November 13, 2007 § Leave a comment

On CBC recently I heard an interview with an Iranian poet who was Holding Forth on the galvinizing effect that Ten Nights of Poetry had on the Iranian Revolution in 1978. The poets used variations on “blood” and “red” to prepare and inspire the people for marches, protest, and violence in the name of democracy. Some believed so fierecly in the poetry that when democracy failed them, they blamed the poets.

Of course, in the land of Rumi and Omar Khayyam, and in a language as rich in metaphor as Farsi, it’s natural that poetry is central to culture and identity. So why do we in the West, who speak the planet’s richest language, feel such estrangement from poetry, especially in politics? Why was it fresh and exciting when Kennedy had Frost read at his inaugural address, and a cheap cop-out when Clinton had Angelou read?

With every word is so parsed in our own democracies, every idea so bite-sized, the poetry of our own rich language is washed away.

So here’s a poem by Anthony Hecht, political in its own quiet way.

Poppy

It builds like unseen fire deep in a mine,
This igneous, molten wrath,
The smelting torture that rises with the decline
Of reason, signifying death.

As when, fueled with suspicion, the coal-black
Othello is wrought forge-hot
Or when pouting Achilles lashes back
At the whole Trojan lot.

For the death of Patroclus: the one prepared to die
In fury, to pit his life
Against a well-armed equal, the other to slay
An innocent young wife;

Both, curiously, heroes. It is like that seething
Pit, pitch-black, as whose lip
A petaled flame spreads crimsonly, bequeathing
One or another sleep.

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