For most of the summer our skies have been smoky, courtesy of the massive fires in Idaho and other parts of the west. This morning, once again, smoke turned the sunrise seeping through the blinds in our bedroom blood red. In the words of Rudyard Kipling “…An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!”
This line has always spoken to me when our sunrises are so vivid. If they came with sound it would have to be rolling thunder, ominous and threatening, more than just a bit unsettling.
I don’t remember when I was first introduced to Kipling’s poetry but I’ve always loved it. The pictures his poems painted fueled my imagination:
“Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet, Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat; But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth, When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!”
The Ballad of East and West
“By the livin’ Gawd that made you,
You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!”
My mental picture of Gunga Din will forever and always be of Sam Jaffe playing the part in the 1939 movie,Gunga Din, starring Cary Grand, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Victor McLaglen.
“They are hangin’ Danny Deever, you must mark ‘im to ‘is place,
For ‘e shot a comrade sleepin’ – you must look ‘im in the face;
Nine ‘undred of ‘is county an’ the Regiment’s disgrace,
While they’re hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’.”
I had a vivid imagination and this one always made shivers run up and down my spine.
Did I mention that my taste in poetry did not run to the “sappy” stuff when I was growing up? I read Elizabeth Browning and Robert Browning somewhere along the way but I was definitely not a romantic, and “How do I love thee?” just didn’t do a thing for me. Give me Robert Service any day:
“There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.”
The Ballad of Sam McGee
My cousin once memorized this whole poem when we were teenagers. Her taste in poetry was as weird as mine.
“So I buried him as the contract was
In a narrow grave and deep,
And there he’s waiting the Great Clean-up,
When the Judgment sluice-heads sweep;
And I smoke my pipe and I meditate
In the light of the Midnight Sun,
And sometimes I wonder if they was,
The awful things I done.
And as I sit and the parson talks,
Expounding of the Law,
I often think of poor old Bill —
And how hard he was to saw.”
The Ballad of Blasphemous BillMy first exposure to this poem was a recording by Hank Snow, whose voice was perfect for the Robert Service poems. The last line made my hair stand on end.
Robert Service and Rudyard Kipling were both fascinating literary figures who had the ability to paint such vivid pictures with their poetry that I was drawn into their very different worlds (although both wrote prose as well, it’s the poetry of both I remember best). They transported me from rural Idaho to exotic India and cold Alaska and opened up new horizons.
One summer in Yellowstone a seasonal ranger I worked with was given to suddenly spouting rather bawdy versions of what sounded like a Robert Service poem but turned out to be a parody by Edward E. Paramore, Jr., better known as a screenwriter for Paramount Pictures. In the days before Google it took me forever to track down but it was worth the effort.
“But a hopeless rake was Yukon Jake,
The hermit of Shark Tooth Shoal!
And the dizzy maid he rebetrayed
And wrecked her immortal soul!…
Then he rowed her ashore, with a broken oar,
And he sold her to Dan McGrew
For a husky dog and some hot eggnog —
As rascals are wont to do.”
OK, this probably didn’t exactly expand my horizons, but it was great fun.
Probably the closest thing to a romantic poem that appealed to me as a teenager was “The Highwayman“ by English poet and author Alfred Noyes.
“The wind was a torrent of darkness upon the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight looping the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding–Riding–riding–
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn door. ”
It’s a tragic love story which can still make me teary-eyed, but so descriptive that it’s always been almost like watching a movie in my mind from the first time I read it.
How about you? What poems, quirky or romatic, speak to you? I’m not much of a poetry reader, so I’d be interested in hearing comments about poems/poets that are worth exploring, whether they’re old or new.