Tuesday, 1 July 2014

What Poetry Makes Happen

Amanda Jernigan tries to set the record straight about Auden's famous line "poetry makes nothing happen":
Auden’s nothing is sort of like the “nobody” of the medieval monks who liked to joke about a hero, named Nobody, who existed before creation, who was greater than God. As Odysseus knew, when he introduced himself to the Cyclops as Nemo, Nobody, nothing has always been a good cover for something.

Then, too, it’s a question of emphasis: poetry makes nothing happen; which is not to say that plenty of things don’t happen as a result of poetry. For one thing, poetry turns a lot of people to writing poetry. And, finally: as others have pointed out (see, for instance, Don Share writing here), we tend to quote that Auden line out of context. It is in fact a preamble, capped not with a period but with a colon, which opens out onto the following:

…it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth

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