Many students feel the poetry units are a waste of time, or are dumb, or are boring. I legitimately feel this is the farthest from the truth. The reason, I believe, for their resistance to poetry is they really don’t dig into the works. They don’t find relatable themes and dig up food for thought in the poems. They push back before the poetry can get close: and this is sad to me. Without this blow-off and negative attitude towards poetry, I think it would have been a lot more impactful for many students.
Before I share what I found valuable or thought provoking or inspiring in several Romantic and Transcendentalist poems, I need to briefly explain the French concept of “je ne sais quoi,” which is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “something(such as an appealing quality) that cannot be adequately described or expressed.” I couldn’t have said it better myself, but one thing I would like to add is simply reading the definition will not tell you exactly what the phrase means. It’s a feeling. A spark. Something you cannot shake off and you can’t explain but it’s there. With that in mind, here a few things I love about some 1800s poetry.
To start we have “I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud” by William Wordsworth and “I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed” by Emily Dickinson. Contrary to the title of the former, what I got from this poem was the opposite of lonely. He describes a beautiful scene in nature, that he later explains was made up in his head. You can take nature wherever you want with you. This is a new idea for me, which is one of the reasons poetry is so great. It makes you think of things you never have before; it puts you in the head of another brain who has had great thoughts and revelations, and leaves you to decode them in their writing. In the latter, it describes the amazing feelings you get from nature. How you do not need substance to get intoxicated, for you have nature. This is a great reminder of the outdoors, something highly undervalued in our society. For example our government frankly does not give a rats ass about the environment. In addition, we spend so much time indoors, especially during the school year. From 8 o’clock to 3:04 we are forced to be inside, and then have homework and other activities after that, more often than not. These poems put light on its wonders and power, and how it is undervalued severely.
In a similar vein, we have “A Blessing” by James Wright. This poem is very straightforward all the way to the end. The last few lines read “Suddenly I realize / That if I stepped out of my body I would break / Into blossom.” Even after reading this poem many times and discussing it in class, I have not cracked the code and don’t understand what it means. This is beautiful in poetry is that you can not know exactly what the author is trying to say, but still feel the poem and what the author is expressing, and have something to ponder next time that I’m bored.
Next is “Desideria” by Wordsworth as well. His metaphor of “transport” being him leaving something he loves and “silent tomb” being his repressed sadness is my first je ne sais quoi moment. Metaphors like that, where they give you a different way of thinking about something that you have experienced is amazing and incredibly thought provoking. But it's more that just “amazing and thought provoking.” It gives you a cool feeling when you dig into this poem and find what Wordsworth is talking about, and that’s why I like poetry. Also I am not claiming to relate directly to losing a love and remembering them and being super sad. I’m 17 years old. But what makes this poem even better, is that even though this poem was written in the 1800s by a grown man talking about his problems, I can relate as a teen in the 21st century. I have certainly tried to escape worry or hurt through things like Netflix, video games, and being with my friends. But like he says, when you think of that thing that makes your gut drop it is hard to shake and plagues you mind. For me it’s not loosing a love, it’s probably something unimportant in the grand scheme of things like a big homework assignment, but nevertheless, this poem makes me think about my life in a new way, giving the poem good meaning.
“Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats after my first two read throughs was about covering up pain with drugs. But then after I dug deeper I started to think that it was about having pain from something so good. To be honest I am not totally sure, but I think that’s it. This is another wonderful part of poetry, while I cannot personally relate to this theme at all, it takes you into a seperate word of magic, of “nymphs” in “hippocrene” with a drink that will taint the mind.
The first section of Walt Whitman’s “Song of myself” was a fun one. He tells how he loves his life and himself, and is going amazing. This poem brought a smile to my face. While many poems we read have tinges of sadness, or at least pensiveness, this one is outwardly positive. This is an approach I choose to take on life, and I am happy to see that Whitman felt the same way. Another reason I love poetry is because of the ability to draw parallels to the current day. There is obviously one in this poem, because there has not been a time when happy people didn’t live. But other poems surely give me things to think about, like how there were similar feelings had years ago, by people just like me. Further in his 6th section, the beginning of the poem really stood out to me. He writes, “A child said What is the grass? Fetching it to me with full hands; / How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.” I could write a whole other blog post on this line, but that’s not why I’m here today, so I’ll shorten my ideas. When I was a kid, I thought that parents knew everything, that they were always right, and basically not flawed. As I grow older I realize how wrong I actually was. Every adult was a kid at one point, and there is no time when adults go from flawed kids to perfect adults. Hopefully they grow and learn a lot in their life, but nobody learns it all. So when I’m looked down on for being a youth it makes me furious, and any time an adult thinks they know more about life philosophy than I do, it makes me furious. Everybody on this earth is faced with challenges and learns from them. They go through different things, and learn at different paces, and some have had more years to learn than others. But that sure as hell doesn’t mean that they necessarily know more than I do about life; Whitman couldn’t have articulated this better. I am going to make sure that every person I mentor, teach, and interact with knows that I am not all knowing, and prove to them they aren’t either if they have somehow concocted that notion.
The last poem that I will be talking about was also written by Walt Whitman, titled “Noiseless, Patient Spider.” This hit home for sure with the speak of making bridges in new places, like the spider web and the wandering soul looking for spheres to connect to, with my nearing departure to college. A lot of ties are going to be cut in the end of the summer, some that will never be repaired. It’s sad but it’s the truth. This poem is exactly like that and again gives je ne sais quios, but this time with a more forward, and spooky aura. In this poem the soul does not know what is ahead of it: it is surrounded in “measureless oceans of space.” This is precisely what I feel with my future, but maybe add a compass and a crumpled map to the picture. Whitman tells of “the bridge you will need, be form’d--till the ductile anchor hold.” For me, this is the ties that I am looking forward to making in college, and beyond. This is the last reason I will give on why I love poetry: it really gets you thinking, of not only you past and how you can relate to a poet, but about your future.