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Poetry is meant to be read aloud. For hundreds of years poets followed the Oral Tradition of reading their poems aloud. It was the only way.

“I apologize for not responding sooner to your letter, but I had laryngitis and could not read it.”
       - Seneca, 1 st Century Roman

 

In the last century, with a few exceptions such as Dylan Thomas, this tradition was in danger. We may have a revitalization under way with Slam Poetry (akin to hip-hop), but that culture carries some problems with it. If we keep in mind that sound is to poetry as color is to visual art, we shall also discover the poems we like are more easily memorized.

Try the “electio” method by reading these poems by Edwin Arlington Robinson and the sonnets of William Shakespeare aloud, speaking into a corner and letting the words flow over you.

Poems by Edwin Arlington Robinson

 

Richard Cory                                                     

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good-morning," and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich—yes, richer than a king—
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head

 


 

Miniver Cheevy                                                     

Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,
  Grew lean while he assailed the seasons;
He wept that he was ever born,
  And he had reasons.

Miniver loved the days of old
  When swords were bright and steeds were prancing;
The vision of a warrior bold
  Would set him dancing.

Miniver sighed for what was not,
  And dreamed, and rested from his labors;
He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot,
  And Priam's neighbors.

Miniver mourned the ripe renown
  That made so many a name so fragrant;
He mourned Romance, now on the town,
  And Art, a vagrant.

Miniver loved the Medici,
  Albeit he had never seen one;
He would have sinned incessantly
  Could he have been one.

Miniver cursed the commonplace
  And eyed a khaki suit with loathing;
Hi missed the medieval grace
  Of iron clothing.

Miniver scorned the gold he sought,
  But sore annoyed was he without it;
Miniver thought, and thought, and thought,
  And thought about it.

Miniver Cheevy, born too late,
  Scratched his head and kept on thinking;
Miniver coughed, and called it fate,
  And kept on drinking.

 


 

Luke Havergal                                                     

Go to the western gate, Luke Havergal,

There where the vines cling crimson on the wall,

And in the twilight wait for what will come.

The leaves will whisper there of her, and some,

Like flying words, will strike you as they fall;

But go, and if you listen she will call.

Go the western gate, Luke Havergal—

Luke Havergal.

 

No, there is not a dawn in eastern skies

To rift the fiery night that's in your eyes;

But there, where western glooms are gathering,

The dark will end the dark, if anything:

God slays Himself with every leaf that flies,

And hell is more than half of paradise.

No, there is not a dawn in eastern skies—

In eastern skies.

 

Out of a grave I come to tell you this,

Out of a grave I come to quench the kiss

That flames upon your forehead with a glow

That blinds you to the way that you must go.

Yes, there is yet one way to where she is,

Bitter, but one that faith may never miss.

Out of a grave I come to tell you this—

To tell you this.

 

There is the western gate, Luke Havergal,

There are the crimson leaves upon the wall.

Go, for the winds are tearing them away,—

Nor think to riddle the dead words they say,

Nor any more to feel them as they fall;

But go, and if you trust her she will call.

There is the western gate, Luke Havergal—

Luke Havergal.


 

Edwin Arlington Robinson’s “BEN JONSON ENTERTAINS A MAN FROM STRATFORD”:

In this brilliant satirical poem we have three personalties:

Ben Jonson , Shakespeare, and the poet/ interpreter, Robinson. ( Jonson was a famous contemporary of Shakespeare.) Here are some excerpted lines just to tempt you for the whole compelling read:

 

“I’ll meet him out alone of a bright Sunday,
Trim, rather spruce, quite the gentleman.
“What, ho, my Lord,’ say I
He’ll turn to me---
‘Ben, you’re a scholar, what time is it?”


“He needs a dog
to wag his tail at him
when he comes home
and then to put his paws
up on his knees and say,
‘For God’s sake,
what’s it all about?”


“I tell him he needs Greek
but neither Greek nor God
will help that man.
Nothing will help that man.”


“I’ll talk of rules and Aristotle
with him . . . He’ll say
‘I have your word that Aristotle knows,
and you mine that I don’t know Aristotle.”


“No, Ben, it’s all nothing---
we come, we go, and when
we’re done, we’re done.”


“When he talks like that,
there’s nothing for a man to do,
but lead him to somewhere
to make him drink.”


“I love the man this side of idolatry.”
He’s old enough
to be the father of a world,
and so he is.”


 

Shakespeare’s Sonnets

William Shakespeare was indeed the father of a world of his own making. I suppose that all, the many of us, who put together “for love of poetry” sites wonder what we should do with him. Of course he cannot be left out. In this section I have chosen to try to honor him through his distinctive contribution (always distinctive) of Sonnets. Over the years he wrote 154 of them. These selections are among the most famous.

The Sonnet form consists of three four-line stanzas or quatrains and a couplet in iambic pentameter (which Shakespeare used extensively).

 

     

Sonnet 29  

 When, in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least,
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate
 
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings,
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.        

 

     

Sonnet 30

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought

I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste;
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death's dateless night,
And weep afresh love's long-since-cancelled woe,
And moan th' expense of many a vanished sight;
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er
The sad account of fore-bemoanèd moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.


But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end.  

 

Sonnet 33

 

Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy;
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace:
Even so my sun one early morn did shine
With all triumphant splendor on my brow;
But out, alack! he was but one hour mine;
The region cloud hath mask'd him from me now.

Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth;
Suns of the world may stain when heaven's sun staineth.


Sonnet 18

 

Shall I compare thee to a Summer's day?
Thou are more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And Summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd:
But thy eternal Summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st:


So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.


Sonnet 138

When my love swears that she is made of truth
I do believe her, though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutor'd youth,
Unlearned in the world's false subtleties.
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although she knows my days are past the best,
Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue:
On both sides thus is simple truth suppress'd.
But wherefore says she not she is unjust?
And wherefore say not I that I am old?
O, love's best habit is in seeming trust,
And age in love loves not to have years told:

Therefore I lie with her and she with me,
And in our faults by lies we flatter'd be.

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