From “I Remember, I Remember” -Mary Ruefle
August 22, 2012, 7:21 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

“I remember standing in a field in Switzerland at dusk, surrounded by cows with bells around their necks, and reading John Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” out loud from an open book I was holding in my hands, and I started to weep—weep is a better word for it than cry—and I remember the tears slowly streaming down my face, it was that beautiful to me, and I loved poetry that much. I was eighteen.

I remember (later) thinking that it was actually hilarious that I used to read poetry to cows, that they were an integral part of my most serious moment.

I remember in junior high my leg was in a cast and it was summer and I was lying on a sofa in the basement where it was cool; there was a TV down there, and an ironing board, and a room for my sister to stay in when she came home from college, and my sister was ironing—she was always ironing, sewing, or cooking, she was majoring in Home Economics—and to pass the time she gave me one of her college textbooks, a book of poems by the British Romantics, and the only other thing I can remember is that my life changed that summer. My life changed for good.

I remember when I graduated from college, we were asked to submit exactly how we wanted our names to appear on our diplomas, and I spelled my middle name (which is Lorraine) Low Rain, because the day before I had been reading W.S. Merwin’s new book and in it was some kind of brief Japanese thing along the lines of ‘Low Rain, Roof Fell.’ ”


“I remember I was a child, and when I grew up I was a poet. It all happened at sixty miles an hour and on days when the clock stopped and all of humanity fit into a little chapel, into a pinecone, a shot of ouzo, a snail’s shell, a piece of soggy rye on the pavement.”


“I remember the night I decided I would call myself a poet. I had been invited to a dinner party of literati, and I knew I would inevitably be asked what I did. I usually said I was a teacher; I was twenty-seven years old and had been writing poems since I was nine. I made up my mind that if anyone asked, I would say I was a poet; I left my apartment with resolve, a sense of mission, and security. And someone asked. Alain, a charismatic French poet wearing a blue velvet jacket and a long white scarf, asked me what I did; I took a deep breath and said I was a poet; his face distorted into a human field of disgust: “A poet!” he cried. “If you call yourself a poet then you cannot possibly be one; poets live in shadows and never admit and do not discuss, and besides, a real poet knows that all the poems in the world do not a poet make. I would no more call myself a poet than call myself a man—it is the height of arrogance, as any dog knows.” Dear me! I left the party in tears—hard cold tears of confusion and humiliation. It seemed my final hour.”


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