January 23, 2012

Quotes from the Masters

"Poetry is made up of nothing except beautiful details."   --Voltaire

I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry; prose—words in their best order; poetry—the best words in their best order.
—Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Table Talk (July 12, 1827)

This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body…
-- Walt Whitman,  from Preface to Leaves of Grass (1855)

If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire ever can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it.  Is there any other way.  --Emily Dickinson

In poetry, the exchange is one of energy. Human energy is transferred, and from the poem it reaches the reader. Human energy, which is consciousness, the capacity to produce change in existing conditions. The only danger is in not going far enough. The usable truth here deals with change. But we are speaking of the human spirit. If we go deep enough, we reach the common life, the shared experience of man, the world of possibility.  If we do not go deep, if we live and write half-way, there are the obscurity, vulgarity, the slang of fashion, and several kinds of death.
--Muriel Rukeyser in The Life of Poetry

Walking, like prose, has a definite aim....When the man who is walking has reached his goal...when he was reached the place, book, fruit, the object of his desire...this possession at once entirely annuls his whole act; the effect swallows up the cause, the end absorbs the means; and whatever the act, only the result remains. It is the same with utilitarian language: the language I use to express my design, my desire, my command, my opinion; this language, when it has served its purpose, evaporates almost as it is heard....The poem, on the other hand, does not die for having lived: it is expressly designed to be born again from its ashes and to become endlessly what it has just been. Poetry can be recognized by this property, that it tends to get itself reproduced in its own form: it stimulates us to reconstruct it identically. 
-- Paul Valery, "Poetry and Abstract Thought," The Art of Poetry

The difference between the action of a poem and and of an ordinary narrative is physiological.
--Paul Valery, "Remarks on Poetry," The Art of Poetry

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