Wednesday, March 9, 2011

On the poem of the day: "Bike Ride on a Roman Road"

I never thought that I would be one to like poetry, but now I can gladly say that I love it.

Reading poems in high school felt like torture, until I read "The Raven" by Edgar Allen Poe. As I continued into college, I found myself loving certain types of poems more and more. I have discovered that the types of poems I love are the ones that are intensely lyrical and a little transcendent and maybe a little ambiguous. Actually, a lot ambiguous. 

Most people want to know what a poem "means." I used to be driven by this weird need as well, until I just told myself that it doesn't matter what it is saying, as long as you are reading it and enjoy it. This isn't to take away from the incredible skill and technique of the poet. This isn't to say that poems do not have a meaning as intended by the poet. But then again, aren't meaning and intent superfluous to the reader? If they read it and interpret it in their own way (and heaven forbid, LIKE IT), isn't that the point? If you're shaking your head while reading this and saying to yourself, "Of course it matters. This girl is messed up!", then I will ask you one question: Do you seriously think that all poets / authors / playwrights should submit an instruction manual with their work? 

Dear reader: When you read this poem, please picture yourself in the middle of ocean. There is a shark to your left. You are very cold. Regards, Walt Whitman.

(Speaking of dear old Walt, in "Song of Myself" he says, "Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?")

(Also, in Zadie Smith's On Beauty, the character talk about art, and how art is analyzed. One character says, "You can't ever say that you like the tomato," the tomato being a painting, a novel, a poem.)

I don't think so. I feel like if you read something, especially a poem, and a clever turn of phrase catches your eye and ear and heart, than the poem has done its job.

So here's the poem of the day: "Bike Ride on a Roman Road" by Alice Oswald. 

Bike Ride on a Roman Road

This Roman road—eye’s axis
over the earth’s rococo curve—
is a road’s road to ride in a dream.

I am bound to a star,
my own feet shoving me swiftly.

Everything turns but the North is the same.

Foot Foot, under the neck-high bracken
a little random man, with his head in a bad
controversy of midges,
flickers away singing Damn Damn

and the line he runs is serpentine,
everything happens at sixes and sevens,
the jump and the ditch and the crooked style . . .

and my two eyes are floating in the fields,
my mouth in on a branch, my hair
is miles behind me making tributaries
and I have had my heart distracted out of me

and now I have no hands and now I have no feet.

This is the road itself
riding a bone bicycle through my head.

I read this poem in a Contemporary British Lit class, a few years ago. When I first read it, I tried to follow the narrative and get where Oswald wanted me to go, since this is very much a poem of direction. After that, I read it again. And again. I keep getting lost in "Everything turns but the North is the same," and "I have had my heart distracted out of me." 

I linger on these lines because they're mine now, and it doesn't really matter what their original purpose was, because I've internalized them and they've become a river running through my head. 

I love them. And I'm not afraid to say it.



  1. Neither had I but just recently I've fell in love with some poems. I think it's all thanks to my lovely Caribbean Literature Teacher who loves it and is always quoting lines.

  2. I'm still in the process of discovering poems that I like. I definitely agree with you on Poe, and I love Neruda. I like this poem too! Not sure I "get it," but it's definitely one that makes my head spin.