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Why Read Poetry?


Why Read Poetry?

by Kenneth Lyen

Janadas Devan, a Singapore writer living in the United States, wrote an article in the Straits Times 27 July 2004. He said that as a teenager he couldn’t understand TS Eliot’s poem "The Waste Land". He asked his father about it, and he replied, "Oh, you can't try to understand it logically. There is a logic, of course, but you can't get to it logically. You must first hear it." And when Janadas heard Alec Guiness reading the poem, suddenly it seemed to make good sense.

Poetry is a bit like music. Something draws you to it. You just enjoy it. No need to find out why it affects you. And no need to analyse it. The very act of analysis can either enhance your enjoyment or destroy it. For me, when I studied music academically, it ruined the pleasure of listening to it. The same with poetry. I don’t like to dissect my poems too much. I like to read them aloud in a relaxed state of mind, and allow their meaning to waft over me.

Here are extracts from some of my favourite poems:

"Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future

And time future contained in time past.

If all time is eternally present

All time is unredeemable."

                        (From The Four Quartetes by TS Eliot)

"To see a world in a grain of sand,

And a heaven in a wild flower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,

And eternity in an hour."

                        (From Auguries of Innocence by William Blake)

"Had I the heaven's embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."

                        (He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven by WB Yeats)

Some people sneeringly call these poems "pop poetry". So I’m a plebeian. I don’t care. But these poems are what got me started into reading poetry.

When I was dating, I wrote some love poems. I had to read a lot of love poetry in order to get inspiration. Sadly I never cut it as a poet. My love poetry is goddam awful. Luckily they did have some effect on my intended, I think.

I don’t know if reading poetry helps my writing. Maybe not. But I sure get inspired reading them. It is sad that so few people read poetry nowadays. They don’t know what they are missing. It’s like living in a world without music.