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iamb what iamb
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When I think of great poets the first name that springs to my mind is Dr. Seuss.

Okay. Poetry has never done much for me. My attitude has always been: give me prose and iambs be damned! Whatever an iamb might be.

I was exposed to poetry during literature classes in high school but I guess I have natural immunity, just like I have to small pox. How swell of a writer could Shelley have been, really, if our English teacher could explain what Shelley meant better than Shelley's poems did? (And our English teacher was nicknamed "Froggy" no less) Why didn't poets just come right out and say what they meant and forget all the confusing funny business?

Over the years I've come to appreciate why those old poets wrote the way they did, without gaining much appreciation of their writings. Recently I went back and read some of the Romantic Poets, from Blake to Byron. There are bits here and there that make sense to me now and Blake's combination of words and pictures was especially intriguing. However, what I took away from my reading, mostly, is that I am simply not equipped to enjoy such poems. Few of us are, for several reasons, that won't be a revelation to anyone but that I hadn't given much thought to.

For one thing, many of the poems depend heavily on a deep familiarity with classical literature, myth and the Bible. Explanatory footnotes aren't much help. A poem is not going to resonate unless the materials it is constructed from are a meaningful part of one's life to begin with. It's like a joke. If you need it explained, it won't be funny.

Hundreds of years ago, the small population of classically educated people the poetry was aimed at would have understood a reference to The Iliad as easily as people today would grasp one to The Sopranos. The same is true, I suppose, of the poetic forms involved. A considerable amount of classical literature was verse and people were more used to reading it.

In addition, I suspect people were much more likely then to hear poetry read aloud either at home or in social settings and that would no doubt render the actual sound of the poetry more meaningful. (Would a verse get stuck in your head as a bit of a tune does? Such as the highwayman who comes riding, riding, riding....!)

Well, there's an argument against poetry if ever I heard one. At any rate, it is unlikely I am going to go out and get myself an education of the sort people got 200 years ago, let alone attend poetry readings. So I am stuck with the Cat in the Hat rather than La Belle Dame sans Merci. But, hey, the Cat might have been trouble too, but the kids were "palely loitering" before the Cat dropped in, not after.

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