Thursday, March 2, 2006

Quoting Poetry

I can't begin to explain what it means to me to have lines and lines of poetry floating around in my head all the time. Sure, I have my own poetry, but I'm talking about "canonized" poetry. Keats. Wordsworth. Shakespeare. Dickinson. Eliot.

At certain times in my life, certain lines of poetry are more prominent, as they tend to serve as a kind of "background music" for my life. When I was hiking the AT, I constantly thought about Dickinson's "I taste a liquor never brewed." All through high school, it was Dickinson's "I'm Nobody! Who are you?"

When I've been depressed, I've most often gone to the melancholy Romantics. When teaching the Romantics over the past month, I'd find myself quoting big sections of poetry by heart, and the reason I can quote them is that they've played some sort of major "theme music" role at some point in my life.

I didn't realize until I was standing in front of my classroom last week that I have this entire stanza from Keats's "Ode to a Nightingale" memorized in its entirety:

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call'd him soft names in many a mus├Ęd rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!
Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
To thy high requiem become a sod.

I think I must have memorized those lines at Oxford, when I was so depressed. I don't remember ever sitting down and making the effort to memorize them. They just found their way into my brain somehow. Or my heart. It's always like that.

I just love poetry.

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