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Posts Tagged ‘robert service’

It isn’t often that I am surprised by someone else’s lack of knowledge about poetry; it is a taste that some folks never develop. I do, however, assume that everyone knows the names of the great poets, like Robert W. Service.

Who is that, you say? You’d be joining the ranks of my associates at work, and several of my Facebook friends.

But how can you *not* know who he was? Don’t they read “The Cremation of Sam McGee” in school these days? Oh, wait. I didn’t read it in school, either: my father quoted it to me, and I begged to see the book it was written in. A life-long love affair with “The Bard of the Yukon” was born (and while “Sam McGee” is his most quotable poem, “The Spell of the Yukon” is his most beautiful ode to that wild, untamed, brutish land where most of his poems are set).

Poetry gets a bad rap, face it. I had a college professor who hated Robert Frost; I love Robert Frost (he was not adored by his contemporaries). I’m not a fan of Ella Wheeler Wilcox, but snippets from her poems are found in greeting cards everywhere. There are some who find John Donne tedious, but if I can bury my nose in his Holy Sonnets:

“Batter my heart, three-personed God; for You

as yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;” (Holy Sonnet 14).

Thomas Carew wrote a moving poem upon the death of Dr. John Donne:

Here lies a king, that ruled as he thought fit

the universal monarchy of wit;

Here lie two flamens, and both those the best:

Apollo’s first, at that the true God’s priest.” (flamens: a crown of bays or laurel)

Some poems are so quotable that you might think everyone would know them (I’m coming back to Robert W. Service here):

There are strange things done in the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold;

The Arctic trails have their secret tales/that would make you blood run cold;

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,

but the queerest they ever did see

was that night on Lake Lebarge

I cremated Sam McGee”

Every kid can quote “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe (at least I assume they can!) but he wrote poetry that was not so macabre as well.

I don’t know when I fell in love with poetry, but I do know when I discovered Langston Hughes. 1973. I bought a poster with a poem of his on it. In later years, I read his biography and all of his poems from “Hold Fast to Dreams” to “Harlem”

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up/like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore –

and then run?

How about this freestyle from Lawrence Ferlinghetti, titled “Dog”:

The dog trots freely in the street

and sees reality and the things he sees 

are bigger than himself

and the things he sees

are his reality

Poetry covers every aspect of human life. Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Robert Browning, Thomas Gray: Ode (On the Death of a Favorite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes), Henry David Thoroeau, Walt Whitman, Rudyard Kipling, William Butler Yeats.

What of William Blake?

The Tyger

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

These are but snippets of favorite poems, many forgotten in the dusty attic of my memory. And I have so many more books of poetry to read.

But let me return to Robert Service one more time. My friends who read Sam McGee were highly entertained and realized there was something more to be said about the world of poetry.

I want to leave them with this classic, written by The Great ANONYMOUS (and, despite that name, this poem is a classic in all regards): The Whore on the Snow Crust:

Bastards are not at all time got

In feather beds, we know;

The strumpet’s oath convinces both

Ofttimes it is not so…

If I fell in love with poetry because of Rudyard Kipling or William Blake, and then proceeded to devour my way through Shelley, Longfellow, Marianne Moore, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and e.e. cummings, then I am, perhaps, guilty of a sort of elitism way of thinking. Of course you know who this was!!

Let me leave you with this visual from Carl Sandburg:

The Fog

The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

 

 

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