I TRY TO KEEP THEM BRIEF
But they get away on me. Can’t help it, sometimes a work is just too good. Too good to overlook and too big to promote in one bite.
a work is pure literature. ‘Literature’ is a title often claimed, often granted, and on occasion deserved. But times change and yesterday’s literature goes out with the cat. Genius becomes today’s misunderstood dated bore (art can be fashion too).
some say. Who would I be to argue? But does ‘timeless’ make it art? For myself I apply a simple test: if it resonates, it is art.
But to resonate it has to twang a string that is already there; no string means no resonance, ergo not art. Not to the stringless. Art is personal, then? Yes …
In some cases imagination can serve in the office of experience and help bridge the gaps—to appreciate the recounting of (say) a first parachute jump it’s only necessary that you have at some time in your life fallen over ( a universal) or even better, be afraid of heights. Your imagination can then couple with the narrative to ring your bell.
A GOOD NARRATOR
will use tools of which the audience may be quite unaware.
At school I loathed the teachers who took good poetry and publicly dissected it; there’s a time and place for everything but to tear the arms and legs off of great art in order to make it more accessible to buffoons fit my definition of sacrilege.
come from such a work. I’ll admit up front that I’ve never read it. Not entirely. It’s much too large for a single sitting and much too good to be rushed. (Several copies sit in various places in my home and when feeling receptive, I dabble.)
HAVE YOU EVER
been out alone on a bitter full moon winter’s night? Have you ever loved and lost? Fought for a great cause, seen your entire world scattered to the winds in a thousand pieces? Felt compassion?
But the other swiftly strode from ridge to ridge,
Clothed with his breath, and looking, as he walked,
Larger than human on the frozen hills.
He heard the deep behind him, and a cry
Before. His own thought drove him like a goad.
Dry clashed his harness in the icy caves
And barren chasms, and all to left and right
The bare black cliff clanged round him, as he based
His feet on juts of slippery crag that rang
Sharp-smitten with the dint of armed heels—
And on a sudden, lo! the level lake,
And the long glories of the winter moon.
AT HIGH SCHOOL
our Latin master—a balding weedy little man with a well-loved patched old sports jacket and incredible patience—once told us to close our eyes while he read us a poem written roughly two thousand years ago. Of course none of us understood more than a few words of it but we got the message.
Not the master’s message, dammit, but the message conveyed in the words of an unknown wordsmith who died many centuries before.
“Okay then you lot—wake up, and write down what you think it was all about.”
If memory serves well I scored among the majority who in those ancient cadences heard (and saw!) a galloping horse. Across two millenniums and in a totally foreign language that artist created a resonance. And as receivers we didn’t even work at it.
THAT POEM I opened with?
Here’s a wee bit more: I shan’t set the scene—
Three Queens with crowns of gold: and from them rose
A cry that shivered to the tingling stars,
And, as it were one voice, an agony
Of lamentation, like a wind that shrills
All night in a waste land, where no one comes,
Or hath come, since the making of the world.
—it is of course from the ‘Idylls Of The King‘ by Alfred Tennyson. If you like people clanking about in tin suits, or if you like tragic (it means human) stories and/or romance … all very well written, it’s there for free if you follow that link.