Slices of Life is written by Lisa Gibalerio
October afternoons are often golden and warm, but the morning chill that blankets the air is jarring. So around this time of year, I am haunted by a stanza from one of my favorite poems, written by Lewis Carroll:
Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die.
Autumn frosts have slain July.
I discovered this poem – untitled, but usually referred to by its first line, “A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky” – years ago when I was reading the Alice in Wonderland books to my kids. It immediately struck me as a moving and powerful tribute to lingering memories of gentler days.
Poetry, for me, falls in the class of things that I thoroughly appreciate, revere even but seldom fully engage with. Like the thrill of travel to a new land, the epicurean delights of fine food, or the magnificence of a sunrise, I relish them when possible which is, sadly, all too infrequently.
But with your indulgence, let me pause today and pay tribute to some of my favorite poems and poets.
W. H. Auden had this to say about those who write poetry, “A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.” While I share that love of language, I have never been able to compose exceptional poetry. I get all tied up and bogged down with the words, so I marvel at the way “real poets” – who are accessing the very same words available to me – are able to blend sounds with varying cadences and play with meaning and imagery to come up with something staggeringly beautiful.
Take this stanza by Edgar Allen Poe from “A Dream Within a Dream”:
I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand –
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep – while I weep!
Aren’t you catapulted to his side – by the edge of a rough ocean? He goes on to lament the hopelessness of saving even a single grain of sand from its fate, which I suspect is a metaphor for Poe’s own elusive fate.
There are poems that celebrate all four seasons, but none so dramatically as Fall. Breathe in these lines by William Butler Yeats:
The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky –
Sometimes poetry is an antidote for what ails my troubled soul. When the fear of death invades my mind in the wee hours of a sleepless night, the words of Shakespeare offer balm:
Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,
Nor the furious winter’s rages;
Thou thy worldy task hast done,
Home art done, and ta’en thy wages:
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.
Somehow, this passage renders me less afraid; comforted.
There are many amazing poems that deal with death, including: Auden’s “Stop all the Clocks, Cut off the Telephone ...” and Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gently into That Good Night” among many others. But another one of my favorites, because it’s hopeful, is this one by Sara Teasdale. It’s called “On the Dunes”:
If there is any life when death is over,
These tawny beaches will know much of me,
I shall come back, as constant and as changeful
As the unchanging, many-colored sea.
Among my favorite poets, maybe because he writes so gorgeously about nature (see “Snow-flakes” and “The Sound of the Sea”), is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He also writes poignantly about childhood memories that haunt us into adulthood. From “My Lost Youth,” I treasure this stanza:
There are things of which I may not speak;
There are dreams that cannot die;
There are thoughts that make the strong heart weak,
And bring a pallor into the cheek,
And a mist before the eye.
And the words of that fatal song
Come over me like a chill:
‘A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.’
Thank you for letting me share with you some selections I cherish. But now, I’m sure, you all have – to paraphrase Robert Frost – “miles to go before you sleep, and miles to go before you sleep.”