My senior year of high school, I was President of our National Forensic League, a club that one can join only after participating in a number of events or occasions that involve oratory, public speaking, public reading, speeches, etc. We went to tournaments and competitions, loads of students from our theatre department preparing poems or monologues or extemporaneous pieces with which to compete. And I was their nerd queen. One year, I recited a creepy monologue from Five Kinds of Silence by Shelagh Stephenson; one tournament, a friend and I performed a scene from William Gibson’s The Miracle Worker; I won a few competitions with my version of Noyes’ The Highwayman; but none of these was I so proud of as my Shakespeare pieces.
The regional Shakespeare competition requires a contrasting monologue and sonnet recitation. I chose Tamora’s angry, heart-wrenching monologue from Titus Andronicus and the enlightening, inspired Sonnet 104. The words from Titus have faded from memory over time, but that sonnet – those 14 beautiful lines – have stayed with me all these years. They are practically music, and I just had to share:
To me, fair friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I ey’d,
Such seems your beauty still. Three winters cold,
Have from the forests shook three summers’ pride,
Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turn’d,
In process of the seasons have I seen,
Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burn’d,
Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.
Ah! yet doth beauty like a dial-hand,
Steal from his figure, and no pace perceiv’d;
So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand,
Hath motion, and mine eye may be deceiv’d:
For fear of which, hear this thou age unbred:
Ere you were born was beauty’s summer dead.
three April perfumes
in three hot Junes burn'd
About 2 years ago, I was visiting a few old friends in Manhattan. I stayed with one Kerry Serini on Avenue C for the week, but we inevitably ended up around midtown once or twice. We hung out in Central Park for most of this brisk October afternoon, but the moment we ventured into the city itself was the one I remember so vividly. We stumbled upon a tiny storefront, tarnished gold letters on a emerald green sign over the door: Argosy. An antique bookstore. The first few shelves were anthologies of poetry published from 1940 and earlier… which meant that we were pretty much committed for the next 3 hours. My treasures were two of the rarer collections of Alfred Noyes’ work and one book of Tennyson’s poems, but Kerry’s purchase was the real find. It would have been just a book of poetry, except for the inscription. It really hit us hard as we stood there pouring over those flawlessly penned lines. I copied it down as soon as we got home.
books upon books
Found on the inside of an anthology of American poetry printed October 1930:
“Words of my own.
Poetry is what you thought about when you were a child, somehow not forgotten in the business of growing up, and discovered to be true, and valuable, and possible, just as you always thought it was…. Poetry is the language of a hoped-for country of light, overheard when the road you walk on brings you nearer the unknown border than ever before…. Poetry is that amazement you feel when you understand that light can be like a sword, the voice like a hand caressing you, thought like a flower bursting into bloom, or joy like a star falling through the sky…. Poetry is the coin, out of the dull and leaden handful we throw down in payment for the hours of life, that rings true and clear, and lies glittering where it falls…. Poetry is the tree of life packed in a seed and planted in the heart and mind, where it takes root, and grows green and flowers, and is the tree again…. Poetry is what sight would be to the blind, speech to the dumb, walking to the crippled, and life to the condemned, but you and I see, speak, walk, live, and we have poetry.
People don’t speak that way anymore. Let us breathe a collective sigh.
i love the accidental blurriness; it well represents the overwhelming feeling that accompanies that many books in one room