Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Today at Poetry Thursday, Jim Brock set the assignment to show our "life lines". Click here to read more. These are mine:

it is better to be a part of beauty
for one instant and then cease to
exist than to exist forever
and never be a part of beauty

—from "The Lesson of the Moth" by Don Marquis

I discovered Don Marquis in 1982. I was in seventh grade and had already been writing poetry rather prolifically for about three years. Mrs. McClellan, my calligraphy teacher, tasked our class with creating a word picture for our next assignment. I wanted to do a picture of a cat and went to my school library to find the perfect cat poem. I don't remember if it was a knowledgeable librarian or just happy chance that led me to Archy and Mehitabel; it's been too long. What I do know is that Marquis was the first poet I read for pure pleasure, exploring on my own the story of a cockroach with literary aspirations and his feline friend who fancied herself the reincarnation of Cleopatra. To me the genius of Marquis was the deceptive lightness of his work. It was a long time before I followed his example of not taking my art too seriously, but I learned other lessons.

In the same volume that presented me with the perfect poem for my assignment, I also read read "The Lesson of the Moth," in which Archy interviews a suicidal moth. The stark humor of it captured my attention, and the idea that a life of beauty was worth pursuing at any cost. I've reinvented my concept of what constitutes a beautiful life over and over since first reading "The Lesson of the Moth," but what has not changed is my thirst for its pursuit, my utter conviction that much can be borne if I have small oases of quiet perfection with which to sustain myself.

Again, it was so long ago that I can't think of the exact pivotal moment in which Marquis' words were engraved on my heart—but in retrospect, it's clear they were. I wrote this later that same year:

The beauty of life
is not less
for dying.


jim said...

First, lucky you to have such an assignment that lead you down this path--thank you, too, Mrs. McClellan.

Funny how those things we read for pleasure, on their own terms, can become something more weighty and lasting. The trick, of course, is to recognize that beauty in the first place, to have that ability and inclination to slow down and see something, really see it. This is a wonderful excursion into that practice.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Very interesting post and a poet I'll need to look out for! Thanks for sharing.