The fading trauma of poetry

I loved all of my freshman creative writing class except for one section: poetry.

For the first week, I tried really, really hard to appreciate the poems we read and to remember the forms we talked about. But it was pure torture, and by the time I had to write 100 lines of poetry, I was desperate to get it over with as quickly as possible. Among the gems I composed were a free-verse poem about narwhals and a rondeau about the misery of finals week. Instant classics, I assure you.

This was not helped by that class where I was given twenty minutes to read and interpret five German poems and then present to the class. And two of the poems were Rilke, for heaven’s sake! I still can’t face Rilke without wanting to die.

But, Rilke aside, I have grown through the years to appreciate, even enjoy poetry beyond The Cremation of Sam McGee (although that remains a true favorite around the campfire). There are poems that are the perfect mixture of music and words, and those are the ones that have taken up residence in my heart and soul.

For example (with a few favorite linesโ€”click the title to read the whole poem):

The Day is Done (Longfellow)

Then read from the treasured volume
The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice.

And the night shall be filled with music
And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.

The House by the Side of the Road (Foss)

Let me live in my house by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by-
They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
Wise, foolish – so am I.
Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat,
Or hurl the cynic’s ban?
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

The Builders (Longfellow)

All are architects of Fate,
Working in these walls of Time;
Some with massive deeds and great,
Some with ornaments of rhyme.

Nothing useless is, or low;
Each thing in its place is best;
And what seems but idle show
Strengthens and supports the rest.

How do you feel about poetry? What are some of your favorites? Are you one of those daring souls who writes poetry?


  1. I remember being tortured at school having to read Chaucer’s Canterbury tales – the untranslated Middle English – even being English myself this was a foreign language! ‘Speak up. Add humour!’ the teacher would yell at us. Add humour? To something written in an alien language? This is English Class not an Interpol training camp. And, yes, I was put off poetry, assuming everything was written in Cuniform.

    A few years ago I got a copy of 20th Cenury poetry from the library which had the likes of Maya Angelou, John Berryman, Philip Larkin and others. Needless to say I now LOVE poetry, even went back and patiently read Chaucer (even though it still gave me a migraine.) Poetry is therapy, internal expressions of external things. It has got me through some really difficult times, especially Angelou, Pablo Neruda and Percy Bysshe Shelley.

    And yes, I write it – or it writes me ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I greatly appreciate poetry, but stink at writing it. Aside from the rinky-dink silly poems in my books, I’m a horrific poet.
    But narwhals!! I’d love to read that poem someday.
    My favorite poet is Rudyard Kipling, and, of course, I love Shakespeare’s sonnets.
    I’m not a big fan of modern poetry. I can’t help it… I like rhyming stuff!

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