07 November 2006

Excellent question

Steve Mitchelmore catches a misuse of T.S. Eliot's words about how modern poetry "must be difficult":
That line of Eliot's comes from his long essay on Dante in which he admits to have been "passionately fond of certain French poetry long before I could have translated two verses of it correctly" and that obtaining "an immense amount of knowledge" about Dante before reading him "is positively undesirable". So Ford's contention that "Eliot and Stevens shivered with distaste at the idea of writing poetry that was intelligible to the masses" is a snotty misrepresentation of the meaning of difficulty. Their poetry might puzzle its explicators but it still gives me, a mere reader, immense reading pleasure. Maybe, I think now after reading the review, it's because their poetry contains (and uncontains) that "bursting unity of opposites". One has to read the words - leap aboard the roller coaster of language - to experience those complexities in all their reality. There are few poets who do this. So why are we being constantly warned off?
The idea that something must be fully comprehended before it can be appreciated flies in the face of one of art's primary functions--to inspire wonder. I believe that anyone could pick up work by "Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, Hart Crane, William Carlos Williams, Gertrude Stein, and of Eliot himself" and get something out of it. The problem is that most are either too lazy or scared to try...or share this misapprehension of what "difficulty" means.

3 comments:

steve said...

Thanks for the link. But the quote makes it sound like I'm saying the "must be difficult" line comes from the Dante essay. I'm not sure where it comes from. The line I'm referring to is "genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood". Just thought I ought to clear that up just in case any other pedants are reading!

amcorrea said...

Thanks for the correction! I first scribbled a misquote of this line ("Great art can communicate before it is understood") in a journal when I was barely 17, so your post immediately resonated. It's encouraging to read such intelligent commentary on this issue.

Freudian Slip said...

yes, the classics will never be updated or useless, its just that it takes an open mind to fully appreciate them. I sure hope we as a society don't lose that ability...
Matt