I adore poetry. I try writing poetry, too, from time to time, but I fail almost every time. I still try, though. It’s such a disciplined and sensual form of art that I know I want to get it right some time or the other. How much command over the language a poet must have to express limitless vision in limited words.
It all started when I read Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade. From there, my craze only magnified as I read Wilfred Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth and Dulce et decorum est. Those three war poems changed the way I see words and respond to their lure—it’s weird how war is always the starting point of enlightenment.
Once I understood the underlined meaning in these poems, I wanted more. I was addicted, and was desperate to quench the dryness that these poems left in my throat.
I had read poetry before, of course. I had read some of Shakespeare’s sonnets, and yet, these poems were different. Reading Shakespeare requires effort sincere effort and interest. These poems, though, thrust themselves at me. I didn’t have to know the details of war to understand its effects as told by Tennyson and Owen. They inflamed a strong passion in me for simple, yet well-articulated words.
For instance, this one in particular:
“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.”
Which translates to: “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.” Ah, the intensity of those words—coming from a soldier nonetheless, who knows what he’s talking about better than anyone else ever would. But what makes it even better is the placement of the phrase: “The Old Lie:”
“The Old Lie: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.”
The entire poem walks us through a vivid description of the war zone, and then, we get to the end where the poet claims that all the bullshit stories we tell young soldiers are empty words; lies. Poor Owen, he must’ve believed them all, like the rest of the lot. What a great poet he turned out at the hospital, before recovering and heading to the battleground again.
But that’s the power in good poetry: When said “write”, a writer writes, but a writer who said it right, writhes the emotion out of readers.
Wilfred Owen was one such writer. He made me, the reader, feel what he felt. The pain, the anguish, the heartbreak, and the loss of hope—I felt them all because the poet put them in such an artistic narrative. And that’s why we should read good poems, because like John Keating says, we need science and business to sustain, but we need poetry to live.
And what would we do if not live?