A discussion of poetry's value over on Bookninja:

“Those who want poetry to make things happen forget the last line of [Auden’s In Memory of WB Yeats]: that poetry is itself a way of happening.”

As the world’s politicians and corporations orchestrate our headlong rush towards eco-Armageddon, poetry may seem like a hopeless gesture. But if Seferis and Heaney are right, poetry can at the very least be “strong enough to help”.

I think “strong enough to help” is wrong. “Strong”, here, is wrong. Perhaps better would be: weak enough to give pause.

I'm thinking here of something reminiscent of Rowan Williams’ description of God as a nine-year-old spastic child: “This is the solitude of truth, the solitude, finally, of God: God as a spastic child who can communicate nothing but his presence and his inarticulate wanting.”

Not poetry versus nothing, then, but poetry as nothing, the very weakest of glimmers, barely there yet still lambent. Not enough to steer by, for sure, but just enough to recognise that the darkness is not quite all-conquering.

Readers Comments

  1. Poetry can be useful when it articulates ideals. The key to its strength depends on the size of its audience. Here's Heaney: “…Yet Plato’s world of ideal forms also provides the court of appeal through which poetic imagination seeks to redress whatever is wrong or exacerbating in the prevailing conditions. Moreover, ‘useful’ or ‘practical’ responses to those same conditions are derived from imagined standards too: poetic fictions, the dream of alternative worlds, enable governments and revolutionaries as well.”

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