Editor’s note: This essay originally was delivered as a presentation at TOS-Con 2019 and retains the quality of the oral presentation. Notes have been added to elaborate certain points and provide citations. To view a recording of this talk, click here.
I am going to begin with a question.
I assume that most everyone here consumes art, in some form, on a very regular basis. Each of us might do so more or less often, given our particular interests and the current state of our lives, and we might seek out art of greater or lesser complexity or sophistication, but we all seem to feel that fundamental and inescapable human need for the unique inspiration, relaxation, and rejuvenation that is given to us by art.
So, to fulfill that need, how many of you turn, at least a few times a month:
- To television?
- To movies?
- To novels?
- To great novels, by authors such as Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Hugo?
And how many of you turn, at least a few times a month, to classic poetry, by such authors as Tennyson, Keats, Wordsworth, and John Donne?
Not many. I am not surprised, and I don’t blame you in the least. I do blame your education, my education—these days, almost everyone’s education—for failing to make palpably and unforgettably real the distinct power of poetry to enrich our lives. I was fortunate enough to learn that power in spite of my education, and now I can no longer imagine my life without it.
I think the reason most people don’t consume poetry regularly is actually the very reason it is so fulfilling if you do: It is so dense with value that the value is not readily and immediately accessible. Allow me to illustrate. . . .
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1. Sidney Colvin, Keats (London: MacMillan and Co., Ltd., 1909), 361.
2. Mary Robinson, “Dante Gabriel Rosetti,” Harper’s Magazine, vol. 65, January 1, 1882, Harper’s Magazine Foundation, 696.
3. Elizabeth Drew, Poetry: A Guide to Its Understanding and Enjoyment (New York: W. W. Norton, 1962), 29.
4. Victor Hugo, Ninety-Three (Cresskill, NJ: Paper Tiger Press, 2002), 328.
5. Drew, Poetry, 31.
6. “‘Surprised by Joy—Impatient as the Wind’ Analysis,” EliteSkills.com, http://www.eliteskills.com/analysis_poetry/Surprised_by_Joy_Impatient_as_the_Wind_by_William_Wordsworth_analysis.php (accessed January 29, 2020).
7. Maria Popova, “Love After Life: Nobel-Winning Physicist Richard Feynman’s Extraordinary Letter to His Departed Wife,” BrainPickings, https://www.brainpickings.org/2017/10/17/richard-feynman-arline-letter/ (accessed January 29, 2020).
8. I translated this poem from the French myself. Because I wanted to preserve the meter and rhyme, it is not an exact translation. But I think it remains true to the spirit of the original.
9. The play was Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry.
10. Sue Lloyd, The Man Who Was Cyrano (Minehead, UK: Genge Press, 2013), 114.
11. Lloyd, The Man Who Was Cyrano, 136.
12. Lloyd, The Man Who Was Cyrano, 139.
13. Lloyd, The Man Who Was Cyrano, 86.
14. Lloyd, The Man Who Was Cyrano, 207.
15. Marco Francis Liberma, The Story of Chantecler: A Critical Analysis of Rostand’s Play (New York: Moffat, Yard and Co., 1910), 8.
16. Lloyd, The Man Who Was Cyrano, 220.
17. Lloyd, The Man Who Was Cyrano, 223.