Tuesday, January 06, 2015

`Nothing, Ever, Anymore, For You'

In his Dictionary, Dr. Johnson defines literature as “learning; skill in letters” and learning as “literature; skill in languages or science; generally scholastic knowledge.” In his “Life of Milton” he says of the poet: “His literature was unquestionably great. He read all the languages which are considered either as learned or polite.” I propose that we widen Johnson’s already wide definitions to include learning in the broadest sense –tireless reading, yes, but also the less quantifiable though equally essential knowledge of the human heart. Writers learn to write by reading but also by living attentively. A friend writes: 

“I’m glad you mentioned Joshua Mehigan’s Accepting the Disaster. It’s a great book of poems. I have it on my bedside table. Last night I read “Believe It” once again. It’s short but powerful. It sounds grandiose and gaudily self-flattering but I find my sensibility consonant with that of Mehigan. He puts to rout the poetasters churning out jejune free verse. This guy is a poet.” 

Agreed, and here is “Believe It”: 

“Hard to believe that, after all of it,
in bed for good now, knowing you haven’t done
one thing of any lasting benefit
or grasped how to be happy, or had fun, 

“you must surrender everything and pass
into a new condition that is not
night, or a country, or a sleep, or peace,
but nothing, ever, anymore, for you.” 

Mehigan pithily echoes Larkin’s “Not to be here, / Not to be anywhere, / And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.” In his great conclusion to the “Life of Gray,” in which he lauds “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” and makes common cause with the common reader, Johnson writes: 

“The four stanzas beginning `Yet even these bones’ are to me original: I have never seen the notions in any other place; yet he that reads them here persuades himself that he has always felt them. Had Gray written often thus it had been vain to blame, and useless to praise him.”

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