Poetry has never really been my thing. I’ve tried goodness knows. So many of my favorite literary heroines have adored it; Anne Shirley being the one who comes to mind first. I tried to read Tennyson in 6th grade because of her. It did not go well… But every once in awhile I try again to figure out what is so great about poetry. My latest attempt came to me at the book sale for the library this past summer. I found two old copies of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow‘s The Courtship of Miles Standish and Other Poems and Samuel Taylor Coleridge‘s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Other Poems. I knew the titles and figured, I should read these! They’ve sat on my shelf until this past week when they came up first on the queue for my reading project. One good thing about poetry, once I sit down to read it, it doesn’t take too long for me to get through it.
I started with Longfellow. I knew he was an American poet, one of the Boston Brahmins (thank you Matthew Pearl) but that was about the extent of my knowledge. Oh, I knew he’d written “The Song of Hiawatha” too (thank you Disney!). So I went into these poems not knowing much. I must say I enjoyed “The Courtship of Miles Standish” though the title doesn’t exactly make sense. Standish never goes to court Priscilla, instead he sent his best friend John Alden to court for him. 25 years of romantic comedies told me before I got three stanzas in how well that was going to work. Still, I liked the story itself. Longfellow kind of lost me when Standish goes off to fight the Native Americans. A war story girl I have never been. The other poems included in the collection were interesting though nothing caught my fancy. I read through them and promptly forgot them. Clearly, a lover of poetry I am not meant to be.
Next came Coleridge. A man I knew even less about than Longfellow. Once the introduction to the version I had explained a bit about his relationship with Wordsworth and the Lake School I had a somewhat better idea of where he fit. A lover of Austen I am and thankfully Marianne in Sense and Sensibility was in love with Cowper (even though that may or may not have been her downfall, I’ve never quite decided). So once I had that in my mind, his poetry wasn’t surprising. It fell right into how I expected him to sound and act. “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” was interesting and slightly creepy at times, the premise is fascinating if nothing else. The Mariner must wander the world in search of people to tell his tale to in order to give penance for murdering the innocent sea bird. Of course, I also enjoyed the lines I recognized from other stories and movies over the years. My favorite was “Water, water, everywhere, /Nor any drop to drink. (lines 121-122)” I could just hear Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka in the Fizzy Lifting Room when I found that line.
I will say I enjoyed “Christabel” thoroughly and wished Coleridge had finished it. I like a story, even in my poetry, and Christabel’s story was shaping up to be a wondrous tale of good and evil, with the damsel being saved by her belief in her dead mother’s protection. In that it reminded me of medieval tales and the original versions of Cinderella where there is no fairy godmother. Instead it is Cinderella’s mother who provides her with the means to attend the ball. In fact, it was shaping up to be an interesting take on Cinderella even though that wasn’t the intent of the writer. What I could have done with that in my senior thesis! An unconscious re-telling of the Cinderella myth. It’s fun to think about anyway (the perils of being an English major never really leave you just so everyone knows).
With that, another shelf is completely read! Woohoo! I might make my end of the year deadline at this rate though I have some long reads coming up. And some ILLs from the library to read by November 13th. Those will have to be tackled first!