I picked up Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process last night and skipped straight to the Billy Collins contribution, "Into the Deep Heart's Core." I decided on the spot that I must (yes, must, because what if I need an MRI someday?) memorize "The Lake Isle of Innisfree."
Don't fret. This isn't a medical post, and I don't need an MRI —you'll get the MRI reference when you read the piece. And, happily, I can send you directly to that piece, because the book grew out of Joe Fassler's "By Heart" series in The Atlantic, and you can find the Billy Collins piece here.
A few shimmering gems:
It’s a powerful, unexpected statement of a simple sentiment: I want to go somewhere better than where I am.
Poetry’s kind of a mixture of the clear and the mysterious. It’s very important to know when to be which: what to be clear about and what to leave mysterious.
And yet I think poetry is as important today as it’s ever been, despite its diminished public stature. Its uses become obvious when you read it. Poetry privileges subjectivity. It foregrounds the interior life of the writer, who is trying to draw in a reader. And it gets readers into contact with their own subjective life. This is valuable, especially now.
And of course, listen to Yeats read "The Lake Isle of Innisfree."
Arise and go now, and read Billy Collins on the joy of memorization.
And memorize something. Because you never know when you're going to be in a "very high-tech coffin," in need of a beautiful and useful distraction.
The Lake Isle of Innisfree
William Butler Yeats
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.