Gideon Cecil: A Defence of Poetry

A good poem helps to change the shape and significance of the universe, helps to extend everyone’s knowledge of himself and the world around him

—Dylan Thomas

We are living in an up-poetic age; poetry for many people in Guyana and globally is of very little significance to them. Very few people read poetry and very few are equipped with the wisdom and spiritual foresight to comprehend poetry. The audience for poetry is very small. Our literati here in Guyana and many countries globally can barely reach two hundred when we have poetry readings on world poetry day or when someone launches a poetry book. Poetry is a very powerful form of expression and its impact can be felt far and wide. Poets are people with profound sensitivity and they can communicate in a more sensitive and effective way. In a very basic sense, poetry makes us think. It helps us to look at and perceive the world in a different way and in a subtle and powerful way, it makes us take a fresh look at things we take for granted. Also, the rhythm and flow of poetry make it enjoyable to read again and again and this repetition ensures that an idea or a suggestion is well drilled into our minds by the immaculate rhymes the poet uses.

Why is poetry important to society?

Poetry has been in existence throughout the development of mankind. Poems from the ancient historical eras give us a glimpse of the thoughts of previous generations, from depicting historical events to the depiction of the primeval lifestyles of ancient civilizations. Poetry is another form of expressing beauty and revealing your feelings. A divine art, poetry incites a person to see and feel beyond the human intellect, beneath the surface of things.

All the ancient sacred books until this contemporary era that have been translated and modernized are divine poetry that has been written down by the ancient seers and prophets

Poetry gives more life and new meaning to society than a big novel of over a thousand pages can give to a reader. Even many great novels are wonderfully written and elegantly crafted by mesmerizing poetry integrated into it. Here is a poetic passage, written by the late Award-Winning Guyanese writer Mohamed Yasin:

"He looked in surprise at the small, crystal-clear lake, which was unusual since most of the rivers and lakes in the country were filled with water the colour of molasses. The primeval beauty of the lake meant nothing to him. He didn’t appreciate the brazen rays of the brilliant sun bouncing off the glassy surface of the calm lake in a dazzling display of pristine beauty”.

From the story Edward’s Lake, copyright 2008 Carlong Publishers from the book: TEK MI! NOH TEK MI!

The elegant poetic beauty of Mr. Yasin’s language captivates the reader because he employs poetry into his vivid descriptions in this magnificent story.

Poetry gives new meaning to life; it depicts the philosophy of life in all its glory and human dimensions. Every year in the month of February lovers, wives, husbands, and people of all walks of life will flock the shops to buy Valentine’s Day Cards for their lovers and loved one.

They won’t buy a novel or historical textbook, but a Valentine card with the best-crafted poetry in it.

One famous poet, whose poetry is used for Valentine’s Day, is Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Here I quote one of her famous love Sonnets:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach when feeling out of sight For the ends of being and ideal grace.

I love thee to the level of every day’s Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light. I love thee freely, as men strive for right;

I love thee purely, as they turn from praise. I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith. I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath, Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death.

Elizabeth Barret Browning in How do I Love Theeexpresses the eternal nature of love and its power to overcome everything, including death. The repetition of “I love thee” serves as a constant reminder, but it is the depth of love, not the quantity of love, that gives the poem its power: She loves. For example, “the depth and breadth and height / My soul can reach,” and

“To the level of every day’s / Most quiet need.” The ultimate expression of her enduring love occurs in the last line which states her love will be stronger “after death.”

In this magnificent love sonnet, the poetess defines her own love from her heart’s devotion to herself and lover and between herself and her God. Even after her death, her love will grow stronger. It’s a poem that depicts her natural love for her lover that also expresses a very strong and deep religious faith.

Known for his lyrical and long-form verse, Percy Bysshe Shelley is one of the most highly regarded English Romantic poets of the 19th century. His works include The Masque of Anarchy and Queen Mab. Though Shelley was a declared atheist and died at age twenty-nine his poetry came very close to the poetry of Shakespeare. He was also the greatest prose writer and one of the most educated poets of his time. Here I quote one of his greatest love poems.

Love’s Philosophy

The fountains mingle with the river, And the rivers with the ocean;

The winds of heaven mix forever With a sweet emotion;

Nothing in the world is single; All things by a law divine

In another’s being mingle– Why not I with thine?

See, the mountains kiss high heaven, And the waves clasp one another; No sister flower could be forgiven

If it disdained its brother;

And the sunlight clasps the earth, And the moonbeams kiss the sea; What are all these kissings worth, If thou kiss not me?

The themes of the poem are rejection, love, union, and disappointment, as they can be beautifully represented through Nature. Shelley feels he is the victim of this situation and the love he feels for another is unwanted and unrequited. Though he was an atheist he speaks of

All things by a law divine

He obviously realized that his atheism doesn’t serve his purpose as a poet who was widely read and a classical Oxford scholar; he sees the divine intermingling into his poetry as he gets older but dies young before he discovers there is a God. His excellent imagery and immaculate craftsmanship as a poet rank him as one of the best in the English Language.

In Shelley’s immortal essay ‘A Defence of Poetry’ he writes:

A poem is the very image of life expressed in its eternal truth. There is this difference between a story and a poem, that a story is a catalogue of detached facts, which have no other connection than time, place, circumstance, cause and effect; the other is the creation of actions according to the unchangeable forms of human nature, as existing in the mind of the Creator, which is itself the image of all other minds. A story of particular facts is as a mirror which obscures and distorts that which should be beautiful; poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.”

After studying his fantastic essay on a ‘defence of poetry ‘I believe he was not an atheist but was probably accepting a belief in the creator his own words ‘as existing in the mind of the Creator, which is itself the image of all other minds.’ Where did he get this from?

The Bible.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Genesis 1:27

Poetry transforms the human soul from deep within and guides us to the eternal home of our Creator. It’s the greatest of the fine arts of all human expression.

Resources:

  1. From the story Edward’s Lake copyright 2008 Carlong Publishers from the book: TEK MI! NOH TEK MI!)
  2. Bright hub education; Poem hunter; Collected Works of PB Shelley in the Public Domain 1901.

Gideon Sampson Cecil was born on the 9th of May 1968 in Rose Hall Town, Corentyne Berbice, Guyana. He holds a Bachelor and Master of Divinity from Life Christian University in Tampa, Florida and a degree in journalism. He is a college lecturer and freelance journalist. He has over 300 poems, articles, stories and essays published from 1993 to 2017. He is the author of the romantic collection of poetry, The Revelation of Love, published by Outskirts Press. His poetry was published in POUi X by The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados, the Muse Literary Journal India, The Harbinger Literary Journal USA, The Chachalaca Review England, Forward Journal London, Thirty West Publishing House, The Blue Nib Literary Magazine and Alien Buddha Press. He continues to write poetry, fiction, literary criticism, and articles for various journals and newspapers at home and abroad