As I’m sure you know from memorizing all my posts, my favorite poem is “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot. Eliot believes of poetry,
“…there is an analogy between mystical experience and some of the ways in which poetry is written … “
I think he means that poetry shows us a new way of seeing. It can turn the ordinary into the marvelous. It can encourage us to see the beauty in the mundane, and the significance in the quotidian. It can teach us to see what we would have never even thought to see:
Who Has Seen the Wind?
BY CHRISTINA ROSSETTI
Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.”
The poet and novelist James Dickey, winner of the National Book Award for his poetry collection Buckdancer’s Choice, opines:
“The first thing to understand about poetry is that it comes to you from outside you, in books or in words, but that for it to live, something from within you must come to it and meet it and complete it. Your response with your own mind and body and memory and emotions gives a poem its ability to work its magic; if you give to it, it will give to you, and give plenty.”
Personally, I find that to be true of any sort of reading. But he adds:
“Part of the spell of poetry is the rhythm of language, used by poets who understand how powerful a factor rhythm can be, how compelling and unforgettable. Almost anything put into rhyme is more memorable than the same thing in prose. Why this is, no one knows completely, though the answer is surely rooted far down in the biology by means of which we exist; in the circulation of the blood that goes forth from the heart and comes back, and in the repetition of breathing.”
I think that both of his points must be true. The mnemonic value of poetry is more obvious, but his second point is more compelling. I listened to my blood circulating on an ultrasound test once, and it was amazing: like ocean waves, lilting and lulling in a way I never would have imagined, but a way that seemed somehow immediately familiar to me. Oceans and poems: I think it is the same. The appeal could be rooted in our very biology.
And here, for your Sunday treat, and to test it these theories for yourself, is Michael Gough performing my favorite poem, “The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock.”
Personal Note: Whenever Jim and I are at a social occasion, and one of us (usually me) wants to leave, I start: “Let us go then, you and I….” He continues, “When the evening is spread out against the sky..” And by the time I get to “Like a patient etherized upon a table…,” everyone is quite happy to see us depart! [an argument for the functional use of poetry….]