Friday, February 27, 2009

Honest in Every Part

When Eliot said, “The most important thing for poets to do is to write as little as possible,” I wonder, did he speak for Milton? Did he speak for Blake? I've liked poets large and small. I've found my preference to be for the complete, the collected and the dead, but read in rather than through. I've liked poets who spoke in volumes as well as I've liked those I've known for just the length of one poem in Auden's Viking anthology. I came to poetry late, inadequately read, easily fatigued, without the wits or discipline required, for instance, to read Eliot in verse with anything but... consternation, frankly, and yet I've read even Eliot, even Pound; great gusty chapters of the stuff, a whole book of him in my more studious days. Byron's Don Juan I rate among my greatest recent pleasures, but others -- Lallah Rookh enters here -- were not so much fun as to make me stay until the end. Truth be told, I haven't the head for Milton nor the patience for Blake, not at any length at least. Coming to read poetry in my laggard and haphazard way, I've found there's pleasure in it, and considerable reward, but I will never be more than a light reader however heavy the books on my shelves.

The days when I might read and read and read a poet, as I did last with Blake for a birthday reading at the store, or before that, Pope, to keep up with the studies of a friend -- a foolish undertaking at which I rightly failed -- are gone. Left to my own devices, I am shamefaced to say, I love the Everyman's Library Pocket Poets. Slim and brightly colored, small, well made and edited to a length appropriate to the likes of me, I find myself collecting these as they are published by Random House. At only $12.50 a pop, and less than three hundred pages per book, they have been no hardship to either my purse or my patience. Stacked collectively on my shelves, they constitute a none too shabby library, of themselves. Looking at them now, I see more poems, and more whole books of poems actually read, than I might ever otherwise have undertaken. They suit me. True, I do wish there might have been room made for notes when it comes to some, but that's a quibble. (If I'm feeling so damned careful in my reading that a dictionary will not suffice, then I ought to have the wherewithal to find myself something more comprehensive, yes? I'm not saying I do or will, but I ought.) For what they are, they are favorites almost to a volume.

Today I bought another, new at least to me. Today's quote I drew from it for no better reason than the unseasonable snow we had yesterday morning. (The anthologies in the series have been uniformly good.) It is such a pretty thing. I've been reading (in) it all this evening, even as I watched, after a fashion, "Hell's Kitchen" with my dozing husband. The Four Seasons will fit right in, somewhere, among the others.

And I still might read Milton properly. With Blake, I fear, I'm done. But wait! "To Autumn," page 152.

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