On poetry and crazy poets.
I don’t do a whole lot one-on-one with my homeschooled 9th grader, Ethan. But, we do do poetry together. We’re reading through an anthology which is part of his curriculum. However, the anthology has zero information on the poets, only the poems themselves. I find that the study of poets is most often at least as interesting as the work they produced, and sometimes even more so! Knowing an author’s history adds so much to the understanding of their work. In general, I find that many times, poets walk — often unsuccessfully — a thin line between inspired and crazy. William Blake, John Clare, even Emily Dickinson or perhaps even Walt Whitman… Very, very interesting folk. And even mentally sound poets like Lewis Carroll and Elizabeth Bishop and Lord Byron had fascinating, unique lives, most often lived on the very fringes of society. It is worthwhile to consider such things, I think.
So, for each poet we’re about to read (as the anthology goes in alphabetical order, by author’s name), I do a little Google search and print out a little biography, usually only a half page or so… and Ethan and I have thoughtful discussions about the nature of creativity and society and how sometimes our great strengths are also our weaknesses, and vice versa, and how even an apparently unsuccessful person (as defined by society) can create powerful works that are worthwhile and long-remembered.
On a related topic, with the younger boys, I read Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!” this morning. It took a couple of days to muster up the courage to read it; t never fails to make me cry, and for a while there, I just didn’t feel like crying. I think there are few more visceral, powerful, moving, beautiful poems ever written. And it compels me to adore Abraham Lincoln all the more, for the deep love he inspired, devoting his life to the most worthy cause, and doing it well. What a man, and what an honor.
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribboned wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchored safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.