Friday, September 12, 2008

Poetry Friday: Jane, not John

Happiness is an odd thing. It can be unpredictable, sometimes indescribable, alternately omnipresent and elusive.

"Happiness" seems such a benign word. Like "nice."

"Happiness is a nice word," she said nicely.

If you happened upon a poem called Happiness you might be tempted to happen quickly by, for its bland title would deceive you.

You would not guess that crouching beneath the bland banner is a powerful poem by Jane Kenyon, waiting to spring on you.

Happiness
by Jane Kenyon

There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

(Read the rest here. It gets even better and is worth your click.)

A happy coincidence: I was feeling Keatsian last night, but not quite Keatsian. I couldn't think of or find anything that felt quite right to me. I didn't want to post about Keats, either. Though I must confess to being regularly tempted to post this little bit, by J.D. Salinger, which I read years ago:

John Keats,
John Keats,
John.
Please put your scarf on.

But, no, I wasn't feeling that silly last night. I felt, more accurately, grateful that although happiness is often ephemeral, there is a kind of happiness that is underlying, steadfast, and is the only thing that sustains me when the outer coatings of happiness chip off and fall away. There's a happiness (though, like the poem, that word is deceptively benign for the condition of which I speak) found in my faith that cannot be undercut and sometimes can't be defined. It's the stuff that remains even when weariness has overtaken me.

But, back to John. I was randomly (and rather unhappily) searching at The Poetry Foundation for something about autumn ... or education ... or oh, arrghh, I didn't know what. I thought, "I should just go to bed." I was about to, when I decided to click on this bland little title, "Happiness." And when I read more about Jane Kenyon (see her bio page here) I saw this:
Indeed, Kenyon's work has often been compared with that of English Romantic poet John Keats; Roberts dubbed her a "Keatsian poet" and noted that, "like Keats, she attempts to redeem morbidity with a peculiar kind of gusto, one which seeks a quiet annihilation of self-identity through identification with benign things."
I bookmarked the page and went happily to bed, knowing exactly the thing, the poem and the person about which I'd post this morning. Anyone who "attempts to redeem morbidity with a peculiar kind of gusto, one which seeks a quiet annihilation of self-identity through identification with benign things,'" is someone I will seek out with a peculiar kind of gusto.

Wishing you a happy sort of Poetry Friday.

Jennie has the round up this week at Biblio File and you can read more about Poetry Friday here.

4 comments:

nutmeg said...

I loved this post. I can so relate to the blandness of a poem called "Happiness" and the surprise of a stunning first stanza.

Thank you for introducing us to Jane, not John.

:)

Kelly Fineman said...

That poem so rocks. For an autumn poem, and Keats, one can't beat To Autumn by John Keats.

That said, I love me some Kenyon, too.

Sherry said...

There's a happiness (though, like the poem, that word is deceptively benign for the condition of which I speak) found in my faith that cannot be undercut and sometimes can't be defined. It's the stuff that remains even when weariness has overtaken me.

Oh, yes.

Beck said...

That is a lovely, lovely poem.