A Poetry Month post at the Poetry Foundation, 4/16/12:
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
–From “When You Are Old” by William Butler Yeats
I don’t know anything about Yeats, have never even heard of him until just now, but when I read that, I felt, rightly and indignantly so, that he was talking to me and only me, of course. “Oh, Bill! Would you like to come over tonight?” That’s the whorish power of poetry, a most intimate language aimed at everybody, and for a while, this formula worked absolutely everywhere. Like a late night, drunken kiss, any poem that was worth anything was transmitted orally until everyone had been impregnated by it. However, with the introduction of print, the poem started to be nudged by pedestrian prose, then come-on photography, and it has been downhill ever since. Now, even the bestest poem can strut, prance, wink and dance at any street corner and offer his or her service for free–hell, he/she may even pay you by the half-hour to endure his or her company–but, well, well, well, you can make up your own punchline.
“Maybe some other time, poem, I have a junior varsity lacross open practice to attend this afternoon.”
“Well, let me take a rain check on that, poem, because a rerun of Jersey Swamp is on at the moment, to be followed by an in depth analysis on CNN of why Madonna is wearing long sleeves?”
Returning to Yeats: What motivates poetry is precisely “the pilgrim soul” he mentioned, a soul that is alienated from the here and now, and that is understood by no one, absolutely no one, but the poet. Because there is only one man, me!, who loves the pilgrim soul in you, because I am that poet. I am your whore, the first and last you’ll ever need. Don’t be tricked by all the other poet manqués loitering all over this goddamn site, because they are just as clichéd and tiresome as the phrase I just used. A poet manqué will only whore himself to The Man, be it dean, department head, pompous and clueless editor, or President of the United States of America, whereas I will gladly smother and open myself to you, and you alone.