When there was no written word, if you wished to compose something permanent, the only way was to to use words that would be accurately remembered, which meant expressing memorable words in the regulated formulas of poetry. Auden defines poetry as ‘memorable speech.’
Once the written word was in general use, people like Herodotus began to write things in prose, knowing that their words would be permanent so long as people had access to the written records of them.
But people still wanted memorable words, and poetry continued so long as there were poets with negative capability. This quality Keats tried to explain in a letter to his brother. Professor Baldick calls it the ‘capacity to efface one’s own mental identity by immersing it sympathetically and spontaneously within the subject described…’
Memory, and being memorable, is the essence of poetry, and so is the spoken word:
sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt. Vergil
There’s a whisper down the line at 11:39
When the Night Mail’s ready to depart,
Saying, ‘Skimble, where is Skimble
has he gone to hunt the thimble?
We must find him or the train can’t start. T S Eliot
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The painter’s work was all in vain,
the sh*thouse poet strikes again.
(Anon., seen in freshly painted public lavatory)
viden ut alta stet nive candidum
Soracte, nec iam sustineant onus
silvae laborantes, geluque
flumina constiterint acuto. Horace
More to be desired are they than gold,
yea, than much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Psalms of David (Coverdale)
See where she comes apparelled like the spring. Shakespeare
Poetry needs to be read aloud; and with Latin and Greek, the completely phonetic spelling makes it an easy task.
Next post: more about reading aloud.