When I’m reading a poem for the first time it usually takes the first two stanzas for either my pulse to quicken and I slow down to absorb the poem or nothing happens and I continue reading hoping I’ll find that moment later on. When it does have that stirring force I’m always amazed at how much more powerful it becomes if you read the poem aloud– whisper it even. It’s rhythm takes on a life of its own.
John Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale opening line has a shiver of s’ which as you whisper create a languid energy. Languid because as you say the s’ you’re letting breath out and it’s relaxing you but the energy vibrates through the beat of the words, so you actually begin to feel the drowsy numbness:
My heart aches and a drowsy numbness pains my sense
Christina Rossetti’s De Profundis uses o’s:
Oh why is heaven built so far, Oh why is earth set so remote?
I cannot reach the nearest star That hangs afloat.
The open sound of the o’s mixed with the tone of what’s written evoke yearning.
Other times it’s the composition of the words, like in this one by Wordsworth; the way they’re placed together. After ‘Why art thou silent!’ Try saying the rest in one breath:
Why art thou silent! Is thy love a plant
Of such weak fibre that the treacherous air
Of absence withers what was once so fair?
By the time you reach the end more than likely you’re on the last puff of air and that feeling reinforces the ‘withering.’ Or try this, say it in one breath until you reach ‘what was once so fair‘ suddenly it takes on a new meaning, with the new breath the reminder of what was fair revitalizes.
Which poems have moved you? Have you read them aloud?