Enjoying poetry

I’ve never enjoyed poetry a great deal, though there are individual poems I like very much. It’s something I can enjoy in small doses, but I have rarely sat and read poetry the way I sit and read a novel or a non-fiction book. Even a single poem that is too long to fit on one page rarely draws my interest.

There are narrative poems that are an exception to that. I enjoyed reading “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” when I was in ninth grade, and Macbeth when I was in eleventh grade. But I think of those more as stories told in verse than as poems – I read primarily to enjoy the story, and to a lesser extent the rhythm and sound. I didn’t have to spend much time trying to decipher meaning wrapped up in mysterious metaphors.

On a recent trip to the library, I decided to try again to find something both interesting and educational in the non-fiction section. This time I ended up looking at books of poetry, and remembered that there are a couple of poems I particularly like by Gerard Manley Hopkins. I looked in the catalog to see if I could find more of his poetry, but the anthologies referenced only contained the poems I already knew.

One of these, however, intrigued me for another reason. There are two volumes entitled Chapter into Verse, which consist of poetry based on Scripture. (Some poems are based wholly on a passage of Scripture, others merely make a reference to it somewhere.) As one volume was for the Old Testament and one for the New, I decided to start with the Old Testament.

I had expected that I would just read a bit here and there as I do with most poetry anthologies, but instead I have now finished nearly half the volume. It helps, of course, that I have a good idea of the content of the Old Testament. I don’t know what poets I will be reading, or what direction they will take with any particular passage, but I feel like I am in more or less familiar territory.

One surprise is that I am particularly enjoying the poetry of George Herbert. I vaguely recognized the name as a poet from centuries ago, which are usually not among those I enjoy most. The older poems often seem to be rather long, and when they are published using the original spelling (which was not standardized until a couple hundred years ago), I find that rather distracting.

Fortunately, the editors of Chapters into Verse chose to modernize the spelling. As a result, I wasn’t even sure, initially, whether I correctly remembered George Herbert as an “old” poet. So far my favorites have been “Aaron” and “The Bunch of Grapes.” (The links I found, unfortunately, do not modernize the spelling.) If you are not familiar with his poetry, I hope you enjoy these as an introduction to his work.

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