Friday, September 27, 2013

Poetry Friday: Thoughts on Stevenson and Candlelight

When I was little, my family had a card game called Authors. The goal was to collect as many entire sets of "books" (each card was a different book) of the different authors as you could. It's not any Angry Birds, that card game, but we loved it.

For some reason I was drawn to Robert Louis Stevenson (you can see him at the far right of the middle row in the image above.) Even if I didn't have any of his cards at the outset, I would still cross my fingers and hope that I ended up with all four of the Stevenson cards. Maybe this was because of all the authors in the game, he was the only one looking directly at me. And those eyes!

But it might also have been because I had a book as a toddler called The Bumper Book - many of the poems in it were written by Stevenson, so I already loved the sound of his voice before I was old enough to read any of the novels he wrote which were listed in the card game. One poem I remember well, and it comes to me all summer long in Seattle, where the sun stays up in the sky until almost 10:00 at night:

Bed in Summer

IN winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candle-light.
In summer, quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.
I have to go to bed and see        
The birds still hopping on the tree,
Or hear the grown-up people’s feet
Still going past me in the street.
And does it not seem hard to you,
When all the sky is clear and blue, 
And I should like so much to play,
To have to go to bed by day?

I'm sure my own kids thought of that poem when I told them it was time to stop reading and get to bed at 8:00 on a July night.  And my grandson is probably thinking of it when his mom puts him to bed, too. The days are getting shorter now - Autumn has arrived - and I will soon get that "yellow candlelight" feeling when I go to bed. I do love that poem.

Lately drawn to compression - and to the idea of happiness - this Stevenson poem is my current favorite:

The world is so full of a number of things, 
I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings. 

I'm not sure I should like that poem as much as I do. All my advice to beginning poets focuses on the need for specificity - "No abstractions!" - and naming things. So what does "a number of things" tell me, specifically? Well, specifically nothing. Or unspecifically, everything. That's part of its charm. You can make of it what you will - you can be happy with just about anything on any day, and that little couplet pops into your mind. 

Robert Louis Stevenson - Portrait by John Singer Sargent, 1888

Those two lines of poetry inspired my most recent post on Books Around the Table, which is all about cultivating curiosity. If you do that, the world will be "so full of a number of things" that you can't help but be amazed - and happy - and a better writer. 

If that makes me sound wise or overwise, here's what Stevenson had to say about that: "To be overwise is to ossify; and the scruple-monger ends by standing stockstill." Wise man, Stevenson, but not overwise. I think I'll read his wonderful travel journal, Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes, again, a little each night at bedtime, though not by candlelight. 
The Poetry Friday round-up this week is over at Amy Ludwig VanDerWater's blog, The Poem Farm. Head over there to see what other people have posted.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Poetry Friday: Learning How to Hover

Robert Francis 1901-1987

Contemplating the small hummingbirds in our garden this early September, I offer up another small poem written by Robert Francis, (last week's poem about the farm boy was by RF, too) who was contemplating advice from his not-so-small mentor, Robert Frost.

To the Ghost of Robert Frost

"You've got to learn to hover,"
He said. The way a hummingbird
Hovers over a flower, the way
The flower's fragrance hovers over it.
Not to move on, not to
Keep jumping like a nervous grasshopper
But to hover there until you
Have gathered all that is there
For you or anyone to gather.
"You've got to learn to hover."

This is at the heart of what a poet needs to learn how to do, of course - not flit like a butterfly, not chirp like a nut hatch, not swoop like a swallow, not scold like a crow, but hover.

Definitely knew how to hover....
The Poetry Friday round-up today is hosted by Laura over at AUTHOR AMOK. Head over there to see what other people have posted.