The Death of Poetry?

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The Daily grist:
“if you have to keep declaring, over and over, that poetry is dead, it can’t actually be dead.” (from a college literary magazine)

I read a disturbing article a couple of months ago from Washington Post columnist Christopher Ingraham. The author makes a good case that the public interest in poetry is declining. That makes me sad in part because poetry is so interconnected with our music.

Poetry is a reflection of the richness and vibrancy of any language. Subtle nuances can be conveyed via poetry that cannot be conveyed in prose or in any other way. I have heard it said that great poetry cannot really be translated among different languages and I believe it. Poetry is very special.

When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me.
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget

I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And happily I’ll forget

Those words were penned by Christina Rosetti, a nineteenth century poet and contemporary of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Rosetti subtitled the work as song and the Kruger Brothers have set it to music very effectively on one of their albums:

Our songwriters are some of our greatest poets today. John Prine was designated the poet laureate of his home state of Illinois:

It got so hot, last night, I swear You couldn’t hardly breathe.
Heat lightning burnt the sky like alcohol
I sat on the porch without my shoes And I watched the cars roll by
As the headlights raced To the corner of the kitchen wall

Mama dear Your boy is here Far across the sea
Waiting for That sacred core That burns inside of me
And I feel a storm All wet and warm Not ten miles away
Approaching My Mexican home

My God! I cried, it’s so hot inside You could die in the living room
Take the fan from the window Prop the door back with a broom
The cuckoo clock has died of shock And the windows feel no pane
The air’s as still as a throttle on a funeral train.

Bob Dylan also come to mind. He won a Nobel literature prize for his poetry.

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, ‘n’ how many times must the cannonballs fly
Before they’re forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind,
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

Yes, ‘n’ how many years can a mountain exist
Before it is washed to the sea?
Yes, ‘n’ how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, ‘n’ how many times can a man turn his head,
And pretend that he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind,
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

Yes, ‘n’ how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, ‘n’ how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, ‘n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind,
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

There are gold mines out there for aspiring song writers. If you don’t have an idea for your own lyrics you can adapt ideas from poets of the past for inspiration just as the Kruger Brothers did.

Poetry is a life blood and our language. We all need to read it and preserve it.

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