Poetry Week! Part I

I've decided that this week will be dedicated to my constant companions back at UVa - my favorite poems. I'm pretty sure I can showcase a new author every day, if not, what kind of English major am I? Answer: I'm not an English major since I haven't declared yet, but I will try my best to pretend. In the interest of English language appreciation, today's poem is Billy Collins' "Thesaurus."


It could be the name of a prehistoric beast
that roamed the Paleozoic earth, rising up
on its hind legs to show off its large vocabulary,
or some love in a myth who is metamorphosed into a book.

It means treasury, but it is just a place
where words congregate with their relatives,
a big park where hundreds of family reunions
are always being held,
house, home, abode, dwelling, lodgings, and digs,
all sharing the same picnic basket and thermos;

hairy, hirsute, woolly, furry, fleecy, and shaggy
all running a sack race or throwing horseshoes,

inert, static, motionless, fixed and immobile

standing and kneeling in rows for a group photograph.

Here father is next to sire and brother close
to sibling, separated only by fine shades of meaning.

And every group has its odd cousin, the one

who traveled the farthest to be here;
astereognosis, polydipsia, or some eleven
syllable, unpronounceable substitute for the word tool.
Even their own relatives have to squint at their name tags.

I can see my own copy up on a high shelf.

I rarely open it, because I know there is no

such thing as a synonym and because I get nervous

around people who always assemble with their own kind,
forming clubs and nailing signs to closed front doors

while others huddle alone in the dark streets.

I would rather see words out on their own, away

from their families and the warehouse of Roget

wandering the world where they sometimes fall

in love with a completely different word.

Surely, you have seen pairs of them standing forever

next to each other on the same line inside a poem,

a small chapel where weddings like these,

between perfect strangers, can take place.

I've always loved that poem, largely because I'm a big fan of personification. Those who know me might describe me as empathetic; I therefore enjoy finding emotion in unexpected places. Words, when strung together like a favorite grandmother's pearl necklace, popcorn on a Christmas tree, can hold an immense amount of meaning. Rarely, though, do they hold meaning by themselves. Light, hand, smile, eyelashes, search, breath...those words mean nothing by themselves, but what if I told you I could use them to describe Beth sitting next to me? I like how Billy Collins forces you to imagine what woolly, static, hairy, and abode would look like at their family reunions. This causes me to imagine what words like comfy, delightful, harried, vibrant, complacent, and sumptuous would look like if they ever knocked on our doors.

I wonder what word I personify.


ug said...

i already knew you were a wordsmith, but i now know you take photos as well - starting with the open notebook at the top of your blog...
keep livin' life...
with peace, ug

Susie said...

Rachel and Billy Collins all in one place, what a delight! That was a new one for me; thanks for expanding my Billy Collins favorites. Hugs and kisses from your Ma.