Monday, December 14, 2009

The English Major's Dirty Secret - Revealed!

I am an English major. I am of a romantic and emotional nature. I have frequently lived vicariously through films, music and literature. In college, I related with the main character of Amelie as a fellow introverted would-be altruist. The music of Muse, My Chemical Romance and other various and sundry emo bands supported me through difficult break ups. The Russian novel Anna Karenina showed me the mistakes I’d made in past relationships and taught me how a successful relationship works.

With all of this art appreciation, you might naturally assume that poetry would be right up my lane. Yet Keats, Whitman, and Coleridge perplexed and befuddled me for the most part while I studied them in college. Through research, I gained an admiration for their technical skill and imagination, but this sentiment was not the pure emotion of appreciation and kinship that I feel through other forms of art. And dare I confess... Most of the time, I am left with this sneaky suspicion that I'm missing something, or at worst - I just don't get it.

Before you take away my BA in English in outrage, let me assert that there are some exceptions to this anti-poetry sentiment. Every now and then, I will read a line of iambic pentameter that resonates in my soul. I do enjoy some works by Pablo Neruda and T.S. Eliot, for example. I collect the poems that I do enjoy in a notebook. Here is one such poem, shared with me by my friend Allison Felshaw. This captures how I feel at this time of life - married to a sweet man, enjoying the festivities of the holiday season.


It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
A wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
Something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.

But happiness floats.
It doesn't need you to hold it down.
It doesn't need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
And disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.

Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
And now live over a quarry of noise and dust
Cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
It too could wake up filled with possibilities
Of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
And love even the floor which needs to be swept,
The soiled linens and scratched records…

Since there is no place large enough
To contain so much happiness,
You shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
Into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
For the moon, but continues to hold it, and to share it,
And in that way, be known.

~ Naomi Shihab Nye

Note on the author: Naomi Shihab Nye was born on March 12, 1952, in St. Louis, Missouri, to a Palestinian father and an American mother. She currently resides in Texas, although she was raised both in this country and in the Middle East. According to, she "gives voice to her experience as an Arab-American through poems about heritage and peace that overflow with a humanitarian spirit".


  1. Chris is really good and deciphering poetry but I'm the one who's like... uh, that sounds good? I love Whitman though. And Frost, mostly because I always think of Winter with him.

  2. Very nice! That does describe it for me. Like the night sky holding the moon. The part I fear is how it does seem to come and go "float" without pattern.
    Well, good luck in your quest for finer poetry! I was a sucker for Whitman in high school, just because of his motivating almost day-dream like passion for life.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me!