08 January 2013

The Purpose of Poetry

To express the inexpressible (note Sam's words 'so I can't tell you what I mean'). To tap in to that ancient haunted longing for our true home that certain smells and songs remind us of. To become human again.

1. C. S. Lewis, responding in a 1949 letter to a woman who had written him explaining that her religious doubts had 'all dissolved in a wordless illumination of the mind':
No, one can't put these experiences into words: though all writing is a continual attempt to do so. Indeed, in a sense, one can hardly put anything into words: only the simplest colors have names, and hardly any of the smells. The simple physical pains and (still more) the pleasures can't be expressed in language. I labor the point lest the devil should hereafter try to make you believe that what was wordless was therefore vague and nebulous. But in reality it is just the clearest, the most concrete, and the most indubitable realities which escape language: not because they are vague but because language is. What goes easily into words is precisely the abstract--thought about 'matter' (not apples or snuff), about 'population' (not actual babies), and so on. Poetry I take to be  the continual effort to bring language back to the actual.
2. Martyn-Lloyd Jones recounts a time that a friend of his wrote to Chesterton asking, 'Why is it that the poets can be so glorious in their poetry but often are so disappointing in their personal lives and in their beliefs and in their prose?' Chesterton wrote back:
Poets often sing what they cannot say.
3. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings:
'The Lady of Lorien! Galadriel!' cried Sam. 'You should see her, indeed you should, sir. I am only a hobbit, and gardening's my job at home, sir, if you understand me, and I'm not much good at poetry--not at making it: a bit of a comic rhyme, perhaps, now and again, you know, but not real poetry--so I can't tell you what I mean. It ought to be sung. You'd have to get Strider, Aragorn that is, or old Mr. Bilbo, for that. But I wish I could make a song about her. Beautiful she is, sir! Lovely! Sometimes like a great tree in flower, sometimes like a white daffadowndilly, small and slender like. Hard as di'monds, soft as moonlight. Warm as sunlight, cold as frost in the stars. Proud and far-off as a snow-mountain, and as merry as any lass I ever saw with daisies in her hair in springtime. But that's a lot o' nonsense, and all wide of my mark.'


Eric said...

I try to remind my students that about half of the OT is poetry - and in Revelation, there's an awful lot of poetry and singing going on.

The Hamptons said...

Thanks for this--I needed it today. I've got that "ancient longing for Home" really going on!A friend sent us the post where you asked some folks to put the Gospel into a sentence and we really enjoyed their responses. I appreciate your posts--Will be checking in again!