Friday, December 16, 2011

Hitchens on Poetry

It depresses me beyond measure that most people I meet cannot even recite, much less compose, this gem-like form. Nor can any student in any of my English classes produce a single sonnet of Shakespeare: not even to get themselves laid (the original purpose of the project).

I worry that by phrasing things in this way I may myself be adding to the general coarsening and deafness. Of course my test isn't the one true test: who can safely say that they have memorized Don Juan, for instance? But then who could you count as reliable who could not manage a stave or two of The Waste Land? The word "Koran" means "the recitation," and it seems that in Arabic its incantation can induce trance by sheer power and beauty. (Auden was wrong, in his valediction for Yeats, to say that "poetry makes nothing happen.") At least this restores the idea of a relationship to the theoretically divine, and to the audience. (Auden also wrote of Yeats that "mad Ireland hurt you into poetry," which at any rate implies the possibility of a reciprocal relationship between poetry and the reality of which Eliot believed that "human kind" could not bear too much.)

Yet very often, late at night, when I am not tired enough for sleep but too tired to carry on with absorbing or apprehending anything "serious" or new, I will walk over to the appropriate shelf and pull out the tried and the true: the ones that never fail me. And then I will always stay up even later than I had intended. And sometimes, in the morning, I really can "do" the whole of "Spain 1937" or "The Road to Mandalay," and can appreciate that writing is not just done by hand.

-- full essay here.