Monday, August 11, 2008

My Favorite Service

My guest blogger today is my brother, Ron Shook. He teaches at Utah State University, and it was he who thought up this clever way of covering 'Service' for yourLDSneighborhood. Much as I would have liked to have written it, I let him do the honors.

Dr. Ron Shook writes:

Once in a while, everyone should read poetry that’s fun, that’s easy to read and understand, and that kind of rolls off the tongue as you say it (You really need to read poetry out loud). The “great” poetry of the world tends to be heavy, full of meaning that’s hard to extract, and often, depressing as all get out. So, we get

I wander through each chartered street
Near where the chartered Thames does flow
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe
...William Blake

That’s from his poem “London.” Don’t get me wrong; Blake is well worth reading, very strong, very profound. One of the best poets in history, in fact.

On the other hand, though, we have this:

I give you now Professor Twist
A conscientious scientist.
Trustees exclaimed, “He never bungles,”
And sent him off to distant jungles.
Camped beside a riverside,
One day he missed his loving bride.
She had, a guide informed him later,
Been eaten by an alligator.
Professor Twist could not but smile,
“You mean,” he said, “a crocodile.”

...Ogden Nash

I won’t bother to argue what makes good poetry (My definition is “What I like”). Instead I’d like to introduce you to one of the best readable poets: Robert Service (get the tie-in to this blog?). His poetry can be very strong, especially when he’s writing about war, but what he does best is to write long narrative poems that sound wonderful, with plenty of internal rhyme, perfectly regular cadences, and story lines that are scary (Ballad of the Black Fox Skin), rollicking (The Cremation of Sam McGee), or tragic in a non-tragic way (The Shooting of Dan McGrew).

After more years than I care to count, I can still remember the opening lines of The Cremation of Sam McGee.

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold.
The arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold.
The northern lights have seen strange sights,
But the strangest they ever did see
Was the night on the marge of Lake LeBarge,
When I cremated Sam McGee.

Read it aloud. Notice how it rolls along, almost of its own accord. And don’t you want to find out how it ends? I could recite the final lines too, but that would give it away.

Literary chaps of the kind who dwell in universities, would say, “It’s skillful, but it’s not great art.” My response would be, “So what?”

So, do yourself a service. Google up Robert Service and read some of his poetry.

All quotes are from memory and approximate.

Liz here:

Here's a site to get you started.

Then, if you'd like to read more about Robert Service, here's a website devoted to him.

Back to the Neighborhood

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