Towards Appreciating Poetry

I have always loved the power and the beauty of words. I guess that’s one of the reasons why I became a preacher, and now, it’s part of why I enjoy this newspaper business.

Words have the power to create worlds and to transport us backwards – even forwards! – in time.

Appropriate words can inspire a nation, comfort the afflicted, and encourage the hopeless. Proverbs 25:11 tells us that when the right words are well spoken, they are like “apples of gold in settings of silver.” That is to say, words can have a beauty and a value like an exquisite piece of fine jewelry.

I think that is especially true for poetry. And April is National Poetry Month. According to the website poets.org, “National Poetry Month in April is a special occasion to celebrate the importance of poets and poetry in our culture. This year, on the 25th anniversary of the celebration and in this time of uncertainty and great concern, we can rely on poems to offer wisdom, uplifting ideas, and language that prompts reflection that can help us slow down and center mentally, emotionally, spiritually.”

In my experience, poetry is one of those things that you either love or you hate. And speaking just for myself, I love it. I like the way poets can play with rhythm and “hard,” or accented syllables, versus softer ones: “I think that I shall never see / a poem lovely as a tree” is the way Sergeant Joyce Kilmer began his famous poem “Trees.” He was a member of the Famous 69th New York, with the American Expeditionary Force in France during World War I. Countless soldiers have surveyed the wasteland of a devastated, bombed-out forest, but to read his poem is to feel it from his point of view. Then think about the fact that he was killed in action on July 30, 1918, at the age of 31.

There’s a Robert Frost poem that I enjoy that says, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.” Any dad trying to get home to his family before someone’s Big Day can relate to the speaker being tired and wishing he could stay where he was but knowing that he had to keep moving.

If you are old enough to remember the Challenger disaster, then perhaps you also remember President Reagan’s tribute to the seven who died in that tragedy. The president quoted from the poem “High Flight,” written by an American flyer serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force, Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee. He wrote the poem in the early days of World War II; tragically, he was killed in action a short time later. It begins, “Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth, And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings…” The poem concludes with, “And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod The high un-trespassed sanctity of space, Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.”

I don’t know much about this idea, but I think poetry taps into to that whole “left-brain, right-brain” thing. Doctors who study the brain tell us that one side of our brain handles the analytical duties – math, language, engineering – while the other side deals with emotions, imagination, and creativity. So maybe poetry is able to touch both parts – the words communicate the meaning intended by the writer, but the rhyming, the cadence of the verses, and the other types of creative expression touch that part of us that enjoys art and beauty. It’s a possibility.

In honor of April as National Poetry Month, this coming Friday night, April 1, there’s going to be an “Open Mic Night” featuring poetry and coffee, at the new Copenhagen Coffee House in Stamford, 126 E. Hamilton. It is scheduled for 6:30 – 8:00 pm, and I’m planning to go. Maybe you can join me there.

One of my favorite poems is – Big Surprise! – about trains. The title is “Travel,” by Edna St. Vincent Millay. I read somewhere that it was a favorite of President Franklin Roosevelt. It closes with –

My heart is warm with friends I make,
  And better friends I’ll not be knowing;
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
  No matter where it’s going.

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