Here's another one I return to in my dog-eared Norton and read the scribbled on, stained pages again and again, and have since I first encountered it in a Victorian-Lit survey close to twenty years ago. (I realize to many well-schooled literary types, the two standard poems I've mentioned loving here are akin to exclaiming, "I really like The White Album and everyone should give it a listen." Or maybe Gershwin. Still, you should.
Tennyson was a surprise for me. I didn't think I'd see anything in that long faced, bearded man. All I knew of him was he wrote that awful, plodding "Charge of the Light Brigade," which Ernest T. Bass, I think, recited on an episode of the Andy Griffith Show. That, and his picture was on a face card in a deck of Great Authors Playing Cards my mom gave my sister and I when I was seven years old. We played hours of Go Fish with them, as we couldn't figure out the winning hands in poker. (Would an Edgar Allan Poe flush beat four Louisa May Alcott's? Yes.)
Anyway, I knew little of Alfred Tennyson, and didn't think much of what I did know. Plus, when I was in school, and it may still be the case, the overwhelming emphasis was on the Romantics, especially as true ancestors of the early Moderns. It was the battle cry across the campuses of Liberal Arts America. And not to get into the particulars of how this came into being through the work of a shockingly small number of vanguard academics, (i.e., three people), as a young reader with a soul patch and a heavy nicotine habit I was slightly embarrassed I disliked wandering lonely as a (goddamn) cloud, but really enjoyed many of those dusty old Victorians (who were in fact younger), specifically Tennyson. And most importantly, the poem I linked to above, "Ulysses."
Just reading it again now, for the first time in too long, I can see its influence–not only on my writing, but also my thoughts, my actions. There was a stretch of time when I read those tumbling lines of blank verse each night just before I drifted off to sleep, often aloud. It's not completely perfect, but I can look past that to the perfection that is there. Poetry, I suppose, serves us better than most in that regard, those brief and intense encounters, with mortality, or, well, everything. The satisfaction it gives can be greater.
I don't intend to play cheerleader. Devotional/ceremonial perceptions of poetry are slightly irksome to me. Sure it can be that, but it's a vast and expansive world, and offers much more. Then again, just before bed, when the house is quiet and my mind wanders to joy, horror, possibility, ambition, grief and love, it's not as if I reach for the newspaper.
So this concludes my poetry excursion for April 2007. It's been a sincere pleasure. Thanks.