I’ve reached my goal for the first month of my Epic Poetic Odyssey. September’s poem, ‘The Second Coming’ by William Butler Yeats, has been laid down in my synapses.
In my quest for personal and literary enrichment, I have embarked on a program of memorising a poem a month. Even though I’m in the early days of this quest, I’m already reaping unexpected rewards.
One of the loveliest windfalls has been meeting new people, like Shirley, a lovely lady named who contacted me through my Ali Stegert Facebook page. Retired teacher Shirley describes herself as a ‘literature tragic and iPad fanatic.’ She originally set out to memorise ten poems, and she’s now on her 87th now! She’s set a new goal of memorising 100 poems. Such an inspiration! Keep an eye out for my upcoming posts that feature Shirley and other poetry loving people I meet on my way.
Shirley’s top tip for memorising poetry was to look for and follow the line of thought. I tried this out and it worked. I memorised ‘The Second Coming’ within three or four days. The rest of the month I worked on fluency.
‘The Second Coming’ speaks of a world spinning out of control, which resonates with me. Although the poem is grim, I find it reassuring to know that the current ‘falling apart’ in the political arena has happened before and yet life goes on. The poem was published in 1919*, which means Yeats probably worked on it in 1918 or even earlier, possibly in the chaos leading up to and during WWI.
So far, I have resisted my new-found urge to recite poetry in the middle of conversations, much to the relief of my family, but almost every time I watch the news, these lines burn in my mind:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; | Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;| The best lack all conviction while the worst | Are full of passionate intensity.
The Poet’s Intention
Reading up on the Nobel Prize for Literature winner Yeats, I found out that what he meant in the poem and what I ‘heard’ are two very different things. Although the language and themes of the poem are familiar and Biblical-sounding to me, Yeats apparently held more to mysticism, magic and occult spiritualism than Christianity. He was a wild-minded poet and statesman who espoused some unorthodox philosophies and original theories. For example, the ‘gyre’ of the poem is not a metaphor for a world spiralling out of control as I thought. Yeats propounded gyres as a historical phenomenon, something that accompanies ‘Spiritus Mundi’ or the spirit of the world, in his complex mystical theory.
So, there’s the poet’s intention and my reading of it. Does this mean I read it wrongly and that I should always check the poet’s background and beliefs? Or does it mean that good poetry is good because it speaks on different levels at different times. I still like the poem, but I have no intention of adopting a mystical belief in ‘gyres.’
What Was I Thinking?
Boy, do I regret my promise to post a video of me reciting each month’s poem. As someone who dislikes even being photographed let alone being filmed, I’m cringing as I post this. I have almost no experience with editing and uploading videos. However, I’ve decided to suck it up and see this as another area for personal growth and professional development. Here’s hoping my performance, recording and broadcasting skills improve over the next 12 months! (Bear with me! You’ve got to start somewhere, right?)
The wind started howling right at the line about the ‘reeling shadows of indignant desert birds’. I cracked an incongruent smile right at the poem’s most dramatic and bleak moment. Many thanks to my inspiring writer friend Debbie Smith, who videoed me and didn’t laugh.
I promise—without the added pressure of being filmed I can recite the poem fluently! (I got a couple words wrong).
I have narrowed down a list of poems for October. I’ll share my choice next week, so stay tuned. And remember, I’d love to have your company on my Epic Poetic Odyssey. You don’t have to commit to 12 months! Jump in and out at any time! I can tell you from experience that one poem in a month is not hard.
So, what do you think? Have you got any tips on memorising or reciting poetry? Know of any good resources on making nice videos? Please leave a comment!
Giovanni Calia via Unsplash
Tim Mossholder via Unsplash
Modified by the author
*Another source said the poem appeared in 1921.