This is getting to be quite a lot of work, you know? I bit off off a big chunk when I decided to do a Series on poets over the course of my life. But in for a penny, in for a pound as the expression goes, what what?
I’m going to step it up a bit with this article and do four of the poets from my list. You may find the entire list, including a short bit on Maya Angelou in Sundae with Nuts.
The four I will be doing here are,
- ee cummings,
- Emily Dickinson,
- John Donne, and
- George Eliot
ee cummings, it seems never met a capital letter, a punctuation mark, or a properly declined verb that he liked. He even treated prepositions and conjunctions as proper nouns for God’s sake, and he didn’t even capitalize the first letters of his name or bother to separate his initials. Reading him is especially daunting to the newly minted poetry fan. I very nearly gave up on him at first. I figured, “What the Hell?! I’ve had English teachers since grade school trying to teach me the simple proper rules of writing!” (and succeeding for the most part).
Then I read
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing
(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands
I was introduced to the Belle of Amherst when I entered college in my mid-thirties. As a matter of fact, that is the period in my life when I became acquainted with most of the poets in this list. English Composition and English Literature I and II in each course respectively made a point of introducing Freshmen and Sophomores to a great many poets as well as prose fiction writers.
I was impressed not only with her talent, which was obvious, but also her melancholic, even slightly macabre tone, which was equally as obvious. For example I include here a sample from one of her best known pieces.
This is good. I don’t care who you are. Then there is this short little snip for which I did a separate article. You can find it as a prologue of sorts at the beginning of
Part I: Life. (Letter to the World)
This is my letter to the World
That never wrote to Me—
The simple News that Nature told—
With tender Majesty
Her Message is committed
To Hands I cannot see—
For love of Her—Sweet—countrymen—
Judge tenderly—of Me
Doing research for this series meant going back and researching poets that I have visited for decades. One of these that I included in my original list includes John Donne. I decided that I don’t like him nearly as much as I used to like him. It makes me a little sad that I am including him in an article with such a great as Emily Dickinson.
What I liked him for most, in the old days, was the bit for which he is most famous,
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
To begin with, this is not a poem. I have seen it titled and written as such, but it is actually a small excerpt from an essay Donne wrote called Devotion Upon Emergent Occasions: Meditation XVII.
I think it is great as social commentary and works as poetry when put in poetic form. But it wasn’t meant to be poetry. That aside, I have read some of his actual poetry, and I didn’t care for it.
Oh Well! There had to be at least one clunker in the group.
I was introduced to George when I was in high school, back in the 70s. The importance of George to my teachers (back in those days of Women’s Liberation) was the fact that George was a woman who changed her name from Mary Ann in order to find acceptance in a male dominated world. In my research of her for this article, I find no evidence for this, though I do not deny it. She was well-born and well-educated and the field she chose, prose and poetry literature was not much of any bar to female authors. George seems to be better critically reviewed for her prose than for her poetry.
O may I join the choir invisible
Of those immortal dead who live again
In minds made better by their presence; live
In pulses stirred to generosity,
In deeds of daring rectitude, in scorn
Of miserable aims that end with self,
In thoughts sublime that pierce the night like stars,
And with their mild persistence urge men’s minds
To vaster issues.