Saturday, June 24, 2006

Kodachrome and Velvet Shoes

When I think back
On all the crap I learned in high school
It's a wonder
I can think at all

-- Simon&Garfunkel, "Kodachrome"

Well, it's been a month since I started writing this, but I finally got around to finishing it off.

You know, after writing about poetry last entry, I started thinking about how it's a wonder that I like poetry at all.

As a kid, I really loved poetry. My parents had a couple of books of poetry hanging around the house and I would routinely pick them up and read them. Then I hit High School and I was almost lost forever (thank Heavens for CEGEP!).

I don't know how my High School English classes managed it, but they took all the life and beauty out of poetry. All we ever did was "analyse" poems in the most trite, pointless ways ever. For chrissake, who the hell wants to read a poem and pick out all the metaphors and similes? What the hell will that give you? Will it give you access to the subtle meanings of the poem? No. Will it help you understand why the poem makes you feel the way you do when you read it? No. Will it give you an appreciation for poetry as an art? No.

Will it make you pray for the bell to ring so you can go outside and complain to your friends that you have no idea why "shod in silk" is an oxymoron? Yes.

"Shod in silk". That line has haunted me for sixteen years (and I really do mean the line, because I've never been able to remember the name of the poem or the author). But today, I get my revenge.

The poem: Velvet Shoes by Elinor Wylie
The class: Secondary 4 English with Mrs. Gualtieri (Hi there if you managed to find this! Yes, I'm bitter. You can continue feeling sorry for me the way you did back in HS.)
The task: Find examples of metaphors, similes and oxymorons in this poem.
The result: I got a really shitty mark because I couldn't find an oxymoron in this crap-ass poem.

I told Mrs Gualtieri that there were no oxymorons in this poem. Try as I might, I couldn't find one. She patronizingly replied that "shod in silk" was an oxymoron. I was all, "Um, how the hell is that an oxymoron?" She became even more patronizing (she felt that I thought I was too smart for my own good) and was all, "because to be shod is to be badly dressed and you can't be badly dressed in silk."

I still don't get it. Especially since my Oxford English Dictionary defines "shod" as the past tense of "to shoe".

Did this stupid high school excercise help me appreciate the poem? No.

Did it make me resent poetry, English class and Mrs Gualtieri? Yes.

But after all these years, I tracked down the poem. I still think it blows. The measure seems to be all screwed up, like the stanzas are one line too long, giving it an akward cadence. It's also pretty vapid. It's Bad Teen Poetry quality, in my opinion (your opinion may differ).

So for your reading pleasure, I present the poem that almost made me hate poetry forever, "Velvet Shoes" by Elinor Wylie:

Let us walk in the white snow
In a soundless space;
With footsteps quiet and slow,
At a tranquil pace,
Under veils of white lace.

I shall go shod in silk,
And you in wool,
White as white cow's milk,
More beautiful
Than the breast of a gull.

We shall walk through the still town
In a windless peace;
We shall step upon white down,
Upon silver fleece,
Upon softer than these.

We shall walk in velvet shoes:
Wherever we go
Silence will fall like dews
On white silence below.
We shall walk in the snow.

1 comment:

  1. I am writing about this poem, Velvet Shoes, for my English class. I suppose it is meaningless, but I do enjoy the poem for its imaginative quality.