It’s National Poetry Day. I have mixed feelings about Days/Weeks/Months for things; I also have mixed feelings about poetry. Not poetry itself – I love the distillation of a thought or mood or moment into the purest form of words it can find without losing itself – but rather, my experience of poetry.
I’ve studied books and plays and poems (I did an English degree, way back when, and loved it) and what I learned was how to take the engine of a piece of writing apart, and see how it works. Now, as I embark on my second novel, I’m doing the reverse – building a story, layering in precisely the right words, choosing where and when to move the plot, understanding who my characters are so that everything they do flows from their experiences and values and little made-up hearts. And I’m profoundly grateful for my years of study, which have taught me so much.
Except. Although I can now still love a book, enjoy a play, without saying ‘oh, I see what you did there’ all the way through – when it comes to poetry, I struggle. I am so busy watching the cogs turn, seeing how the elements slot together, that I find it hard to engage.
But this poem seems to be immune to that. Which is odd, because it was actually one of the first poems I studied properly, so either I made a pig’s ear of the studying or the poem was big and beautiful enough to take it. (Or, and most likely, both.)
Anyway. I give you ‘the Whitsun Weddings’, read by Philip Larkin. I love it. Especially the last line, which I swear springs unbidden to my mind every time I get to the end of a train journey.