Saturday, November 20, 2004

Poetry versus problems

Poetry versus problems

Updated 00:55am (Mla time) Nov 20, 2004
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the November 20, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

AND now, with all the troubles haunting our country, from rising prices through graft and corruption to the worsening peace and order and the P353-million loan granted by President Macapagal-Arroyo to millionaire Mike Velarde despite the greater need of our deprived countrymen for more succor and compassion from the unfeeling government, let us forget our desperate condition for a moment and find some solace, albeit if only briefly, in the soothing beauty of poetry.

I speak not of the comma poems of Jose Garcia Villa or the obscure language of the modern poets whose incomprehensible imageries only they can understand. They forget that, as T. S. Eliot says, "Genuine poetry must communicate before it is understood." I am an ordinary person who would rather leave unread those sublime thoughts that bedazzle like "splendor in the grass." My plebeian taste does not pretend literary connoisseurism and inclines to the simpler word as the more eloquent expression. The following are some examples.

Thomas Gray in "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" spoke regretfully of:

Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear;
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

William Wordsworth had a different view when he wrote of Lucy, who "dwelt among the untrodden ways" as:

A violet by a mossy stone
Half-hidden from the eye!
Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.

In high school, we were thrilled by John Greenleaf Whittier's "In School-Days," where a little girl said remorsefully to a classmate:

"I'm sorry that I spelt the word:
I hate to go above you,
Because, "the brown eyes lower fell"Because, you see, I love you ."
* * *
Poor girl! The grasses on her grave
Have forty years been growing!

He lives to learn, in life's hard school,
How few who pass above him
Lament their triumph and his loss,
Like her, because they love him.

I remember that when then Special Prosecutor Raul M. Gonzales openly accused three justices of the Supreme Court of impropriety for sending him written and innocent recommendations for some job applicants, I teased them with this passage from "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam":

The Moving Finger writes, and having writ,
Moves on; Nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

"This Prayer of a Little Dog," which I copied from a magazine when I was a teenager, still continues to delight me after all these years.

I've explained to St. Peter I'd rather stay here
Outside the Pearly Gates.
I won't be a nuisance, I won't even bark,
I'll be very patient and wait.
I'll stay here and chew a celestial bone
No matter how long it will take.
I miss you so much if I went in alone
It wouldn't be heaven to me.

Doggerel, the snob will say? To me it's charming.
Then there is this tender sentiment William Butler Yeats paid his daughter, who must still be cherishing it today.

She can, though every face should scowl
And every windy quarter howl
Or every bellows burst, be happy still.

I have many more verses to appreciate but there are space restrictions. And as Robert Frost wrote in "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening":

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

All right, class, lecture's over. Back to the grindstone and let's talk now of the latest nonsense that the financial crisis is over.


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