Of Poetry and Life…

29th, 2011
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Let me start with a healthy dose of honesty. I have never before written a column for publication. But I do enjoy the telling of a story; because a good story, like a fine wine, or proper cheese, improves with age. Not that the story changes (though some may argue this), but it is the perspective that changes. As I look back and see with the eyes of experience, what was once minor becomes significant. And while I’m writing of wine, or maybe storytelling, or maybe even of life itself – I’m struck with the thought that its beauty is in its finish.

I suppose that I was a normal nine year-old boy, being partially civilized, yet still having whatever fun was to be had, when I was disgusted to learn that at school we would be spending some time on “Poetry”. That night I was recounting the day, as my family was talking after our evening meal, when my father surprised me. I of course had the idea that poetry was composed of the mundane, and the irrelevant: flowers, gardens, trees, and sunsets. All of those things a nine year-old boy knew of, especially a boy growing up in rural Minnesota, and they were things that were beneath my notice, as I was engaged in the more lofty pursuits of exploration, fishing, bob-sledding, and tree-houses.

So that evening my father stood up (and of course so did I), and as he put his arm around me, he led me down to the library saying, “That is because, my son, you haven’t read the sort of poetry that you appreciate”. He then led me to a corner of our library that housed a few volumes of poetry. And that evening, I discovered Robert Service.

For those of you who are un-initiated in the arcane master of this art think of Dickenson or Frost, mixed with the overtones of Jack London, and all the reverence of Tom Lehrer. But to a nine year-old boy that musty volume was like nothing I had ever read before. A view to an undiscovered country that was beyond my imagining, I had no idea that poetry could be so amazing.

That night my father demonstrated that poetry is not merely to be studied, but also enjoyed, experienced, and shared. By this time he had found this poem and we were sitting once again around the fireplace while he read…

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…

I was enthralled as those words rolled out of my father’s mouth. His voice took on a quality and cadence that I hadn’t heard before as I listened in amazement. Robert Service became my companion; while in school I waded through Robert Frost, Keats, and Dickinson, and other “proper poetry” that I have since come to appreciate.

Something inside of my father rose up that night to correct the injustice of a young boy under a false impression of literature. That literature should be experienced, not merely read, and that it comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes, some perfectly fitted to the rather average 9 year-old boy.

My father lived his life like he read poetry. He jumped in with both feet and his head as well has his heart was engaged. His life was something to be experienced, enjoyed, and shared. He showed me the value of more than poetry, he also demonstrated that religion was not an extension to life, but was life to him. His Religion, his Christianity (like poetry) is something not merely to be analysed, but also experienced, enjoyed, and shared – it was meant to be lived.

I discovered something else that evening that I could only truly appreciate with the passage of time, that hidden away in something as dusty and irrelevant as poetry was an entire world of discovery and life that I only lacked the key to open. And once that key was discovered everything changed for me. And that too has Christian overtones…

by Mike Calva – Written by Mike Calva, Pastor of Fethiye Community Church

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