Discover more from Poiema
The Masculine Urge to Wax Poetic
"And sometimes a proud old soldier
Who had heard songs of the ancient heroes
And could sing them all through, story after story,
Would weave a net of words for Beowulf's
Victory, tying the knot of his verses
Smoothly, swiftly, into place with a poet's
In previous millennia, poetry was overwhelmingly a male passion. Your manhood would have been questioned if you did not share in the longing for the poetic. So why do most men hate poetry?
Certainly part of the blame falls to that romantic sentimentalism still prevalent in much poetry. That might naturally and rightly turn some men away. After all, most modern men only come into contact with the kind of "poetry" found in greeting cards.
I can't imagine Beowulf or King David chanting "love is a fuzzy kitten" while scraping the residue of dried blood from underneath their fingernails.
Sentimentalism, however, can't be the only culprit.
Perhaps it's the ghoulish introspectionism of so much modern poetry. Today you can't crack open a poetry anthology without being suffocated by self-absorbed poems prating on about self-inflicted loneliness brought on by narcissistic navel gazing.
But I think the main culprit is our subconscious utilitarianism. The beautiful is rarely useful, at least in a way that we can easily turn it into bitcoin. Why try to “see a world in a grain of sand” when we can be reading the Wall Street Journal?
But when we are old, playing shuffleboard in some retirement villa in Florida, gumming Jell-O and wondering why we spent all of those years chasing dimes and dollars, then we will know that a fat soul is better than a thick wallet. If only there were world enough and time…
David wrote poetry because he had a passion for beauty – a passion for God, for life. Simple prose couldn't contain such a life. There is too much to be said, and the engineer's syntax can't capture it. Poetry at least got him headed in the right direction.
So if you hate poetry or are just indifferent, consider that this might be symptomatic of some deep failure in you instead of in the poetry. And then, don't just admit to the failure and go on hanging your head. Hunt for beauty. Doggedly.
Remember David's and Beowulf. What a tragedy to be an unpoetic, thin-soul at a feast where,
"Hrothgar's hall resounded with the harp's
High call, with songs and laughter and the telling
Of tales, stories sung by the court
Poet as the joyful Danes drank