I love lists. So, apparently, does the rest of the world (see: Buzzfeed), and poets are no exception. Virtuoso lists are a feature of epic poetry, like Homer’s catalogue of ships, or Milton’s list of demons, or my personal favorite, the list of trees in Spenser’s Faerie Queene:
And foorth they passe, with pleasure forward led,
Ioying to heare the birdes sweete harmony,
Which therein shrouded from the tempest dred,
Seemd in their song to scorne the cruell sky.
Much can they prayse the trees so straight and hy,
The sayling Pine, the Cedar proud and tall,
The vine-prop Elme, the Poplar neuer dry,
The builder Oake, sole king of forrests all,
The Aspine good for staues, the Cypresse funerall.
The Laurell, meed of mightie Conquerours
And Poets sage, the Firre that weepeth still,
The Willow worne of forlorne Paramours,
The Eugh obedient to the benders will,
The Birch for shaftes, the Sallow for the mill,
The Mirrhe sweete bleeding in the bitter wound,
The warlike Beech, the Ash for nothing ill,
The fruitfull Oliue, and the Platane round,
The caruer Holme, the Maple seeldom inward sound.
(No, your screen isn’t playing tricks on you; Spenser wrote the Faerie Queene in a deliberately archaic style).
I’ve been thinking about lists and poetry because the Valentine’s Day poem of the day from The Poetry Foundation was Reginald Dwayne Betts’s “For you: anthophilous, lover of flowers,” which I read and immediately fell in love with (well-played, Poetry Foundation). It’s a catalogue of lovers, but not exactly in the sense you expect, and it’s gorgeous.
I wonder: which one are you?