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5 Poems That Must Be Read by All

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Why poetry? And does it have anything to say to you, is it even your inclination at all? How would one know the answer to these questions, without taking a piece of it home – to wander into, to read in nights that are full of stars, to think of on unsuspecting river-blue evenings?

1. “Poetry” by Pablo Neruda

To start our discussion, I would first like to take your attention to Pablo Neruda’s “Poetry.” It talks of how poetry came to him, and evokes a certain chance encounter with the form – how and where it got entangled with his soul, he himself cannot tell.

“And it was at that age . . .Poetry arrived

in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where

it came from, from winter or a river…

…felt myself a pure part

Of the abyss,

I wheeled with the stars,

My heart broke loose on the wind.”

– Poetry, by Pablo Neruda

As Neruda writes, to indulge truly in a poem, you have to let it take hold of you, shake you to your roots – you have to be open to it. The magic can only take you over once you listen to the beating form carefully. We live in a day and age, where no one has the time to do exactly that – listen. Listen to what the silence of someone has to say, to the whistle in the wind, to the formlessness of the sea.

2. “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe

No talk of poetry would be complete without an ode to love. The next poem I’d like to bring to the table is Poe’s “Annabel Lee.” Soft, evocative rhythms that create a chant-like atmosphere:

“I was a child and she was a child,

In this kingdom by the sea,

But we loved with a love that was more than love—

I and my Annabel Lee—”

Wrapped in this world of first love and haunting, perfect rhymes, even the angels were envious of this human love. Angels, who cannot experience human tears or too much joy, angels with their perfected, equal measured being looked at them with a certain curiosity, a certain envy:

“With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven

Coveted her and me.”

Annabel Lee, is the muse of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, and she moves the poet beyond the constraints of time and death. The muse can be the moon, rainy nights or a person in flesh and blood. She takes us on journeys we did not think were possible.

“For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams

Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes

Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;”

3. “Mad Girl’s Love Song” by Sylvia Plath

The trance evoked by unending true love, which goes beyond the reaches of death as in the Poe poem, seems to mock love-induced betrayal. Let’s look at another poet, who sings of this kind of sorrow. Sylvia Plath captures the sensation of simply shutting one’s eyes and creating a distance between outward and inner reality:

“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;

I lift my lids and all is born again.

(I think I made you up inside my head.)”

In this deliberation of blinking, the poet is trying to come to terms with the imagined and the real. Did he really exist? Or was he a figment of her imagination? It is one of the most essentially crucial pains to have been in love with an illusion. The poet goes on to say:

“I should have loved a thunderbird instead;

At least when spring comes they roar back again.

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

(I think I made you up inside my head.)”

The long wait associated with someone’s return of love, is heart-breaking, especially when there is no sign of any response. Notice that in the last stanza when she shuts her eyes, she does not open them again. The darkness rounds her up and there is thus a finality in her realization this time. The use of brackets makes the sentence a personal note to herself, as if to remind herself lest the hallucination occurs again.

4. “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks

There is another kind of languishing that exists, other than love. This occurs in and for those who live dangerous lives. This can occur in many forms, but let’s consider the one Gwendolyn Brooks navigates in “We Real Cool”:

“We real cool. We

Left school. We

Lurk late. We

Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We

Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We

Die soon.”

Since this was a shorter poem, we can look at it in its entirety. The poem is written in a quick succession of rhymes and slanting lines. It reflects over the notion of what is ‘cool’ or ‘happening’ in a given context, and its appeal to young adults. There is a certain hint towards peer pressure which causes these youngsters to behave in a certain way – to leave school because it will win them the approval of and entrance to the ‘cool’ crowd. They live their lives recklessly, indulging in nocturnal, forbidden activities because of which they don’t live too long. This reckless span could also be read as a symbolic phase in one’s life, where one steers away from society and formal institutions, as a way of rebellion.

The poem could even lend itself to discussing the drug problem amongst teenagers. The way it is written, the reader gets a taste to be one of the ‘insiders’ of the cool mindset. It is written in the ‘we’ of the teenagers, but extends itself invitingly to include the ‘we’ of the more critical readership.

5. “Since we’ve seen each other” by Jalaluddin Rumi

The fifth and final poem for this brief foray into verse, is one by Rumi. It speaks of the ‘invisible’ building blocks of a relationship. Memories that exist between two people are intangible, yet a world in their own right. This is why their story is based on trust. Here’s the poem:

“Since we’ve seen each other, a game goes on.

Secretly, I move, and you respond.

You’re winning, you think it’s funny.

But look up from the board now, look how

I’ve brought furniture to this invisible place,

so we can live here.”

This brief poem is also an important lesson in the possible use and abuse of power in a given relationship. Since this ‘invisible’ game is based on trust alone, it can be easily violated. The delicate balance would be maintained in faith and responsible morality.

Perhaps in the poetry we read, a ‘game’ ensues and it starts to communicate with us at different levels. It becomes part of our references and the way we come to understand ourselves. Sometimes it knows more than us, but has still made us feel alive in the ‘invisible’ place of thoughts, memories and feelings.

As you keep exploring poems, and the journey goes on, you realize delicate connections between yourself and certain of them. This starts to build up a poetic universe of daydreams. These reveries keep us sane in a fast-paced world, which otherwise has little time for such detours.

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Naya Daur