Friday, December 09, 2005

The Poetry Archive

Poetry, at its heart, is a spoken art. So, I was especially excited to find The Poetry Archive, a collection of recordings of poets reading their own work. Right now the selections are a bit light, but they have poems by Browning, Tennyson, and Wilbur among them. I won't make this a list of links to the specific poets' pages, but I encourage you to go explore a bit.

I will make one exception to this however: W.B. Yeats. Yeats is perhaps my favorite poet, and the site has a recording of him sonorously intoning "The Lake Isle of Innisfree", the poet and poem that single-handedly turned my head towards poetry.

Picture the scene: Spring term, junior year. I'm an English major who has almost completed his major requirements, and who has, thus far, pretty much avoided any poetry beyond the Renaissance. To prepare for a comprehensive exam that I would need to pass to graduate, I needed to fill some holes between Beowulf and DeLillo, so I took a entry-level survey course to learn a little about Victorian literature. I think the course title was "Browning through Auden".

I hated this class. I hated all the stories, poems, and novels that we were reading. And I hated the professor's cheerleading for works that I really couldn't enjoy. I didn't really hate how easy it was. After my first paper, the professor called me into his office to try to convince me to switch majors to English. "Uh, I am an English major who'll be writing an honor's thesis next year," I replied. Good, good.

So we get to Yeats, and the professor confesses to the class that he doesn't really like him, but that to be complete, he really has to teach him. Great, I thought to myself. I haven't liked any thing that he thinks is good, how bad is this going to be. The assignment began with "The Lake Isle of Innisfree".

I've read that poem exactly once in my life.

Yes, you read that right. Once. It just stuck. I can still recite it on command. I went on in a single day to not only read the Yeats assignment, but also to read all the Yeats contained in the textbook. I then went to the bookstore and bought the collected poems, which I finished over the following summer. I haven't been the same since. It opened a whole wonderful world for me. Keats was next, and Wordsworth and Coleridge and Whitman and Lowell and Jarell and... the list grows quite large. But that poem started it all.

NP: "Dreams & Light" - The Wolfgang Press

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