SOULS of Poets dead and gone,
What Elysium have ye known?
Okay, so it isn’t JUST about Keats. Or the Romantics (my favourite of them being Blake).
It’s about the death of poetry.
Yesterday I read Dan Simmons’ Hyperion, a science fiction novel set in humanity’s far future. Since Simmons was a literature major at Wabash College–hoosier shout-out!–it looks like he did the best he could to stick as many relics of his Keats term paper into the book, naming his planet after the poet’s epic work, and the planet’s capitol city after the man himself. Keats’ lovers and other poems have cameos of sorts; after awhile it was as much Spot-The-Keats as the TV show Lost was Spot-The-Philospher. Of course it takes a literature major to conjure up a world where God is dead but John Keats lives.
The day before yesterday I was hanging about on the fan site of a local author I know who was telling folks his books were too smart for most literature and English teachers. Of course you know I took umbrage, being the spawn of one such creature, sister and friend to many more. When trying to mollify me that author said that he believes lit teachers parse the love of great works out of their students. He cited his own childhood experience with To Kill A Mockingbird. And then I guess he went back to writing his Christian Suspense novels and movie adaptations. But I was left to fret over why people don’t love reading and whose fault that is, exactly.
I have to be honest and admit that I was a poetry geek for a long time. Until I got to college and the hardcore poetry lovers were SO possessive of their personal poets that it frightened me to even venture a mention of my own feelings on the matter. Besides, being a lover of Blake and Tennyson and Eliot and Kavenaugh is like loving pizza and ice cream. The poetry hounds I went to college with seemed to forever be playing some game of “I Love A More Obscure Poet Than You, Therefore I Am More Of A True Poetry Geek.” Since I had better things to do with my time than peruse encyclopedias for some medieval scrivener of rhyme to trump the coffee house crowd I sort of gave public discussions of poetry up.
Did they beat the love out of me, just as the writer said? No. Not really. What they did beat out of me was the fetish. I love poetry and literature to this day. I still read Blake when I want to dial in to that flavor of weird, and recite Eliot when I want to hear English sing. But I don’t think I would want to invent, let alone live in, a world created in homage to a random poet.
So why would people rather live in a world where the most recognized poetry are merchandising couplets and pop songs? Why would a writer rather live in a world where people read movie adaptations and call TV Guide a book? Is it the fault of those of us who love the stuff so much that we scare other people off?
WHEN I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charact’ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain;