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The Age Demanded -- Ernest Hemingway

       
(Poem #1113) The Age Demanded
 The age demanded that we sing
 And cut away our tongue.

 The age demanded that we flow
 And hammered in the bung.

 The age demanded that we dance
 And jammed us into iron pants.

 And in the end the age was handed
 The sort of shit that it demanded.
-- Ernest Hemingway
           (1922)

This is precisely the sort of tough, hard-hitting, no-nonsense poetry that
so many poets attempt, and so few get right. Appearances to the contrary, a
keen sense of moral indignation does not by itself make a great poem - the
missing ingredient, which today's poem possesses in ample measure, is
*craftsmanship*. This craftsmanship is something that shines through in most
of Hemingway's work and makes his poetry a pleasure to read.

The concept is sadly disparaged by a certain class of 'poets', who make
sniffy remarks about craft versus Art, and blindly repeat phrases like
'spontaneous overflow of emotion' to justify their unwillingness to *work*
at a poem, but the fact remains that a good poem needs as much work as it
does inspiration.  Note that this is not a structured versus free verse
rant - I've seen some very finely crafted free verse (and some truly sloppy
structured verse, for that matter) - it's more a reaction to the attitude
that shaping a poem spoils its artistic purity. No, I don't understand it
either.

Like 'Chapter Heading' [Poem #976], today's poem is spare but not
minimalist. The terseness is never allowed to get in the way of the smooth
flow of the words, but Hemingway nevertheless manages to convey his point
with a remarkable economy that I find very refreshing.

martin

Links:

http://www.library.utoronto.ca/utel/rp/poems/heminw1.html has a couple of
notes on the poem

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