EDITOR’S NOTE: REMEMBER PEARL HARBOR!
The quotation is from Jeremiah 12:1. The King James version reads, “Righteous art thou, O LORD, when I plead with thee: yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?
That Hopkins knows the Bible and can furnish a quote from the Latin only reinforces my conviction that underlying the great poets is a solid understanding of languages and history that isn’t found today. Latin and Greek aren’t taught and history is constantly being reinvented by people that don’t know history.
Can an ignorant or poorly educated person produce great poetry? I’m sure there are examples. But I think badly schooled people succeed mostly in the visual arts, where an untrained person can sometimes produce outstanding images or sculpture without formal schooling.
A five year old can produce a pretty finger painting but not a poem that will be read three hundred years from now. It takes education. It takes a grounding in the written word. It takes constant reading of great poets to get a sense of what makes sense.
I can’t write poetry. I love to read good poetry but it doesn’t call to me. Anything I produce would be shallow and self-indulgent. Who’d want my thoughts on the universe in rhyme? Please. Too much bad poetry already.
My place as a writer is in composing short, non-fiction pieces like newspaper and magazine articles and business writing. I leave poetry to others, most of whom died more than a hundred years ago. Conditions were better for poetry back then, with poets drawing from a deep well of classical education.
Every form of art and school of art has its age. The greatest symphonic composers lived three centuries ago. Will we see a a Mozart or Beethoven again? Will poetry flourish once more like it did in the past? Are the likes of Keats or Dickinson or Housman or Kipling waiting in the next room? I don’t see them.
Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord
by Gerad Manley Hopkins (1844-1899)
Justus quidem tu es, Domine, si disputem tecum; verumtamen
justa loquar ad te: Quare via impiorum prosperatur?
Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
Why do sinners’ ways prosper? and why must
Disappointment all I endeavour end?
Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,
Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks and brakes
Now, leavèd how thick! lacèd they are again
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes
Them; birds build – but not I build; no, but strain,
Time’s eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.
These notes were written by John Frederick Nims in The Harper Anthology of Poetry, Harper and Row, New York ( 1981)
thralls, slaves; brakes, bed of ferns; fretty chervil ; cow-parsley with its dissected leaves; time’s eunuchs, see Matthew 19:12 ” . . . there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of of heaven’s sake.”