Saturday, April 16, 2011

Quips and Quotations (National Poetry Month Edition)

A poet can write about a man slaying a dragon, but not about a man pushing a button that releases a bomb.

--W. H. Auden

Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotion know what it means to want to escape from these.

--T. S. Eliot

A word is dead when it is said, some say.
I say it just begins to live that day.

--Emily Dickinson

...who scribbled all night rocking and rolling over lofty incantations which in the yellow morning were stanzas of gibberish...

--Allen Ginsberg, Howl

To have great poets, there must be great audiences.

--Walt Whitman

If Galileo had said in verse that the world moved, the inquisition might have let him alone.

--Thomas Hardy

Not everyone who drinks is a poet. Some of us drink because we're not poets.

--from the movie Arthur (1981) screenplay by Steve Gordon.


  1. Aw, rraine, I think you'd pass the sobriety test.

    I, on the other hand, can't walk a straight rhyme.

  2. I think Walt might have been one of the first ad agency by trying to sell his poem by making his audiences believe they were great by reading them.
    Smart Marketing !

    cheers, parsnip

  3. I'm a little surprised about what Emily said. I feel poetry captures emotion and personality in ways that I'm often unable to express, or surprised to discover actually can be put into words. I don't feel it's an escape at all, but more of an immersion.
    But then, maybe I am just part of a great audience.

  4. @Badger--That's better than I could do. Writing prose is hard enough.

    @parsnip--Hmm, interesting comment. Not exactly how I interpreted the quote. Are you saying Whitman was a hack or a fraud? I took the quote to mean simply that poets (and every other kind of writer, for that matter) shouldn't let their work become elitist. In Whitman's day, poetry was written by the upper class for the upper class. He tried to democratize it. He probably had too quirky of a personality to ever be totally at one with the masses, but his heart was in the right place. I haven't been able to find where the quote originated, but there's no shortage of interpretations on the web. Usually along the lines that a poem, no matter how well-written, means nothing if there's no one to read it. Also, while I doubt Whitman had this in mine, some commented on the modern day irony that everybody seems to want to wrtie poetry, nobody wants to read it! Indeed, if as many people wanted to read poetry as want to write it, it would dominate the the best-sellers list (which it assuredly doesn't)

    @Cram Cake--er, your comment has revealed a flaw in my methods. Stay tuned.

  5. @Cram Cake--first off, never, ever believe everything you read on the Internet. Especially if it's by me. In turn, I should never, ever believe, everything I read on quote web sites like "ThinkExist" especially when an Emily Dickinson quote is actually by T.S. Eliot! I should have known better. This ain't the first time they screwed me. I must say, the quote seemed more provocative when I thought it came from Dickenson. Anyway, here's what Elliot meant:

    "It is not in his personal emotions, the emotions provoked by particular events in his life, that the poet is in any way remarkable or interesting. His particular emotions may be simple, or crude, or flat. The emotion in his poetry will be a very complex thing, but not with the complexity of the emotions of people who have very complex or unusual emotions in life. One error, in fact, of eccentricity in poetry is to seek for new human emotions to express; and in this search for novelty in the wrong place it discovers the perverse. The business of the poet is not to find new emotions, but to use the ordinary ones and, in working them up into poetry, to express feelings which are not in actual emotions at all. And emotions which he has never experienced will serve his turn as well as those familiar to him. Consequently, we must believe that "emotion recollected in tranquillity" is an inexact formula. For it is neither emotion, nor recollection, nor, without distortion of meaning, tranquillity. It is a concentration, and a new thing resulting from the concentration, of a very great number of experiences which to the practical and active person would not seem to be experiences at all; it is a concentration which does not happen consciously or of deliberation. These experiences are not "recollected," and they finally unite in an atmosphere which is "tranquil" only in that it is a passive attending upon the event. Of course this is not quite the whole story. There is a great deal, in the writing of poetry, which must be conscious and deliberate. In fact, the bad poet is usually unconscious where he ought to be conscious, and conscious where he ought to be unconscious. Both errors tend to make him "personal." Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things."

    I added a quote from Dickenson--One I'm sure she actually said-- and few more from some others to
    give the post more variety.

  6. Ah, in context, it makes much more sense to me. Thank you for that.

  7. The W. H. Auden speaks most deeply to me, Kirk. But I must say, I really enjoyed reading your mini-treatise to CramCake. Well donw!

  8. Oooops. That would be "Well done."

  9. I haven't been able trace the exact context of the Auden quote, but I'm thinking he's talking about poetry's occasional (usually pre-20th century) tendency to romantisize violence. Much easier to do so if the poem takes place back in medieval times. Which reminds me, King Arthur really should have put those poor dragons on the Endangered Species List, what with all those knights of the round table slaying them left and right.

  10. I was just trying to be a little clever and taking the quote at face value... I really doubt Walt was playing to the masses. As you said he was writing to write and for everyone to be able to enjoy reading.

    cheers, parsnip

  11. @parsnip--That's what I figured, but I felt like pontificating about in anyway. Forgive my indulgence.


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