Poets Laureate

It is tenable that there is a sort of implied obligation in a people to sustain, in no illiberal spirit, the poets who express the people.  But surely there is also an implied obligation in the poets that they shall express the people.  The contract is rightly kept vague and elastic: we will not dictate the poetry, nor should the poet dictate the pension.  But the contract, though unwritten, is fundamental.  Because I cannot express my feelings when I am in love with a woman, I owe gratitude and help to Robert Burns, who can express them for me.  But because I pay Burns for expressing his love for a woman (which I feel, but cannot express), it does not folow that I need pay him if he expresses his love for a she-rhinoceros, a sentiment which I do not feel, and do not even wish to feel.  I admire the sky spangled with stars, but I cannot praise it: Shelley can do it for me.  But if Shelley takes to praising the skin spotted with small-pox, then I have to tell him, gently but firmly, that I not only cannot praise, but do not admire.  The breach between the people and the poets has been bad for both: the people have gone without inspiration and the poets without applause.  But the error was in the poets as well as the people.

The Illustrated London News, 22 May 1909.

Published in: on November 18, 2009 at 6:27 am  Leave a Comment  

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