"I love you more than yesterday
and less than tomorrow". When I read these words for the first time, I
smiled and repeated them to myself. And I smiled again and made sure I
would not forget them. That is the effect of words. And because words do
not move nor run away, we can pause and look at them and repeat them to
ourselves. We can enjoy them more — much more than, say, the television
or the cinema when the film carries on and we miss the moments to
If you love words, you will love
English words and you will love poetry — beautiful poetry of love. I
remember learning by heart a great deal of poetry and Shakespeare before
I ever understood them properly. But their sounds were wonderful. And I
knew I was reading something wonderful. On occasions, I would come
across a poem I would understand. Those would become my serendipities.
And I would read the words again, and again, and again. Words that were
so beautiful that I simply wanted to commit them to my memory.
I was just l5 when I went to
English boarding school — scared stiff that I could not speak English
with all the other boys, and frightened to death that I would be
bullied. But when I came across poetry, all was forgotten, and I felt
almost as if I had found the secret with which to protect myself —
knowledge that could not be scared, nor bullied, nor stolen, nor taken
away. I would urge you to read these words again and again, and memorize
Had I the heavens' embroidered
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dream.
Go on: read the words again, and again. Aren't they beautiful? It's
Yeats. He was a master Irishman. The Irish have a way with words like no
others. After reading this simple poem of his, I wanted to read more and
more of his works. I bought his collected poems and have never stopped
reading them in the last 35 years.
And that's the beauty of poetry — good poems are interwoven words which
have meanings that are glimpsed at and savoured. They also create an
atmosphere, a mood and often a feeling often of nebulous understanding —
sometimes not entirely clear, often ambiguous, but always fascinating.
T.S. Eliot is, for me, a genius of words. His works are difficult to
grasp because they are soaked in references （ 根 據 ） . But even if you
don't know the references, just try the sounds from his words:
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky,
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats,
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels,
And saw dust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument,
Of insidious intent,
To lead you to an overwhelming question ......
Oh, do not ask "What is it?",
Let us go and make our visit.
Please, please read those words
again. And emphasize, if you can, all those consonants. Aren't they full
of mystery and rhythm and beauty? You don't even have to understand
them. For me, reading out aloud the words is sufficient enjoyment.
I can go on, and on, and on about the magic of the English words. It
makes me sick to read, as I did in the SCMP this week, that someone has
yet again come out with some dubious polls that prove that English
standard in Hong Kong has fallen. I just wished people would stop
complaining and just go or send everyone to the library and get everyone
reading. Reading poetry is not only hugely satisfactory, but also fun
and enjoyable and refined. And it will help you improve your English — I
can promise you that. Who can fail to be exited by beautiful words? My
current favourite is by another Irishman: Louis Macneice. I adore this
And love hung still as crystal over the bed,
And filled the corners of the enormous room;
The boom of dawn that left her sleeping, showing,
The flowers mirrored in the mahogany table.
O my love, if only I were able,
To protect this hour of quiet after passion,
Not ration happiness but keep this door forever,
Closed on the world, its own world closed within it.
But dawn's waves trouble with the bubbling minute,
The names of books come clear upon their shelves,
The reason delves for duty and you will wake,
With a start and go on living on your own.
The fisrst train passes and the windows groan,
Voices will hector and your voice become,
A drum in tune with theirs, which all last night,
Like sap that fingered through a hungry tree,
Asserted our one night's identity.
Poetry, I love you more than yesterday and less than tomorrow!
Saturday 20 August,2005