They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead,
They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed.
I wept, as I remembered, how often you and I
Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.
And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,
A handful of grey ashes, long long ago at rest,
Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;
For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.
~ William Johnson Cory
They told me, reader, that Dana Gioia would be speaking Tuesday night. So to the University Club, my feet did fly. And . . . I’m going to stop right there because I will just embarrass myself. However, I did indeed meet Dana Gioia this past Tuesday at an evening conversation sponsored by The Trinity Forum on Poetry and Beauty in a Fallen World.
Recitation is the Key to Falling in Love . . . with Poetry
I was already a fan of his poetry ~ which seduces you with caressing lines and vivid imagery and his prose essays read almost like poetry, such is his lyrical mastery. But it was his recitation of the poems ~ Cory’s “Heraclitus” quoted above, and his own “The Litany” ~ that bewitched my imagination and ignited intense emotions.
And Gioia said that it is this visceral reaction to the spoken word that gives poetry its warmth, its breath, its intoxicating scent. Poetry is akin to music ~ the melodies come from the rhythm and cadence of the words and dramatic interpretation of the human speaker. The majority of people, he said, do not enjoy poetry because they have never heard it recited properly.
For instance ~ and I apologize that I can only clumsily attempt to replicate his delivery, this being print after all ~ when speaking the last line of “Heraclitus,” Gioia paused after “Death”, and emphasized “them”, with a slight breath before finishing the line and bowing his head slightly, as if in mourning. In this sense, poetry recitation’s other sister is the art of acting, since the speaker will often infuse the words with the personality of the character speaking them. In the case of “Heraclitus” the character speaking is Telemachus and Gioia became Telemachus, weeping at the news of the death of his friend.
It was then, with tears stinging my own eyes as I felt Telemachus' loss as if it were my own, that I truly fell in love with poetry. And maybe . . . just a little . . . with Dana Gioia.
More on Dana and poetry tomorrow!
Oremus pro invicem,