When they taught me that what mattered most
was not the strict iambic line goose-stepping
over the page but the variations
in that line and the tension produced
on the ear by the surprise of difference,
I understood yet didn’t understand
exactly, until just now, years later
in spring, with the trees already lacy
and camellias blowsy with middle age,
I looked out and saw what a cold front had done
to the garden, sweeping in like common language,
unexpected in the sensuous
extravagance of a Maryland spring.
There was a dark edge around each flower
as if it had been outlined in ink
instead of frost, and the tension I felt
between the expected and actual
was like that time I came to you, ready
to say goodbye for good, for you had been
a cold front yourself lately, and as I walked in
you laughed and lifted me up in your arms
as if I too were lacy with spring
instead of middle aged like the camellias,
and I thought: so this is Poetry!
- by Linda Pastan
Poems about poetry are rarely as much fun or as good as this. It starts off by announcing and demonstrating one of the essential secrets to poetry that I love – variations on noticeable rhythm. Pastan does not settle into a “strict iambic line goose-step”; instead, she kicks us around with every form of foot imaginable.
She also treats us to the second secret to poetry that I love – “imaginary gardens with real toads in them,” as described by Marianne Moore in another poem about poetry. In this case, the garden itself is the bit of concrete reality that anchors the poem in the everyday world we can relate to. The frost described is a real phenomenon, but it becomes a symbol for the unexpected – both when it comes as common language, or as a warm greeting from a spouse.