Should the poet ‘take positions?’ We say, invariably not, for partisanship always implies progress or improvement and such a position can never be timeless—since improvements always involve present problems. You don’t fix a leak in the roof with philosophy, symbolism, or beauty, and to write a poem out of some political position is just like assuming this.

The other problem with partisan behavior is that it forces us to adhere to a laundry list of associations with whatever we happen to support. For instance, if you support this good, it inevitably means you support, through a network of connections, that evil–and eventually this pins you down into a position fraught with embarrassment, and to be intellectually embarrassed is the worse thing that can happen to a thinker or an artist; it mars the artist’s contemplative solitude, it stalks with social frenzy the serenity the poet needs.  The poet is naturally irritable, because he is more sensitive than others; but to be defensive in the face of social embarrassment undermines the irritable poet’s inspiration and takes the naturally private poet wholly out of himself.

Do not, then, stoop to politics if you wish to make art.  Do not be political. Politics will not fix the leak or write the poem—it will hinder fixing the roof and writing the poem, because whatever aims to triumph in the realm of advice (the default rhetorical purpose of political discourse) hinders the artist (who is, if art is properly understood, not an advice-giver).

You must never attempt to triumph; the muse will have nothing to do with the artist who makes an attempt to win her.  The muse must already be yours.

The artist must be victorious before the game even begins; the great artist sees the game entirely before it starts; the poetic work is simply copying out the pre-seen result.  There must be no struggle, no harangue, no attempt to convince, no argument—for then the artist will be no artist at all, but a mere Emerson, a mere sermonizer.  The art must flash upon the consciousness like a piece of music, the argument hidden in the folds of the exquisite notes.

If the argument is key, leave it for a sermon—as I am doing now.

Oh, and even better than the sermon is the dialogue.  Allow comments on your blog.

Do not be like Poetry’s Blog Harriet or the blogger Ron Silliman.



  1. marcusbales said,

    September 24, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    Romney 2012 Campaign Song

    Niggers and queers
    What each Republican fears
    Niggers and queers
    Cut their hair off with shears
    Thank God Mitt Romney’s gonna save us
    From the niggers and queers.

    Niggers and queers
    We have been frightened for years
    Of niggers and queers
    Of their fronts and their rears —
    And of those second-class citizens for whom we have
    Invented brassieres.

    Bitches and queers
    No we’re not switching gears
    Bitches and queers
    All they bring us is tears
    Thank god Mitt Romney’s gonna save us
    From the bitches and queers.

    Wetbacks and queers
    We must secure our frontiers
    From the wetbacks and queers,
    Their loud music and leers
    Mitt Romney’s gonna save our whole culture
    From the wetbacks and queers.

    Asians and queers
    With their good grades and sneers,
    All those Asians and queers
    Toss them out on their ears
    And Mitt’ll keep Wall Street for the Ivy League
    White financiers.

    When we’ve had a few beers
    As election day nears
    And we’re safe with our peers
    Each Republican cheers:
    Thank God Almighty Romney’s saving us
    From niggers and queers.

    • noochinator said,

      September 24, 2012 at 5:40 pm

      I hate to bring up politics,
      It tends to make folks shout;
      But maybe Mitt’s new slogan
      Should be “Romney — Are you out?”

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 25, 2012 at 2:14 am

      Bales’ effort proves my point.

      • noochinator said,

        September 29, 2012 at 4:17 pm

        No matter who wins,
        I’ll still pay my taxes—
        No matter who wins,
        I’ll still grind my axes.

  2. marcusbales said,

    September 25, 2012 at 4:42 am

    You’ve got some kind of limp and vapid notion of poetry, there, Tom. Poetry that takes no sides is a passionless mess of avoidance and cowardice. You not only explicitly eliminate satire as a whole from your notion of poetry, you also excise most of the excellent poetry that’s ever been written. This may be the silliest poetry position you’ve taken.

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 25, 2012 at 10:03 am

      Broadly satiric verse is a rich and amusing genre which I would be a fool to deny—there shall always be cakes and ale, etc.

      But divine poetry eschews the speech of “niggers and queers,” and if “niggers and queers” became the norm, the true and divine poetry would cease to exist. “Remember those days/Of Negroes and gays?” would be no better. It’s not the language, it’s the intention. It’s not the metrics, it’s not the subject. It’s the heart. It’s the soul.

      You are logical, Marcus, but not merciful. “Taking sides” has a logic within it that betrays itself.

      • marcusbales said,

        September 26, 2012 at 6:36 pm

        Poetry eschews nothing. Everything is appropriate to poetry. The moment you declare anything off limits is the moment you have made poetry political and killed it. The intention of poetry is to be fully human, to embrace everything from the foul rag and bone shop of the heart to the towering eminences of the intellect. Everything is appropriate to poetry. Poetry eschews nothing.

        • thomasbrady said,

          September 26, 2012 at 6:57 pm

          What you have said, Marcus, is precisely what Robert Penn Warren argues in “Pure and Impure Poetry.” Like all Modernist and New Critical criticism, the barely hidden target of Warren’s essay is the Shelley/Poe tradition. Poe is explicit: “Beauty is the sole legitimate province of the poem.” Of course both sides of this extreme hedge, and say respectively: “We may define Beauty very widely” and “Every poem should not have everything in it at all times.” Poe is correct in putting the matter before us as he does. Humor has no independent existence—humor only exists because of the way it distorts beauty. Beauty is still the measure. Beauty is the goal. Beauty is the top of the mountain. Laughter and impurity are places where we rest before we start for the top again.

          • marcusbales said,

            September 26, 2012 at 8:43 pm

            You err in understanding ‘everything’ if you think it excludes beauty. Not every poem strives for beauty — not even every poem by Poe or Shelley — nor should every poem have to. It’s not an argument against beauty, nor one against Poe or Shelley, to say that poetry can be written about anything and everything.

            Poetry is not a value-laden notion: poetry is language in meter. Poetry is not better than prose, nor is poetry better art than prose. Poetry and prose are two ways to make art, and some of it is good and most of it is bad in each case. Your taste may prefer poems written to be beautiful, but beauty, like humor, loses a lot in the translation from one society to another over time, even if the later society still speaks and writes the language in much the same way. You can no more hang your poetic hat on beauty than on humor — or on anger, politics, righteousness, religion, or anything else — without knowing that later societies, even those that speak the language you wrote in, will find your notion of beauty, or humor, or anything else, different from theirs. Maybe not so very different, but different enough so that even if your poem attained the height of beauty for its time in 20 or 40 or 400 years it would be merely one man’s notion of beauty from long ago.

            And that’s the best you can hope for, Tom — the best any of us can hope for: that we manage to put a book on the shelf that every cultured person in the arc of our civilization will have heard of, however vaguely — and maybe that some adolescent in some library somewhere sometime will read what we’ve written and feel the resonant bong of our intent, whatever that intent may be, and do the sharp intake of breath at the sudden appreciation of what we’ve done, and smile that slight smile that says they want to do that, too.

            Poetry is not a contest, it’s a conversation, and the context of the cultured reader’s time will impel that reader to place our books on convenient shelves for regular reference, or over there around the corner where they only sort of remember where it is.

            Keep the faith, baby. Write more poems. Argue less. You show more promise as a poet than as a philosopher.

            • thomasbrady said,

              September 27, 2012 at 2:16 pm


              I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Beauty is the domain of poetry and that you cannot put ‘everything’ in poetry.

              Here’s why: Beauty is harmonious and belongs to the highest art, and when you mangle the harmony you get humor, and when you mangle the Beauty even more, you get chaos. All art is nothing more than producing and manipluating Beauty (harmony).

              The reason the neo-formalists were so unpopular and unsuccessful in the 20th century is that they ignored Poe and forgot Beauty, thinking it was all about the meter and rhyme and that anything could work in meter and rhyme. NO!

              Formalism that works IS HARMONIOUS, IS BEAUTIUFL. If your subject is MUNDANE, the poem will fail, or be unintentionally funny.

              You would never ask a poet to hold back on being as sublime and perfect and harmonious as possible, would you? If a poet chooses a subject which is not fit for harmonious treatment, you are inhibiting the poet, and the poet who believes as you do, Marcus, that poems can treat everything, will fail because of this ignorance. Now, a humorous poem, that intentionally distorts the harmony, or enfeebles the beauty, can work—as a humorous poem. But the millions of middling poems which use meter and rhyme fail as poems even more miserably than middling poems which use no harmony, no meter and rhyme, for the very reason that all people are attracted to beauty and harmony in the first place.


              • marcusbales said,

                September 28, 2012 at 6:41 pm

                First, let me agree with you that the neo-formalists offered a lot of failure, but not because they ignored Poe or forgot Beauty, but because there had been 3 or 4 generations of cloth-eared free-versists whose avowed goal was to discard meter of any sort in favor of lineated prose were all the teachers that were available to them. Professors at good universities who have announced they’ve never read Tennyson — and never will — and who have declared if they had to write in meter or seek the good line or beauty of any kind in their work that they’d quit and do something else were their teachers. Of course those professors all say they admire the poetry of the past in meter, and hold it to be great work, while they pursue their mundane work of lineated prose. Of course they’re lying in their teeth, because if you really think poetry — language in meter — is great work, why have you discarded meter? Mostly, I reckon, it’s because they just can’t do it. And they can’t — when I have said this to them they always have a poem or two in meter to point to to show they can do it, but those poems are invariably so pathetically discordant that it’s obvious that they have no idea that those poems are so pathetically discordant. They can’t do it even when they try.

                So it’s no surprise that their students who really did admire poetry — langauage in meter — and who wanted to write it got no help from those professors; if anything whatever opinion such professors would have would be so counter-productive as to be useless. So the neo-formalists had to start over from scratch, learning how to read and write in meter. Naturally they only got so far without a culture of readers and writers of nuanced meter. They produced some good stuff and a lot of mediocre stuff. But at least they were trying to write poetry instead of prose.

                But the failure of their work to soar to the heights of the poetry before free verse plodded onto the scene and offered easy blurt instead of excellent art had nothing to do with their subject matters, or lack of them. They were simply not lucky in their time period.

                Of course it’s the case, also, that poetry — language in meter — is easier to fail at than prose. After all, we speak and listen to prose every day, with all the verbal tics and pauses to which we are all subject, so our standard for the passable in prose is low, and free versers take every advantage of that. But it’s incredibly difficult to write language in meter so that it doesn’t sound affected, stilted, too regular or too irregular, and any number of other problems. It is a high-skill task to write in meter, and the fact that failure is frequent is all too obvious. But when it’s right it’s really right.

                That, of course, is one of the criticisms free verse offers: no free verser believes that any line is ever really ‘right’, or needs to be. They’re prose writers, happiest when they’re maundering along without either meter or rhythm, entirely unconscious of the values of either, and grateful they don’t have to know. The whole notion of making a line ‘right’ is alien to free versists because they believe that the reader is supposed to be doing most of the work of creating poetry out of their prose anyway. So they believe that it’s not their job to create excellence of any kind — that’s the reader’s job. Their job is to provide a casual framework within which the reader becomes the poet while the writer gets all the credit.

                That millions of middling poems that use meter fail more miserably than middling poems without meter is where we agree; where we don’t agree is that the subject matter has anything to do with the success of the poem. The subject of poetry is human experience, and not merely a small slice of that experience. You’d have poets writing only about one small slice of the human experience, and that’s as off-putting as relineated prose diary entries.

                • thomasbrady said,

                  September 28, 2012 at 7:45 pm


                  But shouldn’t the harmonious form (meter–as opposed to prose) harmonize with the subject? If we agree that the formal excellences of metered poetry exist separately as a good, as a virtue, with its own inherent qualities, we then, as poets working in meter, must be alive to how these excellences merge with subject matter, and we cannot assume that whatever the matter happens to be will automatically be improved or enhanced by the meter (and if not, why use meter?) Should life “experiences” such as a trip to the grocery store be presented in the versification of “Paradise Lost?” Of course not. And if we chip away at the excellences of the meter in “Paradise Lost,” for instance, in order to make it fit a trip to the grocery store, well, what then is the point to chip away at excellence? The whole process of writing (non-humorous) poetry is an upward movement away from mundanity. As Dante says at the beginning of his “Vita Nuova,” he copies his ‘smaller book’ from the ‘larger book of his memory.’ The “experience” you speak of is, invariably, inevitably, a “slice” of something larger, whenever we present it. It is not enough just to entertain your notion that “human experience” is the subject of poetry. This begs the question.


                  • marcusbales said,

                    September 30, 2012 at 4:54 am

                    Once again you’re using the notion of poetry as a value-laden one: you’re assuming that all poetry is good – and it’s simply not so. There is all kinds of bad poetry. Some poetry may well be bad through lack of harmony between the subject and the meter, but that’s by no means the only way to write bad poems!

                    There’s poetry, for example, that presumes that the death of a beautiful woman by a wasting disease is the most beautiful of subjects, which seems not only not beautiful to me, but actively perverse. And what makes such a death require poetry that in one instance is dactyls and another iambs? If Poe were right he would himself have written about such a death in one and only one way; but he didn’t – he wrote about it in several ways.

                    The formal excellences of poetry – language in meter – do NOT exist separately as a good, as a virtue, with its own inherent qualities. The excellences of poetry are dependent on factors that go well beyond the fact that a piece is written in meter – and meter cannot ever be the sole reason a piece is good. Meter alone does not make it good; all meter does is distinguish poetry from prose. Having done that the critic, the reader, the poet, each have yet to discern whether the poem is a good one.

                    There is nothing wrong with mundane life – it’s where I spend my entire life, in fact – and where you spend yours. Poetry must connect intimately to that mundane life or it has very limited human value; but it need not connect intimately ONLY to that mundane life. Writing that doesn’t connect intimately to mundane life in some way is exactly what you’re criticizing, and I’m agreeing with your criticism, when you’re criticizing difficulty in poetry for difficulty’s sake.

                    • thomasbrady said,

                      September 30, 2012 at 4:19 pm

                      Marcus, you agree with me: the meter should agree with the subject, but why you disagree with me that meter has inherent harmony is beyond me. I find your philosophy terribly pessimistic; are you a Nietzschean? Poe did not say “wasting away from disease” in Philosophy of Composition/Raven—that was a theme, however, in some of his ficiton. You are simply wrong re: “mundane.” I must say, I pity you in a way. A verse-lover stuck in the mode of embittered, modernist pessimissm. You, not Poe, are perverse: your love of melodies serves your enemies.

                    • marcusbales said,

                      October 1, 2012 at 1:11 am

                      Marcus, you agree with me: the meter should agree with the subject, but why you disagree with me that meter has inherent harmony is beyond me. I find your philosophy terribly pessimistic; are you a Nietzschean? Poe did not say “wasting away from disease” in Philosophy of Composition/Raven—that was a theme, however, in some of his ficiton. You are simply wrong re: “mundane.” I must say, I pity you in a way. A verse-lover stuck in the mode of embittered, modernist pessimissm. You, not Poe, are perverse: your love of melodies serves your enemies.

                      I agree with you that meter may agree with the subject, not that it should, and certainly not that it must. The language changes with use, and there’s nothing we can do about it except adapt to it. What seems like the perfect meter for a subject now or then will seem slightly off to appalling then or now. We cannot dictate to poets that if they want to write about one particular subject, or even one sort of subject, they must use one particular meter. Oh, we can use a particular meter, and use it so well we make it seem as if it’s the best way – but it’s only the best way for a while. Pretty soon some young hotshot will come along and do it in a different meter, and critics and other poets will exclaim how that’s the best way.

                      Here’s a meter: Hickory dickory dock – the meter of nursery rhyme, but also: Half a league half a league half a league onward – and it’s nothing like a nursery rhyme, instead it’s the rhythm of one of the most harrowing poems in the language.

  3. thomasbrady said,

    September 25, 2012 at 10:13 am

    Remember those days of negroes and gays?
    The Barry White concerts, the musicals, the plays?
    The Andrea Dworkin we studied ’til dawn
    With only panties and German accents on?

    Was that a spoof?
    Or did we tell the truth?
    Ask Marcus Bales, he doesn’t know,
    Oh fuck this drug is making things—so—slow

    • noochinator said,

      September 25, 2012 at 6:34 pm

      Panties and German accents,
      While reading Andrea Dworkin ’til dawn—
      Sucking in the 1970s—
      On the TV The Damned is on.


    • marcusbales said,

      September 26, 2012 at 8:52 pm

      The worst belief retains its true believers.
      There’s no belief so bad it’s not believed
      By faithful flocks who follow their deceivers
      And don’t believe that they have been deceived.
      There’ll always be some profit-hungry crazy
      Who’s spouting some unconscionable stuff
      To fleece the young or old, the dim or lazy,
      Who make him rich though they don’t have enough.
      It’s not belief we need; we need no savior
      To light fanatic fires in zealots’ eyes —
      It’s human decency and good behavior.
      Instead we get hypocrisy and lies
      That tell us to believe with all our might
      That no one else but us could have it right.

      • September 26, 2012 at 9:40 pm

        “But people believe in God because they want to believe, have to believe, in God. Faith enables them to survive in a terrifying world that ultimately brings annihilation. John Hospers, James W. Cornman, and other philosophers brilliantly refute the arguments used to prove the existence of God: ontological, causal, contingency, utility, teleological. But nothing they say, no matter how irrefutable the logic, would have any impact on those who must believe in God.” — Alice R. Kaminsky, from her book The Victim’s Song


      • November 18, 2012 at 5:17 pm

        “I can’t believe in a God susceptible to prayer. I can’t believe that whatever force it is that keeps the spheres revolving in the heavens is going to stop to give me a bicycle with three speeds. But if God is the unifying factor, if God is the cell within the cell, the universe that encompasses the universe, the cause behind the cause, and if prayer were a way in which you aligned your body with the forces that flow through the universe, then I would accept prayer, and I would accept the idea of a God.”

  4. Charles said,

    September 29, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    Thomas, could you recommend any histories of modern poetry that in some spiritual manner align with your stance?

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 29, 2012 at 9:13 pm


      To answer your question very generally: I live in New England and when I go outside and walk about, the old is more beautiful than the new in every instance, whether we mean nature or architecture. I don’t travel much, so maybe this is not true in other parts of the world. To me, the ‘modern’ might refer to: ‘late to the party’ or ‘quickly and feebly made’ or ‘large and ugly.’ As for modern poetry, and I assume you mean the ‘contemporary’ that has at least a little readership, I think if it existed in a landscape, it would fail to attract much positive attention if seen beside older works. Material science has experimented its way to great improvements, but the experimental in poetry seems to me to have failed, for reasons an Aristotle could enumerate in a few minutes. A truth flashed upon my soul as I read the opening of Aristotle’s “Rhetoric” the other day—something to do with fiction and pride. When we figure out the punchline of a joke before it comes, we don’t laugh. Modern poetry has not been successful for reasons perhaps too obvious for us to notice. The moderns, it seems, are only beautiful in fragments, in short bursts. Beauty cannot be sustained for long, but the moderns seem especially wanting in this regard. The joke told once can be funny, but twice, not. I think this has something to do with modern poetry’s failure.


  5. thomasbrady said,

    October 1, 2012 at 3:52 pm


    Our discussion thread off your comment #2 above is getting squeezed, so I’ll return to the main comment text for this reply.

    I grant your point re: changing fashion, but we should not take this too literally, or we’ll have no more meter at all if we’re not careful! (I remember reading that Keats was intentionally archaic and have wondered how much of this is true.)

    I always lock horns with formalists because I find them ignorant of the master, Poe’s work. You have failed, if I read you right, to distinguish between meter and rhythm in your reply. Iambic and trochaic rhythm will never go out of date, nor will the dactylic (heard in the word ‘Hickory’). Iambic pentameter is the meter in which the iambic rhythm is found. “Hickory dickory dock” elaborates a certain meter which is perhaps obsolete, or certainly obscure, just the way dactylic pentameter is bound to be obscure, simply because it’s too difficult to sustain that many dactylics. But again, I doubt the dactylic rhythm will become obsolete. “Hickory” is a rhythm. “Hickory dickory dock” is a meter. The former will always be with us, the latter, perhaps not.

    I agree with your example: any rhythm can be made to work, depending on the meter, and further, the stanzaic arrangement. Poe said much original work remained to be done with stanza, the larger vessel of meter—which, in turn, is the larger vessel of rhythm.


    • marcusbales said,

      October 1, 2012 at 9:33 pm

      Meter is what poetry has; rhythm is what prose has. In spoken language, meter is a regular, repeating, and recognizable pattern of sound, and means a similar if not exactly the same thing in music. Rhythm, in spoken languages, is only recognizable, but not repeating except occasionally and usually briefly, and not at all regular. The combination of an artificial meter imposed upon the natural rhythm of ordinary language, composed in a way that, with great difficulty and subtlety, makes the meter clear without submerging the rhythm, while using the rhythm to keep the meter from becoming too rigid, is how we judge the poetry to be good. The better the meter and rhythm interweave with one another, here emphasizing, there underplaying, the role of one or the other, always in tension, but never in too much tension; always sounding natural, but never merely natural; the better we say the poetry is. The more the meter clumps heavy-footed over the rhythm, the more the rhythm stutter-steps syllables irregularly between the beats, the worse we say the poetry is. It’s hard to describe – like saying that the point of baseball is to throw a ball the batter can hit through a small area in front of the batter past the batter in such a way that the batter cannot hit it, or for the batter to hit a ball so thrown, it’s hard to understand without a commitment to seeing it done – even without watching it closely with enthusiasm.

      In literature rhythm is the distinctive lilt a natural language’s native speakers give it, and multi-lingual people can tell through a barrier that obscures the meaning of the words altogether what language is being spoken by that rhythm. I don’t know what your languages are, but I can always tell German from English, or English from Japanese, or German from Japanese (though that’s harder, oddly enough, at least for me) even if I can’t hear the words, just from the rhythm the speakers are employing. I hope, if you reflect on this, you’ll see what I mean in your own experience.

      Similarly, rhythm in music is the swing of it – the part that takes mere meter, mere accurate note-playing, and imbues it with soul and life. Once again, it is the combination of rhythm and meter in tension that creates art. But rhythm is not meter, and meter is not rhythm. They are distinct, roughly equal, and neither is a subset of the other, either in language or in music.

      In making art, music has the advantage of harmonic invention, and language has the advantage of meaning invention, to make the bits where the meter and rhythm are the same less boring by avoiding ineptitude through the addition of those other modes. So even though there are distinctive forms within which meter and rhythm combine in inept hands to make us wincingly recoil, the same forms in expert hands can, through the manipulation of harmony on the one hand and meaning on the other, continue to make art in significant and important ways in the most hackneyed of forms.

      We’re not that far apart, I think, on this. It seems to me since you style yourself a musician more than I style myself, that perhaps the greater importance of rhythm to swing the meter in music in order to get over the metronomic hump has led you into the mistake that rhythm is the larger, more important category within which meter is subsumed. My point is that meter is different from, and equal to, rhythm, in making art.

      • thomasbrady said,

        October 2, 2012 at 3:11 pm


        I agree we are not far apart. I did not mean to say, “rhythm is the larger, more important category…” (though it’s certainly important) The ‘order’ I outlined was stanza–meter—rhythm, with rhythm as the most fundamental, but meter, and its arrangement in stanza, more important in making interesting metric poems.

        In rock music, the downbeat is trochaic and the backbeat is iambic. But there seems to be little correlation with the ‘feel’ of rhythm in music and the ‘feel’ of rhythm in poetry, because music can add tempo and dynamics and elasticity which changes the whole character of the (simple) rhythm far more easily and readily than poetry can—though metered poetry, finally, in expert hands, can be as rich and nuanced and sensual as music. Which is why neglect of metered poetry is so shameful, I think.

        It finally comes down to: not the material so much, as what you do with the material. Pedantry categorizes as an end in itself—and this spirit is poison to creation, although ‘knowing’ the categories somewhere in the back of your mind is useful.


        • marcusbales said,

          October 3, 2012 at 1:23 pm

          I’m not sure there is an ‘order’ to it, and if there is, from my experience, it can go any which way. The donnee for a poem can start with the stanza, the whole form, a conversational rhythm, the meter, anything. So what the poet begins with seems to me to be the ‘most fundamental’ in any given instance. And without access to the poet’s notes, or the poet’s explanation, we just can’t know – so it seems futile to me to argue that there’s an ‘order’ from stanza to meter to rhythm, or that any of them is ‘more important’.

          And I’m afraid I’m going to have to disagree about how tempo, dynamics, and elasticity in music alone can change the character of a piece more easily or readily than poetry can. Pope famously long ago demonstrated that to be false:

          But most by Numbers judge a Poet’s Song,
          And smooth or rough, with them, is right or wrong;
          In the bright Muse tho’ thousand Charms conspire,
          Her Voice is all these tuneful Fools admire,
          Who haunt Parnassus but to please their Ear,
          Not mend their Minds; as some to Church repair,
          Not for the Doctrine, but the Musick there.
          These Equal Syllables alone require,
          Tho’ oft the Ear the open Vowels tire,
          While Expletives their feeble Aid do join,
          And ten low Words oft creep in one dull Line,
          While they ring round the same unvary’d Chimes,
          With sure Returns of still expected Rhymes.
          Where-e’er you find the cooling Western Breeze,
          In the next Line, it whispers thro’ the Trees;
          If Chrystal Streams with pleasing Murmurs creep,
          The Reader’s threaten’d (not in vain) with Sleep.
          Then, at the last, and only Couplet fraught
          With some unmeaning Thing they call a Thought,
          A needless Alexandrine ends the Song,
          That like a wounded Snake, drags its slow length along.
          Leave such to tune their own dull Rhimes, and know
          What’s roundly smooth, or languishingly slow;
          And praise the Easie Vigor of a Line,
          Where Denham’s Strength, and Waller’s Sweetness join.
          True Ease in Writing comes from Art, not Chance,
          As those move easiest who have learn’d to dance,
          ‘Tis not enough no Harshness gives Offence,
          The Sound must seem an Eccho to the Sense.
          Soft is the Strain when Zephyr gently blows,
          And the smooth Stream in smoother Numbers flows;
          But when loud Surges lash the sounding Shore,
          The hoarse, rough Verse shou’d like the Torrent roar.
          When Ajax strives, some Rocks’ vast Weight to throw,
          The Line too labours, and the Words move slow;

          You can see not only from a wide variety of other English poetry, but just within Pope’s own work talking about it that tempo, dynamics, and elasticity in the hands of an expert are just as easily and readily available in poetry as in music. There’s just as much bad music as there is bad poetry – people who play as if there were only a downbeat or only a backbeat, as well as people who don’t seem to be able to distinguish, and play first the one and then the other. Poetry and music, in the hands of the beginner, the journeyman, the inattentive expert, can be tedious, mediocre, or bad, and for the same reasons, really, though sometimes the terminology wanders a bit.

          But finally I agree it comes down not to the material but to what you do with the material: that’s well put.

          • thomasbrady said,

            October 5, 2012 at 2:59 pm


            I agree, but I’d say there’s a thousand musicians who can bring variety to a piece of music for every Pope who can do the same in verse—the reason why modern poets so eagerly threw off meter and rhyme was for the unspoken reason that meter/rhyme defines the real artist from the hack in an easily recognized manner.

            “And ten low Words oft creep in one dull line.”

            God I love this.

            Rock on, Pope!


  6. marcusbales said,

    October 6, 2012 at 11:17 am

    I agree that freeversists were, and are, eager to throw off or ignore the strictures of meter and rhyme because those strictures are both demanding and revealing.

    But though it’s certain “there’s a thousand musicians who can bring variety to a piece of music for every Pope who can do the same in verse” there’s also a thousand poets who can bring variety to their poems for every Beethoven, too. So what? The chasm between talent and genius has ever been unbridged. We’re talking about the malleability of the poetic and the musical line, and it’s there to be mauled by everyone, from the barely competent to the sublimely capable. That the genius can do better than the journeyman is a big “Duh.” But that doesn’t mean the journeyman can do nothing.

    • thomasbrady said,

      October 7, 2012 at 12:09 pm

      ok, marcus i grant your point re: chasm between talent and genius…i meant that today there are not many versatile versifiers, but millions of amateur musicians who have a certain proficiency in tempo, dynamics, etc in music….tom

  7. February 3, 2016 at 5:40 am

    Basketball game has absolutely advanced, and also the exact span of higher than a one hundred year, has developed right into an overseas way, some sort of multi-billion monetary market place, along with among the globe’s most widely used physical activities. These types of concerns was the hold technique, in which a team would develop a lead, at that time secure the shot, or pass the idea around teammates, in lieu of make an effort to report. All things considered, so why risk any missed picture that rival could get, while all you could had to do seemed to be secure the direct and get the overall game?

    • thomasbrady said,

      February 3, 2016 at 8:18 am

      Wow. A computer generated comment.

      • noochinator said,

        February 3, 2016 at 1:16 pm

        Kee-ryess, I hope nobody clicks on the commenter’s name — G-d only knows what would open up on one’s computer…. Speaking of fear, here’s a classic from the early 1970s, ‘BCN used to play it:

      • noochinator said,

        February 3, 2016 at 5:22 pm

        Here’s another great one that used to get a lot of ‘BCN airplay:

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