After an April chock-full of every poet and poetry reader’s tweeted first and favorite lines, I’d like to share some lines that didn’t fit into 140 characters, or didn’t make sense extracted from their surroundings.
Although there are plenty of terrific “stand-alone” lines, when I set myself the goal of sharing a #FavoriteLine or #1stLine throughout the month, I realized that most of my favorites are favorites for what comes before or after, inextricable from the poems they live in. In fact, on the last day of the month, I broke down and cheated, slipping in a virgule so that I could share the magical ending of James Wright’s “A Blessing”:
The poem is what its title says – a blessing. Read it here.
Some other lines that kept coming to me in April – and have been part of my mental landscape in many cases since I first started reading poetry — that would have made little sense by themselves:
“I got so I could take his name” (Emily Dickinson) (link; ignore the reading)
“Bow-wow, bow-wow, bow-wow” (Mark Doty, “Golden Retrievals”) (link)
“I, having loved ever since I was a child, a few things” (Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Modern Declaration”) (link)
“And we let him in” (Thomas Hardy, “Snow in the Suburbs”) (link)
“No doubt left. Enough deceiving” (James Agee, “No doubt left. Enough deceiving” – included at the end of this post)
“Ah, Grief, I should not treat you/like a homeless dog” (Denise Levertov, “Talking to Grief”) (link)
“Love is not all, it is not meat nor drink” (actually, maybe that does work by itself, especially since so many poetry lovers will immediately hear the next lines –
Nor slumber, nor a roof against the rain, nor yet
A floating spar to men that sink, and rise, and sink and rise again… (link)
The favorite-line doesn’t favor enjambment, so I couldn’t tweet such lines as those one can’t hear without their wrap-around completion:
“Ah love, let us be true/to one another” (Matthew Arnold, “Dover Beach”) (link)
“Is that dance slowing in the mind of man/that made him think the universe could hum” (Theodore Roethke, “The Dance” in “Four for Sir John Davies” – included at the end of this post)
“…Whatever/what is is is what/I want.” (Galway Kinnell)
The whole poem is not much longer, so I’ll include it here – memorizable the first time you read it!
“Prayer,” by Galway Kinnell, from A New Selected Poems (Mariner Books).
Whatever happens. Whatever
what is is is what
I want. Only that. But that.
Finally, when I posted my chosen first or favorite lines for #NationalPoetryMonth, I felt a little sheepish about space constraints preventing me from including a link or the text of the whole poem. So here are some of those lines with links to their poems.
#1stLine: “He thought he kept the universe alone”—Robert Frost “The Most of It” (included at the end of this post)
#FavoriteLine: “Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.” –Walt Whitman “A Noiseless Patient Spider” (link)
#FavoriteLine: “Prove that I lie”—WB Yeats “Her Anxiety” (link) (ignore the reading)
#FavoriteLine: “To the eyes of a man of imagination, nature is imagination itself”—William Blake, Letter
The context is this paragraph, brilliantly cited by W.S. Merwin in his 2010 Poet Laureate Inaugural Reading, “The Imagination of Man’:
“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way”. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of a man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.”
#FavoriteLine:“The certainty of others—the life, love, sight, hearing of others.”—Walt Whitman “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” (link)
#FavoriteLine:“I can remember when he was a pup”—Robert Frost“The Span of Life”
(link) (ignore the reading)
#FavoriteLine: “All that I saw was China, China, China.”—Richard Wilbur “Digging for China” (link to the Writers Almanac with text and reading)
Poems for which there is no good online link (I recommend the books!):
No doubt left. Enough deceiving.
James Agee (from Promise Me Voyage – that title is a quote from Hart Crane)
No doubt left. Enough deceiving.
Now I know you do not love.
Now you know I do not love.
Now we know we do not love.
No more doubt. No more
Yet there is pity in us for each other
And better times are almost fresh as true.
The dog returns. And the man to his mother.
And tides. And you to me. And I to you.
And we are cowardly kind the cruellest way,
Feeling the cliff unmorsel from our heels
And knowing balance gone, we smile, and stay
A little, whirling our arms like desperate wheels.
Four for Sir John Davies:
Theodore Roethke (from Words for the Wind)
Is that dance slowing in the mind of man
That made him think the universe could hum?
That great wheel turns its axle when it can;
I need a place to sing, and dancing-room,
And I have made a promise to my ears
I’ll sing and whistle romping with the bears.
For they are all my friends: I saw one slide
Down a steep hillside on a cake of ice,—
Or was that in a book? I think with pride:
A caged bear rarely does the same thing twice
In the same way: O watch his body sway!—
This animal remembering to be gay.
I tried to fling my shadow at the moon,
The while my blood leaped with a wordless song.
Though dancing needs a master, I had none
To teach my toes to listen to my tongue.
But what I learned there, dancing all alone,
Was not the joyless motion of a stone.
I take this cadence from a man named Yeats;
I take it, and I give it back again:
For other tunes and other wanton beats
Have tossed my heart and fiddled through my brain.
Yes, I was dancing-mad, and how
That came to be the bears and Yeats would know.
The Most of It
Robert Frost (from any good Frost collection)
He thought he kept the universe alone;
For all the voice in answer he could wake
Was but the mocking echo of his own
From some tree–hidden cliff across the lake.
Some morning from the boulder–broken beach
He would cry out on life, that what it wants
Is not its own love back in copy speech,
But counter–love, original response.
And nothing ever came of what he cried
Unless it was the embodiment that crashed
In the cliff’s talus on the other side,
And then in the far distant water splashed,
But after a time allowed for it to swim,
Instead of proving human when it neared
And someone else additional to him,
As a great buck it powerfully appeared,
Pushing the crumpled water up ahead,
And landed pouring like a waterfall,
And stumbled through the rocks with horny tread,
And forced the underbrush—and that was all.