Who am I to Write a blog on Poetry?

I’m not an academic. When I viewed some blogs by English professors with intimidating credentials and published works, it threw light on the naked inadequacy of my authority. Who am I to write a blog on poetry? I’m not an expert.

But then I convinced myself that this is a strength. You see, there is a problem with academic writing: much of it is deliberately obscure, excessively abstract, and intended for too narrow an audience.

Am I just being a dismissive? No – let me explain. A good writer’s goal is to convey ideas with force and clarity. This is not the agenda of the academic — his first priority is to prove his authority. And one of the best ways to convince others of your intellectual heft is by displaying your erudition with language that is maddeningly hard to follow. Granted, you may be wrestling with complex ideas – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive for elegant simplicity.

Of course, I’m generalizing about a group and a tendency I’ve observed, but it’s an insidious influence that seeps into their writing style and poisons their ability to communicate. Lost in their own language, they wander so far into a thicket of abstractions that I’m not convinced they even know where they are going. The German philosopher Nietzsche sums it up another way: “They muddy the waters to make them look deep.”

The German philosopher Nietzsche sums it up best:

“They muddy the waters to make them look deep.”

He was referring to mystics, but he might as well refer to academics. This is not a blog for academics. This is a blog for the educated layman. I admit my amateur status, and though I want to be your guide, I confess a lot of the territory is unknown to me – but that’s what makes it exciting. I have the time and energy to scout ahead a few miles ahead for you, and point out the sights, and you get to sit back and enjoy. Let us explore together.

Exhibit A:

“…like Blake, Shelley is always alert to the combative possibilities of interweaving an antinomian rhetoric with a dialectic that exposes the inadequacies of both the orthodox in morality and religion and any position that seeks merely to negate orthodoxy by an inversion of categories.” — Harold Bloom, from The Visionary Company: A reading of English Romantic Poetry

Surely there’s a more straightforward way he could have made his point…

Memorizing a Poem

from An Essay on Man

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of Mankind is Man.
Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the Sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the Stoic’s pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest;
In doubt to deem himself a God, or Beast;
In doubt his Mind or Body to prefer,
Born but to die, and reasoning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little, or too much:
Chaos of Thought and Passion, all confused;
Still by himself abused, or disabused;
Created half to rise, and half to fall;
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of Truth, in endless Error hurled:
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!

It’s verse like this that I recommend here at MVP. This is a famous excerpt of a much longer work by Alexander Pope, published in 1734. Honestly, I don’t know much about Pope, but I will post more as I continue my research. Most of us, however, are familiar with his memorable line, “For fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Yes — he said that. See Correction.

This weekend, I faced the unpleasant prospect of a long drive with a malfunctioning car stereo. On my way to a friend’s place in the country, I occupied my time by memorizing these lines.  What else was I going to do?

By the time I arrived, I had it memorized. If you’ve never committed a poem to memory before, all you need is a malfunctioning car stereo. Mine has behaved electronically glitchy ever since I spun 180 degrees in a skid on Thursday around 1:30 AM. Did I mention I used to work as a comedy defensive driving instructor?

English: Portrait of Alexander Pope attributed...

English: Portrait of Alexander Pope attributed to the English painter Jonathan Richardson (1665–1745). Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recommend memorizing a poem. Saying the lines aloud forces you to think about them, to consider their meaning,  to focus on the progression from one thought to the next, and to note repeated words and sounds. This is not an assignment, just a suggestion. Try it.