – so beautifully said – “wild civility.” Wild civility. If that is not poetry’s true identity I don’t know what is.
And Herrick was right to choose the word “bewitch” when he describes what this wild civility does to him, because poetry, as I said before, is about the mysterious forces – about magic. And I don’t mean magic in the cheesy, is this your card way – I mean magic in the old school way. It’s hard to say what I mean…like Tom Robbins said, “using words to describe magic is like using a screwdriver to cut roast beef.” But I think you understand just the same. Poetry is essentially a catalog of the world’s mysteries.
The truth is that only gold ore can be turned into gold; only poetry into poems.
- Robert Graves, The White Goddess
My handsewn leather schoolbag. Forty years.
Poet, you were nel mezzo del cammin
When I shouldtered it, half-full of blue-lined jotters,
And saw the classroom charts, the displayed bean,
The wallmap with its spray of shipping lanes
Describing arcs across the blue North Channel…
And in the middle of the road to school,
Ox-eye daisies and wild dandelions.
Learning’s easy carried! The bag is light,
Scuffed and supple and unemptiable
As an itinerant school conjuror’s hat.
So take it, for a word-hoard and a handsel,
As you step out trig and look back all at once
Like a child on his first morning leaving parents.
~ ~ ~
I really have a thing for Heaney’s poetry these days. As a reader he is constantly rewarding; I could flip to any page in any of his books and be perfectly satisfied, and more likely blown away, by the poem I found there. He’s a magician, an alchemist. I look at his poems and think, these are just words. These are simple words I know and use. And yet he shapes them into magic, over and over again. This is true poetry here friends, I hope you’re seeing it.
(from his book Seeing Things)
To lift, to fetch, to drive, to shed, to pen,
Are acts I recognize, with all they mean
Of shepherding the unruly, for a kind of
Controlled woolgathering is my work too.
- Cecil Day Lewis
“Poetry is, above all, a singing art of natural and magical connection because, though it is born out of one’s person’s solitude, it has the ability to reach out and touch in a humane and warmly illuminating way the solitude, even the loneliness, of others. That is why, to me, poetry is one of the most vital treasures that humanity possesses; it is a bridge between separated souls.”
- Brendan Kennelly, poet, Irish guy. The Irish know how to say everything best.