Well, it’s April again, and that means it’s National Poetry Month here in the United States. I’ve been pondering what to do about it this year, since I’m really not much of a poetry reader. The ones I’ve posted over the past two years are really the ones that come to mind when I think of poems I like.
But it occurred to me that I have spent nearly half my life in choirs, and listen to a lot of music. So this month I’m starting with songs and seeing where they take me.
This first poem is going to seem like an immediate contradiction of the plan to post different texts that have been set to music, but bear with me.
During my senior year of high school, I joined a choir that was intense and amazing and challenging. One of the pieces we tackled was a setting of Sara Teasdale’s poem “There Will Be Rest.” Eventually it proved too challenging even for us, and after only one or two attempts during concerts the director removed it from our repertoire. Indeed, one of those attempts stands out in my mind as a spectacular failure – the high voices, the sopranos and tenors, pushed so sharp that eventually the entire soprano section had to drop out. Not good!
But in my memory the poem and the music shimmer gently, like dewdrops on a spiderweb or the way starlight is sometimes set to music. And it’s this great unattained milestone in my mind, so I’ve never forgotten it. I went to poets.org to try and find the poem again.
Instead, I found this other one by Sara Teasdale that left my jaw on the floor.
I Am Not Yours
by Sara Teasdale
I am not yours, not lost in you,
Not lost, although I long to be
Lost as a candle lit at noon,
Lost as a snowflake in the sea.
You love me, and I find you still
A spirit beautiful and bright,
Yet I am I, who long to be
Lost as a light is lost in light.
Oh plunge me deep in love — put out
My senses, leave me deaf and blind,
Swept by the tempest of your love,
A taper in a rushing wind.
This perfectly verbalizes something that’s happened to me a few times now. I find myself involved with someone who’s good and kind and funny and by all accounting someone who is a great match for me, and I desperately wish I was more attracted to him.
It happens to everyone at some point, and it’s so difficult. We want the fairy tale romance, to be swept off our feet and let the world fall away, but modern cynicism says that’s not possible. Except people keep writing about it, so it must happen to someone, right?
There’s this popular idea that if you have to stop and think about it, you haven’t been in love. And anyone who’s been in love will tell you that for a while at least the world DOES fall away.
I suppose I just have to keep looking.