a poem that wonders about time and memories
Today’s post is entirely self-explanatory from within the poem itself. But I would like to make a brief note about its form. I’ve written this in blank verse, the classic, unrhymed, five-footed lines so commonly used in English poetry since the sixteenth century.
It’s believed to have originated in imitation of the unrhymed poetry of classical Rome, or perhaps of some later Italian forms. Whatever its inspiration, the structure has proven immensely versatile over centuries of great English poets and playwrights.
Growing up with a love of poetry, I nevertheless did not particularly like unrhymed verse. And though my first, young, pre-teen self adored the lyricism and vivid imagery of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, I rather disliked his poems, such as Ulysses, that were written in blank verse.
But after a while the combination of reading Shakesepeare’s plays and many of Robert Browning’s longer poems (as I’ve referenced in the piece below) finally reconciled me to a form which I now love and employ.
All of this is to say merely that I originally disliked blank verse, and now I enjoy reading and writing it. I love it for its strength, beauty, and versatility, which supplies just enough form to keep the lines flowing on through the thoughts presented, without getting in the way.
Enough said. Here is the poem.
Found in Old Books
Am I the only one who keeps the spare
Detritus in a book? The other day
I found a photograph, old black and white
School photo in a book on pottery,
Tang Dynasty, their pots and sculptured ware;
And in the book a high school photograph
From days ere I was born. I wonder who
She was, or is, and how her picture came
To rest within the book I bought last year
For pennies at a local sale, a tome
As old as is the picture, and her youth
Still dwelling in it, silent, while our lives
Have all meandered to some far-off place.
I tuck the photo back within the book,
And there let time keep sacrosanct that spark
Of memories that lie beyond our ken.
This morning I flipped through another book,
My small red volume: Browning’s Poems and Plays;
And as the pages rustled through between
One poem and the next, I found a card
Of paperboard, a ticket stub that reads
The “University of Illinois”;
The auditorium at eight o’clock,
December seventh, nineteen forty-eight,
Which was a Tuesday: duo pianists
Whittemore and Lowe. I know admission was
A dollar and three quarters, and the tax
Was thirty-five cents more. Two dollars ten,
A main floor seat, and one spent ticket stub.
The fly leaf bears an upper corner name
Of Jerry Tracey. Was the ticket his?
And as I do each time the stub falls out,
I carefully replace it in the book.
For these small presences are tales themselves,
The glory and the pathos and the brief
Of our mortality. Though Time’s hand sweeps
The surface of the earth and takes us one
By one into oblivion, yet still
He can’t destroy the evidence, still less
The fact of our existence. While our souls
May drift to Hades, wing to Paradise,
We share upon this earth a page or two
With other lovers, till our memories
Lie slumbering perhaps within a book,
To fall out when a perfect stranger reads,
Pauses to sigh and wonder who we were.