Talking Poetry With Dad

Dad and I were discussing the state of America, what was sickness at the core of our popular and political culture, when I asked him if he knew a poem that might distill it all down for a simple, yet also metaphorical understanding, if such a thing were possible or even desirable.

It took him all of a few seconds to ponder his answer, and then from his recliner, he recited a classic from Emily Dickinson, his favorite poet. He must know at least two dozen of her poems by heart.

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

Emily got it right all right. The big lead frog croaking to the admiring (deluded) bog. Dive into those American metaphors.

After the recital, somehow the topic of iambic pentameter came up. Perhaps I made a crack that Shakespeare probably farted in iambic pentameter it was so natural to his verse. Dad then launched into a few stanzas of Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” as an example of iambic pentameter:

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,

The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,

The plowman homeward plods his weary way,

And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

It truly astonishes me that I cannot recite a single poem and my dad can recite close to a hundred. Now I can recite most of the lyrics from the Stones’ Exile on Main Street and a fair share of Prince and Bruce Springsteen songs, but that’s it. Not even a full Dylan song. I think something is truly lost in my not being able to recite a single poem.