This week's theme: Poems with a Purpose.
(Poem #1069) The Leaden-Eyed
Let not young souls be smothered out before They do quaint deeds and fully flaunt their pride. It is the world's one crime its babes grow dull, Its poor are ox-like, limp and leaden-eyed. Not that they starve, but starve so dreamlessly; Not that they sow, but that they seldom reap; Not that they serve, but have no gods to serve; Not that they die, but that they die like sheep.
Art for Art's sake? Not quite. Love poems and nature poems, odes to melancholy and cats, Life sliced and filleted, funnies and furies -- these are all very well, but there's a special place in the poetic pantheon for pieces propounding purely political principles: Poems with a Purpose. Unfortunately, there are two dangers which such poems often run into, both easily foreseen, but quite a bit harder to prevent. Firstly, there's the possibility that the poet allows the moral, social or political aspects of his poem to overwhelm the purely poetic ones; he is so caught up in _what_ he is saying that he loses sight of _how_ he's saying it. The result, more often than not, is a stilted, overly didactic piece, the kind which Coleridge, the later Wordsworth and Shelley wrote far too many of. It was this danger that the Imagists were warning against with their tenet "Show, don't tell"; it was this possibility that Archibald MacLeish was reacting to when he wrote "A poem should not mean / but be" . The second danger is, ironically, the exact obverse of the first: namely, the possibility that the poem's readers respond, not to the purely poetic merits of the verse, but to the political ones; they allow their agreement (or lack thereof) with the poet's philosophy to cloud their judgement when it comes to evaluating the poem per se . There are two ways to avoid this danger; the easy one is to retreat into platitudes that offend nobody (but equally, please nobody). That way lies mediocrity. The other, more difficult way is to do what Vachel Lindsay does in today's poem: find something you feel strongly about, which nonetheless has not been bromided to death by a thousand previous moralisers, express it in words fresh enough to be powerful, and leave it at that. The reader will do the rest. thomas.  Poem #188, "Ars Poetica" -- Archibald MacLeish  It might be argued that this is not a flaw: a poem that arouses strong passions (favourable or otherwise) in its readers is a poem that's doing _something_ right. [Links] Here's a nice resource on Lindsay's life and works: http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/g_l/lindsay/lindsay.htm Here are some Imagist poets on the Minstrels: Poet #Kreymborg -- Alfred Kreymborg Poet #Sandburg -- Carl Sandburg Poet #Pound -- Ezra Pound Poet #D. -- H. D. Poet #Williams -- William Carlos Williams Here are some previous poems, each with their own respective Purposes: Poem #26, Jerusalem -- William Blake Poem #592, Sonnet: England in 1819 -- Percy Bysshe Shelley Poem #132, Dulce Et Decorum Est -- Wilfred Owen Poem #28, To Whom It May Concern -- Adrian Mitchell