Poetry on the Brain…Day 3

Memorizing lines of poetry at work is reaping benefits. I’m happier. It’s as if my brain cells – heretofore prickly, abrasive and staticky, particularly with regards to one particular coworker whose mission in life is to make my workday as miserable as possible – now are marinating in a bath of Neptunian wonder and bliss.

Yesterday morning, as I downloaded my e-mails at 9:00 a.m., I deliberated about what poem I could memorize for the day. Kubla Khan came to mind, a sexy work by Coleridge I loved in college. I still remembered the first stanza by heart and recited the lines to myself:

“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure dome decree

Where Alph the sacred river ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea.”

What an opening! I googled the poem.

The second stanza, as vivid as it was, seemed a bit clunky when I recited the words to myself. They didn’t seem to flow as I had remembered. I actually thought about editing the stanza. But only for a second. Jeez. Who did I think I was?

Coming to my senses, I moved on.

I remembered a poem my father used to read to my sister and me at bedtime: The Wreck of the Hesperus by Longfellow. Googled that. Rereading it now, I wondered how I ever managed to get any sleep. It’s so sad!

Here’s a sampling (Set-up: Father and daughter are caught in a hurricane at sea; father ties daughter to the ship’s mast so she won’t be swept overboard):

“O father! I hear the sound of guns,
      Oh say, what may it be?”
“Some ship in distress, that cannot live
      In such an angry sea!”

“O father! I see a gleaming light,

      Oh say, what may it be?”
But the father answered never a word,
      A frozen corpse was he.”
And later on in the poem:
“The salt sea was frozen on her breast,
      The salt tears in her eyes;
And he saw her hair, like the brown sea-weed,
      On the billows fall and rise.”
Finishing up with my emails, I settled on a poet whose work I love. The attorney I work for went into a meeting at 3:00 p.m., and I googled Mark Strand.
Check out these famous signatures on this page!
I found the poem, The Coming of Light, from a collection I’ve owned for years called The Late Hour. The perfect length for memorizing at the close of the day:
“Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light.
You wake, and the candles are lit as if by themselves
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine
and tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.”
On the commute home on the F train, squashed amid a sea of people engrossed in their digital games – with their respective dings and plinks and boings – I closed my eyes and silently repeated these lines over and over.
This is how poetry saved me today.

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