I don't think of myself as a poetry person--don't read a lot of it, don't follow new poets (or "slams," God help us), and I certainly don't understand it (although I recall there is "iambic pentameter"). But I'm surprised by how much poetry jangles around in my mental pockets, and certain circumstances always turn up the same penny. For instance, on this spiritual First Day of Summer, as the roses go wild in the garden ("Maiden's Blush" is out!) and we scramble for window screens and electric fans amid the piles of un-put-away winter woolies and blankets, here comes cranky old Yeats, mumbling in the midday sun amid my ferns and peonies:
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made,
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
This little fragment, from "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," thrills me at some level deep beyond words, every single time I read it; it contains the distilled essence of everything salvific about summer in the CrazyStable, about summer itself, about life itself. But why? No one can accuse me of being overly literal-minded. There is nothing Celtic about our landscape; no one will mistake our looming barn of a house for a "small cabin," nor its cedar shakes for "clay and wattles"; and I've never gotten nine bean-rows into my tiny vegetable plot (at the moment, in fact, it lies fallow). And of course a hive is out of the question for liability purposes, much as I'd love to have one (although we do have a constant squadron of carpenter bees droning and zooming around the soffits and fascia boards of the house and garage, where they drill precisely machined holes and do God knows what inside them). Nor do I live alone in my bee-loud glade (although at any given time, Spouse and Child are more likely to be found in the kitchen or in front of the telly than out in the glade with me).
So why this thrilling activation among my synapses, every year, of this verse? I have a weird notion that particular bits of poetry may act as a sort of antigen for a particular soul, identifying and locking onto a wordless but highly specific joy or pain, memory or hope--and triggering a powerful release of grace. (Thus the poems we love become grafts or chimeras, part themselves and part us.) I have another weird notion that every great poem creates a wordless essence--an experiential "soul" that, even if words were obliterated in the cortex of the reader or hearer, would remain there in sensory exactitude.
This also means that if we bomb the inside of the garage to kill the carpenter bees, the poem still counts.
Excuse me, but I have to go plant some beans now. (And to all who have lost a loved one in the service of our country, my prayers today...)