Now listen. Can’t you see that when the language was new—as it was with Chaucer and Homer—the poet could use the name of a thing and the thing was really there. He could say ‘O moon’, ‘O sea’, ‘O love’, and the moon and the sea and love was really there. And can’t you see that after hundreds of years had gone by and thousands of poems had been written, he could call on those words and find that they were just worn out literary words. The excitingness of pure being had withdrawn from them; they were just stale literary words. Now the poet has to work in the excitingness of pure being; he has got to get back that intensity into the language. We all know that it’s hard to write poetry in a late age; and we know that you have to put some strangeness, as something unexpected, into the structure of the sentence in order to bring back vitality to the noun. Now it’s not enough to be bizarre; the strangeness in the sentence structure has to come from the poetic gift, too. That’s why it’s doubly hard to be a poet in a late age. Now you all have seen poems about roses and you know in your bones that the rose is not there. All those songs that sopranos sings as encores about ‘I have a garden! Oh, what a garden!’ Now I don’t want to put too much emphasis on that line, because it’s just one line in a longer poem. But I notice that you all know it; you make fun of it, but you know it. Now listen! I’m no fool. I know that in daily life we don’t go around saying ‘…is a…is a…is a…’ Yes, I’m no fool; but I think that in that line the rose is red for the first time in English poetry for hundreds of years.
Writings and Lectures