Saturday, February 21, 2009

Calling Forth the Poets

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"The Poets and the People"
. by One of the Latter (from The Artist: Critical Writings of Oscar Wilde, ed. Richard Ellmann)

* The followed unsigned essay was published in the Pall Mall Gazette XLV (17 February 1887). It's insight is hauntingly appropriate to the times we now navigate and
is attributed to the playwright and poet, Oscar Wilde. Wilde's answer to the challenging times of his own day may offer an answer to us in ours: He calls forth the poets.

Never was there a time in our national history when there was more need than there is now for the creation of a spirit of enthusiasm among all classes of society, inspiring men and women with that social zeal and the spirit of self-sacrifice which alone can save a great people in the thoes of national misfortune. Tirades of pessimism require but little intellectual effort, and the world is not much the better for them; but to inspire a people with hope and courage, to fill them with a desire after righteousness and duty, this is work that requires the combination of intelligence and feeling of the highest order. Who, in the midst of all our poverty and distress, that threatens to become intensified, will step into the breach and rouse us to the almost super-human effort that is necessary to alter the existing state of things?

There is one class of men to whom we have a right to look for assistance, to whom the task of stirring the national conscience should be accepted with delight. When the poor are suffering from inherent faults of their own, and the greediness of captialists, and both are in danger of suffering still more from causes over which they have but partial control, surely the hour has come when the poets should exercise their influence for good, and set fairer ideals before all than the mere love of wealth and ostentatious display on the side and the desire to appropriate wealth on the other. But we listen in vain for any inspiring ode or ballad that shall reach the hearts of the people or touch the consciences of capitalists. What do those who are designated in the columns of our newspapers as great poets bring to us in this hour of national trial, when we are so much in need of the serice of a truly great poet? ... The struggle to live in all parts of Western Europe, and perhaps especially England, is so fierce that we are in danger of having all that is idealistic and beautiful crushed out of us by the steam engine and the manipulations of the Stock Exchanges. We were never in greater need of good poets, and never better able than in this practical age to do without literary medicine men and mystery mongers. ... The people are suffering, and are likely to suffer more; where is the poet who is the one [person] needful to rouse the nation to a sense of duty and inspire the people with hope?