MARCH MADNESS 2018 —SENTIMENTAL AND WORTHY

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This year’s Scarriet 2018 March Madness Tournament is a contest between great sentimental poems.

We use Sentimental Poems because sentimentality in the United States has long been seen as a great fault in poetry.

It is necessary we bring attention to a crucial fact which is so obvious many overlook it: In the last 100 years, it is considered a virtue for the poet to avoid sentimentality.

But poetry does not belong to the factual.

Ever since Socrates pointed out that Homer wasn’t trustworthy when it came to chariots, law, war, or government, the fact that poetry is not factual has been understood and accepted.

As science grew in stature, it was only natural that Plato was seen as more and more correct—science, the eyes and ears of discovery, made the imagination of lyric song seem feeble by comparison.  Entertainment, Plato feared, could take the place of truth—and destroy society, by making it tyrannical, complacent, sensual, and blind.

Plato’s notion, to put it simply, triumphed.

Homer was no longer considered a text book for knowledge.

Poetry was just poetry.

Religion and science—one, an imaginative display of morals, the other, an imaginative display of reason, became the twin replacements of poetry for all mankind.

Poetry still mattered, but it belonged to entertainment and song, the frivolous, the sentimental—as much as these matter, and they do.  The sentimental was not considered a bad thing, but it was never confused with science. Nor was poetry confused with religion. Religion, with its unchanging sacred texts, was society’s moral guide; a poem springs up suddenly in a person’s mind, a fanciful thing, a piece of religion for the moment—not a bad thing, necessarily, but ranked below science and religion.

Poetry sat on the sidelines for two thousand years.  Homer made it glorious, Plato killed it, and then Science and Religion, for a couple of millennia, were Homer’s two important substitutes.

For two thousand years poetry was sentimental, not factual.

Religion bleeds into poetry (quite naturally) —Dante, Petrarch, Shakespeare, Milton—and in the rival arts, painting, and music—helps religiosity (high sentiment) to thrive and not be overthrown by science (fact).

Music and painting were especially glorious—we use the word without irony—(and religious) during the Renaissance, becoming almost scientific; musicians like Beethoven proved music is more than entertainment—it enriches the soul as much as religion.  Plato would certainly have approved of Bach and Beethoven, if not Goya and Shelley.

Poetry crept back into good standing (since being dethroned by Plato) through religion’s back door—as religion—especially during the Enlightenment and the 19th century—became more and more disgraced by science.

Modernism changed all that.

In the beginning of the 20th century, poetry (together with painting and music) decided it didn’t need religion or science.

Perspective (the mathematics of seeing), which developed in Renaissance painting, is science.

Cubism, Collage, (2-dimensional fragments) and Abstract painting’s color-mixing do not constitute scientific advancement.

Speech and versification enhance each other in poets like Pope and Byron—this has a certain scientific validity—poetry dribbling off into awkward prose, as it pretends to “paint” an “image,” does not.

Verse exists as written music.   Verse, like music, is a system of notation.  Beethoven’s notes do not float around experimentally on the page—Beethoven’s genius exists both in the notation, and in what the notation projects, with the sound of musical instruments. Beethoven’s genius also lies largely in the realm of the sentimental. Which is not a bad thing at all. Sentimentality occupies the battle-ground middle between religion and science—the genius of the modern is found more in artists like Beethoven and Byron, than in the more self-conscious “modernist revolution” of the 20th century—which was largely a step backwards for art and poetry, as talkers like Ezra Pound and John Dewey gained ascendancy.

Here’s an example of the pseudo-science which infested 20th century Modernism: Charles Olson’s idea that poetry is expressed as “breath,” and can be notated as such, on the page.  Yes, people breathe as they read verse, but “the breath” has nothing to do with verse in any measurable way.  A sigh is dramatic, sure. But a sigh isn’t scientific. Yet no one laughed at Olson’s idea. Modernists took it seriously.

And here in 2018, in the wake of Modernism with its sharp-pointed, experimental, unscientific irreverence, poets continue since 1900 to frown on anything sentimental, associating it with flowery, Victorian verse—when the sentimental belongs to the genius of great poetry.

Poetry is sentimental.

Bad poetry is sentimental only because all poetry is sentimental.

The damaging mistake Modernism made, dumping anything pre-1900, in its pursuit of the non-existent “new” (never really described or defined) was the insistence that sentimentalism was bad.

It was logical mistake, as we have just shown: all poetry (since Socrates knocked off Homer) is sentimental, not factual; Modernism’s childish, fake-science, tantrum against the sentimental was a gambit against religion, which was already collapsing before the advent of science.

Modernism did not embody scientific glory—unless skyscrapers as architecture belong to science.

The 20th century engineers and physicists (far closer to Leonardo da Vinci than William Carlos Williams) were scientific; religion lived on in the lives of the poor, even as Nietzsche-inspired, 20th century professors said God was dead; and meanwhile the Modern poets dug themselves into a hole—rejecting religion, while proudly beating their chests (Modernism’s crackpot identity was male) before the idol of pseudo-science. Modern poetry fell into oblivion, where it still exists today—secular, unscientific, unsentimental, unmusical, without a public, or an identity.

Sentimental poetry did live on throughout the 20th century—poetry is sentimental, after all.  It continued to thrive, in popular music, but as poetry, it mostly thrived beneath the Modernist headlines.

To highlight this argument, Scarriet’s 2018 March Madness Tournament will feature great sentimental poetry.

Before we start, we’d like to define the issue in more detail.

We do not assert that mawkish, simplistic, hearts-and-flowers, unicorns-and-rainbows, poetry is good.

But tedious, pedantic, dry, prosaic poetry is not good, either.

We simply maintain that all poetry, and the very best poetry, is sentimental, rather than factual—despite what Modernist scholars might say.

It is necessary to point out that verse is not, and cannot, as verse, be somehow less than prose, for verse cannot be anything but prose—with the addition of music.

Verse, not prose, has the unique categorical identity which meets the scientific standard of a recognizable art, because verse is prose-plus-one.  Verse is prose and more.  Here is the simple, scientific fact of verse as an identifying category, which satisfies the minimal material requirements of the category, poetry.

The objection can be raised that the following two things exist

1. prose and

2. prose which has a poetic quality, but is not verse

and therefore, poetry can exist without verse.

But to say that prose can be poetic while still being prose, is really to say nothing at all; for if we put an example of prose next to prose-which-is-poetic, it only proves that some prose writing samples are more beautiful than other prose writing samples.

This still does not change this fact: Verse is prose-plus-one.  Prose can be enchanting for various reasons; it can have a greater interest, for example, if it touches on topics interesting to us—but the topic is interesting, not the prose; the content of prose can have all sorts of effects on us—secondly, and more important, prose can certainly appeal for all sorts of sensual reasons, in terms of painting and rhythm and sentiment, and this is why we enjoy short stories and novels. But again, verse is all of this and more; verse is, by definition, prose-plus-one.

To repeat: Verse is more than prose. Prose is not more than verse.

What do we mean, exactly, by sentimental?  Isn’t there excellent verse which is not sentimental at all?  No, not really, if we simply define sentimental as the opposite of factual.

We might be confused here, because a fact can be sentimental; a simple object, for instance, from our past, which has associations for us alone—there it is, a souvenir, a fact which can move us to tears.

Just as verse is prose-and-more, the sentimental is fact-and-more.  Poetry adds sentiment to the fact.

Here are two examples of good poems, and because they are poems, they are sentimental; they are not sentimental because they are good, or good because they are sentimental.  The sentimental is a given for the poem. And because facts come first, and sentiment is added, poems use facts, even though poems are not factual.

Think of Byron’s famous lyric, “We Shall Go No More A Roving.”  The sentiment is right there in the title. “No more!” Something we did together which was pleasantly thrilling will never happen again.  

If this Byron lyric not sentimental, nothing is.   But we can state its theme in prose.  The sentimentality can be glimpsed in the prose, in the preface, in the idea.  The verse completes what the prose has started.

Facts, and this should not be surprising, do a lot of the work in sentimental poetry.  One of the things which makes Byron’s gushing lyric gloriously sentimental, for instance, is the fact that it is not just I who shall “go no more a roving,” but we shall “go no more a roving.” This is a fact, and the fact contributes to the sentimentality; or, it might be argued, the sentimentality contributes to the fact.

Carl Sandburg, born in 1878, got his first break in 1914 when his poems were accepted by Poetry, the little Modernist magazine from Chicago—where Sandburg was raised. Sandburg was initially famous for his “hog butcher for the world” poem about Chicago, but the Modernists (including the academically influential New Critics) withdrew their support as Sandburg gained real fame as a populist, sentimental poet. Sandburg even became a folk singer; his poem “Cool Tombs” was published in 1918, and you can hear Sandburg reading this masterpiece of sentimentality on YouTube—and you can hear Sandburg singing folk songs on YouTube, as well.  What is sentimental about a “cool tomb,” exactly?  Is it the sound-echo of “cool” and “tomb?” The sentimental in poetry proves the sentimental is not always a simple formula.

Shelley’s “Ozymandias” might be preferred by Moderns, because on the face of it, this poem doesn’t seem very sentimental at all.  Shelley’s poem is factual: a traveler sees a ruin. Shelley describes the facts as they are—here’s what the traveler sees.  But upon reflection, one recognizes how powerful the sentiment of the poem is—a great thing existed, and is now gone.  And yet, what is gone was evil, and the poem mocks its loss, and the final image of the poem is simply and factually, “the lone and level sands stretch far away.”

However, and we don’t need to push this point more than necessary, the whole power of Shelley’s poem is sentimental.  The fact of the statue, half-sunken in the sands of a desert, is just that—a fact.  Were it only this, the fact would not be a poem—all poems, to be poems, must be sentimental; the sentiment is added to the fact.

The poet makes us feel the sentimental significance of the fact; this is what all poems do.

And now to the Tournament…

Our readers will recognize quite a few of the older poems—and why not?  The greatly sentimental is greatly popular.

Most will recognize these poems right up through “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot.

The half-dozen poems composed more recently, in the fourth and final bracket, will not be as familiar, since sentimental examples of verse no longer get the attention they deserve; we bravely furnish them forth to stand with the great sentimental poems of old.

“Sentimental” by Albert Goldbarth is not actually sentimental; the poem is more of a commentary on sentimentality by a pedantic modern, in the middle of the modern, anti-sentimental era.

“A Dog’s Death” may be the most sentimental poem ever written, and it comes to us from a novelist; as respectable poets in the 20th century tended to avoid sentimentality.

The poems by Sushmita Gupta, Mary Angela Douglas, Stephen Cole, and Ben Mazer we have printed below.

The great poems familiar to most people are sentimental—at the dawn of the 20th century, sentimentality was unfortunately condemned.

Here are 64 gloriously sentimental poems.

Old Sentimental Poems—The Bible Bracket

1. Western Wind –Anonymous
2. The Lord Is My Shepherd –Old Testament
3. The Lie –Walter Raleigh
4. Since There’s No Help, Come Let Us Kiss and Part –Michael Drayton
5. The Passionate Shepherd to His Love –Christopher Marlowe
6. That Time Of Year Thou Mayst In My Behold –William Shakespeare
7. Full Fathom Five Thy Father Lies –William Shakespeare
8. Adieu, Farewell, Earth’s Bliss –Thomas Nashe
9. The Golden Vanity –Anonymous
10. Death, Be Not Proud –John Donne
11. Go and Catch A Falling Star –John Donne
12. Exequy on His Wife –Henry King
13. Love Bade Me Welcome –George Herbert
14. Ask Me No More Where Jove Bestows –Thomas Carew
15. Il Penseroso –John Milton
16. On His Blindness –John Milton

Newer Sentimental Poems—The Blake Bracket

1. Why So Pale and Wan Fond Lover? –John Suckling
2. To My Dear and Loving Husband –Anne Bradstreet
3. To Lucasta, Going to the Wars –Richard Lovelace
4. To His Coy Mistress –Andrew Marvel
5. Peace –Henry Vaughan
6. To the Memory of Mr. Oldham –John Dryden
7. Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard –Thomas Gray
8. The Sick Rose –William Blake
9. The Little Black Boy –William Blake
10. A Red, Red Rose –Robert Burns
11. The World Is Too Much With Us –William Wordsworth
12. I Wandered Lonely As  A Cloud –William Wordsworth
13. Kubla Khan –Samuel Coleridge
14. I Strove With None –Walter Savage Landor
15. A Visit From St. Nicholas –Clement Clarke Moore
16. When We Two Parted –George Byron

Still Newer Sentimental Poems—The Tennyson Bracket

1. England in 1819 –Percy Shelley
2. To ___ –Percy Shelley
3. Adonais–Percy Shelley
4. I Am –John Clare
5. Thanatopsis –William Cullen Bryant
6. To Autumn –John Keats
7. La Belle Dame sans Merci –John Keats
8. Ode to A Nightingale –John Keats
9. How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count The Ways –Elizabeth Barrett
10. Paul Revere’s Ride –Henry Longfellow
11. Annabel Lee –Edgar Poe
12. Break Break Break  –Alfred Tennyson
13. Mariana –Alfred Tennyson
14. The Charge of the Light Brigade –Alfred Tennyson
15. My Last Duchess  –Robert Browning
16. The Owl and the Pussy Cat –Edward Lear

Even Newer Sentimental Poems—The Sushmita Bracket

1. O Captain My Captain –Walt Whitman
2. Because I Could Not Stop For Death  –Emily Dickinson
3. The Garden Of Proserpine –Charles Swinburne
4. The Man He Killed –Thomas Hardy
5. When I Was One and Twenty  –A.E. Housman
6. Cynara –Ernest Dowson
7. Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock  –T.S. Eliot
8. Not Waving But Drowning  –Stevie Smith
9. Nights Without Sleep –Sara Teasdale
10. What Lips My Lips Have Kissed –Edna Millay
11. Sentimental –Albert Goldbarth
12. Dog’s Death –John Updike
13. Utterly In Love –Sushmita Gupta
14. I Wrote On A Page Of Light –Mary Angela Douglas
15. Waiting –Stephen Cole
16. Number 5 (December Poems) –Ben Mazer

Utterly in Love –Sushmita Gupta

Of all the remarkable,
Things and feelings,
In my life,
You are one.
And I guard you,
And your identity,
In the deepest,
Quietest corner,
Of my heart,
With a passion,
That some show,
For religion,
And if not religion,
Then they show it,
For revolution.
But me,
I am a mere mortal.
I only know,
To love you,
And love you secretly.
Secretly,
I melt in a pool,
By your thoughts.
Secretly,
I wish,
That you would,
Mould the molten me,
And give me,
A shape,
A form,
And eyes,
That twinkle,
Like far away stars.
And me,
With twinkling eyes,
And fragrant body,
From loving you,
Shall love you,
Even more.

I Wrote On A Page Of Light –Mary Angela Douglas

I wrote on a page of light;
it vanished.
then there was night.

then there was night and
I heard the lullabies
and then there were dreams.

and when you woke
there were roses, lilies
things so rare a someone so silvery spoke,

or was spoken into the silvery air that

you couldn’t learn words for them
fast enough.
and then,

you wrote on a page of light.

Waiting –Stephen Cole

I believe if She were here
She would tell me
The cold winds are departing.

The message delivered
Thoughtfully,
If only I was listening.

Comfort to the discomfort
With her warming words.
The void filled,
Recognized,
For what it lost,
Otherwise,
It could not be filled.

For Her,
The rules are absent by rules.
She always knows what to say
As only for the proper need,
She construes,
According to sidereal secrets
Of the long, long day.

Number 5 (December Poems) –Ben Mazer

I was at the Nuremberg Rallies pleading with my wife,
I love you, I love you, more than anything in the world!
As she looked off to see the dramatic spectators,
she turned to me and said, you hate my guts.
I wept, I pleaded, no, it wasn’t true!
I only married you because I love you!
There is no force to plead with that can change her course,
now everything is quite its opposite,
and yet she said, “I wish that it were true,”
and would not answer “Do you love me?”
or contest “You do! You love me!”
What are we then? Man and wife
hopelessly lost and separated in strife
and worser grief than was known to despair
at using words like markers, no means yes,
when Jesus Mary Magdalene won’t you bless
the two true lovers, their heads to your thighs,
and let this nonsense out in bursts of tears and sighs.

THERE IS A RADICAL ERROR

There are two ways to respond to any impressive performance: “Bravo!” or “How did you do that?”  The second response will sometimes unnerve the performer, and of course it’s also the basis of education and pedagogy.

Edgar Poe, before Modernism, before the Writing Era, before Post-Modern Theory, asked in his “Philosophy of Composition,” why poets never recorded how they wrote a poem, and thought “authorial vanity” the chief reason. Poe goes on to illustrate, step-by-step, how he wrote, “The Raven.”  Poe, here, was destroying the Romantic notion that a poem was “organic,” that a poem had to be written because of some fountain of passionate expression in the poet’s soul, that a poem was a mystical, religious experience glimpsed through a burning window. Poe merely said we can put together a poem like a piece of machinery.  The New Critics and T.S. Eliot, with their anti-Romantic, perfunctory, ironic, modern, intelligence, learned it all from this one essay.  Much was made of (and the moderns mocked) Poe’s “Death of a beautiful woman” formula; but this was just Poe (as usual) having it both ways: machinery/tenderly human.  The point Poe was making was that the poem-machinery still needs a human theme to work like a machine: machines work for people, after all.   “The death of a beautiful woman” really wasn’t the point at all.  It was just an example.  His machine, as he tells his readers, was a “popular” poem machine; you need a popular theme for a popular poem to work.

The poet must be a critic of himself even more than the critic needs to be a critic of the poets, for the former produces great poetry; the latter only points out bad poetry.  We can crudely puff ourselves, too, investing in “Bravo!” over “How did you do that?”  This third option is by far the worst.

Poets should be critics, but should they be fiction writers, too?  Or historians, as well?  How much should the genres mingle?  Critically, how much can be surveyed at once?   Is there enough time to become expert in more than one field?

And is it philosophy that should bind all these up—criticism, poetry, fiction, and history?

Any poet will give short, competent answers to these questions in interviews, and every intellectual revels in a certain number of disciplines, but philosophically we’re winging it.  No one really knows very much, beyond a suave, surface nominalism capable of fooling people for an afternoon in front of a classroom.  In our hearts we know we are frauds.  Inspiration may visit.  But not for very long.

The following is merely a good place for this discussion to start because it manages to cover it all: poetry, fiction, history, and criticism.  It is from Poe’s “Philosophy of Composition.”

There is a radical error, I think, in the usual mode of constructing a story. Either history affords a thesis — or one is suggested by an incident of the day — or, at best, the author sets himself to work in the combination of striking events to form merely the basis of his narrative — designing, generally, to fill in with description, dialogue, or autorial comment, whatever crevices of fact, or action, may, from page to page, render themselves apparent.

I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect. Keeping originality always in view — for he is false to himself who ventures to dispense with so obvious and so easily attainable a source of interest — I say to myself, in the first place, “Of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart, the intellect, or (more generally) the soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select?” Having chosen a novel, first, and secondly a vivid effect, I consider whether it can best be wrought by incident or tone — whether by ordinary incidents and peculiar tone, or the converse, or by peculiarity both of incident and tone — afterward looking about me (or rather within) for such combinations of event, or tone, as shall best aid me in the construction of the effect.

The analysis and criticism of literary fiction invariably involves talk of three things: “character,” “point-of-view,” and some “essay topic theme” by which the work is generally characterized and marketed: Man v. Nature, Boomer Romance Comedy, or topical news interest such as immigration, gun control, health control, cyber-bullying.

These things, however: character, p.o.v., and theme, though commonly discussed, are crude markers.  A new vocabulary for discussing fiction is necessary.

The one thing we all want is to know and reflect the truth—if such a thing exists, and let’s assume, for the moment that it does.  So poems, stories, criticism of those poems and stories, history, philosophy should express—in their various ways—truth.  Truth, for the reader of fiction, might be truth of character, a small insight into life, a slice of political truth—it doesn’t have to be truth with a capital “T,” just so we know what we are generally aiming for, here.

Edgar Poe makes the radical assertion that he prefers writing a story without a “thesis” from “history,” or “one suggested by an incident of the day.”  Then he goes on to say that he will select an original and vivid “impression” to affect the “susceptible” reader, using “incident” and “tone” and looking “within” to find the right “combination” of such.

We can hear the howls of protest from those looking for “truth.”  Mr. Poe, by walling himself off from history and life, and starting with the impressionable reader, seems determined to get as far away from the truth as possible, to say nothing of “looking within” for “combinations.”

Poe, are you mad?   Yes, mad like a fox.

Here’s how we imagine Poe would respond: Why insult history, and worse, Truth herself, by saying fiction is true? Why make fiction into a kind of half-history/history lite, incident-of-the-day-illustration, or an essay chock full of half-truths that yet satisfies a blowhard’s opinionated animus in a certain literature-approved direction? A reader’s susceptibility is simply the coin of fiction; why pretend otherwise? If the bad routinely preys on this susceptibility, why not genius, too? As for the ‘walling off’ and ‘looking within,’ charge: removing fiction from history’s realm—where history is merely turned into half-truth by the untrustworthy—we free up fiction to be more itself: combinations of tone and incident fashioned within by the only one worthy to fashion, in a novel manner, these combinations: the author.

“Incident” is just the right word, too, as bland as it might sound to modern ears.  “Incident” refers to both character and plot, neither of which can exist without the other.  We hear lovers of literary fiction go on about “character,” as if mere “plot” belonged to the cruder arcs of genre fiction, “character” distinguishing high-brow productions from their populist kin.  We recall Poe scolding a critic, who, in speaking of Hamlet, the character, wrote of Hamlet as if he were a real person who walked among us, and not simply the coinage of Shakespeare’s brain.  As the religiously superstitious over-anthropomorphize, so the critic of literary fiction inevitably mistakes fictional characters for real persons—they are not.  “Character” is merely a piece of machinery belonging to the fiction, belonging to the “incidents,” and is no more genuine than a plot device—for each part of the machine cannot exist without the other; the “combination” of the “incidents” is all—and the “character” merely a piece existing for those “incidents” and their “tone,” a tone which belongs solely to the author, and if we think the tone has anything to do with “character,” we err in the manner just alluded to in the Hamlet example.

When Poe, the author, constructs a story, obviously “the real” seeps in, but to acknowledge this is only to recognize what the more history-based author makes paramount, anyway.  The issue here is “Who is in charge?”  The author, or the historical incident Both have integrity, and this is precisely why we don’t want to mix them up.

Much is made of “point of view,” also.  But “incident” can cover this, as well.  The author needs to best determine whether first or third person will work better for the nature of the story being told.  Again, this has nothing to with “character,” for instance, or the sorts of topical or historical truths the reader of literary fiction is often on the hunt for: it still boils down to Poe’s simple formula: “combinations” of “incidents” and “tone.”

Poetry is beholden even more rigorously to the same laws.  If one writes a poem about one’s grandmother dying of cancer, the poem will be obliterated by the grandmother, and the cancer.

There are “incidents of the day,” there are historical themes, of which no poem could be the register—and still be a poem.  John Updike, the distinguished fiction writer who dabbled in poetry, published a poem about the poignant death of a family puppy—with tears running down our cheeks we deny not the pup, but the poem.  If gossip-as-art lives, true art dies—this would be the more hysterical type of warning we might give.

The fiction writer might think himself free of the principles set down by the master, Poe, who was determined that the short story be like the poem in its artistic and imaginative rigor.  But these are questions for the critic and the philosopher, if not for the magazine or newspaper reviewer.

The protest will surely sound something like this:  I wrote this story because my puppy died.  How dare you ask me how it was done!

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