Poetry on My Mind

Dear Liza,

I was happy to find a new friend at Lone Fir Cemetery! Mr. Samuel Simpson was a poet in Oregon, living from 1845 to 1899. His most popular piece was called “Beautiful Willamette”, and he was much loved here in Portland.

Many of Simpson’s poems were collected and published years after his death in The Gold-Gated West: Songs and Poems (1910). W.W. Fidler explained just what had made the work of the “Oregon Bard” so attractive:  “He met completely that excellent definition of poetry which says it consists of ‘good thoughts happily expressed in faultless rhyme and meter’”.
My momma would have agreed with this definition of poetry, and I think she would have liked Mr. Simpson’s work. Here is the first stanza of his most popular work:

Samuel Simpson’s headstone at Lone Fir Cemetery

From “Beautiful Willamette”


From the Cascades’ frozen gorges,
Leaping like a child at play,
Winding, widening through the valley,
Bright Willamette glides away;
Onward ever,
Lovely river,
Softly calling to the sea,
Time, that scars us,
Maims and mars us,
Leaves no track or trench of thee.

Samuel Simpson

His work wasn’t popular with critics, though. Like most of the poetry of this area, his was referred to as “an avalanche of tripe” by folks in New York.

Poetry seems to be creeping up on me lately. I listened (and re-listened, again and again) to Amanda Gorman read her poem, “The Hill We Climb”, at the Inauguration of President Joe Biden. Her words encouraging We the people to reach into our best selves and grow into our role as peaceful, powerful Americans was moving and modern. The strong, jostling, internal rhymes made you jump quick to follow them. They reminded me of the Slam poetry I heard (and read) at the Rubber Chicken Slams back in the 00s. It was visceral and powerful.

And this week, Auntie Bridgett found a collection of Robert Frost’s poetry in the tiny free library down the street. This particular collection was edited by Hyde Cox, man who had known the venerated poet when Mr. Cox was a boy. The poems in this collection are particularly appropriate for young readers, but, as Mr. Cox says, they are good for their elders, too. “How many things have to happen to you before something occurs to you?” Mr. Frost asks us.

Last night I read a few of the poems before I went to sleep, reading them through, finding the rhyme scheme, tiptoeing through the imagery. I poemed myself to sleep reciting one of momma’s favorites, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

I’m not sure where all this poetry is going to go. It will swirl around in my head for a while, and then we’ll see.

Maybe I will write a poem for Valentine’s Day!

Love,
Grandma Judy