In the Penguin Classics’ new translation of Natsume Sōseki’s masterpiece Kusamakura, the following words are featured: “… and so even if no verse ever emerges from the mute poet, even if the painter never sets brush to canvas … he can view human life with an artist’s eye; he is released from the world’s illusory sufferings; he is able to come and go at ease in a realm of transcendent purity, to construct a unique universe of art, and thereby to destroy the binding fetters of self-interest and desire.”
Sōseki’s words, translated by Meredith Mckinney, ring true. Mindfully writing poetry grants an evolving sense of control over reality which is tough to match. After having retired my pen for many years, I recently chose to start writing poetry and other writings again. Poetry, by far, has been the most rewarding authorial vista I’ve known. But this writing business conjures a question: why should I write poetry?
I’m instantly tempted to reply with “why shouldn’t you?” But this wouldn’t have convinced me to write poetry when I prematurely stopped. Consider one benefit: a chance at immortality. I’d posit two arguments in favor of the immortality pursuit.
Firstly, one’s poems, once uploaded into someone else’s consciousness, impact that consciousness in unforeseen ways. Subsequently, that person’s consciousness interacts with those of others. More and more people might become further influenced by the poetic inklings first stirred in that original someone.
Though this position might seem like a stretch, consider two clearly different poets: Charles Bukowski and William Blake. I’ve read a good portion of each man’s works, and have understood that Bukowski’s poetry has more often than not depressed me, or produced a sense of alienation. Contrarily, Blake’s poetry has often left me mystified, grateful and gleeful. The mental landscape granted by each poet has impacted my moods. Most moods have clashed with the mood of another human, and then they’ve been impacted too. Poetry is inseparable from social causality.
Secondly, one’s actual poetry can be handed down throughout generations, as in oral cultures or some surviving family traditions. Such a handing down can solidify a sense of history within one’s identity. This is surely an advantage insofar as it grants purpose and meaning to one’s life. Moreover, this handing down can also expose one to poetry early.
A possible early acquaintance with language could lend one a chance at precociousness. That surely isn’t bad for you. The wisdom and sharp perception granted by a close relation with poetry can buttress one’s resilience and gratitude. A poetic perception, as Sōseki once put it, grants wealth far more nourishing than money or worldly success.
Consider another benefit: ennobling others. This benefit is inseparably tied to the first benefit, though it’s perhaps less self-interested in attitude. I know I’ve profited immensely since I’ve read Philip Larkin’s “Aubade.” It’s a poem which deals with the devastation one faces in confronting mortality during one’s waking hours. The line “death is no different whined at than withstood” is something which is engraved into my being. It signifies an attitude of sober stoicism which can only be useful when one reaches the inevitable end of one’s life. Indeed, to inject poetry into your worldview is to color it with beautiful subtlety.
Given that the reading and writing of poetry can welcome such strength and joy into one’s life, one would hopefully be encouraged to just try these things.
We have inherited the English language. This is a profound privilege, even though we may not often realize it. I hope that more CSU students, who are clearly not incapable of writing poetry, will purposefully adopt the poetic enterprise for themselves. I think we can only grow more wise, sensitive, perceptive and kind in doing so.