I love poetry. It is the quiet passion of my life. When I was a child my mother read me old nursery rhymes at bedtime and they had the lilt of poetry in them which stayed with me forever. And in our home there were shelves filled with books including wonderfully illustrated verse anthologies in which I began to read my first poems and became entranced. When I was a teenager a great teacher, John Hodge of Queens Royal College in Port-of-Spain, delighted in departing from the syllabus books to tell us about strange poets we had never heard of, and urge us to expand our minds with their beauty and insights – Gerard Manley Hopkins, Emily Dickinson, W B Yeats, Sappho, Ezra Pound, Robert Frost. John Hodge changed the angle of how I saw the world. “The complex value of the word was born/…And language took ecstatic wing.”
There is not a day goes past I do not read poetry. And every now and then in a sudden epiphany of discovery in the space of a day or two I happen to come across poems one after the other in which I especially delight and which I therefore want to share.
Langston Hughes was one of the poets not on our syllabus who John Hodge told us schoolboys about. He often read from his ‘Weary Blues’. But he never read this poem by Hughes. I discovered it one day for myself.
Mother to Son
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor –
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now –
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
Here is a poem by Miroslav Holub I like very much. It was a bright day when I read it and I went out to look at the sun which was high in a cloudless sky. And I found Holub is right – about truth also
Brief Reflection On The Sun
Thanks to the systematic work of our meteorologists,
and altogether thanks to the general labour effort,
we have all been witnesses of many solstices
solar eclipses and even
But we have never seen the sun.
It’s like this: we have seen the sun
through the trees, the sun above the Tatra
National Park, the sun beyond a rough road,
The sun drenching Hasek’s village of Lipnice,
but not the sun,
Just-the-Sun, of course, in unbearable.
Only the sun related to trees, shadows,
Hills, Lipnice and the Highway Department
is a sun for people.
The Just-the-Sun hangs like a fist over the ocean,
over the desert or over the airliner,
it doesn’t cast shadows, it doesn’t flicker from movement,
And is so unique it almost isn’t at all.
And it’s just the same with truth.
The Arabs have one of the very greatest poetic traditions. I realize how much I miss by hardly knowing anything of this great tradition. Here is a beautiful poem by Mahmoud Darwish.
Remainder Of A Life
If I were told:
By evening you will die,
so what will you do until then?
I would look at my wristwatch,
I’d drink a glass of juice,
bite an apple,
contemplate at length an ant that has found its food,
then look at my wristwatch.
There’d be time left to shave my beard
and dive in a bath, obsess:
“There must be an adornment for writing,
so let it be a blue garment.”
I’d sit until noon alive at my desk
but wouldn’t see the trace of color in the words,
white, white, white….
I’d prepare my last lunch,
pour wine in two glasses: one for me
and one for the one who will come without appointment,
then I’d take a nap between two dreams.
But my snoring would wake me….
so I’d look at my wristwatch:
and there’d be time left for reading.
I’d read a chapter in Dante and half of a mu’allaqah
and see how my life goes from me
to the others, but I wouldn’t ask who
would fill what’s missing in it.
That’s it, then?
That’s it, that’s it.
Then I’d comb my hair and throw away the poem…
this poem, in the trash,
and put on the latest fashion in Italian shirts,
parade myself in an entourage of Spanish violins,
and walk to the grave!
Let me assure readers – great poetry will be remembered and inspire lives long, long after the mostly tawdry events in today’s headlines have faded completely into oblivion.