Life In Poetry

A Psalm of Life
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The speaking of poetry is one thing: one of the qualifications listed for an announcer on a great network among "good voice" and "correct pronunciation," is the "ability to read and interpret poetry. Melville said to her mother—"Herman has taken to writing poetry.

Poetry About Overcoming Life's Challenges

You need not tell anyone, for you know how such things get around. If you ask your friends about it, you will find that there are a few answers, repeated by everyone. One is that the friend has not the time for poetry. This is a curious choice, since poetry, of all the arts that live in time—music, theater, film, writing—is the briefest, the most compact. Or your friends may speak of their boredom with poetry. If you hear this, ask further. You will find that "boredom" is a masking answer, concealing different meanings. One person will confess that he has been frightened off forever by the dry dissection of lines in school, and that now he thinks with disappointment of a poem as simply a set of constructions. He expects much more. One will confess that, try as he will, he cannot understand poetry, and more particularly, modern writing. It is intellectual, confused, unmusical. One will say it is willfully obscure.

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One that it is inapplicable to the situation in which he finds himself. And almost any man will say that it is effeminate: it is true that poetry as an art is sexually suspect.

Poetry About Overcoming Life's Challenges

In all of these answers, we meet a slipping-away which is the clue to the responses, and which is strong enough to be called more than direct resistance. I have found in working with people and with poems, that this fear presents the symptoms of a psychic problem. A poem does invite, it does require. What does it invite? A poem invites you to feel. More than that: it invites you to respond.

And better than that: a poem invites a total response.


This response is total, but it is reached through the emotions. A fine poem will seize your imagination intellectually—that is, when you reach it, you will reach it intellectually too—but the way is through emotion, through what we call feeling.

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The angry things that have been said about our poetry have also been said about our time. They are both "confused," "chaotic," "violent," "obscure. There is a clue here, and it is more than a reflection. It is not that an art "reflects," as the schoolbooks say, an age. But in the relationship may be a possible answer, a possible direction.

One way to look at scientific material, or the data of human life, is fact by fact, deriving the connections.

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Another way, more fruitful I believe, is to look at the relationship themselves, learning the facts as they feed or destroy each other. When we see that, we will see whether they tend toward an equilibrium, or strain spent on war away, or be poised at the rare moment of balance. Or of Karen Horney in psychoanalysis, here: defining action in terms of relationship, so that the individual is seen not only as an individual, but as a person moving toward other persons, or a person moving away from other persons, or a person moving against other person.

And I think of a scene at the Rockefeller Institute I saw: the rabbit, its great thrust and kick of muscular pride, as it was carried under the fluorescent lights, where against the colored unbroken skin glowed the induced cancers, fluorescing violet.

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A research doctor had come up from Johns Hopkins to talk to a biophysicist working in ways resembling his own. And in the basement labs, with its tubes, it beakers, its electrophoresis setup, he told how the work he was doing in cancer had changed in its nature, in its meaning. His colleagues and himself were no longer looking at cancer as a fact, an isolated fact.

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They were taking another approach: they were dealing with cancer and the body on which it fed as one thing—an equilibrium which had been set up, in which the cancer fed on the host. One could not exist in this state without the other in that state. It was the relationship which was the illness. And he felt that these terms led to the right questions. When we talk about relationships in art, we can see at once how all kinds of activity have taken this direction. The work of Freud and Picasso and Einstein are familiar to us as the masterwork in relative values, in the search for individual maturity, in visual imagination, in physical science; Joyce we recognize as working in the relationships of language, Marx in social relationship from which the fact could be derived—and these are the key names alone, in a few fields.

In our own time, we have become used to an idea of history in which process and relationship are stressed. The science of ecology is only one example of an elaboration of the idea, so that the life of land may be seen in terms of its tides of growth, the feeding of one group on another, the equilibrium reached, broken, and the drive toward another balance and renewal.

We think of the weather now as a dance of airs, predictable in relationship, with its parades of clouds, the appetites of pressure areas, and aftermath of foreseen storms. But in the areas dealing with emotion and belief, there is hesitation.

John Keats - Wikipedia

The terms have not been invented; and although that does not impede expressive writing—a poem, a novel, or a play act emotions out in terms of words, they do not describe—the lack does impede analytical work. We have no terms, for example, for "emotional meaning" or "emotional information. For the question is asked in a thousand ways each day: Is poetry alive? Is there a place for poetry? What is the place? In our schools, we are told that our education is pragmatic, that the body of knowledge is divided into various "subjects," that all of these subjects on which we pour our youth are valuable and useful to us in later life.

We are told that our civilization depends on further and new uses for everything it has, the development and exploitation of these. We may go ahead and specialize in any of these usable fields. There is one kind of knowledge that will be given to us all through school and high school, which we are told is precious, it defies time, it strikes deep into memory, it must go on being taught. No matter what cities fall, what languages are mis-heard and "corrupted" and reborn.

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Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. No chance? Shelley P. You hardly know where in this scene you should belong, distant or near, staying or fleeing; fending off contagious fear with both imploring hands, or else embracing it. Spectator Books: Greek myths, reimagined. Keats came to echo these sentiments in his work, identifying himself with a "new school" for a time, somewhat alienating him from Wordsworth, Coleridge and Byron and providing the basis from the scathing attacks from Blackwood's and The Quarterly.

This is here, to be passed on. But not to be used. Among all this pragmatic training, never to come into the real and active life. I remember a psychologist with whom I talked in New Haven. That is a good town to produce an image of the split life: it is a split town, part fierce industrial city, part college, very little reconciled—and in the center of the town, on the Green, is a symbol which is as good as any for this meaning.

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On the New Haven Green, itself a hub of tradition, there is a church which is old, respected, well-proportioned and serene. Down to its cornerstones: but these stones, these stones are set up as monuments to two of the English regicides who escaped to America after the Restoration.

Two of the men who killed King Charles. A church founded on the stones of king-killers, men who broke the most extreme of taboos! But that is the gesture, the violent axiom-breaking gesture of the imagination that takes its side, chooses its tradition and sets to work. In such a town, I spoke to a psychologist, a man who has made his work and his theme the study of fear, and the talk went well enough until poetry was mentioned.

Then, with extreme violence, a violence out of any keeping with what had gone before, the psychologist began to raise his voice and cut the air with his hand flat. He said, his voice shaking, that he had cut poetry out of his life, that that was something he had not time for, that was something out of his concern. His attitude is the attitude of the schools.