On the Intention of the Poet

Does he want to injure, or heal? Is he base, or noble? Would he transgress and so ruin his patrimony, or elaborate and so glorify it?

It is in practice pretty easy to tell, no? It is not after all so hard to parse this, or therefore to decide which side deserves your lot. Go then; decide. Which poet shall you heed?

There is in the final analysis nothing else that is in your power. Everything else, from the morning coffee to the changing of the diaper to the valor of the battlefield is a faint echo – a mighty, magnificent, immensely important echo – of this basic decision.

Is it about you, you worm? Or is it about something more? If it is about something more, then: is it about the Ultimate, or is it about something damnably less?

Let’s on with it then, brothers. Into the fray. Deus vult!


13 thoughts on “On the Intention of the Poet

  1. Precisely so. Art (with a capital “A”) is the discovery of the ideal, and, thereafter, the fashioning of mundane material into the expression best fitting the expression of what has been discovered. In this, it is Divine, never destructive, never contemptuous, always nourishing, always inspiring to achievement of its realization.

    • In practice it is usually pretty easy to tell the difference between Art and its opposite. The former leaves one feeling at least a bit elevated, enlarged, better, and inwardly cleaner (even if it is poorly done (as, e.g., a high school production of Our Town)); the latter has the opposite effect (even when – *especially when* – it is excellently done (as, e.g., the later exudations of the Star Wars universe)).

      What is the correct term for the opposite of Art, anyway? Bearing in mind that the opposite of Art is not artlessness or slop or chaos, for the opposite of Art is often executed with wonderful skill and talent. Nor is it creative work that tries to be good but fails. The opposite of Art is a project that intends evil and destruction, ugliness, discomfort, or pain – including dissonance either sonic or cognitive. There must be a single word that specifies it, no?

      • A good suggestion, but I’m not sure it works. Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo are kitsch, and so is the work of that guy who paints luminous idyllic images of rural cottages. But I wouldn’t call their works evil.

        Jackson Pollock on the other hand worked evil, and his works are the opposite of art. HR Giger, too, despite his genius. And Francis Bacon: ugh. I feel as though I ought to take a shower every time I see one of his paintings.

        If there isn’t already a word for this, I’m going to derive one.

        How about the Greek spasimo (σπάσιμο), breaking? Or the Greek ereipio (ερείπιο), ruin? Or just the PIE for ruin, reue? That might work, because ruin is both verb and noun; both the act of ruining and the result thereof. Reue connotes also the way we feel upon having encountered a reue: we rue the day.

      • Dross. There is no opposite to Art though, just the lack of attainment to it. I have been writing a longer essay on this subject, a complex topic to cover in distillation it is so vast that it may end up as a book.

        The Artist is a rare being. Few mortals can see the ideal of Beauty and fewer have the talent to express the discovery. And for decades the so-called schools have “taught” the very opposite: make it ugly, they holler! The worst boors are in the universities.

        That said, there is very little that rises to the level of a work of Art. It is transcendent and difficult to accomplish. But in certain ages, when the conditions were ripe for it, it flourished. In all ages, there are still Artists, but you have to search for them if you know what to look for in their work.

        Now we are inundated with what is passed off as Art, but which is dross. Never in history until this maudlin age of fakes has the Artist been reviled as he is today. It is an angry jealousy of those who are enmired in the dross their own lives and fixated upon the crass mundaneity of the material world.

      • Incidentally, I wouldn’t class Frazetta and Vallejo as kitsch. They tap imaginatively into the Indo-European hero-tradition and are especially good at depicting the “shield maiden,” with whom the hero’s fate is entangled. Frazetta entwined his talent with that of Edgar Rice Burroughs, another creative artist whom I wouldn’t want insult by tainting him with the charge of counterfeiting narrative; as I have written — ERB’s stories offer considerable anthropological insight.

      • I have a lot of respect for Frazetta and Vallejo, too, and if it were up to me alone, I too would not class their work as kitsch. But their genre is generally regarded as kitschy, as are Burroughs and Howard. But I bet that Burroughs, Howard, Zane Grey, & alii are read long after most of the highbrow writers of today have vanished into the mists of time. Likewise people will want to look at work by Vallejo and Frazetta long after everyone has forgotten Pollock.

  2. @Kristor:

    I wouldn’t use ‘Our Town’, a work by a leftist–Wilder– as an example of ‘Art’. Christopher Lasch panned Wilder, saying that in his works he treated ‘the unenlightened’ as slightly subhuman. I concur. So I suppose I’m calling ‘Our Town’ dross.

    I think ‘dross’ is a good term for that which fails as art.
    Great discussion.

    • Point taken. I have not dipped into Our Town since I saw a production of it at my old High School, which was actually quite moving, and fairly well done for a bunch of young drama geeks. That’s what made me think of it.

      The sad thing is that music is not nearly so forgiving as drama. I find it almost impossible to listen to high school orchestras. Choruses are sometimes OK.

  3. So, a question: what is the difference between dross and mere dreck? I suppose it comes down to this: dross is evilly or wrongly intended ab initio, whereas dreck is simply badly executed, whatever its originating intentions. So the work of Thomas Kincaid would be dreck, even though well intentioned. A high school production of Our Town might be dreck, likewise. But the work of HR Giger would be dross, no matter how well executed.

    In the eschaton, something of Kincaid will be preserved; whereas Giger will be sent to unquenchable fire.


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