So, I’ve been memorizing Elizabeth Bishop’s Sonnet. And I hope that there’s possibly someone out there in the virtual world who’s memorizing it with me. (I salute you, fellow memorizer!) I’ve been surprised how it really doesn’t hurt that bad to stick words in your brain. It’s been a long time since I purposefully set words down in an order in my mind and it may be the first time I’ve done it when it wasn’t a competition (Bible Drill!) or worthy of a sticker (Sunday School) or simply, a requirement (grad school).
The words to the poem are written out and taped onto the window in front of the kitchen sink where my gloved hands are usually wrist deep. The only view from my sink is the blue paneled building next to mine. So Elizabeth’s voice has been a new friend.
My biggest help has been the 20 month old eating granola and yogurt in the high chair 10 feet away. I’ve been surprised how much he likes the process of my repeating words over and over. I want August to be exposed to poetry and so far he has not been interested in the books I have for him. I’m a fan of nursery rhymes and he’s okay with them, though he doesn’t like it when Humpty falls off the wall (August, buddy, we understand). Otherwise, the children’s poetry books I have are not interesting to him. I usually start them and halfway through the poem, he’s saying “no no no no no no,” bored. For the most part I agree.
But, with this poem, he’s interested. He hears the words I’m saying, he nods his head to the rhythm. And he waits for the words he knows. “Water!” he yells after I’ve recited it.
When I say, “August, what’s the next line?” He scrunches his eyes into thinking posture, says, “hmmmmm.” He smiles when I remember.
I believe that good poetry is important, that we are predisposed to be drawn into rhythm and depth and original language, simply because those things are beautiful and God created us to recognize beauty. Our culture has, for the most part, abandoned poetry and found music to be a close enough cousin to meet that need. But even the most lyrical song is still doing something different than poetry is doing. It seems like August, in his blissful baby ignorance, can tell the difference.
I assure you that August is not a baby poetic genius. I think he loves it for the same reason he loves to be sung to sleep. It’s in his God-designed nature. This past weekend at a retreat with our church, Chris and I shared a room with August, who refused to cooperate with the whole sleeping thing. It’s really inevitable, taking your toddler for two days to a strange room shared with his mom and dad is never a recipe for happy sleep habits. So, sometime around 4 o’clock Sunday morning, I found myself having outworn every lullaby I know, and that tired boy could not be consoled.
Then I heard myself quoting Elizabeth Bishop, the words collapsing out of my mouth from my mid-night mush brain. After an hour of begging him to go to sleep, it was her words, spoken, that did it.
So, Ms Bishop, thank you for describing the pool as “moon-green” because I love that image and because August loves the word, “moon.” And thank you for ending the poem with sleep. Because, after all, that is exactly what most of us need.