January 18, 2004

Silence and the Bogey of the Ideal [Filed under: General Discussion]

There were two points of discussion today (neither drawing directly from the poems we discussed, unfortunately) that I’d like to ruminate for a bit. We ate together—I hope you’ll pardon me this bit of public digestion. The first was Alan’s suggestion that some people believe poetry to be handicapped as a form of expression because its aim lies chiefly in avoiding a plain and clear articulation of the ideas it is used to express. I was for some time an adherent of a similar position, and I think it may still be at the root of my resistance to modern non-representational art (if an artist is trying to convey something to me, why can’t he articulate it in a way that I might more clearly understand?). The second is the idea that only the permanent is valuable; that the prospect of death might indict our attempts to achieve happiness as ultimately futile. I’m having difficulty with both of these ideas (and the difficulty will be apparent in what I write, I’m sure), so I’m going to “think aloud” a bit to see if I can begin to make sense of some vague notions that have been clouding my brain since this afternoon.

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Auden has an essay on Frost that I like. [Filed under: Auden, W.H..Frost, Robert]

Auden has an essay on Frost that I like. Here’s how it ends:

Hardy, Yeats, and Frost have all written epitaphs for themselves.

I never cared for life, life cared for me.
And hence I owe it some fidelity…

Cast a cold eye
On life and death.
Horseman, pass by.

I would have written of me on my stone
I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.

Of the three, Frost, surely, comes off best. Hardy seems to be stating the Pessimist’s Case rather than his own feelings. I never cared… Never? Now, Mr. Hardy, really! Yeats’ horseman is a stage prop; the passer-by is much more likely to be a motorist. But Frost convinces me that he is telling neither more nor less than the truth about himself. And, when it comes to wisdom, is not having a lover’s quarrel with life more worthy of Prospero than not caring or looking coldly?

I realize looking over this that it’s not clear that any of those are necessarily on any of the poets’ headstones. Still, I thought I’d mention it. If only because I like the essay.