Querulous Rooks

For a long time I have been curious about the way poetry sticks in my brain. Not a day goes by without some line popping out of nowhere into my thoughts. So a week ago I decided to make a list of each time this happened to see if there were any patterns. I was also curious to see which poets popped up the most. Here's what I discovered. Eliot, Yeats, Dickinson and Shakespeare were by far the stickiest poets. In the past week lines from Prufrock came up three times. Those bloody mermaids! I was also rubbing some moisturizer on my hands and suddenly found myself thinking of the opening line of Eliot's Gerontion: "Here I am, an old man in a dry month."

Yeats appeared a few times as well. Walking across campus one afternoon I noticed that most of the students were heading the other direction. Suddenly I was thinking of the line from Easter, 1916: " I have met them at the close of day." And I noticed the full moon the other morning and thought of his line about "the dark leopards of the moon." The Second Coming is another common point of reference. Watching the yapping political talking heads on TV, you can't help thinking that "the worst are full of passionate intensity."

In class we were discussing Milton, but he only popped up unbidden once. The students were bellyaching about getting dismissed early on the day it hit 60 degrees. All I could think of was Adam's line to Eve in Book IX: "Go, for thy stay absents thee more."

Shakespeare actually popped up in the course of teaching Milton! (Harold Bloom would surely make much of that). We were discussing Satan's hopeless position in Paradise Lost, and I found myself thinking of a line from Hamlet: "What should such fellow as I do crawling between earth and heaven." And later that day while arguing with my son (who was splitting hairs about a houeshold rule) up popped Hamlet's line on the gravedigger at the opening of Act V: "How absolute the knave is!"

Dickinson was a repeat offender. There was a housefly battering itself against the window pane as I was walking down the stairs at work, so of course I thought "I heard a fly buzz when I died." It was also bleak when I left my office late yesterday afternoon, and suddenly there was Dickinson again:

There is certain shaft of light on winter afternoons
That oppresses with the weight of cathedral tunes.

But there were others who surprised me. Driving to work one morning I was struck by the bare tree branches outlined against the morning skyline and instantly a line from Hardy's Darkling Thrush was there: "the tangled bine stems scored the skies like strings of broken lyres." And just yesterday as the students were doing an in-class writing assignment, I glanced out the window and saw enormous crows walking on the lawn of the campus building across the way. Suddenly the words "querulous rooks" were on my tongue. I could not bring to mind the poem and had to Google it. Turns out it was Derek Mahon's A Disused Shed in County Wexford:


They have learnt patience and silence
Listening to the rooks querulous in the high wood.
And those were just the instances I wrote down. There were lots that I didn't record. I know there was a Keats and a Coleridge. Oh, yeah, that's right. I was walking the garbage bin out to the street last Friday and happened to see an icicle hanging from the downspout. And there I was thinking about Coleridge's "silent icicles quietly shining to the quiet moon."

Here was my rough tally:

Eliot: 4
Yeats: 3
Shakespeare 3
Dickinson 2
Milton 1
Hardy 1
Mahon 1
Coleridge 1
Keats 1
Stevens 1

Clearly more research on this is required.

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