National Poetry Month

April is the cruelest month, according to Mr. T.S. Eliot, but it is also National Poetry Month. When I think back on all the poetry I’ve read during my life, I always recall with special affection the first poet I came to love, and the first entire book of poems that I read: A.E. Housman and his famous collection “A Shropshire Lad.” To this day, I can recite “When I was One and Twenty” in its entirety--once read it is impossible to forget--and surely there is no more sadly mellifluous lyric in modern English than “With rue my heart is laden.”

Housman is a good starter-poet for a young person, given his delicate melancholy, musicality, and clarity. I suppose that Robert Frost holds a comparable position in American literature. Was it Louis Untermeyer who produced a kind of children’s Frost in a selection called “You Come Too”? Whatever the case, Frost struck me, when I was a boy, as kind of hokey, a New England hayseed overly obsessed with roads not taken, and I never much cared for him. Only Randall Jarrell’s famous essays on the darker Frost made me realize his greatness. Still, I never have quite cottoned to him fully even now. I really should sit down and reread a lot of Frost.

No, the modern American poets I cared about when young were the “Europeans”: Eliot, Pound, and Stevens, in particular. I liked the way they tended to call on a range of past literature in their poems, or to be very much in a French tradition that seemed to speak to my bookish self. They were my favorite poets in college, just as Tennyson had been my main man in high school. I once knew “Ulysses” by heart, and, of course, Tennyson had his adolescent wistfulness. How many times did I sigh over those imagined kisses on “lips that are for others”?

But how about others in the Reading Room? Who was your first poet or book of poems? Which poets did you most love while growing up? Which speak most strongly to you today? Please share your thoughts.

- Michael Dirda

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