Once Upon a Midnight Dreary…

The Blue Bookcase’s weekly Literary Blog Hop asks “What’s your favorite poem and why?”

I’ll admit straight away that I am not a great connoisseur of poetry.  At one point in college, I considered the idea of majoring in literature and had to take a poetry class.  Within the first month or two, after hours and hours of deconstructing  pages and pages of flowery ambiguity, I arrived at two conclusions.  First, some people take poems way too seriously (I believe I mocked Emily Dickenson for being unnecessarily obtuse – I learned that day what the phrase “If looks could kill…” really means).  Secondly, I realized that the key to interpreting poetry is simply to babble off incoherent nonsense, just use big words and complex sentences.   A fun drinking game, no doubt, but not my idea of an intellectually stimulating curriculum.

However, not being a total philistine, there is some poetry that I do appreciate.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Fire of Drift-wood” is an aching meditation on friendship and loss.

And all that fills the hearts of friends
When first they feel, with secret pain
Their lives thenceforth have separate ends
And never can be one again

As someone who’s spent his entire life moving about, this ‘secret pain’ of two friends drifting apart is all too familiar.

I also have a soft spot for the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe.  His poems can be a bit over-the-top melodramatic, but there’s a power in them.  “Annabel Lee” is the ultimate angsty teenager’s ballad, over-flowing with death, darkness, jealousy, professions of undying love.  “The Raven” is a brilliant depiction of how despair can drive someone utterly insane.  Not to mention the wonderful rhythmic syncopation.  There’s a recording out there of Christopher Walken reading this poem – his quirky vocal cadence is a perfect fit.

What I also admire about Poe is that he approached poetry with a craftsman’s sensibilities.  Poems aren’t something that can be simply pulled from the ether.  They require work, revision, editing, careful thought and deliberation.  He documented this in his essay, “Philosophy of Composition,” which takes the reader through the entire creative process of writing “The Raven.”

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20 comments

  1. When I was a lot younger I lived & breathed poetry & like Bolano thought it mattered, as i got older although it stayed with me it was no longer the be all of existence, my life had moved on, yet it is still there, haunting my mind. There are poems that have just remained a part of my life & probably will always. Love your choice of raven, such a fantastic piece of writing.
    Parrish.

    1. I’m certain that poetry matters – all good writing is, in some sense, poetry. I just never was able to ‘live and breathe’ it as you and many other people do. Still, I do enjoy it from time to time. Your post on this topic was excellent!

  2. I like your honesty!

    I’m not a poetry person either and analyzing them makes me all itchy and irritable. Not for me. I do like a simple poem that can be understood without too much further thinking, though.

    1. Thanks! Analyzing poetry gets me aggravated when it’s done in such a way that the components become more important than the whole. That’s how I felt when studying it in college. Over-analyzing anything just seems to take all the fun out of it.

  3. I love Poe! Very nearly chose The Raven myself 🙂

    I used to read a lot of poetry when I was in high school…but I much prefer prose now. That being said – I’m loving reading everyone’s favourite picks!

  4. “I realized that the key to interpreting poetry is simply to babble off incoherent nonsense, just use big words and complex sentences.” – this is how I got through my Literary Interpretation class.

    I’d love to hear Walken reading The Raven. It’s a great poem and I can just imagine what he’d bring to it.

  5. I tend to agree with you, and love the Longfellow quote…even if I did start to zone out reading the whole poem. I guess I like the short and sweet stuff, something punchy.

  6. You might have been right about Emily Dickinson! An intensely private person, she hid her poetry, which she revised and revised, in a dresser drawer. It isn’t implausible that she might have been deliberately obtuse, attempting to express herself and hide herself at the same time.

  7. @gautami – Thanks for coming by – I thought your post on this topic was great as well!
    @booksploring – I’ve been enjoying reading up on other’s choices as well- I’ve read more than a few great poems that I’d never heard of!
    @Olivia – I think Poe is the perfect poet for high schoolers. As I mentioned in my post, it’s dark, pretty straightforward, and fun to read. His stories are the same – I still remember reading “The Masque of the Red Death” in high school and thinking how wonderfully creepy it was.
    @ Alley – The link I posted is to a youtube clip of Walken reading “The Raven.” It’s a great recital.
    @lemon123 – glad you liked the Longfellow poem!
    @Melody – It takes a mood to read poetry or you do start to zone out. It’s happened to me more than once hopping around the blog posts on this topic. Still, there are great poems out there…
    @Lisa – Thanks for the affirmation! I don’t think my Prof saw it that way. I also probably expressed myself more antagonistically than I should have knowing how my audience would react…
    @Rachel – Thanks for stopping by. The Raven seems to be a pretty popular choice. It’s just such a catchy, brooding piece. A strange combination, but it works so well.

  8. Oh, I forgot about Poe! I do like some of his poems.
    Hope you’re enjoying The Devil in the White City. I thought the audio version was very well done.

  9. Thanks for the link to The Fire of Drift-Wood. What a beautiful poem. I don’t spend a lot of time reading poetry. I think I’m too impatient. But there are some that manage to stop me in my tracks.

  10. MY CROW
    A crow flew into the tree outside my window.
    It was not Ted Hughe’s crow, or Galways crow.
    Or Frost’s, Pasternaks, or Lorca’s crow,
    or one of Homer’s crows, stuffed with gore
    after the battle. This was just a crow.
    That never fit in anywhere in its life,
    or did anything worth mentioning.
    It sat there on the branch for a few minutes.
    Then picked up and flew beautifully
    out of my life.

    by Raymond Carver

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