Wednesday, January 09, 2008

January is the cruelest month...

I have this longtime deal with God -- if I die a spinster and can make a good case that I tried hard to find a husband, He has to give me Gerard Manley Hopkins in the next life. By the time I check in at the front gate I'm hopeful they will have managed to program the celibacy glitch out of him and I will woo him by reciting his poetry back to him. I currently have six of his memorized, and can deliver them with great feeling. I think we'll go for a short engagement.

I rarely go into a true depression in post-Christmas winter, but every year the darkness and chill always make me think about illness and death and fading youth and I get this bone-aching craving for poetry that I feel no other time of year. The one I reach for most often in my winter mood is by my beloved Gerard:

MÁRGARÉT, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves, líke the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Áh! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

It cheers me right up. Works me through the fear, looking it dead in the eye, and finding the beauty behind the ache. I noticed just last year that most of my memorized poems are of the melancholy kind. Here's a list of my current repertoire, for what it's worth (this IS my vanity blog, after all!) I'm available for weddings, wakes, and bar mitzvahs.

I always have one or two new poems taped up in my bathroom -- the inside of the medicine cabinet door is ideal, if you have a medicine cabinet. The idea is this: you memorize them as you brush your teeth, and the challenge of memorization encourages you to prolong your brushing sessions. This in turn improves your oral hygiene, making you more attractive, and improving the chances that you will not, in fact, find yourself still a spinster in your 73rd winter, stroking your aged cat and reciting the words of dead poets to an empty room.



Cindy said...

Genius! I'm going to post my New Year's resolutions there AND try to memories Yeats' Cloths of Heaven:

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

wynne said...

Well there you go being brilliant again. I really stink at memorization. (Though I can handle "Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night" or even "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," and once, for a class, I did memorize all of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock--but all I can recall of it now is "like a patient etherized upon a table." That's it. That's all I've got left.)

And if you do end up (by some strange, sad, and sick twist of fate) end up to be a 73-year-old spinster petting your cat and quoting poetry to an empty room, I am SO coming over to bring you some ice cream, and more cats (we can entertain ourselves by shouting poetry (or just drooling and shouting in my case) at any couples walking by your window and chucking cats at them).

Anonymous said...

Beautiful poem. I need to start that medicine cabinet poem memorising again. My one poem that I know by heart minus a few words, "whose woods these are", isn't much of a crowd pleaser.

Marie said...

Cindy -- I love that one -- excellent choice. However, don't you go falling in love with Yeats -- Sharon's already spoken for him (yes, he was married before he died, but with such poetry of soul, perhaps a testimony of the Principle would be worth cultivating?)

Wynne -- Cat tossing! Do we have to wait until I'm 73? You make spinsterhood sound downright giddy! As for memorization, it only gets easier the more you do. You'd think my tiny brain would have overflowed long ago, but apparently there's a cavernous space in there, waiting to be filled with something rather than hot air. Until I have kiddie play dates and PTA meetings to file there, I may as well keep it from going moldy by packing it with pretty words. Like those silica gel packets in empty purses.

Sharon -- What about When You are Old? I decided to do that one because you had it up on your wall. And I love the Robert Frost -- again, I chose that one because you recited it so prettily. Howzabout something nice by a syphilitic opium fiend Romantic? Say, Byron or Shelley?

April said...

I KNEW that I recognized Gerard's name! I had to look at your list of memorized poems to figure it out, but I'd studied Pied Beauty in a Christianity in Literature class that I took in college. We had to bring in something from nature that was pied or dappled, then try our hands at writing a poem with the same structure as Pied Beauty. Ah, memories.

Tristi Pinkston said...

Stupid celibacy -- you totally should have this man. Totally.

Oh, and I could tell that was a phoenix in the last post, too.

Sarita said...

I was already going to say Genius! but Cindy beat me to it. Sad.

I need to read more poetry. Sad.

D'Arcy said...

I want a Gerard too, although mine is much more shallow. I feel like I will deserve Gerard Butler.

Gawain said...

You know, as a daily journal entry for my British Literature class my senior year of high school I actually put this very poem to music. I've always loved Mr. Manly's (by far the best of his three names) work that I have read.