A Man Can Not Always Be Serious

I was recently reminded of Sleary’s words, to Mr Gradgrind, in “Hard Times”:
“People mutht be amuthed. They can’t be alwayth a learning, nor yet they can’t
be alwayth a working, they an’t made for it”.
It happened in this manner. I fell into conversation with an acquaintance in the pub, who mentioned that a friend had said words to the following effect:
“Poetry should be serious. Proper poetry isn’t humorous”.
I am the first one to defend serious poetry. The expression of heartfelt melancholy as in Keats “Ode to a Nightingale”, or Dowson’s “They are not long the weeping and the laughter”, engenders in me a profound sense of connection with the poet, long since deceased. I feel as they felt or as close to it as it is humanly possible to feel. Serious art (whether poetry or otherwise) has the power to shake us out of our complacency, make the strong man weep or simply cause the reader to reflect deeply on existence and her place in it.
Humorous verse does, in contrast cause us to laugh outloud, as in Lewis Carroll’s wonderful Jabberwocky, or Edward Lear’s “The Owl and the Pussy-cat”, To possess the power to make others laugh uproariously is a real talent and those who have the capacity to do so should not be dismissed merely owing to the fact that their work is not “serious”. To misquote Sleary:
“A man can not always be serious”!
Perhaps it is attitudes such as that expressed by my acquaintence’s friend (that poetry must be serious), which help to explain (at least partially) why so many people maintain they “don’t like poetry”.


5 thoughts on “A Man Can Not Always Be Serious

  1. Victoria Zigler (@VictoriaZigler)

    This is another example of how some experiences with something have caused people to form opinions and make judgements before giving something similar a chance. I sometimes wonder if the choices made of which works – poetry or otherwise – we study in school cause some of this, since early exposure to the classics seems to taint the opinions of many when it comes to the potential enjoyment of poetry and literature.

    1. drewdog2060drewdog2060 Post author

      Thanks for your comment Tori. I agree that early exposure to the clasics and/or poetry may cause a child to form an unfavourable opinion regarding their merits. However a good teacher with the capacity to enthuse his/her pupils can, I believego a long way to implanting a love of literature by bringing literature alive. I remember being rather a precocious child and sitting in the school library reading an abridged child’s edition of Homer’s Odysey which captured my imagination. Children’s books which retel myths (for example the Tanglewood Tales) can go a long way to encouraging children to explore mythology and the classics more generally. Best wishes. Kevin

      1. Victoria Zigler (@VictoriaZigler)

        It’s more the way they’re exposed to them than the fact they are. For those of us who delighted in reading whatever we could get our hands on, and stumbled upon the classic literature ourselves, or had teachers who made learning fun, it was a good thing. For those who had little to no interest in any reading that wasn’t required reading, and teachers who made schoolwork feel like a chore, so resented spending lesson after lesson studying books they had no interest in, it may not have been such a good thing, and that’s where I think the tainting of opinions comes in. Many people think of the classics and remember hours of boredom in the classroom, which puts them off. Unless someone is lucky enough to have a teacher who makes the studying fun, or a love of reading to start with… Preferably both… I think it can often cause the works of classic authors and poets to be associated with times they’re glad to see the back of. You and I have hours of happy memories among books to draw on. For those who don’t, it can sometimes be more difficult to find pleasure in any kind of reading, be it classic novels, poetry (classic or otherwise) or more recently released novels.

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