National Poetry Month: What’s Freedom For? To Know Eternity

April is National Poetry Month, the only time of year that most Americans take note of the fact that poetry is still being read and written by sentimental, idealistic people like yours truly. And to celebrate the year-round existence of poetry, I’ll be sharing a poem with you each Wednesday of this month for a little mid-week inspiration courtesy of Algonquin’s own Poetry Out Loud (edited by Robert Alden Rubin). Poetry is meant to be heard, so I highly recommend reading these poems aloud to your spouse, roommate, or co-workers with gusto.

“I Knew a Woman” by Theodore Roethke is one of my favorite poems of all time. I memorized it as a junior in high school when I was getting serious about being a poet myself, and it still rings through my body like a song. It keeps company with the best love poems that have been written, and also nods and winks at traditional forms (the blazon and the Greek ode) while carrying them off beautifully. The line “I’m martyr to a motion not my own” is probably the best description of Romantic love I’ve heard.

If you want to hear the poem in Roethke’s own beautiful, booming voice, you can listen to it here. Happy reading!

— Sarah Rose Nordgren, Publicity Assistant

I Knew a Woman

I knew a woman, lovely in her bones,
When small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them;
Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one:
The shapes a bright container can contain!
Of her choice virtues only gods should speak,
Or English poets who grew up on Greek
(I’d have them sing in chorus, cheek to cheek.)

How well her wishes went! She stroked my chin,
She taught me Turn, and Counter-turn, and stand;
She taught me Touch, that undulant white skin:
I nibbled meekly from her proffered hand;
She was the sickle; I, poor I, the rake,
Coming behind her for her pretty sake
(But what prodigious mowing we did make.)

Love likes a gander, and adores a goose:
Her full lips pursed, the errant note to seize;
She played it quick, she played it light and loose;
My eyes, they dazzled at her flowing knees;
Her several parts could keep a pure repose,
Or one hip quiver with a mobile nose
(She moved in circles, and those circles moved.)

Let seed be grass, and grass turn into hay:
I’m martyr to a motion not my own;
What’s freedom for? To know eternity.
I swear she cast a shadow white as stone.
But who would count eternity in days?
These old bones live to learn her wanton ways:
(I measure time by how a body sways.)

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