Sunday, June 11, 2017

`We Were Free to Call It Horseshit'

As the epigraph to Wasn’t the Grass Greener?: A Curmudgeon’s Fond Memories (1999), Barbara Holland uses a passage from Edward Fitzgerald’s exercise in vers de société, “Chivalry at a Discount”:

“Then every cross-bow had a string,        
  And every heart a fetter;  
And making love was quite the thing,     
  And making verses better;
And maiden aunts were never seen,        
  And gallant beaux were plenty;  
And lasses married at sixteen,      
  And died at one-and-twenty.
Ay, those were glorious days! The moon
  Had then her true adorers;                
And there were lyres and lutes in tune,  
  And no such thing as snorers.”

In Holland’s telling the fourth line from the end reads “Ay, those were golden days!” In addition, she runs together the eight lines of stanza three with the first four lines of stanza seven. And I can’t help substituting schnorrers for snorers. The poem’s (and Holland’s) point is plain: then was better than now. As always, nostalgia is a seductive and dubious state of mind that gilds the past and toxifies the present. Still, we sympathize, and Holland was a clever writer who turned the crankiness shtick into a lucrative career. Wasn’t the Grass Greener? In her paean to the good things we’ve lost, Holland devotes a chapter to poetry. She is pleasingly tart:

“Once considered an art form that called for talent, or at least a craft that called for practice, a poem now needs only sincerity [John Shade in Pale Fire: “. . . when I hear a critic speaking of an author’s sincerity I know that either the critic or the author is a fool.”]. Everyone, we’re assured, is a poet. Writing poetry is good for us. It expresses our innermost feeling, which is wholesome. Reading other people’s poems is pointless since those aren’t our own inmost feelings.”

Holland remembers when poetry was “an ordinary, mainstream pleasure for ordinary folk,” and she mentions Idylls of the King, The Song of Hiawatha and A Shropshire Lad. She’s not, however, deluded. After dismissing most “modern—or perhaps they’re postmodern, whatever that means – works,” she adds: “Much old-fashioned poetry was horseshit too, but at least we knew what it meant, so we were free to call it horseshit.”

1 comment:

The Sanity Inspector said...

Someone, possible our blog host some time back, said that poetry and jazz became incomprehensible & irrelevant once they decided that they didn't need audience, and settled for just performing for themselves.