Poetry of Life’s Underlying Politics

I really do like that some political and religious periodicals publish poetry, but I have to admit that I’m seldom impressed. Skeptic of modernity that I am, the profundity passes me by. Something about rhyme and meter in poetry… well… it works.
I think (often) of Robert Frost’s “Provide, Provide.” Those who worry that fealty to structure tends toward the trite might have a point, in that poem, midway through the rhyming triplets, yet it’s reasonable to credit that very structure — the necessity of certain words in a certain order in a certain rhythm — with the blend of humor, profundity, and especially memorize-ability of the final lines:

No memory of having starred
Atones for later disregard,
Or keeps the end from being hard.

Better to go down dignified
With boughten friendship at your side
Than none at all. Provide, provide!

I offer this commentary, though, in the course of noting an exception. Daniel Mark Epstein’s “Grandfather’s Spectacles” in a recent National Review (subscription required) struck me strongly, with this as its beginning:

He was not a brawler, or vain,
But came up in a time and class
Where a youth of exceptional beauty
Had to prove himself — man to man —
Time and again. …

The subject turns out to require glasses and, after a day spent marveling at the world when seen clearly, must prove himself, man to man, against the sneer of “frog-eyes.” He who must prove toughness because handsome must thereafter defend the distortion of his looks. The victim of the world’s incoherent violence, of course, is “the miraculous invention of wire and glass,” and fortitude in the face of brute human nature comes at “the cost of clear vision.”
There’s no shortage of factors to blame for the evaporating weight of poetry, which music composer Robert Schumann once declared to be the highest art. But I’m inclined to place at the forefront of culpability the loosening of the rules. As Mr. Frost once said, “poetry without rhyme is like tennis without a net.”

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