Thoughts on Poetry on a Snowy Morning

I like to think I appreciate poetry. How certain words, phrases and resulting ideas can evoke powerful emotions that are difficult or impossible to articulate, but nevertheless very real. And how we are drawn back to those words, and re-read them in our mind.

As it snowed last night (a beautiful snow), we watched Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow from 1999(!). It got me thinking of Washington Irving, and the region around New York, and how I need to go there someday for an extended trip. A few minutes on Irving's Wikipedia page made me want to go there even more. He had a nice life. His picture didn't jive with what was in my mind, though - I was erroneously and nonsensically swayed by Ichabod Crane in Disney's cartoon.

At the end of the Irving article, there is a short poem that Longfellow wrote after Irving's death:

How sweet a life was his; how sweet a death!
Living, to wing with mirth the weary hours,
Or with romantic tales the heart to cheer;
Dying, to leave a memory like the breath
Of summers full of sunshine and of showers,
A grief and gladness in the atmosphere.
Longfellow, from "In The Churchyard at Tarrytown", quoted in Burstein, 330 (from Irving's wikipedia article)

And these (new-to-me) short lines resonated in that inarticulable way... "the breath of summers full of sunshine and of showers."

It immediately took me to one of my favorite A.E. Housman poems (from his A Shropshire Lad):

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

Why is this so powerful?

There is context: the totality of experiences of the reader (me) that come into play. And like trying to explain why something is funny, the number of words required is so excessive, and the words themselves such poor conveyors of the essence, that it is futile to try. There is just too much going on.

So you simply enjoy re-reading it in your mind, and relive it.

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