I remember the day I explicated my first poem.
I was nervous because I had a difficult time with poetry, and we had no idea what poem we were going to get. The class was British Literature, Romantic Period, so I knew I was likely dealing with Blake, Coleridge, Keats or Wordsworth, but there was really no way to study for the test. A test that would be one-third of my grade.
As the teacher, Dr. Joukovsky, walked around the room, I begged the universe for Keats. When the paper hit my desk, and I saw that it was not only Keats, but one of my favorite poems, I felt every muscle relax. I also felt a secret kinship with whatever divine power led to my stroke of luck.
But the next hour was hard. Really hard. Though I enjoyed reading Keats, I was guilty of glossing over words I didn't quite understand or meanings that weren't blatant. I wolfed down the words without chewing carefully, and no matter how many times I read, I struggled to put coherent thoughts down on my paper.
I eventually triumphed and scored a decent grade, but what I realized is that I had to work harder.
It's working harder that I've been thinking about lately. As a copywriter, it is often my job to boil down words to bite-sized, consumer friendly chunks (bullet points, simple sentences). And while I'm of the camp that brevity is usually best, there's something to be said for digesting difficult work.
I've been seeking out things that make me think, things that make me feel like I have a lot more to learn, things that are humbling. Keat's To Autumn
fits the bill. I'm fifteen years older, and I have to admit, this still makes me work hard.
On a completely unrelated note: I wonder if the founders of Twitter were inspired by the last line
- Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
- Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
- Conspiring with him how to load and bless
- With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
- To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
- And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
- To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
- With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
- And still more, later flowers for the bees,
- Until they think warm days will never cease,
- For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.
- Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
- Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
- Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
- Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
- Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
- Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
- Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
- And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
- Steady thy laden head across a brook;
- Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
- Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
- Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
- Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,-
- While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
- And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
- Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
- Among the river sallows, borne aloft
- Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
- And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
- Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
- The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
- And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.