Poet's Choice

By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, December 23, 2007

For each person, one utterance is so loaded with associations that it cannot be heard objectively: our own name. The ancient Roman poet Catullus used his name in poems, as did the 15th-century Frenchman Villon. More recently, Alan Dugan (1923-2003) began a poem "Dugan's deathward, darling." Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979), in her "In the Waiting Room," wrote: "you are an I,/you are an Elizabeth,/you are one of them."

Possibly the most moving use of a poet's own name in English poetry is Ben Jonson's "On My First Son":

Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy;

My sin was too much hope of thee, loved boy.

Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay,

Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.

O, could I lose all father, now! For why

Will man lament the state he should envy,

To have so soon 'scaped world's and flesh's rage,

And, if no other misery, yet age!

Rest in soft peace; and, asked, say: Here doth lie

Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry --

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company