Oh dear oh dear oh dear. Red faces all round this morning – and why? I hear you cry. Well, I checked into one of my follower’s blogs – whenever anyone starts to follow me, I always take a look at their blog, partly because I want to reciprocate and partly because I like to know who my followers are – and lo, it came to pass that a lot of this blogger’s posts were in Hindi. Now, my Hindi is fairly minimal. I used to know some of the letters and to recognise the major vowels, but even that knowledge has gone now, so I headed for the one post that was in English. It was a poem.
Oh, dear. I thought. It’s not a very good poem. They really shouldn’t use this archaic language: they should try to speak in their own voice and in modern language. I was totally unimpressed by the poem – and then when I got to the bottom I found it was written by one William Wordsworth. Now, the question is this: was I justified, within the context of my expectations (ie that it was a poem by the blogger) in not recognising a great poem? Or is it that I am incapable of recognising great poetry when I see it? Or, alternatively, does the recognition of greatness depend largely on the context in which you read it?
That said, it is true that some of Wordsworth’s output was utter tosh, but I’m not sure this applies to the poem under consideration, A Night Piece:
To be sure, it’s not the greatest thing he ever wrote: no brilliant imagery flashes upon the inward eye, but what is true is that I failed to read this poem with the attention I would have given it, had I known it was by Wordsworth. And there’s the rub, isn’t it? Unless you already know it’s worth the effort, you don’t pay close attention. And that is why it is so hard for poets who don’t fit the zeitgeist or who don’t immediately leap out and grab ya. Because to appreciate most poetry you have to pay attention: close attention. You have to pay a lot of attention, and that’s true whether you’re reading it off the page or listening to a performance. However, a performance is a much better way of getting your work across as a poet, because you can bring out the rhythm, the rhymes, the intonation etc etc and if you’re any good at it you can get people listening and keep them listening.
On the other hand when I went to hear Ted Hughes read, everyone was listening just as hard as they could, and he was crap.
By which I mean he was crap at reading his own work, not that his work was crap.