I’m not proud to admit it, but I didn’t have the best attitude about attending my wife’s recent college reunion. I felt an enthusiasm probably typical of spouses attending such events. “Are you sure you want me to go?” I asked Lori a few too many times.
And this despite the fact that I’m fond of Vassar and the many alumni I’ve met over the years. Moreover, this was its 150th gala, at Lincoln Center.
But because I fancy myself a good husband, I suited up and walked the carpeted stairs at my wife’s side, girded by the pleasant knowledge that little would be expected of me that evening.
And I was right: no one expected anything of me. But what I wasn’t expecting was the bolt of lightning that shot through the theater.
Meryl Streep, Class of ’71, was on stage.
After the applause died down (including my own, for an actress I have long admired), Meryl paused to let the silence soak in. Then she read this sonnet by a fellow alumna, class of ’17: Edna St. Vincent Millay.
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.
Meryl Streep delivered the poem as only Meryl Streep could—with grace and clarity, and at a pace in which each word, each phrase, each image went into me, and through me, and left me flattened.
Quite unexpectedly, in what had been my haze of indifference, I had my lights punched out by poetry.
What better poem for an anniversary like this? For looking back to youth and love, across the sea of gray hair like mine. The rest of the evening was sweet, but that moment will be with me always.
April is National Poetry Month. I celebrate by sharing this poetry moment with you.
Do you, read reader, have a moment to share? I’d love to hear. Just click on the Comments link below with your submission. (If you’re reading this as an email, click here and you'll connect to Comments).