DALTON >> "Last night the geese came back,
from the bosom of the rising moon down
to the black pond. A muskrat
swimming in the twilight saw them and hurried
to the secret lodges to tell everyone
spring had come."
Mary Oliver, who penned these lines in the beginning of the poem titled, "Two Kinds of Deliverance," ushers us into spring and National Poetry Month. While I hate to think that all the wonders of poetry could be crammed into one solitary month, at least April is a commendable choice.
There seem to be an inordinate amount of lines written about the season of spring with its weeks full of plant life bursting forth, animals awakening from hibernation, and people getting back outside to enjoy it. Poets have long been known to tramp about the hillsides and sit by splashing streams to versify in the crumpled-covered notebooks always at the ready in a frayed pocket.
Or so we imagine. In truth, most poets probably write on computers or tablets, sitting comfortably in a well-lit study, with a cup of something stimulating on a nearby coaster.
But people who write poems for a living are definitely different from the rest of us. They can see an image and create a world around it. They can make us see something we would not have noticed before. Their choices of words and phrasing can almost make us hear things a different way too.
When we look at the lines of a poem, we have to consider each line alone first. It's quite like the poet whispering into our ear, and pausing for a breath. We can't read poems the way we read prose; part of the meaning is in the way the words and lines are arranged and we shouldn't fail to notice that arrangement carefully.
We can't read poems in a hurry. We have to savor each image like a perfectly ripe raspberry about to burst in our mouth, swirling the juicy pulp around before we swallow it.
At the end of another poem, "Winter in the Country,", Oliver concluded with this stanza:
The terror of the country
Is prey and hawk together,
Still flying, both exhausted,
Into the blue sack of weather.
While we could all see the image of two birds flying, the word "sack" in the last line changes the view. Now both of these exhausted creatures are flying into the trap of bad weather. We know about animals caught in a sack; their outcome is usually not good. Oliver paints a deft change by adding that one word to the last line.
She leaves us wondering what will happen. Most good poems make us think and make connections with the poet and his/her ideas.
I think poets take fragments of the world and hold them up to the light, and turn them gently until a new image comes into focus, much like a kaleidescope. That's part of their magic. They also make us want to discover what they have already found; how to observe, and describe, and make sense of a fragmented world. Sometimes, they lead us along with a trail of bread crumbs; but often we have to work at discerning the meaning ladled into the lines.
However you enjoy your poetry, make a point to treat yourself to a poetry break this month. Take a favorite volume down from a dusty shelf, or use the gnomes at Google to find you some new options to try. Like a box of chocolates, I bet you can't eat just one.
Anne Horrigan Geary is a regular Eagle contributor.