I wasn’t going to write a blog post today, at least not right now. Then I read Jo VonBargen’s post, Poetry: Evidence of Life, made a comment on it, and then I read one of Oscar Sparrow’s posts, The Poetic Truth, that Jo linked to, then my wife, Christina Carson, I read her latest post, Best I Can Remember, then a couple of memories flared off, no doubt prompted by the reading.
And here I am writing about what I remembered. It was a day over fifty years ago, when Mrs. Thomas, my high school English teacher, announced to my eleventh grade English class, “Tomorrow we will begin our flying trip through the world of poetry.”
No one moaned. We were too afraid of Mrs. Thomas to make a sound. But I thought a few moans, and then I thought, I’m not going to make it through this course if we are going to study poetry. Keep in mind, I’d never read any poetry, at least not since nursery rhymes. That wasn’t my reaction. It was a reaction that had been planted in my mind by who-knows-what or whom?
It got worse with her next statement. “Tonight find a poem in the textbook that you like. Read it until you understand it, and be prepared to explain it to the class tomorrow.”
I probably did moan at that, but I wasn’t the only one, so it was overlooked by the best English teacher I ever knew. As the bell sounded, I began leafing through the text book, not looking for a poem I would like or understand, but rather a short one. It would be like reading a classic comic or cliff notes and making a book report on what you read.
I was about to slam the book closed, when a short poem caught my eye. I opened the book wide, flatened it on my desk, and read. Then I read it again, and again, and again, and I still read it, because I fell in love with poetry that day, when I read:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.
Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley
I thought of Jo, and Oscar, and Christina – great poets, all, and I love them all. And I thought of Shelley, Rumi, and James Dickey, other great poets that I love.
Then I thought of music, poetry for all of us, and a song I recently re-found and added to my playlist. It seems appropropiate when I think of my life before poetry, Mrs. Thomas, the eleventh grade, Shelley, Jo, Oscar, and Christina, to share this with you – since I’m not a poet – I’ll bet you’ll know why if you watch and listen.
— Bert Carson (@BertCarson) June 25, 2012