Poetic Art

You might like to know: my Sun is in Venus, my Scorpio is Ascendant, my Mars is in Pisces, my Venus is in Virgo, my Moon is in Taurus … that art is varied, variable of element, color, form. 

You might like to know, that Art is the idea made real; that Art is fashioned by the artist from elements, forces in personality; that the artist cannot fashion more than the artist can understand; that the artist cannot express more than the artist feels.

You might like to know that a work of art is the embodied soul of an artist, fossilized, transmigrated, transfigured into the life of your body, your mind.  You might like to know that you, yes, you are a construction of Art.  You might like to know that what I speak is true, here, and outside of time.

Paul Manship (1885 – 1966); Lyric Muse, 1923

Now, we shall consider, briefly, the Art of Poetry.  Poetry is an art differing from the visual arts (pictuary, statuary, architecture).  Poetry is a literary art, a thing bodied by time, a line of words, fixed, having a beginning, a middle, an end.  Poetry is a construction, alike a temple of words; a structure that can be seen, that can be inhabited because it has a top and bottom and sides.  A single poem, unlike a single life, can have discernible meaning: a theme, a telos, that purpose, that end, that hitting the mark, that final, exalting triumph. 

……….In Thrace, Anacreon well knew his trade,
……….Knew how to fit his filly’s bit, to bend
……….Her and to make her run.  But was she laid?
……….We both might like to think it so.  What end
……….The gods intend will be a mystery;
……….Yet, a filly laid is all of history.

You and I shall end in the body’s defeat, exhaustion, likely in hospital ignominy, surrounded by pity, the muscled heart, mush, and within hours the flesh of face will begin lugubriously to slump over ears (I know, by my work of taking death masks, lightly, quickly), within days to return to undistinguished clay; then, some few of us, after passing, shall have words composed, a story on a stone. All else of you, of me, will be forgotten when those who knew us are themselves, clay.  How best to say.  In Latin, from the Greek of Hippocrates, rendered here to our meaning, “Vīta brevis, ars longa…” in English, “Life is short, art is long…”

Now, to point the moral of our lesson, from Chaucer, “The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.” is, I suppose, appropriate to our previous consideration, though saved until now to mention: The body’s life is, in fact, brief; the soul’s life is, likely, eternal; the poem’s life is, occasionally, carnate by reincarnation.  All true, and this: the poem lives line-to-line, mind-to-mind, time-into-time in rhyme; the poem lives in telos, targeted, the story in us, an exercise in being human.

Carl Milles (1875-1955); Sun Singer, 1929

The great meanings and the small meanings that we carry through life are born of Art, the objects of Beauty, especially the objects of Story, the structured narrative by which we each know ourselves: the Bible, Shakespeare and Aeschylus, Homer and Tennyson, Pope and Byron.  Notice: you are a literary invention whose model might be Helen or Eve, Achilles or Adam, Oedipus or Hamlet, Mary or Cleopatra.  Notice: often, you know literary characters better than you know yourself.  Why?  Because, unlike you, Art has a comprehensible, recognizable form, a beginning, a middle and sides, an end.  You, friend, your existence, is limitless, alive before birth, and likely, after death.  The story of you, objectless, breathless, non-corporeal, cannot be fully known. 

All Art is artifice.  Art is not life.  Art is the model of life.  As is Jesus, a model of life, a literary character, likely, the God, a different God, a different character in each telling, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and of Jesus’s who come to us from other story-makers; here I consider Joel Osteen, a maker of parable, a soul healer, a most excellent fellow whose Jesus I most favor, because a Jesus most like me.  Our lives are an artifice born of Art.

Horace was correct of unity and its parts, of drawing and its parts, sense and its parts, yet Horace was mistaken to state “ut pictura poesis”, “as is painting, so is poetry”, except, of course, by connoisseurship.  A poem is not a picture of life; a poem is not an emotion expressed, an opinion spurted; a poem is not a reflection on nature: a poem is a song of the seeing soul.  Here, I am not being poetic, I am didactic. 

Jan van Eyck (c. 1390 – 1441); The Ghent Altarpiece, c. 1425, “Singing Angels” (detail)

As I like to say, “Any excuse will do to craft a verse”.  Look.  See.  Pope, Shakespeare, Homer, Byron, each differing in excuse, cause, purpose, each different in form, in tone, in color, each high in the Art of Poetry.  Why?  Great souls make great poems.  Great intellects make great ideas.  Great emotions make great meaning.  Great skills make great objects.  The object of a poem … hum … Sound craft makes sounding poetry; Sound construction makes poems sound.

When in the lonely woods, listen: you are not alone.  Be still, the birds will speak, will answer in meter, in rhyme, in meaning.  Notice: the voices in chorus are greater than the greatest, single voice.  As so it is with poetry’s soul songs.  We are not all made to be great in poetry.  Yet, we are all made to sing in the invention of words.  We are made in harmony with the heavenly spheres.  We are made of the same particles that make the Sun.  Your particles, the Sun’s particles predate You, predate the Sun.  In truth: “I and my Father are One.”  There is a sounding harmony of the Spheres (lately, recorded by scientific instrument, though, more beautifully, more artfully rendered by Holtz).  There is music in all that changes.  Listen.  We, You and I, are the minds by which the Universe knows itself.

Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836 – 1912); Sappho and Alcaeus, 1881

There was in wombed Shakespeare, Homer, Byron, Pope, the elements requisite to create great poems.  These elements are present in many, perhaps, in you.  And what else?  The Art of Poetry requires craft, delight in sound, curiosity in word, discipline in work; the poet in skill must need meaning, perceive emotion, must practice virtue.  Vice is weakness.  We all have vices.  We are of flesh.  Flesh is weak, flesh decays.  Flesh, thank you Jesus, has needs.  The best Art is free of vice, it is that soul of us made real, pure, unfleshed, a thing of virtue stronger, more clean than the body which made it. 

Yet, more than all, the Art of Poetry, in its highest form, is story well made; the ending which revels the beginning, the middle which informs to delight, as here we have done in speaking shape one soul into another.

* illustration (top), Hellenistic; Head from the Statue of the Young Bacchus, First Century A.D.

* “Anacreon”, excerpted from Canto I, Poem 1, of “Amorem: A History of Love” (projected release of Canto I, Winter 2020).

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Filming in the library of my home, “Occasional Poetry: How to Write Poems for any Occasion” soon to be available on the LearnAndKnow website. Photo: Courtesy of Thomas Bloom, Drake Wise Productions.

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Occasional Poetry: How to Write Poems for Any Occasion. A Guide to Versification, with Helpful Tips, Advice, Examples.

In quick and easy lessons discover the poet in yourself, your ability to compose poems of birth, of love, of memorial and eulogy, of all the occasions of life. With easy instruction, learn step-by-step, by diagrams and numerous examples, the techniques of poetry both classical and contemporary. Each of the 22 chapters offers a “how to” of poetry technique, a “show-and-tell” of birthday poems, wedding poems, anniversary poems, et cetera. Author Michael Curtis sympathetically guides the reader into the art and the craft of writing poems for any occasion.

For an excerpt from “Occasional Verse: How to Write Poems for Any Occasion”, you might visit The Society of Classical Poets online journal, and while there enjoy many excellent poems and useful essays concerning the art of verse.

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