If your eyes were not the color of the moon,
of a day full of clay, and work, and fire,
if even held-in you did not move in agile grace like the air,
if you were not an amber week,
not the yellow moment
when autumn climbs up through the vines;
if you were not that bread the fragrant moon
kneads, sprinkling its flour across the sky,
oh, my dearest, I would not love you so!
But when I hold you I hold everything that is–
sand, time, the tree of the rain,
everything is alive so that I can be alive:
without moving I can see it all:
in your life I see everything that lives. ~Pablo Neruda
My first book of Pablo Neruda’s poems were given to me on my eighteenth birthday.
I had little life experience to filter his exquisite writing through. Roger Housden says in the opening of his book, Ten Poems to Change Your Life, that good poetry has the power to start a fire in your life. I think that’s what happened for me with Neruda.
I mean, I had already been exposed to good poetry. But it had all come to me at someone else’s behest. With the arrival of Neruda’s love sonnets and odes, I now began seeking new poems and their writers on my own accord. A fire had been lit within me that felt so marvelously untamed and warm, I wanted to stoke the flame with more fuel. Fortunately, an English major in college is in the perfect circumstance for foraging.
At the University of Oregon, Professor Barbara Clark-Mossberg gave me an education in the fireside poets and the likes of Emerson, Whitman, Dickinson, Melville and Thoreau. They had my mind and senses overflowing.
Dr. Ed Coleman, my beloved adviser, baptized me in the African American poets: Gwendolyn Brooks, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni and others found their way into my marrow.
Brilliant Dr. Gloria Johnson stood, with her open Riverside collection of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets, and read aloud in class in lilting iambic pentameter that made perfect sense – nearly all the time!
I read, listened to and wrote prose and poetry in an environment that inspired more exploration and discovery than I had previously known. This is, of course, one of the beautiful aspects of going to college and studying what you are passionate about. There is plenty of encouraging support around you.
When I graduated, with a bachelor’s degree in English and minors in creative writing and folklore and ethnic studies, I began to make my way toward being a teacher. I hadn’t forgotten that my ten-year old self had a different career goal, but I figured that instilling a love for literature, poetry and writing in children would be a worthy way to make a difference in the world. And it did.
Poetry study in my language arts classes were NOTHING like what I had encountered in high school. We learned the language, read contemporary works, listened to rock, pop and rap music, threw out the rule books, wrote constantly, shared daily – and had fun. Imagine that?
At home, in my carefree life before motherhood, poetry was present daily. Your dad wooed me in fairly romantic fashion with a piece called “A Late Aubade” by Richard Wilbur, not long after I met him –
You could be sitting now in a carrel
Turning some liver-spotted page,
Or rising in an elevator-cage
Toward Ladies’ Apparel.
You could be planting a raucous bed
Of salvia, in rubber gloves,
Or lunching through a screed of someone’s loves
With pitying head.
Or making some unhappy setter
Heel, or listening to a bleak
Lecture on Schoenberg’s serial technique.
Isn’t this better?
Think of all the time you are not
Wasting, and would not care to waste,
Such things, thank God, not being to your taste.
Think what a lot
Of time, by woman’s reckoning,
You’ve saved, and so may spend on this,
You who had rather lie in bed and kiss
It’s almost noon, you say?
If so, Time flies, and I need not rehearse
The rosebuds-theme of centuries of verse.
If you mustgo,
Wait for a while, then slip downstairs
And bring us up some chilled white wine,
And some blue cheese, and crackers, and some fine
…and perhaps this poem even had something to do with why I fell in love with him? I certainly remember the sound of his voice as he read to me, as well as the light in the room and the texture of the ripe pear he had placed gently in my hand.
You see, Sarah, the right poem can change not only the way you see yourself, but it can change the way you see the world. At the least, it entertains us with images and rhythm, at the most though — it gives us permission, welcomes forgiveness, dares us to push pass the edges of the safety net that we live so much of life within and sustains us when the of life territory feels new, scary, raw and wild.
By the time your older brother had arrived, a decade after Neruda was born into my heart, I had come to realize that one of the biggest reasons I loved poetry so very much, was because the truly gifted poets – somehow, some -inexplicable- how, seemed to be able to put into words my exact feelings about certain things and experiences – when even I could not. How was this possible? I couldn’t explain it, but felt it deeply and truly.
(End of Part II)