Thursday, February 10, 2011

Loving Dead Poets

With two English-Lit Major brothers and an aunt who taught English at a local high school, is it any wonder I grew up loving dead poets?

No. No wonder at all.

When I was ten, my oldest brother recited a few lines by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. I felt sympathetic toward the main character in this poem, and I loved the way he expressed himself. The words sunk deep into my girlish heart and I worked for days to memorize them.

"Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.

O, well for the fisherman's boy,
That he shouts with his sister at play!
O, well for the sailor lad
That he sings in his boat on the bay!

And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanished hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!

Break, break, break
At the foot of thy crags, O Sea.
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me."

These words sounded so compellingly romantic! Break, Break, Break led me on to further discovery. The Lady of Shalott. Morte D' Arthur. Ulysses.

On my desk, sitting close like a dear friend, there is a copy of The Poetical and Dramatic Works of Tennyson. It is old, though not as old as Lord Alfred himself, though close. The cover is a rich cobalt blue inscribed with gold, leafy filigree. The paper and vellum inside are no longer white but instead a yellowish-orange.

I open this book carefully, as I have done many times, as I will yet do. Like always, it creaks me a welcome, and I suddenly feel at home.

What books impressed you as a child? Do you love words, and if so, what are some of your favorites?

If you haven't visited Akseli Koskela at An English Teacher's Travelblog, you should. An excellent writer himself, he has a great post today about language.


  1. As an English teacher who spent many years teaching the Victorian and Romantic poets I just loved reading this-thank you!

    Thanks for the link too. I will go and have a look at that blog.

    Best wishes,

  2. Hi Roxy,

    Thanks for the link! I'm glad you liked that post. I think when I was young I was too literal-minded to appreciate poetry - I was interested only in stories of adventure with a beginning, middle and end (and preferably a Middle Earth too!).

    My favourite poem today is probably D.H. Lawrence's "Aware". The image is so direct in a way that no amount of description could ever approximate.

  3. Roxy!! I am in awe at your poetic memory!!! Me - the best I can remember are the words to "The Owl and the Pussycat" (a wonderful poem of love, triumphant love and happy endings!!! Yay!!!).

    I love your gorgeous dear friend! Thank you for the very interesting link! Take care

  4. I have letters tied with ribbon stored in a pretty box from an old boyfriend who sent me John Donne poetry. Oh the sweetness of teenage love!

  5. Roxy: Dead poets rock! Akseli knows it too. I thought I was the only one on the planet who read Morte D' Arthur. Great post!

  6. I love the classic novels, Jane Eyre, Rebecca, that sort. I have a small collection of old, illustrated versions of these that I've picked up at our library's book sales over the years.

  7. You've got a new blog look goin' over here! It's nice. Actually, you're too smart. Why do you hang out with me? If anyone read me that poem when I was younger, my brain would've shut off. What am I saying? My brain shuts off even now. But the words are pretty, indeed. Stephen King on the other hand... I read Carrie when I was ten. I believe King is also a master with words, but in quite a different way. :)

  8. As I pictured your treasured book of poems, I can feel the anticipation and comfort of caressing an old friend. I envy you your literary connections.

    My favorite childhood book was "Harriet the Spy" by Louise Fitzhugh. I still have my copy.

    I agree that Akseli's blog is terrific and I look forward to following you too!

  9. Okay. I read D.H. Lawrence's Aware yesterday. I'm so glad I did. Beautiful!

  10. Morte D'Arthur! Sigh.

    I am a sucker for Arthurian Legend.


  11. That was awesome.

    I use to love e.e.

    PS Happy Valentine's Day!

  12. This IS a great poem. I have been missing your blog, so I popped back in, and look at your gorgeous background. Enjoy more dead poets!