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Much in the way that the glint off the snow where I am can seem, some days, like (forgive me) a miracle, being able to read, in the comfort of one’s home, the following, can seem some days similarly luminous:
Our subject being Poetry, I propose to speak not only of the art in general but also of its species and their respective capacities; of the structure of plot required for a good poem; of the number and nature of the constituent parts of a poem; and likewise of any other matters in the same line of inquiry. Let us follow the natural order and begin with the primary facts.
Oh, not those facts again, some of you will surely say. Not again! Well, I can’t claim to be interested in them every day, but the notion that we have access to an intelligent dead person’s past thinking on a subject of some enduring seriousness however lately abjectly peripheral is, to me, today, remarkable.
What follows here, and there won’t be much, less argument then “argh,” is a sense I have some days not of the absolute peripherality of such concerns (I wouldn’t expect them to be central, mind) but the poverty of their examination and explication in the little center they occupy. There is, isn’t there, a blue river of truth out there to sit beside? And I cannot help but feel, some days, that too much energy goes not to its exploration and admiration but its aimless degradation. Serious scrutiny, deep study, careful inquiry: activities surely being undertaken with great frequency in many dark corners. And typically, the private seriousness that occasionally emerges as public usefulness is enough to make me feel that “Our subject being Poetry” is still a subject of our being.
I realize that this is altogether more elliptical than I’d do best to have it be. I mean to say that picking up, today, a book whose author is some several millennia dead and whose thoughts are still available to us is, today, a little more exciting than the appearance of the latest netbook, much though I covet it, emptily.
More from Wyatt Mason:
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”