That different form of literature we call poetry can stir the memory of a cherished moment, make you laugh, deepen experience, tell a story, and fill the reader with the loveliest tastes, aromas, and sounds in the world. Poems are much more than uninteresting, indiscernible rhymes about obscure people and events. They are vibrantly alive literature, as appealing as you choose to make them.
To read and enjoy poetry it is only necessary to “have a love affair with life” as Robert Frost put it. Poetry is but the written expression of human experiences and as such is available in any format on any subject. There are many good poets with as many good styles as there are personality types and historic settings. Compare, for example, the following stanza from William Wordsworth’s “The Tables Turned,” written in England during the early nineteenth century, lines from Robinson Jeffers, a modern California poet, and a verse from Psalm 104:
“One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.”
“… Look how beautiful are all the things that He
does. His signature
Is the beauty of things.”
“O Lord, how manifold are thy
works! in wisdom hast thou
made them all: the earth is
full of thy riches.”
All three praise the magnificence of our Heavenly Father’s creations, each in its unique, distinct way. The reader’s personal experience is enriched by each poet’s perceptions (and the business of enrichment is a poet’s trade). The commonality of human experience allows us to learn from poetry as it broadens, sharpens, and clarifies this part of life for anyone who has hunted, camped, hiked, picnicked, or driven in any natural setting.
It is good to remember as you experiment with poetry that it takes time to appreciate some forms. Not everyone loves Keats and Chaucer, Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay. The important thing is to keep an open mind and a willingness to try new ways of thinking. If you have not appreciated poetry in the past, you probably have only disliked one literary school and not poetic expression itself. If you have enjoyed a poem, you have been ensnared in that magic web of sound, sight, smell, and sensation that a good poet’s wording can weave.
The first “ensnaring” poem I remember was a section from “The Walrus and the Carpenter” in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. Long before I was aware of literary allusions or the implications of poetic style, I had fallen in love with this nonsense verse:
“‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said,
‘To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—
And why the sea is boiling hot—
And whether pigs have wings.’”
The word patterns and sense (or lack of it) bounced with a liveliness that made me smile just at the fun of hearing the words run over each other.
Several years later I discovered the same delight in the writings of a very different sort of poet, Robert Frost:
“Leaves got up in a coil and hissed,
Blindly struck at my knee and missed.”
Frost talked about his views of life in ways that particularly struck me. I associated with what he said, and that is an important key to enjoying poetry.
“And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.”
In a very somber way I was emotionally conscious that the poet was often dealing with the opposition I sometimes felt.
The fact that each poet in these contrasting moods wrote words to the heart of something silly or a dilemma of personal growth brought their works into my life in a significant way.
John A. Widtsoe said that “the reading habit is most valuable in life. … The mind is opened to precious field of thought; the achievements of the ages become ours; even the future takes form. As the mind and spirit are fed by well chosen reading, comfort, peace and understanding come to the soul. Those who have not tried it, have missed a keen and easily accessible joy. …”
Poetry, from ancient to modern, can be a great source of that joy to anyone who peruses enough to find pleasure in words. To read and enjoy it is to reach deeper into life. Sample poetry openly and often. Allow poetic expression, whenever and wherever you find it, to enhance your life by adding new dimensions of intellect, emotion, and spirit. The good poetry, from nursery rhyme to scripture to the most sophisticated verse of Milton, will uplift and extend, while positively strengthening our perceptions and always adding to them. The real secret is the personal desire to make this form of literature the alive, fun, stimulating part of personal learning it can be.