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His house is in the village though.
He will not see me stopping here,
To watch his woods fill up with snow"
You have probably already seen and appreciated this first stanza of Robert Frost's Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening. For me, the first time I read it was like discovering the taste of cotton candy – so sweet and delicate.
But what makes poetry so special? Is it the poet's talent? The poem's power to inspire? Or is it the reader's passionate response that is the core of poetry's sheer loveliness?
I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that you remember at least one poem or poet from younger years. How about this one: "I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree." Written by Sergeant Joyce Kilmer, Trees, I'm pretty sure, has touched every kid who ever picked up a schoolbook.
The following painfully honest words from Maya Angelou's poem Still I Rise haunt me always: "You may write me down in history with your bitter, twisted lies, you may trod me in the very dirt, but still, like dust, I'll rise." To me, these words represent the resiliency of the human will . . . so very powerful.
And how can one forget Sylvia Plath's Daddy, which begins, "You do not do, you do not do any more, black shoe." Plath was such a gifted writer, yet troubled beyond our understanding.
How is it that we remember certain poems at the expense of others? Perhaps it's something the poet said or how they said it. Or it could be a coincidence of recollection. For example, perhaps you just happened to be reading a particular poem while some life-altering event was happening outside your window; maybe you were studying Frost when the tragedy of 9/11 occurred. Or maybe you were studying Bronte when Kennedy was assassinated. I remember when Maya Angelou read her poem On The Pulse Of Morning at President Clinton's inaugural ceremony. And yes, I was alive (and watching) when Robert Frost read The Gift Outright at President Kennedy's inaugural ceremony 32 years prior. (By the way, Frost and Angelou are the only two poets that have had the honour of reading at presidential inaugurations.)
Now, you may be saying to yourself, "I have nothing quite as important as an inauguration on my agenda." But how do you know for sure? Further, the inspiration felt by a poet often stimulates the reader's inspiration as well. What you say in a few lines may have an affect on someone today or in years to come.
Still, no poets, including all the names I've mentioned, begin a poem with the idea that spiritual or intellectual prosperity may be gained from the meagre words they have written. After all, Abraham Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address in about two minutes on a small piece of paper. And yet that brief glow of inspiration has and will continue to have an everlasting affect on Americans.
Perhaps that is what's so special about poetry as well – once it inspires, that inspiration lives eternally.
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