When I was in high school I had an English teacher who every day would put a poem up on the board. She never discussed it or even mentioned it, but every day when we walked into class there would be something new. I wasn't much of a poetry reader but I was a reader, an obsessive reader, and if she put a piece of writing on the board I was going to read it. Most of it didn't make much of an impression. I read it, thought it sounded nice, and moved on. But one day she put an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem up and it was different. I don't really know, I am still not much of a poetry reader, but it put images and ideas in my head. I knew exactly what Millay was talking about even though I had never thought about it before. This is the poem.
Not in a silver casket cool with pearls
or rich with red corundum or with blue,
Locked, and the key withheld, as other girls
Have given their loves, I give my love to you;
Not in a lovers'-knot, not in a ring
Worked in such fashion, and the legend plain-
Semper fidelis, where a secret spring
Kennels a drop of mischief for the brain:
Love in the open hand, no thing but that,
Ungemmed, unhidden, wishing not to hurt,
As one should bring you cowslips in a hat
Swung from the hand, or apples in her skirt,
I bring you, calling as children do:
"Look what I have!-And these are all for you."
I copied the poem down in a notebook and went home and pulled out my mother's Millay anthology. As I paged through I found other bits and pieces that I liked. Lines here, phrases there, stanzas on the next page, words that said something to me without necessarily telling a story. I had always loved the story, that was why I read. I devoured books for the story, the adventure, the romance, the mystery. But poetry, this was different. It was the beauty of the language that meant something. It was the way words could be strung together to make, not a story, but a sound, a rhythm, music.
I am still not much of a poetry reader. I still devour books and I still like the adventure, the romance, the mystery. But I learned something that day. I learned that the language is as important to me as the story, maybe more important. I learned that sometimes you can read a book or a poem or a letter or anything really, and the words can sing. And that, when the words sing? That is a special kind of magic.