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Can Neruda and Longfellow see eye to eye?
January 18, 2007 6:09 PM   Subscribe

We're all reading poems for Pop on his 90th birthday, and I'm kind of stuck.

ersatzjef's Pop loves poetry - the first time I met him (Pop) he recited Longfellow. Pop was raised on a farm in Lebanon, MO (which he still owns), is a retired career navy man, has traveled enough for 3 lifetimes, was tickled pink over the new radiometer we gave him for Christmas (but thinks that presents in general are just bollocks), attends church twice a week, drives Grandma up a wall, and loves to practice languages on us. We're having a birthday dinner for him next weekend, and jef's mom would like us all to read a poem. I'm utterly stuck. I love poetry, but much more of the Cummings, Neruda, earthy-sexy-talk-to-much-y kind of poetry. Pop is more Yeats and Longfellow and maybe a dash of Emily Dickenson if she's going on about helping birds into nests sort of fan. Is there a middle ground for us? Or something wonderful you can recommend? I've looked through piles of old threads and have done some Google-work. Now I'd like to cast my quandry on the universe and go sit in the corner and meditate a while. bad day at work
posted by ersatzkat to Grab Bag (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
How about something completely different?
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:25 PM on January 18, 2007


Walt Whitman might be the average of all the names you list.
posted by iurodivii at 6:34 PM on January 18, 2007


I like the one about Success, often attributed but apparently not actually written by R. W. Emerson.
posted by BoscosMom at 6:51 PM on January 18, 2007


How about Jack McCarthy?
posted by roll truck roll at 7:19 PM on January 18, 2007


Ooh ooh, and I just had another thought.
posted by roll truck roll at 7:21 PM on January 18, 2007


Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas. It's kind of melancholy, like a lot of Dylan Thomas, but it's stunning and your Pop will appreciate all the farm references.

I've memorized this and recite it to my nine-month old boy when we're out for walks. It's what I'd want someone to read to me if I make it to ninety.
posted by alms at 7:41 PM on January 18, 2007


If he likes real-life poems perhaps you could read some of Woody Guthrie's poems/songs. Since your pop is midwest... he might relate to some of them.
posted by JayRwv at 7:42 PM on January 18, 2007


My Papa's Waltz
posted by felix betachat at 7:43 PM on January 18, 2007


My Papa's Waltz

Creepy!
posted by roll truck roll at 7:45 PM on January 18, 2007


Carl Sandburg? Languages is one I've always liked.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:46 PM on January 18, 2007


http://www.woodyguthrie.org/Lyrics/Lyrics.htm
posted by JayRwv at 7:46 PM on January 18, 2007


The 50th Stanza of Tennyson's In Memoriam is one of my favorites.
posted by atchafalaya at 8:03 PM on January 18, 2007


I suggest Galway Kinnell (some examples)...
posted by stefnet at 8:11 PM on January 18, 2007


Can I suggest ex-poet laureate Mark Strand? He lived and taught in Iowa for a long time, and then later in Chicago. I think the following is both lovely and appropriate:

The Continuous Life

What of the neighborhood homes awash
In a silver light, of children crouched in the bushes,
Watching the grown-ups for signs of surrender,
Signs that the irregular pleasures of moving
From day to day, of being adrift on the swell of duty,
Have run their course? Oh parents, confess
To your little ones the night is a long way off
And your taste for the mundane grows; tell them
Your worship of household chores has barely begun;
Describe the beauty of shovels and rakes, brooms and mops;
Say there will always be cooking and cleaning to do,
That one thing leads to another, which leads to another;
Explain that you live between two great darks, the first
With an ending, the second without one, that the luckiest
Thing is having been born, that you live in a blur
Of hours and days, months and years, and believe
It has meaning, despite the occasional fear
You are slipping away with nothing completed, nothing
To prove you existed. Tell the children to come inside,
That your search goes on for something you lost--a name,
A family album that fell from its own small matter
Into another, a piece of the dark that might have been yours,
You don’t really know. Say that each of you tries
To keep busy, learning to lean down close and hear
The careless breathing of earth and feel its available
Languor come over you, wave after wave, sending
Small tremors of love through your brief,
Undeniable selves, into your days, and beyond.
posted by onlyconnect at 8:53 PM on January 18, 2007


You didn't mention that he is a drunk and that your husband's love for him is tender yet fraught with pain, so good gravy do not read "My Papa's Waltz."

I love "Fern Hill" (obviously) and it's a true pleasure to read aloud, but if you want something shorter, I think Gerard Manley Hopkins' Pied Beauty is lovely, but a bit tricky to read aloud. If you want something easier to recite and by a midwestern son to boot, I have always loved James Wright's "A Blessing":

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more, they begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.
posted by melissa may at 9:19 PM on January 18, 2007


“Life is not a journey to the grave with intentions of arriving safely in a pretty well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming ... WOW! What a ride!”
posted by JujuB at 10:04 PM on January 18, 2007


I know you say cummings might not be the thing, but have you considered my father moved through dooms of love?

Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas isn't all lightness by the end, but seems like a good match, especially the second stanza:

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

posted by hippugeek at 10:47 PM on January 18, 2007


How about this offering from Patric Dickinson?

On Seeing a Christian Gardener at Eighty

Three days to Christmas―a mild
Bright westerly morning.
He is on his spry old knees
Preparing a spring bed,

A kind of active prayer,
His manger for the child.
And time may give him warning
That soon he will not be there;

He will not heed.
Beliefs can coalesce
In star and seed to wake
The living and the dead;
My unbeliever's eye
Beholds a practical
Reverence all can share
In face of a miracle.
posted by jeffmshaw at 11:50 PM on January 18, 2007


It may seem completely out of whack, but I'm going to suggest Bukowski's Blue Bird, which I think has the right combo of tough/world-weary and romance/hope:

there's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I'm too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I'm not going
to let anybody see
you.

there's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I pour whiskey on him and inhale
cigarette smoke
and the whores and the bartenders
and the grocery clerks
never know that
he's
in there.

there's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I'm too tough for him,
I say,
stay down, do you want to mess
me up?
you want to screw up the
works?
you want to blow my book sales in
Europe?

there's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I'm too clever, I only let him out
at night sometimes
when everybody's asleep.
I say, I know that you're there,
so don't be
sad.

then I put him back,
but he's singing a little
in there, I haven't quite let him
die
and we sleep together like
that
with our
secret pact
and it's nice enough to
make a man
weep, but I don't
weep, do
you?
posted by dobbs at 7:32 AM on January 19, 2007


American Names by Stephen Vincent Benet is a good one for someone who has travelled widely and loves language.
posted by maurice at 9:57 AM on January 19, 2007


I should mention, though, that one line in "American Names" could be a problem.
posted by maurice at 9:58 AM on January 19, 2007


I always loved Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden:

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?
posted by trinity8-director at 5:23 PM on January 19, 2007


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