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Keats and grandmother's cookbook

John Keats's famous poem, 'To a Grecian Urn,' and an old cookbook bring back lost worlds.

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For National Poetry Month this year, I read "The Complete Poems of John Keats." I especially liked looking over his less-than-famous works: a sonnet to his brother George, which proclaims: "Many the wonders I this day have seen." Here he celebrates the morning sun and the joy of sharing it with his brother.

Another poem, "Sweet, Sweet Is the Greeting of Eyes," hints at the pleasures of friendship and recognition.

These, of course, are not the poet's masterpieces. Rather, they represent his apprentice work. For me, these poems reveal the reality of the life that Keats lived. It's a human life filled with worry, friendship, and all the simple things that make up the unvarnished framework of everyday experience.

But in the imaginative conversation that takes place between the writer and the reader, I can speak to this young man as a fellow traveler and partake in a discussion that continues even after almost two centuries have passed.

I live my life through poetry. Take, for instance, this moment. Oops. Too late. It's gone. I was going to tell you about the sun reflecting off the bare branches in my yard, or describe the intricate geometry of the birds soaring overhead, or the majestic procession of clouds that parade across the sky.

We are never fully in the present. Rather, these moments just slip though our fingers before we can grasp them. But poetry can save those moments better than any photograph.

Take Keats's "Ode On a Grecian Urn." Keats had been walking through the British museum marveling at the Elgin Marbles, treasures from ancient Greece brought to England by Lord Elgin.

The poet's eyes rested on the scenes painted on the urn, scenes that captured moments lived thousands of years before and now frozen against time on this beautiful "attic shape." There are the young people running through the trees while the piper plays the sweetest music. Two lovers almost touch. There is the old town, emptied by a procession attending a sacrifice.

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