Editor’s note: This essay originally was delivered as a presentation at TOS-Con 2019 and retains the quality of the oral presentation. Notes have been added to elaborate certain points and provide citations. To view a recording of this talk, click here.
I am going to begin with a question.
I assume that most everyone here consumes art, in some form, on a very regular basis. Each of us might do so more or less often, given our particular interests and the current state of our lives, and we might seek out art of greater or lesser complexity or sophistication, but we all seem to feel that fundamental and inescapable human need for the unique inspiration, relaxation, and rejuvenation that is given to us by art.
So, to fulfill that need, how many of you turn, at least a few times a month:
- To television?
- To movies?
- To novels?
- To great novels, by authors such as Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Hugo?
And how many of you turn, at least a few times a month, to classic poetry, by such authors as Tennyson, Keats, Wordsworth, and John Donne?
Not many. I am not surprised, and I don’t blame you in the least. I do blame your education, my education—these days, almost everyone’s education—for failing to make palpably and unforgettably real the distinct power of poetry to enrich our lives. I was fortunate enough to learn that power in spite of my education, and now I can no longer imagine my life without it.
I think the reason most people don’t consume poetry regularly is actually the very reason it is so fulfilling if you do: It is so dense with value that the value is not readily and immediately accessible. Allow me to illustrate. . . . Poetry can inspire us with ideals, reveal the depth beyond the surface, burnish our lives with beauty, turn the simple into the sacred, and make us aspire past what things are to what they might be. Click To Tweet