This past week, I started Robert Hass’s book What Light Can Do. I’ve been reading it at any time I can find – during lunch, in my breaks, when I’m supposed to be doing other things (*forehead slap*). I lose track of time reading this book.
He describes poetry and the essay form in the context of studying photography as an art form: the product, but more importantly, the process of creation. In his essay about Wallace Stevens, Hass talks about studying a poem and living with it.
“I’ve lived with [The Emperor of Ice-Cream] for some time,” he writes, “and thought that it would serve for one image of the way poems happen in a life when they are lived with, rather than systematically studied. Or alternately studied and lived with, and in that way endlessly reconceived.”
Which got me thinking… what are some poems that you carry with you?
One of mine will always be T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”
I think I love certain lines from the poem more than anything, and yes, they are a bit over-used at times, but they’re cliché for a reason, and I still love them:
“Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is set up against the sky…”
“Time for me, and time for you,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.”
“For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”
“In the rooms, the women come and go,
Talking of Michelangelo.”
And others too:
“I left you in the morning,
And in the morning glow,
You walked awhile beside me,
To make me sad to go.”
From “Flower Gathering” – Robert Frost
“You left me, sweet, two legacies –
A legacy of love…”
“Bequest” – Emily Dickinson
“One note a time for you, darling,
One tooth at a time for me.”
“Fool Me Good” – Billy Collins
“Everything was to come,
Everything about love…”
“Taking It Home to Jerome” – David Kirby
I remember thinking about this during my semester abroad, how certain cities would remind me of lines I’d read. A place would recall a memory or a line from a book. If anything, it served to comfort me: that other people at different times in history felt the same things, even if they were experiencing a completely different time and place.
So. Over and over these poems remain. Last night in Barcelona, we explored the Gràcia neighbourhood. The narrow streets are full of historical apartments and new “hipster” bars and restaurants beneath. I’ve been describing this word “hipster” to my host mother here – “new and modern” but with a desire for the “old and the vintage.” Nostalgically historical? I don’t know. Maybe just trying a little too hard? But I love these places just as much as the next “hipster.” What can I say? I love taking pictures of these places, and I love stopping to enjoy them too.
The blend of new and old, historic with contemporary, is a theme throughout this city, and the Gràcia neighbourhood does this seemingly seamlessly. The traditional is mixed in with the trendy, antique stores next to a jewelry boutique, 100-year old patisseries revitalized, given a fresh coat of paint and an offering of “Vegan” choices. It’s this way with many, many places around the world, I know – but I still feel like I’m seeing it for the first time, while also knowing that I’ve seen it before, at a different time, at a different place.
There are things that we carry with us our entire lives – poems, quotes, lines from literature, artwork we love. We might find that these pieces serve alternative purposes to us at the various chapters of our lives – providing comfort, carrying meaning, offering a new perspective, changing the way we view the world, or carving out a space in which we offer meaning to it. Like the streets in these old cities, they are endlessly reconceived, and yet exist as special all on their own. In The Goldfinch, (I think that finishing this book is one of the greatest accomplishments of my life, right after graduating from college #itwasastruggletilltheend, and remembering my password for any website), Donna Tart talks about art in the sense that they are “pieces that occur and recur in life. They could be a city, colour, time of day.”
This is true of anything that is special to you – a distant memory, a song, a poem, a book, a person. Oh, especially, a person.
Being back in Barcelona but finally having the chance to explore means that I wax poetic even more than usual, so I’ll sign off now.
I hope you’re having a beautiful weekend!