Zoe asked me where I had got the title of my first book, “Wandering between Two Worlds” from. I told her it from from a Matthew Arnold poem, “Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse” which I had read when I was 16. I recited bits of it to her
“Wandering between two worlds, one dead,
The other powerless to be born,
With nowhere yet to rest my head,
Like these, on earth I wait forlorn.
Their faith, my tears, the world deride—
I come to shed them at their side.”
And fragments from another Matthew Arnold poem, his famous Dover Beach.
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Isn’t it lovely? I felt so moved reciting the bits I imperfectly remembered. Truly, creating poetry is one of mankind’s greatest achievements.
I wanted to be a poet for 7 or 8 years in my twenties. And then, I showed my poems to John Frederick Nims, then the editor of Poetry Magazine. I asked, “Do you think I will have a career as a poet? Is it worth persisting, and really going for it?”
I don’t remember his exact words. But he pursed his lips, looked dubious, and I read the answer as no.
I was feeling the pull of prose then, of writing a memoir, and so, I went with the energy, and abandoned my first love.
But I still love my first love.
And now, about 19 years after that meeting, I think, I love poetry. I love reading it, I love writing it.
So what if I do not become a great poet?
Most people are not great readers of poetry either.
I will still write poetry, ordinary poetry for ordinary people, to bless, comfort, cheer, and yes, perhaps, delight.