Sunday, January 22, 2006

A ringing endorsement ...

... of poetry in general and Keats's poetry in particular from F. Scott Fitzgerald (thanks goes to email correspondent Tony Derago):

Poetry is either something that lives like fire inside you… or else it is nothing, an empty journalized bore around which pedants can endlessly drone their notes and explanations. The Grecian Urn is unbearably beautiful with every syllable as inevitable as the notes in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, or it is something you just don't understand. It is what it is because an extraordinary genius passed at that point in history and touched it. I suppose I read it a hundred times. About the tenth time I knew I began to know what it was about, and caught the chime in it and the exquisite inner mechanics. Likewise with the Nightingale which I can never read without tears in my eyes; and The Eve of St. Agnes which is the richest most sensuous in English, not excepting Shakespeare. And finally his three or four great sonnets….

Knowing those things young and granted an ear, one can scarcely ever afterwards be unable to distinguish between gold and dross in what one reads. In themselves those poems are a scale of workmanship for anybody who wants to know about words, their most utter value of evocation, persuasion or charm. For a while after you quit Keats all other poetry seems to be only whistling or humming.

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