That Yeats line wouldn’t leave my mind as I hiked up the hill after my fourteen year old, my boots slipping on the steep sandy trail, insects around me buzzing from flower to flower, a breeze blowing in from the Pacific. It was one of those perfect late summer days, I thought to myself, and I’m walking through a bee loud glade.
That hike’s gift of uninterrupted time (I was hiking with my teenager, but on fifty year old legs that kept a slower, more poetic, pace) gave me time to muse. When had I first encountered the poem? As an undergraduate? Dr. Steele’s Engl 420 British Literature, 1790 – 1900? Maybe it didn’t matter.
I know I’ve visited Yeat’s Isle of Innisfree hundreds of times in the decades since first landing on its shore. Along with a modest raft of other verse, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” is one of those poems ingrained in my memory, as real as the cup of coffee at my elbow as I write this or the blisters on my feet after that coastal hike. Maybe more.
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.”
And I thought, looking out at the stretch of swaying grasses and meandering bees, that this was one of the many cases where poetry enhances life. My hike was richer because of William Butler Yeats, a fellow born more than a century and a half ago on an island on the other side of the world.
The hills above the Cascade Head trail were not his bee loud glade, but mine, though because he put pen to paper his bees were as much mine as those living relatives buzzing from blossom to blossom as I wheezed up the trail.
I’ve long hoped myself an exception to Mary Wollstonecraft’s line: “The generality of people cannot see or feel poetically, they want fancy, and therefore fly from solitude in search of sensible objects; but when an author lends them his eyes, they can see as he saw, and be amused by images they could not select, though lying before them.”
A couple of shelves in my office are filled with volumes of poetry, an anomaly I’m told for a high school principal, and I look at them as much as I do any allegedly professional tomes. Surprisingly (to some) there is a wisdom there that applies to my job more often than some might expect.
So as I walked, so much time, fresh air, and the steady hum of bees around me, I wondered what it would be like to make this school year a year of poetry.
What would happen, if anything, if I was purposeful about pulling books off those shelves and reading old, new, sometimes fresh, and sometimes forgotten words? How might the world feel different if I made space to reflect a bit in this salmagundi of posts and maybe even make a connection or two to the work I do as an educator?
Would it feel any different to my little art school if the principal made reading poetry every week a part of his life, and was willing to share a bit of what he read? Could I start a staff meeting or two with a poem? What if…
There was only one way to answer what if.
A quick count when I got back to my office told me I’d have a deep enough well of verse to make it until June (and beyond). As the rush and tumble of the school year began, I walked to the shelf and pulled down a book.
So, patient reader, if you’re a regular visitor to this blog, please know that over the next nine or ten months there will be a bit more verse mixed in with my modest prose, a “Year in Poetry” post once a week (as best as I can muster). Water lapping in my deep heart’s core.
I’ll start next week with Margaret Atwood’s Two-Headed Poems.