Saturday, March 21, 2009

March 21: World Poetry Day & "Pippa Passes"

According to the wonderful resource ReadWriteThink by NCTE, today is World Poetry Day (who knew?). According to the RWT site:
Believed to have its origin in the 1930s, World Poetry Day is now celebrated in hundreds of countries around the world. This day provides a perfect opportunity to examine poets and their craft in the classroom. In 1999, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) also designated March 21 as World Poetry Day.
To honor of World Poetry Day, it seemed fitting to do two things. The first is to call attention to's new Animated Poems feature, which reveals poetry line by line. It is an interesting idea, even if I do like having the entire text in front of me when reading a poem.

Secondly, given the gorgeous (if chilly) weather today in Boston and the start of spring (at least in theory), here is one of my favorite selections that always reminds me of spring (and, less magically, freshman English class):

from "Pippa Passes"
by Robert Browning

The year's at the spring
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hill-side's dew-pearled
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in his Heaven -
All's right with the world!

While other poems might contradict Browning's optimistic and rather simple assertion of the rightness of the world ("The World is a Beautiful Place" comes to mind), I find this poem comforting. Giving the ongoing strife in the world, sometimes it is important to take a step back from the numerous problems featured in the news (the economic crisis, the war, the problems in foreign countries, etc) and try to focus on the positive.

With this in mind, I'm not completely convinced that Ferlinghetti's "The World is a Beautiful Place" is that different from these few lines of "Pippa Passes." Although Ferlinghetti's poem takes a considerably darker and more satiric tone than Browning's, both pieces make the argument for focusing on what there is to enjoy about the world around us. While Ferlinghetti consistently brings up the problems facing society (bombings, war, death, and starvation), "The World is a Beautiful Place" might be read as an admonition to focus on the good things in life even in the face of seemingly unremitting turmoil. If "even in heaven/ they don't sing/ all the time," then perhaps Ferlinghetti is trying to tell us that, rather than waiting for everything to be perfect, we should try to enjoy what we do have.

With all of this said, I doubt that the titular Pippa would be nearly quite so happy if she happened to run into Mr. Ferlinghetti's nameless narrator.

Want more "The World is a Beautiful Place"? Check out my first and second posts on the poem.