Thursday, May 4, 2017

A Box of Poetry

One of the inevitable consequences of surveying a random mix of classical ancient and modern poetry (a happy accident it was my good fortune to partake of) is the opportunity such practice affords to juxtapose a wide variety of poetic forms and content at the level of impressions rather than analysis.

Of course Shelly and Blake must seem the definition of pompous and self-absorbed egos when thrown on the canvas of poetic impressions alongside Virgil and Ovid. Virgil appears less a poet, more an instructor until we realize that in the dry instructions pertaining to agriculture, one can spy the seeds of culture itself. The simple elegance of Roman writing betrays an intimacy with Nature lost to the modern mind. It is as though the English romantics were compelled to litter their verses with adjectives because simply stating the elements of Nature as the Romans had done was no longer sufficient to excite the mind and heart of Man. Even Wordsworth, despite his desire to make poetry viable for the common man, succumbed to this notion that the common man could not recognize Nature without the poet's toolbox of adjectives and rosy verse.

In fairness, if one glances not at Virgil's verse pertaining to plowing but instead at Ovid's claims as to the Soldier being akin to the Lover, one does spy a precursor to modern thinking: the tendency to conflate one thing with the other and seek to make a profound philosophical discovery out of something that defies common sense. It is an easy temptation. The sciences often do defy common sense, but this does not mean that nonsense is always scientific.

Cervantes seeking life in death is the best example of this conflation. Poetry thrives on clashes. This is why I prefer the romanticism of German morbid simplicity. There one has the romantic in the simple. Goethe is suggestive rather than blunt (the English would no doubt consider this muddle-headed; even their poetry must be analytical - or so it seems). Yet ultimately, we find ourselves underwhelmed by such minor treats, given what we know of these writers and their greatest accomplishments. Thoreau reminds us then, to his discredit, that in the end, what we have really gotten ourselves excited about is a clash of egos rather than ideas.

Solzhenitsyn is a good antidote to this isolated row between the ancients and the moderns, the realists and the romantics, the phenomenological and the analytical. His poem is a prayer. As such it is also the truest of the poems. Solzhenitsyn mocks the Western dilemmas that have plagued us for millennia as not at all universal. Oh, what a sad fate it is for European civilization to discover that it had been going on about itself under the pretense of holding an important conversation on the subject of Mankind. The ease with which Solzhenitsyn knows God is a function of his suffering spirit - but we will never know this type of suffering. It is a suffering much closer to that of Christ on the cross, so far from the suffering of a Descartes gazing outside his window wondering how he knows that he knows. 

And this is exactly why The Hollowmen remains the truest of Western poems; the greatest of modern poems and the only poem worth reading if one had to read only one poem which consolidates both the greatness of Western civilization, the inevitability of its decline and the culmination of its catastrophic collapse through the eyes of the survivors who have sailed to Byzantium

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