POETRY? YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE POETRY!

PLATO, the most paradoxical philosopher?

In his introduction to his Prometheus Unbound, the poet Shelley wrote:

Didactic poetry is my abhorrence; nothing can be equally well expressed in prose that is not tedious and supererogatory in verse.  My purpose has hitherto been simply to familiarize the highly refined imagination of the most poetical readers with beautiful idealisms of moral excellence; aware that until the mind can love, and admire, and trust, and hope, and endure, reasoned principles of moral conduct are seeds cast upon the highway of life which the unconscious passenger tramples into dust, although they would bear the harvest of his happiness. Should I live to accomplish what I purpose, that is, produce a systematical history of what appear to me to be the genuine elements of human society, let not the advocates of injustice and superstition flatter themselves that I should take Aeschylus rather than Plato as my model.

As great a poet as Shakespeare took Plato as his model (S.’s plays are P.’s dialogues)—one can see this in Sonnet 103: Shakespeare doubts poetry; ‘Plato’s doubt’ gives poetry its very urgency and life, for the paradox of Plato, the poet who condemned poetry, the harsh judge who yet advocated dreaming, is the paradox of Sonnet 103—a poem which pronounces poetry useless. (Unlike the so-called ironies of the moderns, which are merely coy, the irony of #103 is complete—that is, as an irony it is complete, and it can be read completely non-ironically, as well.)

Alack, what poverty my muse brings forth,
That having such a scope to show her pride,
The argument all bare is of more worth
Than when it hath my added praise beside!
O blame me not if I no more can write!
Look in your glass, and there appears a face
That overgoes my blunt invention quite,
Dulling my lines and doing me disgrace.
Were it not sinful then, striving to mend,
To mar the subject that before was well?
For to no other pass my verses tend
Than of your graces and your gifts to tell;
  And more, much more than in my verse can sit
  Your own glass shows you, when you look in it.

The didactic lot condemn Plato and Shakespeare and Shelley’s dreams as real, and pursue their didactic reality in the face of better and nobler dreams: as Shelley says, “until the mind can love, and admire, and trust, and hope, and endure…”

This brief essay concludes with my recently composed poem, “I Dream False,” a paradoxical effusion inspired by Shakespeare and Shelley:

I Dream False

I dream false, for I dream that I have you—
I dream false, again, for I dream that I want you—
I do not have you, so that dream isn’t true—
The dream, I want you, is false, for I do want you.
Dreams pursue all they want, how then can I
Pronounce them false? Dreams are true even when they die.
Think on me: do you see the dream that is dreaming of you?
Hear my words: they are no dream, but they will be false before they are true.
Yes, I have found all words—every one—only seem;
Words are false and I gained this insight—in a dream.

NEW SCARRIET POEM: THE SPELL

The Spell

Heaven, in love, to fall asleep!
Hell, in love, to lie awake and weep!
Love is sleep, a divine sleep,
Where beauty is the dream,
Where nothing beautiful goes, but it returns,
Where beauty is beautiful because it yearns
For the same loveliness to always keep
Its vision, as the moon’s cloudy beam
Keeps lit the evening cloud,
Far above the wakeful and the proud.

Heaven, in love, to lie awake
Only for the beloved’s sake
In a spell that cannot break,
So tender is the spell, and small,
The sighing hardly apparent at all
In her breath’s dear rise and fall,
You cannot escape its beauty that surrounds
Your bed with sweetly whispered sounds,
Oblivious to the world that weeps,
For it sleeps.

WHAT IF MODERN POETRY IS JUST DR. SEUSS WITHOUT THE RHYME?

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
Because I really like myself! 
And what I assume you shall assume,
Out-of-doors, or in this room! 
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
You are good as I am good—and true as I am true!

I loafe and invite my soul,
Would youl like to share a bowl? 
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.
A little tiny spear, alas! 

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their
parents the same, what do you think of that?
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin—thirty-seven? oh, drat!
Hoping to cease not till death.
When I’m forty, will I have sweet breath?

Creeds and schools in abeyance,
Fruits and vegetables, get thee hence!
Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten,
Oh, this paraticular fruit is rotten!
I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
Whether it be lark or buzzard,
Nature without check with original energy.
(And I’m not just talkng about having to pee!)

*

So much depends,
I told my friends,
On a wheel barrow that’s red
Or white chickens, instead!

*

Petals on a wet black bough
Seem to be faces in the Metro, now.

*

As I sd
to my friend, Fred,
because I am
always talking—Sam,

I sd, which was not
his name (he gets that a lot)—
the darkness sur-
rounds us, what for?

shall we buy
a goddamn big car
hey, or shall I—
or can we drive far?

drive, he sd, for
Christ’s sake look at yr
speedometer!
what u drivin that way for?

*

By the road to
the contagious hospital under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the northeast
—a cold wind.  Beyond, the waste
Of broad, muddy fields brown
with dried weeds, standing and fallen down

patches of standing water
the scatter—

ing of tall trees
All along the road the reddish purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves

I’m really bored,
Oh here’s a brown puddle we can ford—

under them leafless vines—Lifeless
in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches-

They enter the new world
naked,cold,
uncertain of all
save that they enter. 
All about them the cold, familiar

wind—Now the grass, tomor—
row the stiff curl
of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined—It quickens:  clar-
ity, outline of leaf

But now the stark
dignity of entrance–oh, now it’s dark!
Still, the profound change
has come upon them:  rooted, they
grip down and begin to awaken—hurray!

*

I saw the best minds—OK, maybe not the best,
a pretty smart guy from Jersey, stoned, who moved out west,
was naked and hysterical, he had failed his driver’s test,
walking down a negro street at dawn
looking for a fix!  he was crazy, man, he was gone!
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
connection to the starry
dynamo
in a coffee shop in Soho
in the machinery of night
Poverty! And jazz! but their skin was mostly white!
I was crazy when I wrote that obscene ode,
but I dig William Blake and I know the guy who wrote On The Road!

THE SKITTERY POEM

The skittery poem is not new, so let’s stop pretending it is.

The attempt to create movements, schools, and trends is antithetical to art and poetry—this is what the narrow critic does, and when the poet lets himself be defined as such, he is doomed.

The art itself—what its actual material existence can do most aptly and profitably in whatever circumstance it happens to find itself—should determine the poet’s path, not some narrow, blockheaded trend.

It’s not that the art-trend is bad; it’s not real.

If you want a solid, level-headed, “scholarly” analysis of The Skittery Poem, Tony Hoagland’s piece in Poetry from a few years ago is probably the best: “The Fear of Narrative and the Skittery Poem of Our Moment.”

The key here is “fear of narrative.”

Hoagland quotes Carolyn Forche:

Our age lacks the structure of a story. Or perhaps it would be closer to say that narrative implies progress and completion. The history of our time does not allow for any of the bromides of progress, nor for the promise of successful closure.

This is nicely said.  Yet, here is a classic case of the poet forced to surrender her craft, which happens to include “narrative,” to a vague formula: “the history of our time.”

Let us assume that this broad, critical term, “history of our time,” has meaning, and somehow does inhibit “story” and “progress,” “completion,” and “closure”—more than other historic “times.”  Should a poet’s ability to compose a poem ever be diminished by historical theory?   If so, why?  Why should a moment of history—even if we can prove this moment’s legitimacy in imposing itself on art’s ability to do what it can do—take precedence over the potential achievement of the poem?  Should poets surrender to moments of history?  Is that what art, in itself, or, over time, is meant to do?

But can we assume that the “history of our time” somehow negates “progress” or “closure?”   First of all, how can any “historic time” be more sensitive to “closure” than other “historic times?”

Or imagine, for a moment, how “progress” was viewed by countless previous ages fraught with superstition, wars, and plagues?  How many poets, in retrospect, should have given up “progress” in their poems?  Would that have been proper?  Would such a fiat have been good for poetry, or good for mankind?  So why should we put that yoke on ourselves?  To put it simply: history isn’t finished, is it?

We also have the “information overload” argument: TV!  The internet!  Technology!  How can we have “narrative,” when we are bombarded with so much trivial and vastly changing information?  But didn’t 13th century libraries have a lot of information?

Are citizens today really that informed, or not informed, as the case may be, compared to other ages, so that we can definitely say, “OK, you should write this kind of poetry?”

Who has the authority to say “our time,” or “television” validates, in any way, a certain kind of poetry?   Why should this idea ever be taken seriously?  Isn’t it finally just social science babble, the droning of a half-informed pundit enjoying the sound of their own voice?

Do you think your world is that different, poet?  Are you sure you are not just whining?

Now, to be fair: the poets of The Skittery Poem no doubt believe they are expanding poetic expression, even if they don’t buy the “history of our time” stuff—so yes, the movement could be just about the poem and what it can do.

Aesthetically, narrative can be a problematic burden, its anchor just too weighty. 

But this problem is not new—every writer since the beginning of writing itself has had to ponder how much, and what kind of narrative is necessary.  It has nothing to do with the time we live in.  I wonder how many Poetry MFA students have read Plato’s Symposium, which begins by staring narrative right in the face:

Concerning the things about which you ask to be informed I believe that I am not ill-prepared with an answer. For the day before yesterday I was coming from my own home at Phalerum to the city, and one of my acquaintance, who had caught a sight of me from behind, hind, out playfully in the distance, said: Apollodorus, O thou Phalerian man, halt! So I did as I was bid; and then he said, I was looking for you, Apollodorus, only just now, that I might ask you about the speeches in praise of love, which were delivered by Socrates, Alcibiades, and others, at Agathon’s supper. Phoenix, the son of Philip, told another person who told me of them; his narrative was very indistinct, but he said that you knew, and I wish that you would give me an account of them. Who, if not you, should be the reporter of the words of your friend? And first tell me, he said, were you present at this meeting?

Your informant, Glaucon, I said, must have been very indistinct indeed, if you imagine that the occasion was recent; or that I could have been of the party.

Why, yes, he replied, I thought so.

Impossible: I said. Are you ignorant that for many years Agathon has not resided at Athens; and not three have elapsed since I became acquainted with Socrates, and have made it my daily business to know all that he says and does. There was a time when I was running about the world, fancying myself to be well employed, but I was really a most wretched thing, no better than you are now. I thought that I ought to do anything rather than be a philosopher.

Well, he said, jesting apart, tell me when the meeting occurred.
In our boyhood, I replied, when Agathon won the prize with his first tragedy, on the day after that on which he and his chorus offered the sacrifice of victory.

Then it must have been a long while ago, he said; and who told you-did Socrates?

No indeed, I replied, but the same person who told Phoenix;-he was a little fellow, who never wore any shoes Aristodemus, of the deme of Cydathenaeum. He had been at Agathon’s feast; and I think that in those days there was no one who was a more devoted admirer of Socrates. Moreover, I have asked Socrates about the truth of some parts of his narrative, and he confirmed them. Then, said Glaucon, let us have the tale over again; is not the road to Athens just made for conversation? And so we walked, and talked of the discourses on love; and therefore, as I said at first, I am not ill-prepared to comply with your request, and will have another rehearsal of them if you like. For to speak or to hear others speak of philosophy always gives me the greatest pleasure, to say nothing of the profit. But when I hear another strain, especially that of you rich men and traders, such conversation displeases me; and I pity you who are my companions…  (Jowett, trans.)

Narrative is based on memory, but all poems, even those that would discard narrative entirely in order to live in a vivid present, have memory as a poem, since they are temporal. Narrative is always in issue, then. 

As Dante puts it in the very beginning of his Vita Nuova:

In that part of the book of my memory before which little can be read, there is a heading, which says: ‘Incipit vita nova: Here begins the new life’. Under that heading I find written the words that it is my intention to copy into this little book: and if not all, at least their essence.

AN ORIGINAL CANZONE FROM THE SCARRIET EDITORS

Guido Cavalcanti, (1250-1300) who inspired our poem

When Beauty, With Her Eyes

When Beauty, with her eyes,
Looked into my eyes,
I knew eyes were the source of all my sorrow.
The heart lives in darkness and can never see,
So my heart weeps bitterly,
For he cannot see you, lady,
While my eyes cry, “you must look on her tomorrow!”
But a man with a rebel heart
Cannot go in civility,
Cannot greet a lady with dignity;
So my dreams to be with you have fallen apart,
And even my eyes which loved your eyes cannot see.

HOW DO YOU TEACH CREATIVE WRITING? YOU DON’T.

They are defending creative writing at the Huffpost.  But look:

1. The real work of writing is two-fold: reading and writing in solitude.

2. Good literature classes teach literature.

3. Students do creative writing beginning in grade school.

This is all you need. Note what’s missing from the above. The creative writing class. The point is not that the creative writing class for older students might not help, but the real issue is: what does the creative writing program as a ubiquitous, nation-wide phenomenon provide?

Why aren’t literature classes and the writing all students do in school starting in the early grades, and the reading and writing they do in solitude enough?

Lousy schools? Lazy writers?

So is a ‘creative writing class’ going to help a student who hasn’t read enough literature, either because he’s too lazy, or the schools have failed him or her? No way. Even creative writing teachers admit they are no substitute for reading literature.

So what exactly is going on in those ‘creative writing classes?’ No wonder the huffpost writers gave no specifics, beyond, well it’s good to put would-be writers in a room together and have a writer ‘teach’ them.

Can you imagine Shelley and Byron and Keats sitting in a classroom together as writing students? It’s laughable.

The writer has to find himself in solitude, not trying to please another writer sitting next to him in a classroom. This is just common sense.

Finally, and no one talks about this except Scarriet, the whole Creative Writing Industry was started by a handful of men—the movement has a history, and it happens that the men who started the Creative Writing Industry had a certain bias for ‘new’ poetry, and this, of course, is the trump card of the creative writing industry: You don’t write very well, but we’re going to teach you how to write like a contemporary, approved by your peers. The default ‘sameness’ of the creative writing industry is that you are not allowed to write like Shelley or Keats or Byron. Write any way you like! But if we sniff the faintest smell of ‘old’ on you, you’re gone.

But the so-called ‘old’ is where really great writing resides, and the contemporary ought to be simply who you are—you shouldn’t have to go through a brainwasing session in a creative writing class so that you can sound ‘contemporary.’

How we get from the sublimity of Shelley to the inanity of Silliman is not something the ahistorical dweebs of the MFA will ever figure out.

For this is where it all leads.  Recently on his blog Ron Silliman pretended serious analysis of the following.

I saw the corpse of the plum tree
of the camel his splattered guts
the soiled tears of the child
the sniffle of orphan light

I abandoned the pursuit of art
to sleep for eternity
under the fevered feet of my children

“It calls to mind Pound’s old dictum that poetry needs to be at least as well written as prose,” Silliman writes.  But Pound wrote bad prose which was passed off as good poetry.  Well, but Silliman can’t help it.  Nutty Pound-worship is just what these guys do.  It’s the track the train must run on.  Silliman sees into the life of this excerpt, but none of the rest of us do.  And this, too, is part of the game.

The “new” MFA thing now is the so-called “The New Sincerity” which features “sincere,” “naive,” or “childlike” poetry by poets such as Matt Hart, Tao Lin, Dorothea Lasky and Nate Pritts.  But this is a mere throw-back to Frank O’Hara.   There is not the least formal interest here.  There is more formal interest in one stanza of Shelley than in all this poetry.

Until modern poetry really comes to terms with the major Romantic poets, nothing is going to improve, or help poetry to become popular again.

Modern poetry and Creative Writing are now synomymous.  The idea is not to grow poets, but to grow paying poetry students—who are beholden to canonizing their instructors, with the possibility of being canonized, in turn.  This is precisely what the modern poets, beginning with Pound and Eliot and their lawyer, John Quinn, and continuing with their academic friends, the New Critics, did, and therefore the very idea of the “modern” in poetry is linked with the business model of Creative Writing. 

This is such a self-evident fact, that Creative Writing officials are blind to it.  The difficulty here is that you can’t teach the new.  Nor can one teach the light of which poetry is the mere shadow; the cause of poetry cannot be taught, either.  Life teaches this, not Creative Writing, which is its pale substitute—poets mingling with poets, in a frenzied attempt to be “modern” or “contemporary.”   But the “contemporary” is a shadow of a shadow, and chasing it, we find poetry to be in the sorry state it is today.

The Creative Writing industry may be a successful, and nearly flawless institutional model.  But no great poet has ever written for an institution, or to flatter and be flattered by their peers.  The Creative Writing industry cannot teach itself out of this dilemma; its default setting is fashionable appearance which appeals to the contemporary spirit.

Socrates long ago identified those who charge a fee for a vague kind of ‘learning.’

Sophists.

LOVE AND WORDS: AN ORIGINAL POEM FOR VALENTINE’S DAY

Now the lover feels, when he loves,
Her sweet and breathing body is enough,
Yet, playing the very instrument,
He wonders where her music went.
Her smiles and words of sweetest grace
Now exist in another place.
To love’s rolling, ecstatic eye
Music and words do not apply.
Where is the poet?  Where is the love?
And thoughts?  That once were enough?
Lovers are silent, and in a hurry.
Words are from hurt, and worry.
Words are from sorrow and fear of death,
When limbs are weak and weak, the breath.

But when we sighed in those distant rooms
There was almost joy in those glooms.
When we courted with our words
And sang to each other like birds
Or were silent for hours, hoping with fear,
Love was actually here,
Hoping desperately deception
Was not hidden in love’s’ reception,
There was a joy in this,
That, in hope, was almost bliss.
When I was courting,
My poems did their best reporting;
Oh God! those hopeful sighs
Were almost paradise.
Now that selfish love is gone,
Beautiful thoughts still linger on,
Now words are our greatest friends,
Poems, of sweet beginnings, and even sweeter ends.
We say to ourselves, with a sigh,
“Eventually a word will happen by,
One, by this sweet occasion fit,
And it will be love when I am saying it.”
The thought is what carries us through the life,
Since thoughts are words and a word marries us to a wife.
Words comfort us out of the air
When nothing but heaviness is there.

So when your lover is naked over there,
Remember the words that brought her there.
Remember the thoughts which will clothe her when
She comes back to the world again.

VALENTINE’S WEEK CONTINUES

What the gods love most is their own face.

Greetings Votaries!

Tomorrow is the Day.

Today we’ll not quote from Lord Byron’s Don Juan or Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, or the writings of Shelley against marriage.

The best way to enjoy love the longest is in our thoughts—and what are thoughts made of, but words?  (No, not those kinds of words! Nice words, beautiful words, words that light our way to the sun.)  Poetry enables love to unfold beautifully in our minds all the time. This is why poetry and love will always be sisters, and why love is poetry’s highest calling.

One of the best ways to express love is in song.

Ashbery’s art might make us giggle, but Adele’s art will always have more followers, because she can make us cry.

Didn’t Sir Paul sing a brand new song at the Grammy’s last night, called “Valentine?”

The lyrics were simple but luv-ley.

Here is my attempt to write a famous, iconic love song.  The song has never been recorded, so the music exists in notes on paper sitting on my piano at home.

But the words to the love song follow.

FINALLY

Finally, your heart decides.
Finally, you try all the rides.
Finally, you love in the spring.
Finally.

Finally, it all makes sense.
Finally, there’s no coincidence.

Finally, you jump right in.
Finally, you play to win.
Finally, you love in the spring.
Finally.

Finally, it all makes sense.
Finally, there’s no coincidence.

Finally, you catch her eye.
Finally, your lips say “hi.”
Finally, you love in the spring.
Finally.

MORE POETRY FOR VALENTINE’S WEEK

It is Valentine’s Week, and how deeply pleasant, and sweet, to contemplate love!  Our whole being becomes younger in the glow of love’s contemplative majesty.  The vice of promiscuity may not simply be ‘stamped out:’ an even greater backlash will result in secret and horrifying ways; those sensual and cruel energies we fear and abhor should be channeled—by the twin angels of poetry and love.

And so today we present Dante, who is more than a poet, but the beacon of poetry itself, as Shelley called this Italian of Florence—a city that resisted a tyranny enclosing the world, as it gave birth to the Italian Renaissance, which saved it.

Dante is more than a literary book upon a literary bookshelf—his poetry is love in its highest form.

In the following extract, from the Vita Nuova, a little book produced before his more famous Divina Comedia, note how the most intense passion is transformed into refinement.  I also hope you enjoy the lovely snow/rain metaphor (Dante understood that a little metaphor goes a long way; most poets don’t get this).

Yesterday we had this weather—a gentle mixture of snow and rain, and I smiled to myself, thinking of the poet.

The first part is in prose, followed by a poem.

As it was a fact that many people had guessed the secret of my heart from my face, certain ladies, gathered together in order to take delight in each other’s company, well knew my heart, since each of them was there often when I was discomforted: and I passing near them, as if led by fortune, was called to by one of these gentle ladies.

The lady who had called to me was a lady of very sweet speech: so that when I had reached them, and saw clearly that my most graceful lady was not with them, I was reassured enough to greet them, and ask their pleasure. The ladies were many, among whom certain were laughing amongst themselves: others were gazing at me waiting to hear what I should say: others again were talking among themselves.

Of these one, turning her eyes towards me and calling me by name, said these words: ‘What is the point of your love for your lady, since you cannot endure her presence? Tell us, since the point of such love must surely be a very strange one.’ And when she had spoken these words, not only she, but all the others, seemed by their faces to wait for my reply.

Then I spoke these words to her: ‘My lady, the point of my love was once that lady’s greeting, she whom perhaps you know, and in that rested the blessedness, which was the point of all my desires. But since she was pleased to deny it me, my lord Love, in his mercy, has set all my blessedness in that which I cannot lose.’

Then those ladies began to speak amongst themselves: and as we sometimes see rain falling mixed with beautiful snowflakes, so I seemed to hear their words emerge mixed with sighs. And when they had spoken a while among themselves, that lady who had spoken to me at first still said to me these words: ‘We beg you to tell us, where is your blessedness.’

And I, replying to them, said this: ‘In those words that praise my lady.’ Then she who had spoken to me replied: ‘If you were speaking truth to us, those words you have written to explain your condition would have been composed with a different intent.’

So I, thinking about those words, almost ashamed, parted from them, and went along saying to myself: ‘Since there is such blessedness in those words that praise my lady, why have I spoken in another manner?’ And so I decided to take as the theme of my words forever more those which sung the praises of that very graceful one: and thinking about it deeply, it seemed to me I had taken on a theme too high for me, so that I dared not begin: and I remained for several days with the desire to write and in fear of beginning.

After this while I was walking along a path by which a stream of clearest water ran, I felt so strong a will to write that I began to think of the form I should use: and I thought that in speaking of her it would not be right if I composed without speaking to ladies in the second person, and not to all ladies, but only to those who are gentle and not merely feminine.

Then I say that my tongue spoke as if it moved by itself, and said: ‘Ladies who have knowledge of love.’ These words I stored in my mind with great delight, thinking to use them for my opening: so then, returning to the city, thinking for several days, I began a canzone with that opening, ordered in a way that will be seen in its divisions. The canzone begins: ‘Donne ch’avete’.

Ladies Who Have Knowledge Of Love,

I wish to speak with you about my lady,
not because I think to end her praises,
but speaking so that I can ease my mind.
I say that thinking of her worth,
Amor makes me feel such sweetness,
that if I did not then lose courage,
speaking, I would make all men in love.
And I would not speak so highly,
that I succumb to vile timidity:
but treat of the state of gentleness,
in respect of her, lightly, with you,
loving ladies and young ladies,
that is not to be spoken of to others.

An angel sings in the divine mind
and says: ‘Lord, in the world is seen
a miracle in action that proceeds
from a spirit that shines up here.’
The heavens that have no other defect
but lack of her, pray to their Lord,
and every saint cries out mercy.
Pity alone takes our part,
so that God speaks of her, and means my lady:
‘My Delights, now suffer it in peace
that at my pleasure she, your hope, remains
there, where one is who waits to lose her,
and will say in the Inferno: “Ill-born ones,
I have seen the hope of the blessed.”’

My lady is desired by highest Heaven:
now I would have you know of her virtue.
I say, you who would appear a gentle lady
go with her, since when she goes by
Love strikes a chill in evil hearts,
so that all their thoughts freeze and perish:
and any man who suffers to stay and see her
becomes a noble soul, or else he dies.
And when she finds any who might be worthy
to look at her, he proves her virtue,
which comes to him, given, in greeting
and if he is humble, erases all offense.
Still greater grace God has granted her
since he cannot end badly who speaks with her.

Amor says of her: ‘This mortal thing,
how can it be so pure and adorned?’
Then he looks at her and swears to himself
that God’s intent was to make something rare.
She has the colour of pearl, in form such as
is fitting to a lady, not in excess:
she is the greatest good nature can create:
beauty is proven by her example.
From her eyes, as she moves them,
issue spirits ablaze with love,
which pierce the eyes of those who gaze on her then,
and pass within so each one finds the heart:
you will see Love pictured in her face,
there where no man may fixedly gaze.

Canzone, I know that you will go speaking
to many ladies, when I have sent you onwards.
Now I have made you, since I have raised you
to be Love’s daughter, young and simple,
to those I have sent you, say, praying:
‘Show me the way to go, since I am sent
to her of whom the praise is my adornment.’
And if you do not wish to go in vain,
do not rest where there are evil people:
try, if you can so do, to be revealed
only to ladies or some courteous man,
who will lead you there by the quickest way.
You will find Amor will be with her:
recommend me to him as you should.

POETRY FOR VALENTINE’S WEEK

Is there a god of love?  If there is, Valentine’s Day should be as important as Christmas. Never look to offend this god. Proud ones!  Kneel, kneel to love!

The following three poems—supplications to Love’s infinite powers—are by Shakespeare, Shelley, and the last is original.

“Then find another god to save you.”   –Pilsus, a Roman senator

“Sometimes it lasts in love.’  –Adelle

SHAKESPEARE SONNET NO. 1

From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty’s rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory:
But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed’st thy light’s flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel.
Thou that art now the world’s fresh ornament
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content
And, tender churl, makest waste in niggarding.
Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee.

LOVE’S PHILOSOPHY by Shelley

The fountains mingle with the river
And the rivers with the ocean,
The winds of heaven mix for ever
With a sweet emotion:
Nothing in the world is single,
All things by a law divine
In one another’s being mingle—
Why not I with thine?

See the mountains kiss high heaven,
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister flower would be forgiven
If it disdain’d its brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth,
And the moonbeams kiss the sea—
What are all these kissings worth
If thou kiss not me?

SOME SURROUND THEMSELVES WITH LOVE

I

Some surround themselves with love.
They are never alone.
Obeying nature, they shyly greet a mate
And kiss, for the secret to love, it is said,
Is to increase, and so they propagate,
Making children who are beautiful,
Who grow in love, asking for love, until
Love is theirs, gleaming in the starlight,
Or the mist, and when the sun is bright
Love carries the world, refusing to stop,
For love withholds nothing—not one drop.

II

Some surround themselves with care,
They are always alone.
Cautiously, they prepare
A room, a grave, a bed,
With little items they can scrutinize,
Pride burns the embers of their eyes;
They ponder immortality until it dies.
And once, I loved one like this
From afar—for these do not like to kiss—
But I will never forget the day she said:
“Here is a map, with hell stretching far above—
And did you know the world is wrong because of all its love?”

SIR GEOFFREY HILL: THE MOST OVERRATED POET, EVER?

“Can I help you?”  That annoyed, bookworm look.

For too long now, since the early 20th century, poetry has become a vessel for pedantry—everything that poetry is not: gnarly, dweeby, bitter, pretentious, digressive, unpleasant, mumbly, claptrap.

“Difficult” is the icy, vampire-breath spell that needs to be broken—with our warm Shelley and Keats.

Fight off the New Critic specters, find T.S. Eliot in his coffin, and stab him through the heart.

Then the boil known as Geoffrey Hill will burst and dribble away.

But at the present, no birds sing.

Hill, who some in tweedy academia call the “greatest living poet,” used the “difficult” approach when he went off recently on Carol Ann Duffy; the current British poet laureate innocently called poetry the original texting message: after all, poetry is known for its ability to say a lot in a few words.  No, thundered the greatest living poet; difficulty is the essence of poetry, not brevity.   But really.  Duffy’s point need not be burned to the ground, even if it is just another one of those vain attempts to make poetry seem more relevant in a world that ignores or hates it today.  Over here, we have Shelley’s Defense of Poetry. And over here…a observation that texting youth are making poems—sort of.  OK, maybe it’s pathetic.  But worse, far worse, is Geoffrey Hill’s “difficult” maneuver, which is a complete turning away from Shelley’s Defense.  Any defense of poetry that says “poetry is difficult is no defense at all, but don’t tell that to a pundit like Sir Geoffrey.  Shelley, nor any of the Romantics, ever thought of defending, or describing, poetry as “difficult.”  Shelley at 22 was more learned than Geoffrey Hill will ever be, and Shelley stretched out on the sand before the sea is difficulty enough.  “Don’t treat readers like fools,” Hill tells Duffy, but to be intentionally difficult ranks as the most foolish effort of all.  Difficult exists in poetry or elsewhere, but not as a goal—that would be, quite simply, insane.

The difficult school produces poetry which is a series of impressions that may, at best, produce a state of strange befuddlement—which we might convince ourselves has some kind of intellectual worth. 

Shelley, by contrast, is like drinking from a cold spring after one has been hiking for hours.

The experiences are quite different.

The tradition from which Hill springs can be traced back to the early 20th century British academic tradition which produced plain language philosophy and language poetry.  The Cambridge Apostles, Kim Philby, Bertrand Russell, T.S. Eliot, Anthony Blunt, G.E. Moore, Lytton Strachey, Leonard Woolf, Rupert Brooke, John Maynard Keynes, Guy Burgess, Clive Bell, Roger Fry, Duncan Grant, Ottoline Morrell, and F.R. Leavis.  “Difficult?”  Sure.  The poetry of government spies, double agents, closeted homosexuals and language philosophers  is bound to be difficult.   The source of the “difficult” tradition has a place and a name: Bloomsbury, Oxford, Cambridge.

The New Critics, who dominated American poetry for 50 years, were all Rhodes Scholars in England.  They were Southern Agrarians (basically defending the Old South) before they became New Critics.  Figure that one out.  Difficult?  Oh, yes. 

Then there’s poetry for people, poetry in the universal, democratic tradition.  Hello, Shelley.  Hello, Poe.

The other poetry is that of the priesthood, not for those who entertain people, but for those who want to manage people—the so-called difficult school, which appeals to language philosophy professors and those trained in various types of intelligence and social engineering.  Sir Geoffrey Hill. The New Critics.  Pound, Eliot, Guy Burgess.  The difficult ones.

Those in the second group hate and fear those rare artists like Poe and Shelley—populist geniuses savvy enough to expose them for what they are. 

Here is a good example: New Critic Robert Penn Warren’s essay, “Pure and Impure Poetry,” first delivered as a lecture at Princeton in 1942—this is where Allen Tate was seting up an early Poetry Workshop.  Warren’s lecture was later published in John Crowe Ransom’s influential Kenyon Review.  But before we look at Penn Warren, let’s quickly take a peek at another essay, a more famous one:

IN speaking of the Poetic Principle, I have no design to be either thorough or profound. While discussing, very much at random, the essentiality of what we call Poetry, my principal purpose will be to cite for consideration, some few of those minor English or American poems which best suit my own taste, or which, upon my own fancy, have left the most definite impression. By “minor poems” I mean, of course, poems of little length. And here, in the beginning, permit me to say a few words in regard to a somewhat peculiar principle, which, whether rightfully or wrongfully, has always had its influence in my own critical estimate of the poem. I hold that a long poem does not exist. I maintain that the phrase, “a long poem,” is simply a flat contradiction in terms.

I need scarcely observe that a poem deserves its title only inasmuch as it excites, by elevating the soul. The value of the poem is in the ratio of this elevating excitement. But all excitements are, through a psychal necessity, transient. That degree of excitement which would entitle a poem to be so called at all, cannot be sustained throughout a composition of any great length. After the lapse of half an hour, at the very utmost, it flags — fails — a revulsion ensues — and then the poem is, in effect, and in fact, no longer such.

There are, no doubt, many who have found difficulty in reconciling the critical dictum that the “Paradise Lost” is to be devoutly admired throughout, with the absolute impossibility of maintaining for it, during perusal, the amount of enthusiasm which that critical dictum would demand. This great work, in fact, is to be regarded as poetical, only when, losing sight of that vital requisite in all works of Art, Unity, we view it merely as a series of minor poems. If, to preserve its Unity — its totality of effect or impression — we read it (as would be necessary) at a single sitting, the result is but a constant alternation of excitement and depression. After a passage of what we feel to be true poetry, there follows, inevitably, a passage of platitude which no critical pre-judgment can force us to admire; but if, upon completing the work, we read it again, omitting the first book — that is to say, commencing with the second — we shall be surprised at now finding that admirable which we before condemned — that damnable which we had previously so much admired. It follows from all this that the ultimate, aggregate, or absolute effect of even the best epic under the sun, is a nullity: — and this is precisely the fact.

In regard to the Iliad, we have, if not positive proof, at least very good reason for believing it intended as a series of lyrics; but, granting the epic intention, I can say only that the work is based in an imperfect sense of art. The modern epic is, of the supposititious ancient model, but an inconsiderate and blindfold imitation. But the day of these artistic anomalies is over. If, at any time, any very long poem were popular in reality, which I doubt, it is at least clear that no very long poem will ever be popular again.

That the extent of a poetical work is, cœteris [[ceteris]] paribus, the measure of its merit, seems undoubtedly, when we thus state it, a proposition sufficiently absurd — yet we are indebted for it to the Quarterly Reviews. Surely there can be nothing in mere size, abstractly considered — there can be nothing in mere bulk, so far as a volume is concerned, which has so continuously elicited admiration from these saturnine pamphlets! A mountain, to be sure, by the mere sentiment of physical magnitude which it conveys, does impress us with a sense of the sublime — but no man is impressed after this fashion by the material grandeur of even “The Columbiad.” Even the Quarterlies have not instructed us to be so impressed by it. As yet, they have not insisted on our estimating Lamartine by the cubic foot, or Pollock by the pound — but what else are we to infer from their continual prating about “sustained effort?” If, by “sustained effort,” any little gentleman has accomplished an epic, let us frankly commend him for the effort — if this indeed be a thing commendable — but let us forbear praising the epic on the effort’s account. It is to be hoped that common sense, in the time to come, will prefer deciding upon a work of art, rather by the impression it makes, by the effect it produces, than by the time it took to impress the effect, or by the amount of “sustained effort” which had been found necessary in effecting the impression. The fact is, that perseverance is one thing, and genius quite another; nor can all the Quarterlies in Christendom confound them. By and by, this proposition, with many which I have been just urging, will be received as self-evident. In the mean time, by being generally condemned as falsities, they will not be essentially damaged as truths.

On the other hand, it is clear that a poem may be improperly brief. Undue brevity degenerates into mere epigrammatism. A very short poem, while now and then producing a brilliant or vivid, never produces a profound or enduring effect. There must be the steady pressing down of the stamp upon the wax. De Béranger has wrought innumerable things, pungent and spirit-stirring; but, in general, they have been too imponderous to stamp themselves deeply into the public attention; and thus, as so many feathers of fancy, have been blown aloft only to be whistled down the wind.

A remarkable instance of the effect of undue brevity in depressing a poem — in keeping it out of the popular view — is afforded by the following exquisite little Serenade.

I arise from dreams of thee,
In the first sweet sleep of night,
When the winds are breathing low,
And the stars are shining bright.
I arise from dreams of thee,
And a spirit in my feet
Has led me — who knows how? —
To thy chamber-window, sweet!The wandering airs they faint
On the dark, the silent stream —
The champak odours fail
Like sweet thoughts in a dream;
The nightingale’s complaint,
It dies upon her heart,
As I must die on thine,
O, beloved as thou art!O, lift me from the grass!
I die, I faint, I fail!
Let thy love in kisses rain
On my lips and eyelids pale.
My cheek is cold and white, alas!
My heart beats loud and fast:
Oh! press it close to thine again,
Where it will break at last!

Very few, perhaps, are familiar with these lines — yet no less a poet than Shelley is their author. Their warm, yet delicate and ethereal imagination will be appreciated by all — but by none so thoroughly as by him who has himself arisen from sweet dreams of one beloved, to bathe in the aromatic air of a southern midsummer night.

Poe’s remarks made this little poem by Shelley one of Shelley’s more popular poems

In his essay, Robert Penn Warren sets up a staw man: pure poetry.   Pure poetry, in Warren’s view, is what poets like Poe and Shelley are after.  Pure poetry is the target which Warren, the New Critic, attempts to destroy.

Warren looks at “The Indian Serenade,” as well, and one can tell Shelley’s poem is now better known.  One can see the shift from Poe’s “Very few, perhaps, are familiar with these lines” to Robert Penn Warren’s introduction to Shelley’s poem in his essay:

And we know another poet and another garden. Or perhaps it is the same garden, after all:

I arise from dreams of thee
In the first sweet sleep of night,
When the winds are breathing low
And the stars are shining bright.
I arise from dreams of thee,
And a spirit in my feet
Hath led me—who knows how?
To thy chamber window, Sweet!

We remember how, again, all nature conspires, how the wandering airs “faint,” how the Champak’s odors “pine,” how the nightingale’s complaint “dies upon her heart,” as the lover will die upon the beloved’s heart. Nature here strains out of nature, it wants to be called by another name., it wants to spiritualize itself by calling itself another name.

The ideality of Poe and Shelley are faulted by Warren as “nature” which “strains out of nature,” and “nature” that wishes to “spiritualize itself.” 

Prior to his discussion of Shelley’s “garden” from “The Indian Serenade,” Warren presents the various elements of the famous balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet so he can refute “pure poetry” in the following way: Romeo swears his love for Juliet by the moon: Juliet objects because the moon is changeable.  Warren assigns “pure poetry” to Romeo’s “purist” moon metaphor and Juliet’s objection represents, for Warren, the more sensible “impure poetry” of the moderns—who laugh at the straining, spiritual sentimentalism of purists, Poe and Shelley—and, in this case, Romeo.  Here are Warren’s exact words:

Within the garden itself, when the lover invokes nature, when he spiritualizes and innocently trusts her, and says, “Lady, by yonder blessed moon I swear,” the lady herself replies, “O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon/That monthly changes in her circled orb.”  The lady distrusts “pure” poems, nature spiritualized into forgetfulness. She has, as it were, a rigorous taste in metaphor, too; she brings a logical criticism to bear on the metaphor which is too easy; the metaphor must prove itself to her, must be willing to subject itself to scrutiny beyond the moment’s enthusiasm. She injects the impurity of an intellectual style into the lover’s pure poem.

Juliet, and “her rigorous taste in metaphor!”   According to Warren, the New Critic, the “logic” of Juliet “injects the impurity of an intellectual style” into the “pure poem.” 

Of course this is imbecilic.  Here is a classic case of pedantic over-thinking by a New Critic determined to push out the Shelley/Poe influence in poetry.  Juliet does not object to the “metaphor.”  She objects to the inconstant moon.   Warren is attempting to work up an intellectual case against “purity” (and Shelley’s “Indian Serenade”) by linking “pure poetry” to an inexact use of metaphor.  But the metaphor does not fail here; the moon fails.  And the moon fails for the woo’d girl because of its inconstancy.  There is nothing “impure” here—except in Warren’s reasoning.  Nothing in Juliet’s objection signals “impurity,” or a rebuke to Poe or Shelley’s poetry, or their Platonist philosophy.  The implied Shakespearean rebuke of Shelley’s “purity” is all in Warren’s New Critical head. 

Warren continues the attack on Shelley’s “purity” by “installing Mercutio in the shrubbery” of Shelley’s “Indian Serenade.”  (Mercutio is outside the garden in the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene—why not put him in the Shelley poem?)  “And we can guess what the wicked tongue would have to say in response to the last stanza,”  says Warren, rubbing his hands together in glee.

Warren then works up an elaborate trope about how all poets must come to terms with the bawdy Mercutio when writing love poems—one cannot exclude Mercutio entirely without consequences.  Warren’s point is certainly apt—if only he were not comparing a brief lyric to a play.  Poe (who was always very vigorous about metaphor) made this precise point regarding “undue brevity” one hundred years prior—which Warren seems to have completely missed.

Poe appreciates the beauty of Shelley’s poem, remarking that its brevity prevents it from being a popular poem.  Warren, however, blames the beauty that is there in Shelley’s poem—by comparing it to a Shakespeare play—and implying there is something intellectually lacking  in Shelley’s lyric.

Warren says a lot more in this essay: how there are many types of poetic purity, so many, in fact, they contradict each other; that purity implies exclusion—as when Poe says poetry should exclude truth and passion except by contrast, and strive for unity—and since there are as many types of exclusions as types of purity, the exclusionary strategy is fruitless; hence Poe is wrong, and all poems benefit from being impure.

Warren then examines two poems; first the famous four-line “Western wind, when wilt thou blow,” and then his friend John Crowe Ransom’s “Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter.”  We get the sort of New Critical analysis that mingles the obvious with the obscure in such an over-reaching manner that it ends up making one feel less acquainted with the poem.  No one will remember Warren’s essay—except for perhaps Harvard’s Stephen Burt, who stole the concept “Elliptical Poetry” from its pages. 

The New Critics began something wicked—even as they, themselves, now fade from our collective memories.  It is the seed planted by the New Critics that makes us declaim today that the ghastly Sir Geoffrey Hill is the “greatest living poet.”

IS SHELLEY THE GREATEST POET?

If poetry is musical, yes.  If poetry is beautiful, yes.  If poetry is the expression of lone individuality, yes.  If poetry is lyricism, yes.  If poetry is heroically moral, yes.  If poetry is extremely sensitive, yes.  If poetry is an example of deep feeling, yes.  If poetry is singular, yes.  If poetry is love of sublime nature, yes.  If poetry is expert craftsmanship, yes.  If poetry is stanzaic architecture, yes.  If poetry is sweet and playful, yes.  If poetry is exquisite good taste, yes.  If poetry is a delight to the senses, yes.  If poetry is pure and without prose-dross, yes.  If poetry is haunted by a spirit beyond life, yes.

Who doesn’t love “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty?”

The awful shadow of some unseen Power
         Floats though unseen among us; visiting
         This various world with as inconstant wing
As summer winds that creep from flower to flower;
Like moonbeams that behind some piny mountain shower,
                It visits with inconstant glance
                Each human heart and countenance;
Like hues and harmonies of evening,
                Like clouds in starlight widely spread,
                Like memory of music fled,
                Like aught that for its grace may be
Dear, and yet dearer for its mystery.
 
Spirit of BEAUTY, that dost consecrate
         With thine own hues all thou dost shine upon
         Of human thought or form, where art thou gone?
Why dost thou pass away and leave our state,
This dim vast vale of tears, vacant and desolate?
                Ask why the sunlight not for ever
                Weaves rainbows o’er yon mountain-river,
Why aught should fail and fade that once is shown,
                Why fear and dream and death and birth
                Cast on the daylight of this earth
                Such gloom, why man has such a scope
For love and hate, despondency and hope?
 
No voice from some sublimer world hath ever
         To sage or poet these responses given:
         Therefore the names of Demon, Ghost, and Heaven,
Remain the records of their vain endeavour:
Frail spells whose utter’d charm might not avail to sever,
                From all we hear and all we see,
                Doubt, chance and mutability.
Thy light alone like mist o’er mountains driven,
                Or music by the night-wind sent
                Through strings of some still instrument,
                Or moonlight on a midnight stream,
Gives grace and truth to life’s unquiet dream.
 
Love, Hope, and Self-esteem, like clouds depart
         And come, for some uncertain moments lent.
         Man were immortal and omnipotent,
Didst thou, unknown and awful as thou art,
Keep with thy glorious train firm state within his heart.
                Thou messenger of sympathies,
                That wax and wane in lovers’ eyes;
Thou, that to human thought art nourishment,
                Like darkness to a dying flame!
                Depart not as thy shadow came,
                Depart not—lest the grave should be,
Like life and fear, a dark reality.
 
While yet a boy I sought for ghosts, and sped
         Through many a listening chamber, cave and ruin,
         And starlight wood, with fearful steps pursuing
Hopes of high talk with the departed dead.
I call’d on poisonous names with which our youth is fed;
                I was not heard; I saw them not;
                When musing deeply on the lot
Of life, at that sweet time when winds are wooing
                All vital things that wake to bring
                News of birds and blossoming,
                Sudden, thy shadow fell on me;
   I shriek’d, and clasp’d my hands in ecstasy!
 
I vow’d that I would dedicate my powers
         To thee and thine: have I not kept the vow?
         With beating heart and streaming eyes, even now
I call the phantoms of a thousand hours
Each from his voiceless grave: they have in vision’d bowers
                Of studious zeal or love’s delight
                Outwatch’d with me the envious night:
They know that never joy illum’d my brow
                Unlink’d with hope that thou wouldst free
                This world from its dark slavery,
                That thou, O awful LOVELINESS,
Wouldst give whate’er these words cannot express.
 
The day becomes more solemn and serene
         When noon is past; there is a harmony
         In autumn, and a lustre in its sky,
Which through the summer is not heard or seen,
As if it could not be, as if it had not been!
                Thus let thy power, which like the truth
                Of nature on my passive youth
Descended, to my onward life supply
                Its calm, to one who worships thee,
                And every form containing thee,
                Whom, SPIRIT fair, thy spells did bind
To fear himself, and love all human kind.
 
Shelley is poetry itself. 
 
But what of his philosophy?  His atheism got him kicked out of college and lost him his hefty inheritance.  His upper class English education was combined with outdoors roaming, and he was a Marxist before Marx.  He was adventurous, but not dissipated.
 
Shelley believed in love over convention, and opposed the population control of Malthus because it would deprive the poor of one of their few pleasures: sex.  His love of justice was deep and sincere.  Shelley was too moral to be a “free love” advocate,  but like Milton he advocated for easier divorce laws.  He also believed in fate—that events in the past absolutely determine events in the future—believing free will a mere superstition.  He thought life could be improved, but only indirecty, not didactically.
 
But let us turn our attention to Shelley’s thought.
 
Shelley’s thinking (in both his philosophy and his poetry) was very either/or.
 
Shelley was an atheist not because he was an atheist, but because he was not a believer.
 
Duality is at the heart of Shelley’s genius.
 
 Here is his typical reasoning style as he refutes religion:
 
Christianity, like all other religions, rests upon miracles, prophecies, and martyrdom.
 
Miracles resolve themselves into the following question—Whether it is more probable the laws of nature, hitherto so immutably harmonious, should have undergone violation, or that a man should have told a lie?
 
We have many instances of men telling lies…
 
Or this:
 
There is a passage in the Christian Scriptures: ‘Those who obey not God, and believe not the Gospel of his Son, shall be punished with everlasting destruction.’  This is the pivot upon which all religions turn: they all assume that it is in our power to believe or not to believe; whereas the mind can only believe that which it thinks true. A human being can only be supposed accountable for those actions which are influenced by his will.  But belief is utterly distinct from and unconnected with volition: it is the apprehension of the agreement or disagreement of the ideas that compose any proposition.  Belief is a passion, or involuntary operation of the mind… Volition is essential to merit or demerit.
 
 Shelley is a radical reasoner; he is seen as a radical person in the eyes of the world, a fanatic  who hates religion and who cares only for poetic feeling bursting in his own breast, but it is clearly his method of reasoning  which makes Shelley the extraordinary poet he is.
 
Whether it is correct to reason thusly: it must be either this way or that way, is not the issue; Shelley does reason this way, and reasoning in this manner does owe to the Greeks and that Socratic method which emerged with such clarity in the 5th century and informs most human activity: are you loyal to the church, or not?  are you loyal to the king, or not?  are you loyal to the guild, or not?  are you loyal to the revolution, or not?  And if so, it follows that…
 
Was Shelley attempting to break superstition’s grip by saying to his readers: you are either a slave (because you believe this) or you are free…?  Shelley felt that “Christian oppressors” were guilty of putting the issue to their follower/slaves in as stark an either/or fashion as possible: either you believe in the Gospel or not!  Was Shelley just fighting fire with fire?  Surely we can see Shelley’s social  mission blending nicely with his efficient, dualistic, battering-ram philosophy.  Maybe the question, which came first: his philosophy or his social radicalism? is beside the point.
 
Today we are more nuanced; poets err on the side of rejecting duality, certainty, and absolutes. 
 
But arguing in terms of duality and certainty, as  Shelley, does, does not preclude nuance of philosophical purpose.   Juxtaposition gains force and creedence by that very duality which otherwise might be rejected for not being subtle enough.  Comparing two ideas often has more force than a number of ideas bouncing off each other. 
 
Shelley rejected a human God as wildly misplaced anthropomorphism; he felt it was an error to assume the mover of the universe has human qualities and likened the fear of a tyrant to worshiping this kind of God.   Saying there is no evidence to our senses of a human God, he rejects the idea at once; in “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” Shelley invokes a Spirit—grounded in sensation.
 
Freed of childish superstition, Shelley puts his passion into thinking itself.  A chain of reasoning proceeds by absolutes (is this true, or not?)—and the temporality of the poetic art proceeds more forcefully for it.   Shelley’s philosophy feeds Shelley’s poetry.  To think of Shelley as a poet with feelings only is to radically misread him—he is, in fact, the opposite.
 
Not only is Shelley badly misread, but the door was essentially shut on him and his method by the New Critics around the middle of the 20th century.  The New Critics reasoned themselves into a hatred of Shelley’s love poems—which has turned out to be a blow to reason. Shelley—the greatest English-speaking poet—no longer exists as a model. 
 
Perhaps it is unfortunate that in a poem like “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty,” Shelley uses terms such as “thou,” “aught,” and “dost.”  Hence, John Crowe Ransom could write in the 1930s, that Byron’s “Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean, roll!”  was an “anachronism” forever closed to the “modern Poet.”
 
Ransom was not objecting to “thou,” either, but to Byron’s “old compound poetry” which existed before modern purity brought a “specialist” perfection to all avenues of art and learning. Ransom holds aloft Wallace Stevens’ “Sea Surface Full of Clouds” as an example of the new, abstract art which is no longer concerned with the compound mixture of morals and aesthetics.  According to Ransom, morals are to be kept separate and perfected somewhere else, while the purely aesthetic may be brought to perfection by poets—more calm and rational than Shelley—in experimentally abstract poems.
 
The door is shut on the “anachronistic” and “emotional” and “compound” Shelley—essentially an accomplished “amateur” to the modern specialist.
 
Comedy and tragedy, the traditional modes of literary expression, both exist to recognize some ill—comedy doing so suddenly in laughter; tragedy, more gradually in contemplation and suspense.   Morality (recognition of ill) is at the heart of this process; but not so with a poem such as “Sea Surface Full of Clouds.” 
 
Yet Shelley is just as beautiful in a “surface” manner as Stevens. 
 
Shelley can also be read for his morality—even by a Christian.
 
T.S. Eliot and the New Critics first put up that Modern wall that keeps out Shelley.
 
It’s time we took that wall down.

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