Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Fear of the Past

I fear this will be one of those posts that will interest no one but me (they come so fast and furious), but I’ve been thinking about my feelings about the future and the past. Readers of Ron Silliman’s blog will have noted his recent use of the term neophobe to refer to poets “afraid of the new.” That argument doesn’t particularly interest me at the moment, but I’ve been thinking about whether there’s a corresponding “fear of the old” (perhaps we could call poets who suffer from it senaphobes).

What interests me is the idea that there really is validity to this observation about the relationship of different poets to the past and the future. If we avoid derogatory terms like neophobe and talk in less loaded terms like “postromantic” and “postmodern,” there are clear differences between the typical interests of postromantic and postmodern poets. It is a cliché, but a valid one, that “romantics” are interested in love, beauty, imagination, and nature. I think it is equally true (if less noticed) that romantics are typically interested in the past, both historical and mythological. Of course this is not the same as saying that romantic poetry is of the past. If anyone is still reading anything five hundred years from now, chances are good they will still be moved by a poem like Wordsworth’s “The world is too much with us,” because if human beings survive that long, they will probably feel all the more that the world is too much with them and will long to hear the sound of that old horn:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.—Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

1 comment:

Crafty Green Poet said...

Good choice of a poem that is probably immortal! Interesting question about whether there are poets who have a 'fear of the old'