Monday, November 29, 2010

On being not so erinaceous as poets

Poets are today imaginative writers who use the technique of verse. This technique, though employed by the ancients for almost every form of utterance and record, from songs to dramas and epics, from legal codes to medical treatises, has come to be confined in our epoch to functions of a specialized kind. Where the novelist deals in character, adventure and situation, the poet is usually limited to the expression of emotion and mood or to the simple description of people and objects. As a consequence, being a poet is rarely a full-time job, and the poet has large spaces in life which are not filled by literary activity proper and in which they occupy themselves with a kind of professional politics. Poets form into groups, which in their combinations, disruptions and recombinations, their debates, practical jokes and fierce battles, tend to keep them in a state of excitement. In this group instinct they somewhat resemble painters--though painters by reason of the fact that they practice a genuine handicraft instead of a purely intellectual metier, have a certain amount of physical work to tire them and are not so erinaceous as poets. The reactions of groups of poets toward one another may be said to correspond more or less to the reactions of individual novelists.

-- Edmund Wilson, "The Literary Worker's Polonius: A Brief Guide for Authors and Editors" - ca. 1935, reprinted in Shores of Light (via Jennifer Lowe)

Pictured: Mr. Polonius


Steven Fama said...

Erinaceous is my new word of the week. Though it seems overdone here. The context suggests that Wilson uses it as a stand-in for "nocturnal." Is there anything about the word's more direct meaning -- hedgehog like -- that's supposed to also allude to poets? Do poets curl up in a ball or flee when faced with a threat? Eat insects? Have porcupine-like quills?

Dave said...

@Steven - I know I do.

Great quote!