Friday, November 03, 2006

Alone and Palely Loitering

I’ve been paging through Essential Blake for the past few days. Not because I really like poetry or the idea of analyzing it, but because B and I have been watching old episodes of Rumpole of the Bailey, and I am in love with the idea of declaiming bits of verse at appropriate moments just like Rumpole. For example, suppose I was meeting a friend at a pub. Wouldn’t it be grand if I could saunter up to the friend and say, as Rumpole once did, “Is that you, ‘alone and palely loitering’?”

However, snippets of poetry are not just going to gush forth at will, because I was never forced to memorize poetry when I was a kid. I’m sure that if I had been I would have loathed it and thought it pointless, but I would certainly be glad now to have a nice little stockpile of classic verse on hand to whip out as the occasion warranted.

So I’ve been toying with the idea of memorizing some poetry, even though I’m at a semi-advanced age and who knows if it would stick?

Please note that I’m not in the least bit interested in doing anything other than learning it by rote. No analysis please. Although I have little memory of it, presumably I did plenty of analysis when I lurched through Poetry 101, PoetryThreeHundredSomething, and assorted other required Tennysonish, Donneish, and Percy Bysshe Shelleyish classes that I had to take in order to graduate with a BA in English (or was it a BS?). It’s all long forgotten, probably because the emphasis was always on “cracking the code” not appreciating the language.

Anyway, I borrowed the Blake book from the library. I remember, vaguely, sort of liking William Blake. And I was rather excited to check him out again and “skim for fun phrases” (to paraphrase David Sedaris’s M.O. when reading Shakespeare).

I was quite nonplussed as I skimmed. I wasn’t turning up any fun phrases. And some of the poems are so unsophisticated they’d be easily intelligible to a first grader:

“Little Lamb,
Here I am;
Come and lick
My white neck [ew!]”

I mean, was the man a simpleton? The excerpt above is one of the Songs of Innocence, which are supposed to be great. What is so great about "Little Lamb,/ Here I am"? I’ve been through the whole book and most of it is taken up with the Songs of Innocence and the Songs of Experience, and since the book is entitled Essential Blake, I presume there isn’t much else in Blake’s oeuvre.

I’m kind of bummed out. It’s just a lot of sing-songiness about birds, angels, and infants. (He’s absolutely obsessed with capital “I” Infants; there seems to be one in every poem. Is it the Christ child? I’m not going to spend the time to try to figure that out.) I thought there’d be a lot more about sick roses and dark Satanic Mills—that’s the Blake I remember liking.

But I’m not giving up with this poetry memorization scheme. I think I need to obtain a copy of Essential Keats—he’s the clever drawers who came up with “alone and palely loitering”—or maybe I need to skim some Wordsworth—Rumpole’s poet of choice.

Today's Random NaBloPoMo blog: The Fabricated Goddess


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