How do we experience poetry? This is the question I have been considering for several years.
A poem can be read from a page while sitting on a comfy chair in front of a roaring fire, on a sandy beach, in a library or on public transit. Poetry is portable.
A poem can be heard through the recitation of the poet or other person, who has taken great joy in speaking the words and sharing their love of the message held within those words. Poetry builds community.
Perhaps the most profound encounter with poetry is when the syllables resonate with our voice, when we feel the words come from our heart, touched by our emotional response to the poem. Poetry is personal.
Tonight, I am reciting Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem, Lady Godiva, which was written in 1840 when he was returning from Coventry to London. He pens the story of the Countess Godiva, an Anglo-Saxon lady who, according to legend, rode disrobed through the streets of Coventry after her husband promised that he would remit oppressive taxes on his tenants if she agreed to do so.
History records that the original Lady Godiva lived during the 11th century and was married to Leofric, the powerful Earl of Mercia and Lord of Coventry, who was not the villain as portrayed by Alfred Lord Tennyson.
“The historical Godiva was known for her generosity to the church, and along with Leofric, she helped found a Benedictine monastery in Coventry. Contemporary accounts of her life note that “Godgifu” was one of only a few female landowners in England in the 1000s, but they make no mention of a clothes-free horseback ride. That story appears to have first cropped up some 100 years after her death in a book by the English monk Roger of Wendover, who was known for stretching the truth in his writings” History.com
My recitation of Godiva was my first attempt at reciting Alfred Lord Tennyson, which was prompted by my visit to Coventry. I have yet to move on to Ulysses…
“I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life!
Thank you for joining me in Coventry with Lady Godiva and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.