Many of us have experienced sensory overload when visiting an art museum: in time, you lose your ability to see. I've concluded that I'm better off spending a great deal of time in front of a few paintings rather than trying to look at them all. The same principle applies, I think, to the reading of poetry: less is better. But perhaps I'm simply trying to rationalize my slow pace (and my slow-wittedness).
James McIntosh Patrick, "Braes o' Lundie"
One advantage of my snail's pace is that it allows me to mull things over. Other possibilities may present themselves if you let a poem percolate. Some of these possibilities may lie outside of the poem. For instance, I recently read the following poem for the first time.
Till I Went Out
Till I went out of doors to prove
What through my window I saw move;
To see if grass was brighter yet,
And if the stones were dark and wet;
Till I went out to see a sign --
That slanted rain, so light and fine,
Had almost settled in my mind
That I at last could see the wind.
W. H. Davies, Forty New Poems (1918).
I am not going to suggest that this is the sort of revelatory poem by which one can steer the course of one's life. But it shouldn't be passed over quickly. Consider, for example, the final line, with its implication that this is not the first occasion on which the speaker has sought to see the wind. Some may consider this madness. Not I.
After reading the poem, I felt that this notion of seeing the wind was something that I had encountered before. But I couldn't put my finger on it. Then, the next morning, I remembered this.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling
The wind is passing thro'.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads
The wind is passing by.
Christina Rossetti, Sing-Song: A Nursery Rhyme Book (1872).
Again, this is not a life-changing poem. But the movement from "Till I Went Out" is a pleasant one.
James McIntosh Patrick
"Rum and Eigg from Ardtoe, Acharacle, Argyllshire" (1959)
Next, Rossetti's poem prompted me to recall this untitled poem by Michael Longley.
When all the reeds are swaying in the wind
How can you tell which reeds the otters bend?
Michael Longley, Selected Poems (Jonathan Cape 1998).
I find this emergence of connections to be rewarding. These things happen in their own easy-going fashion. It is not a matter of study or of explication. Each poem we read stands on its own. Yet each poem also has a place in the ever-changing kaleidoscope of every poem we have ever read. And there is no hurry.
James McIntosh Patrick, "Autumn, Kinnordy" (1936)