‘You Come Too'

The Pull of Poetry

So you don’t see splashy ads advising, “Make Big Bucks on Poetry!” So it’s not the art form of this age—which is to say of a postmythic age where almost anything can be measured, where the Web provides an instant encyclopedia, where self-help books challenge existential angst and Dr. Phil picks up the scraps.

Before there were books, meter and rhyme enabled our ancestors to commit tribal wisdom to memory. Before the scientific age, human imagination employed metaphor, myth, and the common dispositions they created, to confront the mysteries of time, mortality, loss, change, otherness, good, evil, and the urgings of the human spirit. Brilliant writer that he was, Plato feared that the emergent phenomenon of writing (and hence of literacy) would diminish the mnemonic faculty, which not only trains the memory but also helps to effect cultural formation—the very functions in which poetry used to excel. To the extent that poetry is no longer deemed culturally critical in most literate societies, Plato may have been right. So it’s stuffed in the back attics of our need, like grandma’s bustle or that yellowing Dagwood comic strip lining a box of hat pins: quaint, touching...and irrelevant.

A persistent minority, however, insist that poetry continues to be written because it conveys what cannot quite be conveyed in any other way—and, further, that what it conveys both demands and engenders a...

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About the Author

John Savant, professor emeritus at Dominican University of California, lives in San Rafael, California.