Saturday, April 08, 2017

Three Reasons for Reading Poetry in April



 April is National Poetry Month - so here are three reasons for reading poetry in the days ahead.

1. The Healing Power of Poetry

Poetry, can be argued, is the easiest form of art.

Its compact and tiny form encapsulates a powerful remedy - a basic and elevated emotion distilled from the unexpected encounter with a verse.

Emotions in turn  pry open a door to quick and effective learning. 

But what's to learn from a couple of words huddled together in four rows? 
Primarily, we learn about ourselves through a poetic event.

A poem speaks differently to each one of us because the emotions that build us up  -  or in some instances utterly destroy us - are unique to our own life and experiences. 

And the collected words with which we have just collided, provide us with a glimpse of who we are, of all the pain, joy and quirkiness of our emotional DNA for a fraction of a second, before swinging  the door shut tight again - and this time with a loud thud.

Ah, so frustrating!

Take for instance the following  stanza in one of Charles Baudelaire's poems: 

"Nature is a temple where from living pillars
confusing words emerge
Man ambles through the forests of symbols
Which observe him with familiar looks."

 - from Correspondences  by Charles Baudelaire. 

We are led, deceptively, through words that evoke a walk in a majestic forest into a confusing place, only to discover this may be a forest of symbols. 

It's now every man/or woman for himself/herself as the symbols observe us with knowing eyes. Those knowing eyes stare right into what hurts most.

This is the moment  we travel through the abyss of our understanding from which we have the chance to emerge renewed and in a lighter mood. 

Strong. Serene. 

Healed.


2. Real vs. The Unreal 

The Unreal - whether we want to call it imagination, creativity, improvisation, fantasy, day-dreaming, inspiration, lack of focus or sheer enjoyment  - lives within us like an incurable disease.
We cannot rid ourselves of it.

The Unreal  is bad form, bad taste and, overall,  an embarrassment to society.
It has a tendency to manifest itself in the least desirable occasions, if left unchecked. 

Here is a romantic poet grappling with The Unreal:

"Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard 
    Are sweeter, therefore, ye soft pipes, play on:
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd
   Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone"

- from Ode On A Grecian Urn by John Keats

Ouch! 

Closer to home, The Unreal strikes back in a poem by Margaret Atwood:

"Is it too cold for you?
This is what your requested,
this ice, this crystal

wall this puzzle. You solve it."

- from Circe/Mud Poems by Margaret Atwood.

The best way to escape the clutches of The Unreal is to funnel it constantly through an outlet that enables one to return to a normal and productive life. 

Poetry -  short and sweet - sometimes -  is such a temporary outlet. 

3. Balance 

 The third  argument in favor of reading poetry: balance.

Balance, in its many facets, isn't easy to achieve but is a worthwhile goal.

Here is my rendition of a French poem by the French philosopher and writer Voltaire  (from www.poetica.fr).

It  may help with achieving balance if you are a jilted lover. 

For context: Voltaire was in love with the marchioness du Châtelet  who was a gifted mathematician, physicist and a philosopher herself.

Hard to believe, yet true -  the  marchioness eventually dumped Voltaire for the mathematician Maupertuis

The following ensues: 

To the Marquise of Châtelet

       by Voltaire

So now a hundred new beautiful things
Will fix your brilliant mind - 
You are giving up the sparks
of my mildly crazed words
for immortal lights,

and the sublime Maupertuis
will wipe out my trifling drafts.

I'm neither upset nor surprised;
A true spirit is in love
With the eternal truths:

But what are these truths?
What is their use and prize?

The touch of a scientist whose
bright and firm intellect
will describe the canopy above
and with a deft hand will
lift the veil of tumultuous skies.

But without the secret hum 
that makes you delirious in love
those  teachings 
will be lessons in futile charm. 

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