When poetry moved underground, by Czeslaw Milosz


When poets discover
that their words refer only
to other words and not to reality
which must be described
as faithfully as possible,
they despair.

This is probably one cause
for modern poetry’s sombre tone.

In addition, poets are threatened
by isolation.

The bond between them
and “the great human family”
was still intact
in the era of romanticism,
that is, the Renaissance pattern
of fame, gratitude from, and recognition
by others was still operative.

Later, when poetry moved underground
and bohemia turned away
with scorn from the philistines,
it found serious support
in the idea of Art
with a capital A,
its absolute meaningfulness.

Poetry entered
the twentieth century convinced
of a fundamental antagonism
between Art and the world,
but Art’s fortress
was already crumbling
and the sense of the poet’s superiority
to ordinary mortals
had begun to lose its justification.

Czeslaw Milosz, from The Witness of Poetry, quoted by Stephen Dunn in Walking Light (p.17)

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