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Afternoon_Stroll_by_William_Merritt_Chase,_San_Diego_Museum_of_Art

Afternoon_Stroll_by_William_Merritt_Chase

A notebook full of poetry I had worked on for years has disappeared. Vanished. Many of the poems I never copied into a word document. They may be lost forever. But several I know by heart, I’ve recited them so often. They are heavy with rhyme and rhythm, and I know that is why I remember them. The bards of long ago who sang their stories knew that we remember best verses that rhyme. Somehow our brains are made to carry these tunes in our swaying bodies. We feel them in our bones.

Here’s one I remember well, that I wrote when we were sailing, anchored in Bora Bora, of all places. It’s a “light” poem, pun intended. In fact, it was first entitled “Light Thoughts.” I’ve renamed it below, but reserve the right to switch it back. You never know.

I like it for its lightness. And I hesitate to share it for the same reason. It’s lightness, and its use of rhyme and rhythm, which serious poets seldom use today. For obvious reasons. Use of rhyme and rhythm seems too heavy-handed, too showy and childish, decidedly old-fashioned.

Serious poetry loses something when it rhymes. Alexander Pope and Shakespeare, and some of the other old masters could pull it off—-it was all the rage then. But now it sounds too much like greeting cards or the jingles you hear on TV to sell soap and cat litter. Or the picture books we read to children. The nursery rhymes we all grew up with, if we were lucky.

This poem could be found in a book of poetry for children. But it was written for adults. For me, to be more precise. And for others like me who see the world in a particular slant of light, and like to play with it.

Playing With Light

I like the slant of afternoon,
The shadows cut so clear,
Light lays down as if it’s found
A home on earth more pure.

I like the way each melting ray
Slides across the land,
To flow beneath the lowest leaf
And lift it in its hand.

The smallest stone is sudden grown,
A blade of grass stands tall.
The hills unwind one at a time
To dance before us all.

I like the way light likes to play
And catch me from behind,
Igniting hair with light so rare
It catapults the mind.

Yet when the light is laid so low
It tumbles from the earth,
And afternoon succumbs too soon
Mere embers on the hearth,

I find in night a keener light
To prick the bounds of thought.
Upon the spires of whirling stars
My reeling mind is caught.

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