Friday, November 02, 2018

Poetry Friday: Billy Collins, W.B. Yeats, MRIs, and Knowing Poems by Heart

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.



Tabatha said...

I am claustrophobic so I will need lots of help if I ever need an MRI! Thanks for sharing Yeats' gorgeous poem, which I love every time, and Collins' spot-on thoughts.
I got a kick out of : "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. A lot of poetry I find unreadable is trying to be mysterious all the time."

Mike said...

Love the audio of Yeats.

"The spinning fates / were kind to Yeats. / The cut his thread / when he was dead / and not before."

jama said...

What a nourishing post! Enjoyed Collins's piece and hearing Yeats recite. Collins is so right about the importance of memorizing poetry, for it is a wonderful companion to have with you at all times -- and you just never know when you'll need it the most. My first memorized poem was "Paul Revere's Ride" in 7th grade. Since then, I've embraced Elizabeth Barrett Browning and W.H. Auden -- and Yeats's "Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven" is always a good one to calm things down.

tanita✿davis said...

I sang in the MRI machine. Every single song I could think of, all verses, to drown out the horror...

I always figure hymns are like old poems set to music anyway.

Ruth said...

Lots of wonderful links! I think I can almost do all of Innisfree by to try...

Jane @ said...

I remember just despising having to memorize French poems, and cursing my French teacher (inwardly, of course) for making us do it, and yet I can still remember some of those poems, twenty years later!

Peggy Haslar said...

LOVED this post and its links! Have you found The Daily Poem podcast? Five minutes a day to hear a great poem read with a little commentary. I'm going to link this post to my piece about it--poetry lovers continue to find you. Even though I'm an English major, I missed Billy Collins somehow until I started reading Poetry Friday. Thank you!

Buffy Silverman said...

The Lake Isle of Innisfree--better than valium! (But alas, I think I would need the valium to handle the MRI.) Loved the article--thanks for sharing it (and reminding me to be thankful that my 5th grade teacher made us memorize Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. And the preamble to the Constitution. Both are still in my brain, 50 years later.)

Karen Edmisten said...

Tabatha, I loved that part, too, and I hope you never have to get an MRI. When my daughter had to get one recently, we found out there's now an "open" MRI. That saved the day!

Mike! Love that.

Jama, I remember having to memorize "Barbara Frietchie" in grade school, for an assembly, and I have a vivid memory of my siblings and I memorizing a poem called "High Flight," to recite for my father upon his return home from a long assignment. But then I stopped memorizing somewhere along the way, when my brain got too crowded with other things. Time to start again.

Tanita, singing is good for drowning out horror. Ask about the open MRI!!

Ruth, did you succeed?

Jane, don't we always look back at those things we despised with a new eye? :)

Peggy, thanks! Adding The Daily Poem to my podcast favorites! Hurray!

Buffy, better than valium indeed. :D

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