Monday, August 03, 2009

An urgent matter of poetry

My father is a great lover of poetry. The wording of that is specific. I cannot say he is only a lover of great poetry, though he does love that, too. But great or silly, Shakespeare or limericks, he loves poetry.

As did his mother before him. My grandmother lived to be 90, and until the very end, she could still recite poetry that she had memorized as a girl.

And as does his daughter after him. I went to college partially on a scholarship for poetry interpretation, I graduated with an English degree, with a focus on poetry writing. After a surgery, when I found myself still paralyzed from the anesthesia but with my mind completely awake (thankfully in the recovery room, not on the operating table), I calmed myself by mentally reciting "Prisoner of Chillon."

Last night I received a phone call from my father at 10 pm. This caused my heart to skip a beat as a) my father rarely calls me, b) never late at night and c) the last time he called, it was to tell me my mother was in the hospital with a heart attack.

No, no, this was a different emergency. A poetry emergency.

"I can remember this poem, but I can't find it doing an internet search, and I don't remember the title or the author."


"It's something about 'I think I shall join with the cows, they don't complain, or worry about heaven,'" he told me.

No idea of the poet?

"It was one of the modern American poets. Frost? Whitman? One of those."

We talked about why he wanted to find this poem -- short version, an old friend of his pissed him off. Again. (From what I am witnessing, old men friends fight and make up, over and over, much like little girls. They are opinionated and can't resist mouthing off to each other. But they've gotten sensitive in their old age, and get their feelings hurt. But life is short, so they reach out to each other again. Lather, rinse, and repeat.)

So as you can see, a judicious application of poetry was in order.

I searched and searched, but turned up nothing. Cows ... dream ... join with cows ... stand with cows ... cows ... complain ...

He called me in a few minutes, triumphant. Forget the internet, he went to his old books and found it. Of course, there's no mention of "cows" in it. Whatever.

The poem doesn't reflect my usual attitude. But there are days ...

Walt Whitman:

"I think I could turn and live with the animals, they are so placid and self contained;
I stand and look at them long and long....
They do not sweat and whine about their condition;
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins;
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God;
Not one is dissatisfied-not one is demented with the mania of owning things;
Not one kneels to another, nor his kind that lived thousands of years ago;
Not one is responsible or industrious over the whole earth."


Anonymous said...

Gotta love you some Whitman!

ogre said...

Looks perilously like "Consider the lilies..."

And yes, Patrick, you gotta love Whitman.

"I am large, I contain multitudes..."

John A Arkansawyer said...

D. H. Lawrence has a different one that I like called Self-Pity:

I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.