Tuesday, October 1, 2013

On Fables and Poems

I've lost my copy of Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories. Most likely, I've lent it to someone, said, "You have to read this, you'll love it." And it's gone. I need to replace it and re-read it myself.

In many ways, the Just So Stories are the quintessential fables- origin stories that also impart a lesson. How did the elephant get his trunk? Why, by being too nosey (get it?) about what the crocodile had for dinner.

I often think of good poems as fables- little encapsulations of a moment or a feeling. They have an arc, a moral, and (at their best) an impossible moment that just feels right. It is human life distilled to its most essential ingredients.

I think about Robert Frost's Birches, which is one of the poems I've re-read and re-listened to most in my life. The impossible moment is perfect:
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.  50
May no fate wilfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
Without this moment, Birches is an old man wishing to be young again- to swing from trees, to have the innocence to believe that the bent birches along the road were brought low by being swung from too often. But because of the plea "May no fate wilfully misunderstand me" this a poem about a man who recognizes that for all life's hardships, for all the broken ice and slow thaws, no life could be better than this one.

I wonder who has my copy of Just So Stories. If I could remember, I could call them up and asked if they ever read it. I wonder if they love the stories' simplicity as much as I do?

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