It was a cold Tuesday in November and Dad’s 91st birthday. I walked to the assisted living center to join him for breakfast and to celebrate his longevity.
I carried with me three books of poetry, collections of Frost, Dickinson and Wordsworth, as gifts. I chose the children’s format for the volumes because they’d be easier for him to handle and read as his dexterity declines. The print was also bigger and they contained wonderful illustrations.
Dad had rallied of late and was waiting for me in the dining room. He’d made it there on his own, which was quite an accomplishment.
I told him “happy birthday” and presented the books. I started with Dickinson and began reading one. Dad listened and then recited two more Dickinson poems including one with the line: The soul selects its own society / Then shuts the door
Our reading of Dickinson’s poetry prompted a discussion of her life and poetry. We debated the wisdom of “telling it slant” as Emily advised in one poem. Dad told me a story about teaching career where he connected with a truculent teen via a Dickinson poem and I knew it was true.
I presented the Wordsworth book next and dad recited “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.” We discussed the poem and the beauty and importance of noticing daffodils.
Next came the Frost book and we discussed our favorite Frost poems.
After that, we talked about T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” and how neither one of us could get through it. I told him I’d just read a long essay commemorating the 100th anniversary of the poem and that perhaps I might try it again, but with no footnotes.
Breakfast was served and the staff wished dad happy birthdays. So did some of the residents.
It was a great morning together and great poetry was part of it.