I Was a Poet And Didn't Know It

My longstanding awe of and respect for the poet and poetry were misdirected, and now that I have tried a verse or two I find it's a cinch. I supposed a poet lived in attic squalor, drafty and an hungred, quill poised, waiting for tranquillity to recollect some emotion, and that forging winged words was difficult and demanding. Bosh!

All you do, really, is find some word like "lickspittle" and then find 10 other words that rhyme with it and fit some nagging thought about them and run off to play. I wondered how Milton and Virgil, Tennyson and Keats, Burns and Allen, and all the others could discipline themselves to the demanding regimentation of ictus and spondee.

In "The Houseboat on the Styx," John Kendrick Bangs tells how the shades had a ladies' night and the shade of William Shakespeare composed the poetic invitation. The Bard rhymed "ladies" with "Hades." The other shades reprimanded him. They said he was Shakespeare, and was great enough to rhyme "ladies" with "bicycle" if he wanted to and nobody would notice, but to rhyme "ladies" and "Hades" was below his station.

This may be true, and while I don't recall that Shakespeare ever rhymed anything with "lickspittle," I think it can be done without excessive use of talent. Certainly as the rankest of amateurs, I have done better than I anticipated and expect to have a book of poetry ready soon. It's easy. Take it or leave it, the muse that guided Keats was the same muse heard by Sadie Lizzie Kronk:

The soil for onions rank,

Is good for lilies, too;

Some don't like onions much,

Others do.

Spenser, in his tedious labor of "The Faerie Queene," never spoke more truth, and even so, Lizzie was more truth than poetry.

If you recall, the poet who was asked why he wrote such rot replied he was doing double sestets and they're hard as the deuce. Balderdash! Tell me what you'd like a sestet about, and I'll dash you off 10 or 15 lines in no time. Poetry, as Sir Launfall put it, lies in the ear of the beholder.

When I decided to try poetry, I cast about for a subject to poet about. A raven had been flying past my window now and then, and I felt he would do:

My raven is a largish crow

Who lives the life he pleases,

He comes my way 'most every day

To perch in yonder treeses.

I was delighted with my success. In one fell swoop, to coin a phrase, I had captured the full impact of ornithological knowledge and capsuled it into four lines of compact philosophy. Edgar Allan Poe, a recognized master at verse, wrote painstakingly about a raven, and said no more than I had.

My next poem had to do with a distressing problem of public education, neatly packaged for public attention:

At baseball Hymie Dodge was deft,

He fielded right and batted left

In high school Hymie pitched and caught,

Then for seven years played shaught.

Then I attempted some family interpretation and biographical comments:

My mother was fat and prodigious,

My Daddy was skinny and tall.

My sister is very prestigious,

But I ain't much on the ball.

Gaining ease as I did more and more, I found out it doesn't take long to be a poet. I used to sit and ponder by the hour on a prose composition that wouldn't jell to suit me, but I found competent verse would romp forth and pile up and in no time I'd have plenty and some to spare. I'd noticed that poets like to treat the seasons. What is so rare as a day in June? Oh to be in England, now that April's here! Summer is a-coming in. And so on, and out comes a beautiful poem all my own:

Now in June, voraciously,

Mosquitoes come and snap at me.

I think they mean to stay close by

Rapaciously, throughout July.

One thing led to another, and there was no stopping me:

I know a man with none of this.

He lives in a metropolis.

He sees no sky or birds that mate.

He has no time to meditate.

IT seemed to me, as I finished that pithy poem, that I had accomplished in four brief lines all that Horace had to say about it, and there would no longer be any need for Latin in the schools. Students would have that much more time for useful subjects.

I have had some success with business and economics:

Happy the man who sells to us

Our bottled drinking water;

He owns the spring, and buys the jugs

@ much less than a quarter.

Then I realized there was a mine in my family, and I started with a paean to my Aunt Louise, who had never been celebrated and certainly deserves to be. She runs like this:


My father's sister, Aunt Louise,

Had jeweled dimples on her knees.

Demure and nicely cloisonnated

They were much appreciated.

When she took them to the fair,

It didn't matter who was there,

She'd always win a prize or two

And usually she'd take the blue.

Now it was said that one of these,

Attributed to Tiffany's,

Was never more than nickel-plated,

But that was unsubstantiated.

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