"....few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into [her] heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memories to which, sooner or later - no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover or how much we learn or forget - we will return." -Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Shadow of the Wind

Thursday, September 15, 2011

How I get my poetry

Much to my own consternation, I don't read poetry often. I really want to, I just don't know how. I mean, what do you do, check a book of poetry out of the library and plough through it?  And, most poetry I simply don't get.  What is it about? What is the poet trying to say? Is there symbolism that I'm not getting? Every once in a while though, I happen upon a poem that DOES it for me. It transfixes me, even transports me, in a way that usually only a novel can.

How does one happen upon a poem, you might wonder? In my case, it is usually a character in a book that points out a poem or a poet. In Alexander McCall Smith's Isabel Dalhousie series, Isabel loves W.H. Auden and is often reminded of his poems as she goes about her daily life as an Edinburgher, a mother, an editor of a philosophical journal, and a person who is well known for getting mixed up in other people's business. (For those, who like me, know precious little about poetry, you might remember W.H. Auden as the poet read during the funeral portion of the film Four Weddings and a Funeral. Think: He was my North, my South, my East and my West.)

I recently read A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny. Ms. Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache series includes a poet as a character. In addition to Ruth Zardo's poetry throughout the series, A Trick of the Light features a poem by Stevie Smith that was used to evoke the state of mind of one of the main characters in the story, Clara Morrow. I loved this poem, and as rarely happens, I also GOT it, so I thought I'd share:

Not Waving but Drowning

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he's dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

What do you think of the poem? Can you remember poems from books that you loved? Please share!

Photo Credit: Alvaro GL


  1. I first read this poem ages ago and really liked it (partly because I could access it). It's one of the few pieces of poetry with a title (and recurring line) that has actually stuck with me and even pops in my head at random moments. Good stuff. But I can't remember running into any good ones recently in other literature.

  2. I don't remember when I first read it, but it has come up before in at least two other books I read. I found one (Maureen Corrigan, Leave me Alone I'm Reading), but I can't remember the other one. I had never heard of Stevie Smith before that.