What about poetry?


Poetry (Photo credit: Kimli)

Captain Benwick, from Persuasion, is an interesting character. Austen celebrates him as being different – brave but sensitive. One of the best descriptions of any character comes from General Crofts – “too piano”. His fiancé died while he was at sea. Deeply melancholy, he consumes poetry to nurture his grief. But as Virtuous and Undervalued Anne seems to understand, a steady diet of poetry is fuelling his melancholy feelings, rather than alleviating them. She recommends reading a variety of material to aide in the “struggling against affliction”. (Austen is always in favour of moderation as a tool of mental health.)

Unknown to Benwich, Anne realises that she is able to give such advice as she is in  need of it herself! She had been pining for her own lost love for eight years: she “had been eloquent on a point in which her own conduct would ill bear examination”.  But nothing is ever definite. The worth of poetry is proved a few chapters later as, ironically, it is poetry that unites him with his next love and all ends satisfactorily.

Having never been a great fan of poetry, I’ve always been a bit hesitant about this form. But I admire the economy of word and the big ideas that can be transmitted in a short space. I stumbled upon a podcast reading of If  by Rudyard Kipling – I really do wish he was a little more politically correct. But I’ll post it here. In a world where our culture seems to condone selfishness and billboards and magazines use women in any pose to sell any thing it is a lovely wish that our collective sons could aspire to such ideas:


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

And there are some delicious parodies to keep people from using such poems to preach!


1 Comment

Filed under Living the Simple Life

One response to “What about poetry?

  1. Susan Ardelie

    Despite being an English major at university, it took me a long time to appreciate poems. And then I had a teacher who didn’t drill in meaning but demanded personal interpretation, no real right or wrong but a philosophical approach.

    I like Kiplings “If”. To me it’s about non-attachment and the creation of a moderating self-hood. Kinda Buddhist in tone, I think.

    Thanks for sharing “manhood” poetry in relation to Austen with us. I can see how a lot of it would make a fellow depressed 🙂

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