Friday, July 29, 2016

`Passions, Death, Storms, Etc.'

“. . . the `poetic’ is all too often cover for lack of imagination and yet, the word `poetic’ still has to stand for something, still has to make good somehow on its mandate, as Homer, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare did make good on it in their day. And why do we keep going back to them, after we’ve read the various menus at hand, experienced a few yummy verses, had our exotic drinks, having parked ourselves on trendy terraces?”

Because Homer & Co. are “yummy” but never less than nutritious and sustaining -- comfort food that does more than comfort. In a long, digressive, Keatsian letter to me, Norm Sibum does what poets have always done – complain about other poets and their abettors. It’s bleak out there. Poetry shrivels from the incompetence, failure of will and stunted literacy of poets and readers alike. Norm continues:

“Why Leopardi? Who, I suspect, would rather have written the Odyssey than Zibaldone, but that the spirit for such a venture had gone out of the world. I don’t think the poet works ex nihilo.”

All true, though Leopardi gave us, along with his blog-like Zibaldone, the Canti.  I am reading The Discovery of Chance: The Life and Thought of Alexander Herzen (Harvard University Press, 2016) by Aileen M. Kelly, and find this:

“He had a deep attachment to the poetry of Leopardi, whom he describes as an `apologist of death . . . who represents the world as a league of the wicked waging war against a few virtuous madmen.’ He recalls defending him against Mazzini, who was incapable of comprehending `these poisonous reflections, these shattering doubts.’”

Leopardi writes in his Zibaldone: “Passions, deaths, storms, etc., give us great pleasure in spite of their ugliness for the simple reason that they are well imitated, and if what Parini says in his Oration on poetry is true, this is because man hates nothing more than he does boredom, and therefore he enjoys seeing something new, however ugly.”

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