I have been told by an excellent poet never to write poetry for the public that has enough pain in these difficult times.
Those who cannot, teach, and so my job has been to introduce college students to poetry (Blake! Tennyson! Hughes!) and hope they love what artists can do with words as much as I.
Yet not everyone, God help them, followed the advice of my wise mentor. Instead, through an error of judgment, they wrote, they published, they put the suffering into the long suffering public.
I have an anthology of such very bad verse, The Stuffed Owl, and this collection never ceases to horrify. The poets are not as bad as Grenville Kleiser, but other than a fierce competition with anonymous as an English speaking writer of bad verse, Kleiser stands alone.
No, she is no Kleiser, but the Duchess of Newcastle lived an adventurous life supporting her King, but subjecting her nation to bad plays and amazingly bad poetry. When discouraged about the times, read the Duchess and know hope. The best of our time may rise to Miltonic heights and few will be as bad as the cosseted Duchess.
If you are in love, do not compare your beloved to breakfast or at least not with this poem.
A Poem for Nature’s BreakfastLIfe scummes the Cream of Beauty with Times Spoon,And dra wes the Claret Wine of Blushes soon.There boiles it in a Skillet cleane of Youth,Then thicks it well with crumbl’d Bread of Truth.And sets it on the Fire of Life, which growesThe clearer, if the Bellowes of Health blowes.Then takes the Eggs of Faire, and Bashfull Eyes,Aud puts them in a Countenance that’s wise,And cuts a Lemmon in of sharpest Wit,By Discretions Knife, as he thinkes sit.A handfull of Chast Thoughts double refin’d,Six Spoonfuls of a Noble, and Gentle Mind.A Graine of Mirth, to give’t a little Tast,Then takes it off, for feare the Substance wast.And puts it in a Bason of Rich Wealth,And in this Meat doth Nature please her selfe.
Meditate for a moment on the person, herself a notable beauty, who would decide that Time’s spoon scummes the Cream of Beauty. As a Platonist, I can assure you that Any Word that is given a Capital is Meaningful, more Real.
The skillet of youth is just the place for the crumbled Bread of Truth. What does this mean? It is a Word. Breakfast made into an image of the beloved, but mysterious as to motive for doing so. Who could resist the lover with eyes like eggs? Who has not looked at his omelette and thought: there is an image of fair and bashful in the face of my beloved?
I would guess everyone.
The Duchess, the editors of the anthology tell me, was herself chaste and good. Sadly, her virtue did not apply to her verse. Her lemon of sharpest Wit was a lemon indeed and evidently she had no friend with Discretion’s Knife to tell her to publish only if she would see her reputation perish.