What happens when a poet lets his pen
Run aimlessly away,
In the mid afternoon?
He will write of a tree
Or some such thing.
Perchance he will talk of cabbages and kings.
But no, that would be to steal Mr Carroll’s words,
A thing not heard
Of amongst honest men,
Who dip their pen
In blood red ink
Of original ideas.
Perchance they speak of wasted years
And tears that fall
And how all love turns to gall.
But there is, I fear
Nothing original here,
So I shall compose a verse about wenches and beer.
Yet women and wine (both truly divine)
Have been done to death by versifiers.
I must seek for different fires
To warm the hearts
Of those who lose themselves in the poetic arts.
But there are none,
For sages long since gone
Have said and done,
And had their fun
Never to be heard
Accept perhaps in the rhymer’s drunken brain
Where he recollects a line
He once considered rather fine.
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”.