Poetry: Purpose or Pastime?

26 04 2007

I have been reading Donald Miller’s book, Searching for God Knows What, lately. He talks about a time in his life when he memorized a lot of poetry, basically to meet girls. He goes on to say that you cannot read that much poetry without some of it sinking in. I got to wondering why exactly they made us read and analyze poetry in high school and what purpose poems really serve in this world.

Language is limited. I can only communicate so much with the inflection in my voice. Most of the transfer of information between humans takes place through body language and gesture. You all know what this is like… Those of who who have been in love know that a glance shared across a room to acknowledge your lover says way more than if you walked up to them and said “I see you here”.

So, if language is so limited why do we feel compelled to put into words that which can barely be communicated by every resource we possess? (Gesture, inflection, body language etc) Are poets like amatuer artists? Do they write because they have an idea and to feel that wonderful sense of release when they’ve completed a work that they like? Poetry might just be the most futile of art forms. By that I mean that you can never package the human soul in 50 words or less. 

So why do it?

The fact is, I don’t know. What I do know is that a good poem moves me more than almost any other artistic expression. When I hear a great piece of classical music I am moved to dance, so I do. I can become part of the expression when the medium is music. I think poetry is so compelling merely because I cannot join in. Poetry has an inherent barrier, a wall between expression and reader.

Maybe that’s why poets write… they recognize that they are limited but try to bridge the gap anyway. This has become more rambling than I intended. Feel free to stop reading at any point.

If I am correct that poets are bridge-builders for the soul then I cannot think of a more noble pursuit. They are attempting the impossible by trying to make paths between souls. Who was it that said that one human being can never really know another? Just because it can’t happen doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try.

And with that….

when she walks into the room,
everybody turns:
some kind of light is coming from her head.
Even the geraniums look curious,
and the bees, if they were here, would buzz
suspiciously around her hair, looking
for the door in her corona.
We’re all attracted to the perfume
of fermenting joy,
we’ve all tried to start a fire,
and one day maybe it will blaze up on its own.
In the meantime, she is the one today among us
most able to bear the idea of her own beauty,
and when we see it, what we do is natural:
we take our burned hands
out of our pockets,
and clap.

Tony Hoagland

Or on a different note, take an excerpt from “The Destroyers”

The strength of twice three thousand horse
    That serve the one command;
The hand that heaves the headlong force,
    The hate that backs the hand:
The doom-bolt in the darkness freed,
    The mine that splits the main;
The white-hot wake, the ’wildering speed—
    The Choosers of the Slain!

Rudyard Kipling

And finally…
A Psalm of Life by Longfellow

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6 responses

26 04 2007
Father Smith

A little bird I am,
Shut from the fields of air;
And in my cage I sit and sing
To Him who placed me there;
Well pleased a prisoner to be,
Because, my God, it pleases thee.

Jeanne Marie De La Motte-Guyon 1648-1717

26 04 2007
jennerith

Meghan, your writing is so good. It’s such a good point that poetry has a barrier. I love the female of the species by Kipling. Kipling had such amazing rhythm.
Thanks for using the ‘more’ coding…it helps me see if there are any comments I need to make!

26 04 2007
Mom

Meghan, I have always loved poetry, I love words that paint pictures. Mom

27 04 2007
jennerith

Meghan-
We are young!/ heart ache to heartache we stand!/

talk about poetry! Can you name the song?

27 04 2007
Walking in the Rain

Oh yes!

Love is a Battlefield by Pat Benetar (sp?)

Thirteen Going on Thirty

Good times.

27 04 2007
jennerith

good times indeed.

I finally heard that Delilah song you like! I loved it!

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