Caroline Kennedy – She Walks in Beauty

Curiosity about the author led me to Caroline Kennedy’s anthology, She Walks in Beauty.  Organized in thirteen chapters that follow “a woman’s journey” from “falling in love” to learning “how to live,” the book includes poetry from the well-known to the obscure, from traditional to modern poets.

Kennedy begins each chapter with a personal introduction to the theme she is exploring, and, at times, provides glimpses into the famous Kennedy family, with references to Grandma Rose’s attention to her granddaughter’s clothing, cousin Maria Shriver’s practical jokes, or her mother’s favorite poem (Ithaka by Constantine Cavafy).  But she directs most of her comments to her own relationship with poetry as a way to communicate, meditate, and sometimes just sooth.  She offers her observations about only a few selected poems within each section; she leaves the rest up to the reader.

I did read through all the poems, and found a few verses to jot down for future reference…like the cynical Dorothy Parker’s Unforgettable Coincidence

By the time you swear you’re his,
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is 
Infinite, undying –
Lady, make a note of this:
One of you is lying.

Marge Piercy’s What’s That Smell in the Kitchen? – “Burning dinner is not incompetence but war” could be on a plaque.

Father’s day is coming, and Ralph Waldo Emerson offered advice – From A Letter to His Daughter

Finish every day and be done with it.
You have done what you could.
Some blunders and absurdities
no doubt have crept in;
forget them as soon as you can.
Tomorrow is a new day;
begin it well and serenely
and with too high a spirit
to be cumbered with 
your old nonsense.
This day is all that is
good and fair.
It is too dear,
with its hopes and invitations,
to waste a moment on yesterdays.

Caroline Kennedy exposes a little of herself in her selections.  The last section of the book – “How to Live” – includes poems that have become her private mantras, and she writes that “the poems in this section are the reward for making it through the rest of the book.”  I liked this section best, and it might have been better to start with these.  More than the other sections, this one seemed less forced to fit under the section heading.

I’m returning the book to the library but I did enjoy a few pleasant afternoons mulling Kennedy’s selections.  Poetry is personal; we all get what we need from reading it, and Kennedy’s book sparked a renewed appreciation for taking a break from prose with poetry – as well as the chance to reread some old favorites and find new ones.