A REFUGE FOR POETS WHO WRITE IN THE LYRIC TRADITION,
WITH RHYME AND METER, WITH OR WITHOUT MUSIC
ODE TO THE LYRIC POETS
Along the city streets one night,
Some cardboard boxes caught my sight.
When I took a closer look,
I saw that they were filled with books.
And oh, what precious books they were,
Of classic English literature!
The boxes held some papers, too,
And so I searched them for a clue.
It seemed an older man had died:
A gentle man, with quiet pride.
His relatives had all passed through,
And taken what they wanted to.
They left the works of Tennyson,
Longfellow, Whittier, Emerson,
Shelley, Byron, Blake, and Keats
Strewn along the city streets!
A woman shortly joined me, and
With works of Milton in her hand,
She said: “If you don’t take this, I will!
It must not go to some landfill!”
She asked: “What kind of fools are we,
Who throw away this poetry,
When there are countries overseas
Where men would die for books like these?”
I spoke of Russia’s recent years,
When peasants lived in mortal fear
If they possessed, or even looked
At a Bible or a history book.
The woman rescued Shakespeare’s plays,
Got in her car, and drove away.
I played a slow kalimba tune
Beneath a hazy quarter moon,
For these: the voices of the ages,
Words of poets, bards, and sages,
Speaking to us, for all time,
In perfect meter and perfect rhyme.
I gathered all the poems in sight,
And lugged them off into the night,
While others wondered why I would.
I wish that they had understood.
San Diego, California, 1995