With over seven billion people in the world now and the Internet giving many of us instant access to publish whatever we create, it’s easy to completely ignore all the good work that’s come before us. That’s partly why I enjoy setting old poems to music. It’s a little like sneaking vegetables into casseroles for picky kids.
Another reason is because it helps me engage on a deeper level with a poem, because I’m reading and speaking and singing it over and over as I work out a rhythm and a melody. The words get to work on me more than when I just read them straight through.
And usually by the time I’m finished making a poem into a song, I also have it memorized – a mental exercise I don’t perform enough in my post-academic life.
Here’s Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, “My Own Heart,” with more or less the chords from that old favorite “Heart and Soul.” My song for week 18 of #songaweek2018.
My own heart let me more have pity on; let
Me live to my sad self hereafter kind,
Charitable; not live this tormented mind
With this tormented mind tormenting yet.
I cast for comfort I can no more get
By groping round my comfortless, than blind
Eyes in their dark can day or thirst can find
Thirst’s all-in-all in all a world of wet.
Soul, self; come, poor Jackself, I do advise
You, jaded, let be; call off thoughts awhile
Elsewhere; leave comfort root-room; let joy size
At God knows when to God knows what; whose smile
‘s not wrung, see you; unforeseen times rather—as skies
Betweenpie mountains—lights a lovely mile.