The United States has not engendered so many first-rank poets that we can neglect one. --John Derbyshire
My son-in-law informed me that the National Review was seeking poetry, so I went to their website and performed a Google advanced search for poetry, and I came across your article for The New Criterion (on line) titled “Longfellow & the fate of modern poetry.” I found the article very interesting, as the ideas in the article were similar to mine, except from a different point of view, i.e., the point of view of the unknown poet seeking recognition.
The title was the first item to interest me, as I am a descendant of Longfellow on my father’s side and I have been decrying modern poetry for years. For me, Longfellow is not a “dead dead poet” as shown by the use of his quotation in my poem below:
THE ESSENCE OF HUMANITY
Ye whose hearts are fresh and simple, / Who have faith in God and
Nature, / Who believe that in all ages / Every human heart is human,
--Longfellow, “The Song of Hiawatha”
Nurtured by breasts and ancient tribal lore
And Nature's nearness and a strong male role
Model, the active child must now explore
The plains beside the twilight water hole.
The black low lines of thunderstorms attack
The milling herd and sudden thunderclaps
Soon start the stampede on a southern track.
The Great Spirit is angry now, perhaps?
Small waving hands and firebrand bar the path
To parents, friends and relatives. He smiled.
He knew how to divert a wild herd's wrath!
So much depends upon the loving child.
For where the charging, scared, lead buffalo
Is shooed, the whole, wild, frightened herd will go.
Did you know that a computer can write a poem?
--Hypothesis refuted by F. R. Leavis
My Rolex watch tells me that I have lost,
Forty-one minutes gazing through the gold
Glass windows toward the lithe landscape embossed
With stores and shopping malls that I have strolled.
My Harvard law degree reminds me, "Time
Is Money." Yet I gaze. Something is wrong . . .
I seldom write my parents--no big crime.
Their parents love the nursing home--belong.
My Rolls Royce waits. The judge, jury, the press,
My client wait. And yet . . . My children off
At college wasting money, I confess.
My wife has her career. I dare not scoff.
Till now I've never stopped to count the cost
But feel . . . that something vital has been lost.
Note: The location for each poem is the same, downtown Dallas, but 500 years apart.
I consider Stevenson, Longfellow, Poe, and Frost first-rank poets, but I loathe Poe for his horror stories and his “Sonnet – To Science” to which I have replied:
SONNET TO SCIENCE
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord. --DEU 6:4
You cleared away the misty thoughts, displayed
False gods the Greeks had made, and showed the path
To find the Truth they sought. Their long decayed
And dusty ruins sink beneath Your wrath.
You gave the keys to power plants and cars
And highways joining massive cities full
Of specialists investigating stars
And ocean tides and gravity's strong pull,
And earth for medicines to cure disease
And manned space flight for all humanity,
And digital machines sprouting drawing trees
And drawings, charts and data; and for me
The summer dream beneath the green "Bonsai
Poetry Tree" set free before I die.
Your quest to have “four lines by a living poet” quoted reminded me of a quote I used:
THE BASTIONS OF MEDIOCRITY
The poetic note I think most helpful at the moment is deliberately "minor" rather than "major." -- Denis Donogue, "Does America Have A Major Poet?"
First you espouse the current party line.
You must not show skill or integrity.
That would reveal the general decline
In what is now proclaimed as Poetry.
The universities are cranking out
The poets by the thousands. Metrical feet
Are gone. The greatest nation is without
A poet singing of its greatest feats.
True poetry today is still submerged
By jealousy and self defense, which minor
Minds exude, and excluded from print--purged
From public view. The haughty spurn the major.
So a poetic leap toward greatness starts
With one enlightened Patron of the Arts.
You asked, “But what were poets supposed to do?” My answer is presented below:
The lifeless lunar landscape stretches out
Before my eyes in shades of grayish-white,
And only craters love the endless drought--
The heat of day--the chilling cold of night.
A rising orb dispels the black of space,
And strong emotions swell--too deep for Freud.
The Earth, so pregnant with the human race,
Is thirsting there to fill the awful void.
Will mankind propagate among the stars,
Or will some minor cosmic accident
Change Mother Earth into a planet Mars,
Or will there be a method to prevent . . .
And so as mankind walks upon the Moon,
He views the planet from which he was hewn.
That is, they were to replace Nature with Science, as advocated by William Wordsworth in Lyrical Ballads (1800), Marjorie Hope Nicolson in Newton Demands the Muse (1946), and Aldous Huxley in Literature and Science (1963).
“It is just our bad luck that none of the things tried in the twentieth century worked very well.” I take exception to that statement as shown by my poem below written in 1989:
RENDEZVOUS IN SPACE
For a thousand years we have scrabbled after fish heads, but now we have a reason to live--to learn, to discover, to be free!
Your art is diligent and professional, but cartlike,
And in an age of rockets it is doomed! --Yevgeny Yevtsushenko
The blasting roar of rocket motors throws
Her through the summer sky. She will endure
The waiting. Her pale-green gown gently shows
The curves proclaiming that she is mature.
She reminisces reckless youthful days,
The Vanguard-Sputnik days when she was first
In space and young Apollo only plays
At chasing her around the world--then burst!
He did not die, though he was wimpy and
Weak; and eighteen sequestered years have wrought
Body and mind--matured the plans he's planned,
The dreams he's dreamed, the power he has sought . . .
Relaxing her alluring body, she
Rests on a bed of stars and dreams of me.
Adornd she was indeed, and lovely to attract thy Love, not thy Subjection. --John Milton
Foes wish me, like Prometheus, chained to this
Rock they call the Earth, forever tortured by
A Proxmire vulture, so that I would miss
My only chance for you and wish to die,
But racing roaring rocket motors leave
Them all below and now the search begins.
Strong, sharp eyes scan the summer sky. Believe
I will find you! If I fail, no one wins.
There are no chaperones up this high. Why
Should I not stare at your posh, pale-green gown?
The plans I've planned are working well. Soon I
Am moving up and closer, closer, down
And closer. Contact! Now we can commune,
For we are mind to mind--but must part soon.
“Free verse did not work well.” I agree as shown by my three criticisms below:
THE NAKED POETS
"But he hasn't got anything on," a little child said.
--"The Emperor's New Clothes", Fairy Tales
Hans Christian Andersen (Translated by Jean Hersholt)
They're lost in the gainsaying of the gay
Walt Whitman and the gold thread merchants who
Say only the wise and prudent scholars may
See the threads that the worms of free verse grew.
The outraged public has wished to abort,
But still their putrid product wins awards
And prizes, grants and Government support,
And obscure foreign bards receive rewards.
So human dung is being served upon
A university owned silver plate
By naked poets with their best smiles on,
And real American poets must wait,
Suffering poverty and broken hearts
Awaiting a true Patron of the Arts."
THE NEW BARBARIANS
The songs of Homer and the fame of Achilles had probably never reached the ear of the illiterate barbarian. --The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
, Edward Gibbon
Anti-establishment, long hair, free verse,
Sex, anti-war, illegal drugs, Day-Glo
Colors, outrageous clothes and music, curse
Words, earrings, guts--a lifestyle to bestow.
Now over thirty, long locks sheared to find
Employment, kids and debts, fine houses, grass
To cut, new cars to drive, the daily grind,
No spare time, energy--now middle class.
All emulated by the next New Age
Trying to be more awesome than the past,
But still just imitation. The old sage
Sees Poetry's slow pendulum aghast!
Tenured in colleges and Government
THE CONSERVATIVE REBELLION
Modernism was a bad joke. We can start over. --The New Classicists
We've had enough of Ginsberg's Howling, drugs,
Immoral living, Kesey's acid test
And filthy words, and filthy biker thugs,
And cigarettes and pot and all the rest.
We can begin again with Wordsworth's Quest,
Emotions recollected tranquilly.
Out with the weird, the ugly things. The best
Of thoughts, emotions, true nobility,
Accomplishments, intelligence, true love,
Style, creativity, taste, chastity,
Wit, wanderlust, artistic beauty of
The metrical line, serendipity . . .
There’s still time to assuage a century
Of Modern barbarism in Poetry.
“We have lost narrative poetry . . . any attempt to revive interest in narrative verse would be futile.” I have tried to revive narrative verse by writing a sonnet sequence on the history of technology titled The Ascent of Man, which begins with “The Spear” and ends with the exploration of space.
I would like to conclude with the following thought:
THE BONSAI POETRY TREE
Surely here the creative battle to maintain our living cultural heritage--a continuity of profoundly human creative life--must seem worth fighting; must be seen as a battle that shall not be lost. -- F. R. Leavis
Far from the University's pine trees
So watered, manicured, and tall; far from
The fertilizer's reach; where most plants freeze
And die; a true bonsai will not succumb;
Its roots: the glory, grandeur, culture, and
Perspective that the classics can imbue;
Its trunk: the ancestors who could understand
The past's worth and its every shade and hue;
Its branches: patterns of new knowledge rife
With implications forming mental fuel;
Its leaves: the current generation's life,
Enduring fashion and rebellion's rule.
An austere scene of lonely crag and sand--
America's literary wasteland.
The New Criterion, December 2000, had the following article: "Longfellow & the fate of modern poetry" by John Derbyshire (http://www.newcriterion.com/archive/19/dec00/longfellow.htm)
Here is a retort to it by Bob Grumman: (http://www.geocities.com/compoems/text0001.html)
and above is the relpy I e-mailed to John. His reply was "I think you have invented a new literary form."
BIO: Thomas Newton was born at Fort Ringgold, Texas in 1942. He received a B.S.E.E. degree from Lamar University. He is presently a civil service electronics engineer in Orlando, FL. His poetry has been published in Pulse and in Hatteras. He lives in Winter Springs, FL with his wife and the younger two of his four children.