Tuesday, April 05, 2005

I don't "dislike it," actually

When I was a sophomore or junior in college, I went to the first class meeting of a course on "Lyric" taught by Barbara Johnson, the critic and literary theorist. She opened it by reading Marianne Moore's poem "Poetry," and by the time she got through the first line ("I, too, dislike it") I was already itching to drop out. Her later deconstructive riff on how "the genuine" was clearly ungraspable, since it came after both the first and second "hand" mentioned in the poem, sent me to the door, never to return. Ah, youth!

Perhaps I'm alone in disliking that poem, but I can't be the only one who bristles when poets invoke it, as though to distinguish themselves from those gushy or fey enthusiasts who Love Poetry Too Much And For the Wrong Reasons. When I saw Robert Pinsky, of all people, run up its red, red flag in Slate this morning, my heart sank--but it turns out to be a reasonably entertaining column, featuring a Ben Jonson poem I teach from time to time, "A Fit of Rime Against Rime." You can click over for Pinsky's commentary, which says some useful things about the history of rhyme in English poetry, about which my students generally don't know much. Here's the poem, and I, too, like it.


Rime, the rack of finest wits,
That expresseth but by fits,
True Conceipt,

Spoyling Senses of their Treasure,
Cozening Judgement with a measure,
But false weight.

Wresting words, from their true calling;
Propping Verse, for feare of falling
To the ground.

Joynting Syllabes, drowning Letters,
Fastening Vowells, as with fetters
They were bound!

Soone as lazie thou wert knowne,
All good Poetrie hence was flowne,
And Art banish'd.

For a thousand yeares together,
All Pernassus Greene did wither,
And wit vanish'd.

Pegasus did flie away,
At the Wells no Muse did stay,
But bewail'd

So to see the Fountaine drie,
And Apollo's Musique die.
All light failed!

Starveling rimes did fill the Stage,
Not a Poet in an Age,
Worth crowning;

Not a worke deserving Bays,
Nor a line deserving praise,
Pallas frowning.

Greeke was free from Rime's infection,
Happy Greeke, by this protection,
Was not spoyled.

Whilst the Latin, Queene of Tongues,
Is not yet free from Rimes wrongs,
But rests foiled.

Scarce the hill againe doth flourish,
Scarce the world a Wit doth nourish,
To restore

Phoebus to his Crowne againe;
And the Muses to their braine;
As before.

Vulgar Languages that want
Words, and sweetnesse, and be scant
Of true measure;

Tyrant Rime hath so abused,
That they long since have refused
Other ceasure.

He that first invented thee,
May his joynts tormented bee,
Cramp'd forever;

Still may Syllabes jarre with time,
Still may reason warre with rime,
Resting never.

May his Sense, when it would meet
The cold tumor in his feet,
Grow unsounder,

And his Title be long foole,
That, in rearing such a Schoole,
Was the founder.

No comments: