Sunday, 7 October 2012

The Instinct for Imitation

In an essay on the "poetry of description," Zach Wells defines the rival views of what he calls "an ancient, and occasionally intemperate, debate." The careers of contemporaries John Clare and John Keats appear to draw out the sharpest contrast, especially regarding their duelling nightingale poems. When compared to Clare and his "all-terrain ornithology," Keats doesn't seem to fare so well:
In Keats, the self is foregrounded, from the very first word, and sentiment doesn’t so much prevail over description, as rule it out. It’s nighttime, after all, and Keats “cannot see what flowers are at [his] feet.” Even were the sun shining, we sense he wouldn’t be looking too hard, preferring to soar “on the viewless wings of Poesy.” The nightingale’s song is a trigger for lyric reflection, rather than the subject of the poem; the speaker has no wish to acquaint himself with the flesh and blood feathered source of the music.

No comments: