Sunday, January 29, 2012
(Daily News by Dona Nelson, born 1947,
Does poetry make any difference? Poets have disagreed in their answers to this question.
“Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” Percy Bysshe Shelley announced in A Defense of Poetry in 1821.
Poets, he wrote, “are not only the authors of language and of music, of the dance, and architecture, and statuary, and painting: they are the institutors of laws, and the founders of civil society, and the inventors of the arts of life, and the teachers, who draw into a certain propinquity with the beautiful and the true that partial apprehension of the agencies of the invisible world which is called religion.”
Not everyone concurs. More than a century later, for example, in his elegy on the death of the Irish poet W. B. Yeats in 1939, W. H. Auden expresses a more ambivalent view about the power of poetry. He writes that poetry “makes nothing happen” but does acknowledge that it is not entirely powerless.
Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;
With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;
In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.
Mary Oliver, for one, hasn’t given up on poetry, yet.
THE POET IS TOLD TO FILL UP MORE PAGES
But, where are the words?
Not in my pocket.
Not in the refrigerator.
Not in my savings account.
So I sit, harassed, with my notebook.
It’s a joke, really, and not a good one.
For fun I try a few commands myself.
I say to the rain, stop raining.
I say to the sun, that isn’t anywhere nearby,
Come back, and come fast.
So this is all I can give you,
not being the maker of what I do,
but only the one that holds the pencil.
Make of it what you will.
~ Mary Oliver, born 1935, American poet