The Armistice Century in Poetry

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The Armistice Century in Poesy

November 11, 2017

Still we find it hard to go
Where friendly harmonies can blow.
Our songs have been self-punishment
Ten decades long, and gray lament.
We weary now of wearying
And thin-lipped verse is growing thin:
The closed-up throat, the furious brow,
We might relax if we knew how.

Experiment was not a thing,
As it turned out, to help us sing.
It was subtraction in disguise –
Subtracting all that readers prize.
And this became misanthropy
And academic entropy
And prickly pridesome certitude
That Man from Poem we might exclude.

And then it came to pass that Man,
On suffering this thorny ban,
Turned right around in turn and banned
The Poem from the Man. Demand
Went low, supply went high,
While teachers begged, “Give art a try!”
Then, to be read, we went all-fours
And harnessed us in words of boors.

What chaos followed – hard to tell –
Poesy in Flanders fell.
Its shattered fragments on the wind
Flew far; a thousand schools they spinned.
Each school at war with all the rest
Made a whole of the part loved best.
The most substantial, I suspect,
Remain for us to resurrect.

If we forget Joyce, Moore and Pound
Will we grow dumb, or song resound?
If Blake and Poe and Keats could rise
In us again, what glad surprise
Might greet the readers of the Post
With all the sad unlettered host?
Would mouthfuls glad and syntax strange
Their grasp of language rearrange?

Now that is just a dream too far:
A girl can dream, but that’s bizarre!
The jagged and quotidian
Are loved by all post-World War men.
And if they show some evidence
Of wanting grace and reverence –
Well, stamp it out. The world is bad.
We’ve got no use for Galahad.

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