October 29: Ode noes


Let me complain.

In the Daily Reading Guide introduction -- highly recommended as a guide to early 20th-century advertising prose -- we read:


PRESIDENT ELIOT wrote in his introduction to the Harvard Classics, “In my opinion, a five-foot shelf would hold books enough to give a liberal education to any one who would read them with devotion, even if he could spare but fifteen minutes a day for reading.” With this very definitely in mind, we have prepared a daily reading guide in which the assignments chosen appropriately enough, will take the usual person about fifteen minutes to read with leisurely enjoyment.
Emphasis added. Now, how long should it take to read Keats's "To Autumn" (here called "Ode To Autumn" -- everything is dressed up for the Harvard Classics, it's like when they started calling Albany State "The University at Albany")? I'm talking really read it, like you should do with great poetry, letting its effects wash over you, and then, through close reading, teasing out how the poet achieved them. Such patient work should take you upwards of, like five minutes, right? Maybe even more.

Well, the DRG has also poured on "To Melancholy," "Grecian Urn," "To A Nightingale" -- the whole hit parade. And thus surfeited, thus forced to drink the fine brandy straight from the bottle until it's drained, I have nothing to actually say about any of them. Except this:

1. Keats was the guy who invented "negative capability," which was later perfected by Lee Atwater, and there's a lot of defining things by what they're not -- the sweeter unheard melodies, the songs of Spring which Autumn is not, the rosary of yew-berries that Melancholy should not make. That seems like kind of an English major-y thought, in that the insight is almost interesting, but then isn't, really. But by the time you realize that, the paper has been written!

2. I always hated the line "Beauty is truth, truth beauty" ever since I first had to read that poem in seventh grade. It still seems manifestly untrue; and, let's face it, it's aMadeline Bassett attitude. The truth is ugly, frequently; there are tricks you can learn where, with the right contortions, you can see it as beautiful, but it takes above-average suppleness, in my opinion.

3. But, again, less, in this case, would have been more. We can't all be tubercular geniuses, you know.

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