Sunday, October 11, 2015

Is A Thing of Beauty...

To quote Michael Schmidt from his obituary for the poet Charles Tomlinson in the Guardian a couple of months ago:

"John Betjeman said: “I hold Charles Tomlinson’s poetry in high regard. His is closely wrought work, not a word wasted … ” For the American objectivist poet George Oppen, “it is [Tomlinson] and Basil Bunting who have spoken most vividly to American poets”. Tomlinson bridged the vast gulf between old and new world poetry, and was an heir equally of Dryden and Williams, Coleridge and Pound. His 16 collections of poetry, books of essays, translations and anthologies are a core resource for English writers and readers of the last half-century, yet he has been more honoured abroad than at home."


I was self-directed to an old edition of The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry after reading, on the inside cover of the October 2015 edition of Poetry magazine, a 9-line offering by Tomlinson which I found at once inspiring, not merely because of its quiet elegance, but also because of its bone-touching, truth-showing, powerful message: We are not alone during our lives, and we will never be alone, not even in death. Certainly, Tomlinson, even in death, communes with the natural world in all of its wonder.


Below another 9 lines, these from the final stanza of Tomlinson's poem, "On the Hall at Stowey", I offer proof of that assertion.

"Five centuries. And we? What we had not
     Made ugly, we had laid to waste--
Left (I should say) the office to nature
     Whose blind battery, best fitted to perform it
Outdoes us, completes by persistence
     All that our negligence fails in. Saddened,
Yet angered beyond sadness, where the road
     Doubled upon itself I halted, for a moment
Facing the empty house and its laden barns."

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Poetic Justice

For the conclusion of John Van Doren's illuminating lecture, "Poetic Justice," as a part of the Law and Literature Series at the Loyola University of Chicago School of Law (April 5, 1995), Van Doren (then President of the Poetry Center of Chicago) remarked:

"I recall hearing that, years ago, the meetings of the English Department at a great university were always held at three o'clock on Friday afternoons. The younger, idealistic faculty members once asked the chairman why he scheduled them at such an hour, when everybody wanted to leave, when there was time only for administrative matters and none left to discuss literature. Should we not be discussing literature, he was asked? Oh, he said, if we did anything like that, we'd never get home in time for dinner.

"I do not know how it will be for you students in days to come, but I should like to think that, at least now and then, when you arrive home late to find that your meat has grown cold and your spouse asks you where on earth you have been, you will be able to present a straight face and say that you could not get away sooner, you were studying justice--that is, you were reading poetry. I wish you good luck."