Thursday, May 17, 2012

Life List: Memorize & Internalize 10 Poems

I've always liked memorizing poems, and since memorizing 10 is on my life list, I figured I'd bring us on a guided tour through the ones I've already memorized, and how they've treated me through the years.

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening (Robert Frost)

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Sometime after reading The Canterbury Tales, I fell out of the habit of memorizing poetryI know at Oxford we talked about it, and we even had a little poetry date each week for the last term, but I can't remember memorizing anything that year, or the next, as I started to more ferociously study literature, literature, and nothing but literature.  (Seriously.  It's all I took for three terms at Oxford, and then five of my six classes during my last year at Sarah Lawrence were literature.  I even stayed a semester longer than I had to, so that I could take three more lit classes.  They were all wonderful, and worth every second.)  I spent the first year out of college missing college, and working in publishing.  And then I made a really terrible decision and quit publishing to move back to my hometown, take a job I knew I would hate, and get my life in order.

There's no way for me to talk about this point in my life without sounding super-entitled, so instead, I just don't really talk about it.  The Gratituesday feature I sometimes do stems entirely from this point in my life, where I was completely incapable of focusing on anything good.  I won't go into the details of how painful that year was, or how I acted the entire time, because it's not something I'm proud of, but I will say that everything about that point in my life lacked poetry.  I wasn't writing it, I wasn't reading it, and I certainly wasn't living it.

And then, one day, I realized that all the time I was spending tearing up at the computer could be better spent learning something.  I started this blog, I started writing for the newspaper, and I started reading poetry again.  And when I read "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening," I knew what I had to do.  I printed it out, taped it to my desk, and read it over and over again until I had the whole thing memorized.  The strong iambic octameter, the heavy masculine rhyme, the deep sadness that pervades the entire piece - it was exactly what I needed.  Everyday that snowed-in winter felt like I was between woods and lake.  It was so hard, and Robert Frost was the only person who understood.  And when I memorized this poem, and knew it was a part of me, I sent out my first poetry submission, and was accepted to Quarrtsiluni.  And a few months later, I took back my old job and started taking a poetry class.  And slowly (oh, lord, slowly), everything started to fall into place again.

And that's how Robert Frost saved my life.

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