Poet's Choice

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By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, January 21, 2007

Sometimes one moment of experience, one memory, can epitomize something central about a life. More than a metaphor or an image, not figurative but literal, the flash of a recalled minute tells the essential story. These "spots of time," as William Wordsworth called them, nourish the mind by embodying and recalling a step in its development. One example is Wordsworth's ice-skating scene from "The Prelude," Book I:

So through the darkness and the cold we flew,

And not a voice was idle; with the din

Smitten, the precipices rang aloud;

The leafless trees and every icy crag

Tinkled like iron; while far distant hills

Into the tumult sent an alien sound

Of melancholy not unnoticed, while the stars

Eastward were sparkling clear, and in the west

The orange sky of evening died away.

Wordsworth's genius inheres exactly in the invisible vibrations between people and landscape, and in the exciting distance between the two. This moment is a defining instance of perception.

A new collection spanning 30 years of work by Ellen Bryant Voigt begins with a memorable, eloquent poem of this kind:

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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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