I admit I’ve never been the biggest fan of poetry. I suppose I blame this on years and years of English teachers making me annotate every little word and phrase of Sylvia Plath and Seamus Heaney until the “one definite meaning” is discovered, which turned me off to the medium. Poetry is something I’ve always felt can be interpreted differently depending on the reader. Like any other form of art, there isn’t a definite right or wrong interpretation. But lately I’ve been trying to read more poems, and in honor of World Poetry Day, here are some of my favorites and what they mean to me:
I complain about the poetry units I was put through in high school (if I had to read one more Seamus Heaney poem about a bog I was going to scream), but I actually have IB English to thank for this discovery. I first read “(love song, with two goldfish)” senior year in IB English class. We were given a poem we had never seen before at the beginning of class and had the whole hour to annotate and write a paper about it — practice for the big scary IB test at the end of the year.
I loved this poem immediately. Those who know me know I’m a sucker for love, and the male’s devotion to the female is just so adorable — “He would take her to the ocean, they could count the waves. There, in the submarine silence, they would share their deepest secrets. Dive for pearls like stars.”
I could say so much about this poem. The use of parentheses as a metaphor for a fishbowl. The humor in the fish references and water imagery. The whimsy (even though I personally find the ending really sad, it’s still cutesy and fun overall).
The main thing I can relate to is the idea of wanting more out of life — “a life beyond the (bowl).”
I know I’ve written about this poem in another blog post before, but it’s just so devastating and I love it. The first time I read it I cried. The poem ends in the author’s suicide, and, to me, it’s about the loss of innocence that comes with growing up.
Each stanza is different stage in life, from childhood to around high school or college. In the first stanza everything is simple and happy — his parents kissed a lot, the girl around the corner sent him a Valentine with x’s (and, being a little kid, he had to ask his dad what the x’s meant), and his father always tucked him into bed at night.
By the end of the poem, his mother and father “never kissed/or even talked,” the girl around the corner wore too much makeup but he kissed her anyway “because that was the thing to do,” and at 3 a.m. he tucked himself into bed.
I’m still not sure how to put into words why I love this poem. I just find it, while dark and terribly depressing, truthful. To me, it captures the confusion of growing up and the world not being as simple as it was in previous years. As you grow up and learn more and become more observant about the world around you, it’s hard not to become critical and feel alone and wonder what it’s all about: “he tried another poem/And he called it “Absolutely Nothing”/Because that’s what it was really all about…”
“Elegies 2.15: Love song for Cynthia” by Propertius
Okay, so I admit I just read this poem for the first time two days ago for my Age of Augustus class, but I love it. (I also apologize for the absence of a link. I couldn’t find the same translation from my textbook online in my brief Google search).
The poem is, as you could probably guess from the title, a love song to Propertius’s elegiac puella (aka his strong/bossy/sometimes mean girlfriend, who doesn’t fit the norms expected of a typical classical Roman woman). Their love is often described as a “maddening enslavement,” and is full of turmoil and high emotions, with Cynthia almost always hurting Propertius.
However, this particular poem is one of the happier ones, of Propertius worshipping Cynthia — the opening line is “I’m the luckiest man alive! It was a night lit up with ecstasy.”
The whole poem focuses on an erotic night Cynthia. Again, I’m a sucker for love (even though Propertius and Cynthia’s affair is far from healthy), and this particular poem is filled with lines that get me right in the feels. “There is no pleasure if you close your eyes when making love, and blindly/Thrash around; did you not know, it is the eyes that lead the way to love.” “Her’s I shall be in life, in death I shall remain her love.” “My Cynthia, while yet bright are the lights of life, do not desert life’s joys/If every kiss you have you give to me, yet will it not suffice.” And my personal favorite line: “The man has lost his wits who seeks an end to love’s insanity.”
I’m really digging Propertius. He has whole books of Elegies filled with poems dedicated to his love for Cynthia. We were discussing him in class the other day and the whole idea behind his poems is that, because Mars and Venus are the gods Rome is said to be descended from, love is just as vital to Roman life as war, if not more so.
I also find it amazing that something written in the 1st century BCE can still be so relatable in the present-day.
Is this cheating? This is technically a song, but, really, I’ve always thought about songs as a form of poetry. I love listening to songs and reading the lyrics. To me, lyrics are the most important thing about a song, more so than the music. Some of my favorite lyrics come from Lorde, The Head and The Heart (don’t even get me started on their song “Gone,” it’s utterly perfect), and Florence + the Machine (her new song “What Kind of Man” understands everything about my life).
But, as I’ve said before, “To Build a Home” holds a special place in my heart. Largely because it was introduced to me by my then-new, now best friend during a tumultuous time in my life. I just think it’s a really beautiful song with gorgeous lyrics, and it always makes me think of my friends and I stargazing, night swimming, making s’mores, having bonfires, etc.
“I climbed the tree to see the world/When the gusts came around to blow me down/Held on as tightly as you held onto me.” Seriously, I need a tattoo of those lyrics. You can listen to the song here.