Daisy Goodwin, in The Times, reckons a poem’s as good as a lifebelt – or maybe a Valium.
“Poetry has got me through innumerable waiting rooms, traffic jams and airport lounges. It has soothed fractious children, diverted broken-hearted friends and made romantic points.
Patrick Leigh Fermor, author of A Time of Gifts, recited The Odyssey to himself as he walked across Europe; Brian Keenan used the poetry of Pablo Neruda as his touchstone during his long incarceration as a hostage in Lebanon…”
[Daisy clearly hasn’t read his travel book about horse-riding across half of South America with fellow hostage John McCarthy, where Keenan bores everyone senseless with recitations. But I digress.]
“Everyone should have at least 10 poems that they can access at any time – building up a mental playlist of poems is a protection against boredom, mental atrophy, and you will never be at a loss when the batteries on your iPod finally run out. In an age of brandwashing, where advertising jingles and TV catchphrases stick in your mind, the ultimate luxury is to have what Coleridge called “the best words in the best order” always accessible.”
Quite right, too.
Unfortunately the only thing that ever pops into my head in times of crisis is the Lord’s Prayer, which isn’t much help since I retract any semblance of faith as soon as the plane rights itself or the shark turns out to be a bit of kelp.
And she doesn’t say anything about the agony of trying to remember what comes after the lines you know well:
In my wild erratic fancy visions come to me of Clancy
Gone a-droving ‘down the Cooper’ where the Western drovers go;
As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing,
For the drover’s life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.
And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him
In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
And at night the wond’rous glory of the everlasting stars.
I was awake for hours the other night, trying to locate the missing bits stowed somewhere in my memory. “I am sitting in my dingy little office/Where a… something something something.”
But in less stressful moments, when life is not threatened and memory seems not to be utterly fading, it is as lovely to be able to run Sunne Rising lightly over the braincells as it is to sing Nessun Dorna at the top of my voice in the car when nobody can hear.
And believe me, nobody would want to.
Which reminds me, why do people on public transport sing along out loud with their iPods? Are they so transported they have no concept of the cringing world around them? It seems to happen much more than it used to with mere Walkman (Walkmen?). There’s a thesis in that somewhere.
And why do they only ever sing the last few words of each line? A woman on the ferry the other day chorused “Oh yeah” over and over for what felt like 20 minutes. (It could have been worse: she might have sung, “Something something something – oh yeah”.)
Oh for the days when people whispered a few verses of Browning silently behind a book.