A Favorite Poem (Issue #25)

Greetings, bloggers!

Welcome to this month’s “A Favorite Poem” issue. This month features the work of May Swenson, an early 20th-century American poet whose works center on themes of nature, love, and spirituality. That said, her poem “Earth Your Dancing Place” is no exception.

Earth Your Dancing Place- May Swenson

Beneath heaven’s vault
remember always walking
through halls of cloud
down aisles of sunlight
or through high hedges
of the green rain
walk in the world
highheeled with swirl of cape
hand at the swordhilt
of your pride
Keep a tall throat
Remain aghast at life

Enter each day
as upon a stage
lighted and waiting
for your step
Crave upward as flame
have keenness in the nostril
Give your eyes
to agony or rapture

Train your hands
as birds to be
brooding or nimble
Move your body
as the horses
sweeping on slender hooves
over crag and prairie
with fleeing manes
and aloofness of their limbs

Take earth for your own large room
and the floor of the earth
carpeted with sunlight
and hung round with silver wind
for your dancing place

Besides having some of the most beautiful imagery I’ve read, the poem is simple, but effective at praising life and all of its richness. From the first stanza centered on regal images (“aisles of sunlight,” “highheeled with swirl of cape,” “hand at the swordhilt”) to the last stanza humbled on home (“Take earth for your own large room,” “carpeted with sunlight”), Swenson is certainly a dexterous poet when it comes to these gorgeous and meditative lines, almost lyrical in their presentation.

There are so many ways one can interpret this poem- for me, I see it as being about two separate things: 1) blessing the earth for what it offers or 2) being prideful in oneself, in who you are. In honor of Pride Month this year, I’ll be focusing on the latter interpretation.

What people might not know about May Swenson was that she was a lesbian. Of course, it made things difficult with her conservative parents, but I assumed that she wasn’t ashamed of it since she’d came out when she was still alive. Some of her works, including “Earth Your Dancing Place,” urges people to be confident in themselves, as seen in the lines below:

“walk in the world
highheeled with swirl of cape
hand at the swordhilt
of your pride
Keep a tall throat
Remain aghast at life” (lines 7-12).

Of course, “pride” is used in the excerpt, and while its connotation might not be LGBT-related to Swenson when she wrote it, this term can be used as a call to the pride community to “keep a tall throat” and not be afraid of who you are. She even follows it with “Enter each day/as upon a stage” (lines 13-14) to show to the world your true colors, i.e. your true, natural self.

The other thing I wanted to address about the poem is the title itself, “Earth Your Dancing Place.” What caught my eye was that the word “earth” in this context could be interpreted as either a verb or as a noun. The omission of the comma between “earth” and “your” makes the meaning ambiguous, though, so in fact, it can be seen either as a verb, which makes the “you” the subject of the poem or a noun, which makes Earth the subject instead. It is a matter of agency for the “you” or the Earth, but all the same, Earth is seen as a benevolent character which offers a “large room…/carpeted with sunlight…/for your dancing place” (lines 30, 32, 34). Just like how there are LGBT support centers and loving, supportive families and friends in the community, Earth provides this “large room” that is “carpeted with sunlight” and positive to make individuals happy,” a safe place that is one’s “dancing place” to be whoever one wants to be, all in the name of pride and love.

I could go on and on about this poem, but I’ll stop here at the risk of continuing even further. Taking Swenson’s poem to represent Pride Month might be a stretch to some people, but with the context of the poet’s life and the content of the poem itself, I think it’s a valid interpretation to be had.

Enjoy the poem, and have a good day!

— The Finicky Cynic

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