An Autumn Addition: anthology of Favorite Poems


In his book, Singing School: Learning to Write (and Read) Poetry by Studying with the Masters, poet and teacher Robert Pinsky urges readers to create a personal anthology of favorite and significant poems.

It is not enough, Pinsky notes, to simply clip or copy and collect these choices one makes; instead, he urges that each choice should be typed or written line by line exactly as it has been published. Here’s the teacher’s observation:

“Typing a poem, one memorizes it a few words at a time, sometimes one syllable at a time. Every word gets read. By hitting the Return key at the end of each typographical line, one might learn something about the poetic line. The physical act of typing the poem can reinforce the act of judgment that selected it.”

I have applied Pinsky’s suggestions in compiling my own anthology of favorite poems.

Autumn tip-toed in while we dealt with a record-breaking heat wave this year (on Monday, Augusta, GA, recorded the highest temperature in the nation at 101 F). It is time for me to renew my seasonal selection of a poem for my anthology of favorites:

Musee des Beaux Arts
By W. H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

—one cannot fully appreciate this wonderful description of indifference without an awareness of the painting to which Auden is referring. For a fuller understanding, search for the poem’s title on Wikipedia.

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