Monday, April 14, 2008

"April is the cruelest month..."


Remember the 1340's? We were doing a dance called the Catapult.
You always wore brown, the color craze of the decade,
and I was draped in one of those capes that were popular,
the ones with unicorns and pomegranates in needlework.
Everyone would pause for beer and onions in the afternoon,
and at night we would play a game called "Find the Cow."
Everything was hand-lettered then, not like today.

Where has the summer of 1572 gone? Brocade sonnet
marathons were the rage. We used to dress up in the flags
of rival baronies and conquer one another in cold rooms of
Out on the dance floor we were all doing the Struggle
while your sister practiced the Daphne all alone in her room.
We borrowed the jargon of farriers for our slang.
These days language seems transparent a badly broken code.

The 1790's will never come again. Childhood was big.
People would take walks to the very tops of hills
and write down what they saw in their journals without speaking.
Our collars were high and our hats were extremely soft.
We would surprise each other with alphabets made of twigs.
It was a wonderful time to be alive, or even dead.

I am very fond of the period between 1815 and 1821.
Europe trembled while we sat still for our portraits.
And I would love to return to 1901 if only for a moment,
time enough to wind up a music box and do a few dance steps,
or shoot me back to 1922 or 1941, or at least let me
recapture the serenity of last month when we picked
berries and glided through afternoons in a canoe.

Even this morning would be an improvement over the present.
I was in the garden then, surrounded by the hum of bees
and the Latin names of flowers, watching the early light
flash off the slanted windows of the greenhouse
and silver the limbs on the rows of dark hemlocks.

As usual, I was thinking about the moments of the past,
letting my memory rush over them like water
rushing over the stones on the bottom of a stream.
I was even thinking a little about the future, that place
where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine,
a dance whose name we can only guess.

--Billy Collins

I think I first heard the lines for the title of this post from the T.S. Eliot poem either from one of my Korean teachers while in the Army, or from a book passed on by my more literary brothers (and sisters) in arms, or I ran across it in a Peter DeVries novel. All of these are possibilities I am just not sure which occurred first.

I know for certain that I was not exposed to Eliot in high school. In fact for most of my life I had managed to avoid modern and contemporary poetry and it was only in my thirties that I began to fill that void. There is much to be wary of, especially in this town, but I won't mention any names. I wanted to start doing this a week ago but as the man says "...time enough and the world...". I chose Billy Collins because he is one of my favorites and I wanted to share audio of this poem to make a case for the importance of hearing poetry, whether it is by listening to or reading it aloud. It is also cool to hear the poem in the author's voice. I will continue to share poems and links to the best of my ability for the remainder of the month.

"Nostalgia" - Billy Collins


Churlita said...

I love that poem. As you know, I'm not the biggest poetry person, but I always like the stuff you put on here from Collins.

Dexter said...

Thanks...I really get a kick out of Collins...similar to Ted Kooser's...hmm there is an idea for another post.