05 December 2006

Noblesse Oblique?

    A pithy observation, at a tilting slant, from Wallace Stevens, truer now than when he said it sixty-odd years ago:
There is no element more conspicuously absent from contemporary poetry than nobility.

    --- from "The Noble Rider and The Sound of Words," The Necessary Angel
Stevens' notion of nobility is considerably more complex than I'm indicating here, but even taken at the superficial level, the assessment seems on the mark.  I wonder if this has anything to do with my don't-give-a-shit mentality toward most contemporary poetry.  A note toward a supreme contradiction? 

1 comment:

RK said...

Perhaps the explanation of WS's saying reveals itself when one substitutes for the word 'poetry' the word 'society', or the word 'philosophy' or the word 'thought'.......
The last 30 years' academic-critical reactions to Sir Philip Sidney amply demonstrate the lack. Nobility (whether of birth or of virtue) bothers and irritates modern man (and, oh boy, woman) to the point where it urgently needs debunking. Whether through New Historicism (everything is about power), Dialectical Materialism (everything is about Thatcher), or just plain annoyance (Sidney was spotty, choleric and a failure, yah boo sucks).
It's astonishing that some poets still manage(d) crumbs of strange nobility (the two Welsh Thomases, Tom S.E., Heaney, Bunting in a harsh way, and of course WS hisself).
Perhaps the closest was JRR Tolkien when writing in Elvish. "A Elbereth Gilthoniel, Siluvren penna miriel" gives me the same goosebumps that imagining the swords and sweeping robes of the Knights Templar does. (Philistine of me, no doubt, but colour me impressionable.)

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