Let’s go with Robin Hood! That was my thought on a recent Sunday morning as I hunted online for a poem to enjoy. A bit groggy, my eyes were drawn to John Keats’ poem: Robin Hood. Given the familiar subject material, I hoped the poem would prove ideal for leisure reading:
“On the fairest time of June
You may go, with sun or moon,
Or the seven stars to light you,
Or the polar ray to right you;
But you never may behold
Little John, or Robin bold;
Never one, of all the clan,
Thrumming on an empty can
Some old hunting ditty…”
Well… that sounds potentially depressing. Is this a poem about the good times being long gone? If you read the whole poem, will it become even more depressing?
“All are gone away and past!
And if Robin should be cast
Sudden from his turfed grave,
And if Marian should have
Once again her forest days,
She would weep, and he would craze…”
I suppose it’s not required that a poem about Robin Hood and his Merry Men be, y’know, merry. Still, I read the doleful verse complete and I really liked it.
Odd thing about reading poetry, you learn to love a good lament. There is something wonderfully cathartic about crying out—dare I say, getting in your God’s face. Heretical? Perhaps. But if your God is who you say He is, He can take it. Just my opinion.
I mulled the poem over, rereading it a few times. Suddenly the theme of lament took my mind to another text. I remembered Third Nephi in the Book of Mormon. In the literal darkness of their trauma, the survivors of a disaster hear Christ speak:
“…O ye people of the house of Israel, ye that dwell at Jerusalem, as ye that have fallen; yea, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not.”
–3 Nephi 10:5
Over twenty years ago, I heard my mission president’s wife read this passage at zone conference. Without seeming maudlin, she read it expressively. In the context of lament, the intense desire of people to gather, and to be gathered, became crystal clear to me. I’ve since left church activity, yet I still treasure the experience of receiving those words from her voice. She made them sound poetic.
If you read Keats’s Robin Hood to the end, you’ll see it finds a brightness within its dreariness. With the boon of friendship, and some healthy defiance, the poet says, “So it is: yet let us sing…” So too the voice of Christ turns conditionally optimistic in 3 Nephi 10:6:
“O ye house of Israel whom I have spared, how oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if ye will repent and return unto me with full purpose of heart.”
Thanks to a secular poem read on a Sunday morning, I found myself remembering a sweet mission experience. Funny how intertextuality works, and not entirely by coincidence. An iconic star of Romantic poetry, John Keats lived from 1795 to 1821. Both Mormonism and English literature routinely draw me to that era.
I encourage you to read Keats’ Robin Hood, available free online at the Poetry Foundation. Even better, read it aloud. Let it take you where it takes you.
Questions for Discussion:
What poem takes you to a valued memory and why?
What scripture or other prose feels poetic to you and why?