Here is another example, by Gwendolyn Brooks (p. 12):


We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

There is a lot to be said about "We Real Cool": its experience, its voices and the implicit voice that quotes them, the significance of the word that ends every line but one and begins only one line. But before such useful analysis or information is formulated, something primary and significant has been heard and felt.

Analysis and understanding heighten appreciation. Sometimes, however, they obtrude: trying to force knowledge before pleasure has a chance. Pointing this out is not sentimental or anti-intellectual; on the contrary, the goal should be to encourage intellectual precision by putting it in a stringent, fitting relation to the actual experience of the poem. Well-meaning teaching can muddle that process by leaving out the experience. 

The audible, vocal element in "The Snow Man" and in "Corinna's Going A-Maying" calls on something more ancient, involuntary, and profound even than a "tradition." The child's response to the interplay of mind and sound in the anonymous rhyme about Moses and his toes, or in nursery rhymes, or in Dr. Seuss's "Green Eggs and Ham," reaches back thousands of years, through Seuss's predecessors (and models) Edward Lear and Robert Louis Stevenson, and back through the poets they read, Wordsworth and Horace and Homer, and further back to the origins of humankind. The same relation to an all-but-infinite past characterizes poems by Robert Herrick and Wallace Stevens and Gwendolyn Brooks.

Like the arts of dancing, singing, miming, drawing, the art of poetry involves an essential appetite. The sounds of words in an infinitely varying relation to their meanings—an organism of vowels and consonants and cadences flirting with an organism of meanings, playing with it, agreeing with it, arguing with it, converging, departing, twisting, energizing, goofing, weeping, punctuating, ironizing—embody an essential, pleasurable action.

I have chosen and organized the poems in this anthology by trying to make that essential action—the course of pleasure in hearing a poem—as clear as possible. Guided by tradition as well as my own taste, I have tried to present enticing examples, arranged to demonstrate principles. Th e first two sections concentrate on the nature of the poetic line, starting with short lines because the shorter the lines are, the more often you can hear the ways different lines begin and end. "We Real Cool" is an example. For another, here are the opening stanzas of Robert Frost's "To Earthward" (p. 24):

Love at the lips was touch
As sweet as I could bear;
And once that seemed too much;
I lived on air
That crossed me from sweet things
The flow of—was it musk
From hidden grapevine springs
Down hill at dusk?


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