‘Dancing with the daffodils’… a tribute to poetry

“I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd, a host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze.”

(William Wadsworth, 1770-1850)

What a better time to sing the praises of daffodils and other flowers than when thinking about the long awaited arrival of spring? Poetry has a special and creative way of expressing feelings about the world around us.

“World Poetry Day,” on March 21 of each year, is a good time to fondly remember some favorite and classic poems.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization first designated a poetry day in 1999. Its goal is to support poetry through teaching and other fine arts such as dance, theatre, and music so that poetry is not considered an outdated language form. Rather, it continues to be a unique and innovative form of expression, and according to un.org, a “dialogue among people and cultures with its free flow of ideas by word, creativity, and its own grammar.”

Unlike prose, which is written in sentences and paragraphs, poetry is written in lines which are grouped into stanzas or verses. People with a sense of rhythm are often good at writing poetry because beats are created by stressed and unstressed syllables. When there is a pattern to this rhythm, it is called meter. This rhythm is what makes it a pleasure to hear poetry recited rather than just read like prose. It’s what makes the lyrics in music so pleasant to hear and sing.

Poetry comes in many shapes and sizes. Like any other genre, certain ones may be enjoyed more than others. There are ballads, cinquains, epics, epistles, haikus, limericks, odes and sonnets. There are carols, epitaphs, hymns, madrigals and quatrains.

Of all the poetry throughout the world from “yesterday” times, many of the most famous are collected into books including one called “101 Famous Poems,” first published in 1958. The book was given to me by a dear mother figure with whom I lived for a time while attending Saint Mary’s College of Notre Dame, Indiana when taking a class on public speaking. It has the “popular masterpieces of the greatest poets of many ages poems that live on in the hearts of readers as well as the annals of literature.” They are “indispensable” and what should be considered part of a well-rounded and classical education with famous poets including Browning, Burns, Dickinson, Frost, Holmes, Kilmer, Kipling, Longfellow, Poe, Sandburg, Shakespeare, Tennyson and Whitman.

Some first lines of poems are forever ingrained in our memories from times past. For example, probably everyone knows, “To be, or not to be; that is the question.”

From the book and inscribed by my friend is one such poem; the poem recited in that college class.

“Will you walk into my parlor?” said the spider to the fly;

‘Tis the prettiest little parlor that you ever did spy.

The way into my parlor is up a winding stair,

And I have many pretty things to show when you are there.”

(Mary Howitt, 1799-1888)

Many poems are based on historic events. Many people remember the beginning of “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”dealing with a traditional take on events leading to the American Revolution

“Listen, my children and you shall hear of the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,

On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;

Hardly a man is now alive who remembers that famous day and year.”

(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807-1882)

Another memorable poem “In Flanders Fields” describes World War I through the eyes of a Canadian physician who served overseas.

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky the larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.”

(John McCrae, 1872-1918)

Characteristics of the human soul and nature are also beautifully expressed through poetry. Also familiar and classic are the words of two other famous poets.

“If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain:

If I can ease one life the aching, or cool one pain,

Or help one fainting robin unto his nest again,

I shall not live in vain.”

(Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886)

“I think I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree.

A tree that looks at God all day, and lifts her leafy arms to pray;

Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.”

(Joyce Kilmer, 1886-1918)

Make it a good week and sing your own poem of praise for the coming of spring.