85. Sound and Sense: Alexander Pope

I do not celebrate National Poetry Month. Obviously, it’s not because I don’t like poetry, but instead because anything worth teaching is worth transcending. Black History Month, which started the “Month” trend, clearly did the job by demanding a cursory address of the importance of black Americans to our history. Likewise, National Poetry Month leads people to feel guilty about not doing poetry, reading poetry, or thinking about poetry the remaining eleven months. It seeks, I assume, to raise a generation not afraid of poetic conventions. Having growth up with Black History Month, I think of the names simply as “history” and teach them accordingly. Poetry should be part of the curriculum–all curriculum–because when you create a “unit” it becomes a mutant under the glass; a freak show to see before getting onto the next part.

Sparing you the diatribes that accompany this month about poetry, the month, and the like, suffice to say that poetry explains the curriculum–love, belonging, logic, math, science, art–and only becomes the curriculum secondary.

For more recent poems about poetry, checkout Poems on Poems, which has a healthy and diverse list of more recent poets and takes suggestions.

I have included this eighteenth century Pope poem because if I see the Billy Colllins’ poem about National Poetry Month again I’ll be sick; not because Collins wrote a bad poem, but because it is inevitable to be drummed with it repeatedly each time this year. LET’S RAISE THE DEAD! The only thing worse is hearing “Cruelest Month” used by anyone and everyone, both those who’ve read “The Wasteland” and those who have not. I am tempted to put up the text, but it’s not very middle school and I’ll just wait for another, less obvious month. You can check it out here.

Perhaps April is just a cranky month for me.

Sound and Sense
Alexander Pope

True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learned to dance.
‘Tis not enough no harshness gives offense,
The sound must seem an echo to the sense:
Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows,
And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows;
But when loud surges lash the sounding shore,
The hoarse, rough verse should like the torrent roar;
When Ajax strives some rock’s vast weight to throw,
The line too labors, and the words move slow;
Not so, when swift Camilla scours the plain,
Flies o’er the unbending corn, and skims along the main.
Hear how Timotheus’ varied lays surprise,
And bid alternate passions fall and rise!


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