"NIGHT" by Edward Robert Hughes
"She walks in beauty like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
which heaven to gaudy day denies"
First verse of "She Walks in Beauty"
~ by George Gordon, Lord Byron
A new book of poetry compiled and introduced by Caroline Kennedy takes its title from the first line of Byron's famous poem. "She Walks in Beauty: A Woman's Journey Through Poems" was recently released, and I think it would make an excellent Mother's Day gift. (I treated myself, ha!)
I almost didn't find it at the bookstore the other day. I was looking for an oversized, coffee table type book with lots of lush photographs and a few of the world's best-loved poems. I was surprised to discover it is a "regular"- (novel)-sized book.And instead of large color photos, the pages feature black and white photos of peonies from leaf to bud to bloom. Very understated and tasteful - I approve!
And the book is chock full of poems. The best-loved poems are there, and they include poems we've all read in high school or beginning college classes: "There's my last duchess hanging on the wall" (Robert Browning), "How do I love thee, let me count the ways" (Elizabeth Barrett Browning), and Emily Dickinson's tale of heartbreak:
"My life closed twice before its close --
It yet remains to see
If immortality unveil
A third event to me,
So huge, so hopeless to conceive
As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of Heaven
And all we need of hell."
"My Life Closed Twice Before its Close"
But then, a pleasant surprise: the deeper, more profound and less accessible - but still remarkable poems, written by the poets I read in advanced poetry classes, like Theodore Roethke, Gregory Corso, Sylvia Plath, Delmore Schwartz and Rainer Maria Rilke.
There are poems of astonishing beauty, like Christina Rossetti's "A Birthday": "My heart like a singing bird/whose nest is in a watered shoot;/My heart is like an appletree/Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit".
But then there are the surprising poems - new to me, daring and sophisticated, some dangerous, others revealing beauty in in the very depths of ugliness:
" I want a red dress.
I want it flimsy and cheap.
I want it too tight, I want to wear it
until someone tears it off me."
First lines from "What Do Women Want?"
~ by Kim Addonizio
"I want you women up north to know
how those dainty children's dresses you buy
at macy's, wanamakers, gimbels, marshall fields,
are dyed in blood, are stitched in wasting flesh,
down in San Antonio, "where sunshine spends the winter".
First stanza from "I Want You Women Up North to Know"
~by Tillie Olson.
I mentioned earlier that I thought this would be a wonderful Mother's Day gift, as the second part of the title would indicate: "A Woman's Journey Through Poems". Kennedy has divided the poems into several different categories, including "Falling In Love"; "Breaking Up"; "Marriage"; "Work"; "Beauty, Clothes and Things of this World"; "Motherhood"; "Friendship"; "Growing Up and Growing Old"; and "Death and Grief".
As we all know, Kennedy has encountered much grief in her lifetime, having lost all of her original family; three uncles on her father's side; and many other uncles, aunts and cousins. She relates in one chapter how she turns to poetry for solace in times of grief.
I think this anthology will help women everywhere work through all the phases of their lives. The only best-loved poems of mine that I wish Kennedy would have included - nature poems - did not fit her theme, but I have other anthologies that fit the bill. All in all, I am happy to add this anthology to my small poetry collection.
This book has inspired me to re-open my Art and Poetry blog and add my favorite poems there (both from this book and elsewhere). I will be adding several these next few hours.
Here is the link to my Art and Poetry Fest blog: http://poetryfest-julie.blogspot.com/