National Poetry Day, day seven

OK, story time. In high school, I attended a summer music camp several times, and then in college, I served there as a camp counselor. This was almost your canonical summer camp, with cabins in the woods and campfires and singalongs and all that stuff, but for music students.

When I was heading into my senior year, I developed a big crush on a bassoon player there, and I tried flirting, which failed badly because I’m terrible at flirting. She was pretty and she had this hippie thing going on that I liked enormously, though, and when I actually conversed with her about stuff, we became pretty good friends, and we exchanged letters during the next couple of school years. All in all, typical. The first letter in the chain came from her, and she was the type to put pretty doodles and jot down poems on the outside of her envelopes, the first of which was the first stanza of this poem by Thoreau.

For that reason, I’ve loved this poem ever since.

Like any writing, poetry should have a personal dimension to it. I can trace many of my favorite books to times and places that are dear to me, for one reason or another; why shouldn’t it be so with poetry?

To the Maiden in the East,
by Henry David Thoreau

Low in the eastern sky
Is set thy glancing eye;
And though its gracious light
Ne’er riseth to my sight,
Yet every star that climbs
Above the gnarled limbs
    Of yonder hill,
Conveys thy gentle will.

Believe I knew thy thought,
And that the zephyrs brought
Thy kindest wishes through,
As mine they bear to you,
That some attentive cloud
Did pause amid the crowd
     Over my head,
While gentle things were said.

Believe the thrushes sung,
And that the flower-bells rung,
That herbs exhaled their scent,
And beasts knew what was meant,
The trees a welcome waved,
And lakes their margins laved,
     When thy free mind
To my retreat did wind.

It was a summer eve,
The air did gently heave
While yet a low-hung cloud
Thy eastern skies did shroud;
The lightning’s silent gleam,
Startling my drowsy dream,
     Seemed like the flash
Under thy dark eyelash.

Still will I strive to be
As if thou wert with me;
Whatever path I take,
It shall be for thy sake,
Of gentle slope and wide,
As thou wert by my side,
     Without a root
To trip thy gentle foot.

I ‘ll walk with gentle pace,
And choose the smoothest place
And careful dip the oar,
And shun the winding shore,
And gently steer my boat
Where water-lilies float,
     And cardinal flowers
Stand in their sylvan bowers.

(Oh, and that girl? The bassoon player? We’re friends on Facebook and she’s still really cool; she works in ecology. And as luck would have it, I still ended up spending my life with a double-reed player.)

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