Sunday, April 12, 2009

a good poem, a good friend

Another article on the value of storing beautiful words in one's mind, not just on one's bookshelves. I think it transcends right-wing though, or at least, ought to. HT: Running River Latin School.

As anyone who loves poetry will testify, when you learn a good poem, you make a good friend. You have a voice that will pop up in your head, whenever you want it, and say something beautiful and consoling and true. A poem can keep you going when you are driving on a lonely motorway, or when you are trapped on some freezing ledge in the Alps, or when you are engaged in any kind of arduous and repetitive physical activity, and need to keep concentration. When some disaster overwhelms you, or when you are feeling unusually cheerful – or when you are experiencing any human feeling whatever – it is amazing how often some line or phrase will swim to the surface and help to articulate your emotions, to intensify them or to console.

That is why it is so sad that children are no longer learning poetry off by heart, and doubly sad because poetry is the one art form in which the English are unsurpassed. .... no other nation has ever produced so much high-quality poetry – mainly, I think, because of the language itself.

With half a million words (more than double either French or German), and being an extraordinary confluence of Romance and Teutonic streams, English is uniquely rich in metrical possibilities, in puns, and above all in rhyme. It is the ingenious rhyming and the scanning that makes the poetry stick in the mind, and the tragedy is that these disciplines have been dismissed, over the past few decades, as a bourgeois irrelevance. Children are no longer asked to write stuff that rhymes or scans, and even if they were they would find it tricky, since they no longer have the stock of metrical forms in their heads...

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