Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Learning From Great Poets - George Santayana

The Joy of Prosody

By Liz Mastin
Learning from the great poets and their poems

     To write better poetry it is very helpful to read the poetry of the best poets! The poetry of the old masters (besides being a fun and often uplifting pastime) can rub-off on a poet, influencing the quality of one’s own poetry writing. I love reading poetry from a variety of poets, old and new. They all write so differently. For instance the poetry of Dylan Thomas is colorful and fascinating and very unlike the romance poetry of William Wordsworth. The poetry of the modern formalist poet, Anthony Hecht is very different from the poetry of James Whittier.

     Each poet has a different approach to writing poetry and each addresses different topics as well. For instance, Whittier was an abolitionist so many of his poems have something to do with slavery. While some of the early poets like Emily Dickinson and William Cowper wrote in form and often wrote about God and eternity, others like Walt Whitman, concerned themselves with personal freedom, writing the celebration of things, using free verse. They all have so much to offer.

     My latest find is a poet from Spain who was known as a philosophical man of letters. His name is George Santayana. I enjoy him because he often says the kinds of things I am trying to say, but he does it with such studied skill, using very interesting vocabulary and concepts. I like his dignity. If I study him enough I hope to learn from him. He becomes a mentor of sorts. For instance, I love nature and find it to be healing. It seems to lift the spirits and I enjoy writing poems about this subject. Here is an example written by George Santayana who seems to share some of my thoughts and interests.

    Note: When “I” write about nature, I might say “I wish at times to wall myself off from the cares of the world and go and find true peace in nature.”  George Santayana said it this way: “In nature’s inmost heart is no uproar.”  I like this better -- and I would like to be able to express my thoughts in a more novel way. I believe I can learn to write “my” kind of poems better by reading and paying close attention to George Santayana’s poetry.

     Here is one of Santayana’s fine sonnets:

George Santayana

A wall, a wall to hem the bluest sphere,
And hedge me in from the disconsolate hills!
Give me but one of all the mountain rills,
Enough of ocean in its voice I hear.
Come no profane insatiate mortal near
With the contagion of his passionate ills;
The smoke of battle all the valley fills,
Let the eternal sunlight greet me here.
This spot is sacred to the deeper soul
And to the piety that mocks me no more.
In nature’s inmost heart is no uproar,
None in this shrine; in peace the heavens roll,
In peace the slow tides pulse from shore to shore,
And ancient quiet broods from pole to pole.

If I study this well-known man of letters, George Santayana, I believe I could learn to think in a deeper way and express my thoughts better!  Now this can be addictive and I am one who surely helps keep Amazon Books in business, with my poetry collection growing every day!

Liz Mastin Bio

Liz Mastin is a poet who lives in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho during the summer and Bullhead City, Arizona in winter. She thrives on the study of the great poets, their biographies, the schools of poetry to which they adhered, and the poetic conventions of the times in which they lived.

While she enjoys free verse as well as metrical poetry, her main interest lies in prosody. She notices that most of the enduring poems are those we can remember and recite. Liz enjoys poetry forms such as the sonnet, the sestina, the couplet, blank verse, simple quatrains, etc. and she hopes to see modern poets regain interest in studied metrical poetry.

Liz is currently putting together her first collection of poems which should be completed this winter. The poems are a mixture of metrical and free verse poems.

1 comment:

Jennifer Lamont Leo said...

This post has inspired me to pick up some poetry books, especially those poets that I remember from school but have not read since. It will be interesting to see the changes--not in the poems themselves, but in the woman reading them, who is older and in a very different place in life. Thanks for suggesting some themes to look for.