I like Coleridge's definition of a poem-- "that species of composition which is opposed to works of science by proposing for its immediate object pleasure, not truth." Is truth of secondary importance? Not at all. But there's a kind of pleasure that's a door into truth-- the pleasure that takes us off guard, that we weren't planning on, and that we don't fully understand. When we feel this pleasure, something in us is recognizing a good independent of our own aims, our own agenda (no matter how noble that agenda might be.) Without this pleasure, we are in danger of never meeting any truth bigger than ourselves.
So poems don't give us News We Can Use. But don't we get enough of that already? Aren't we surrounded with instructions for manipulating our world? When I email my husband, a Google ad pops up: "How to keep a man in love." An ad for etiquette lessons in our suburban parents' magazine says: "Give your child an advantage over their peers." I'd rather raise children who love what's good with a generous, disinterested spirit. And I'd rather raise myself that way too. The nice thing is, learning to love the good isn't always arduous. Sometimes it can be downright pleasurable. As in the case of reading poems.
I'll be looking at one poem in each post, pointing out things about it that I enjoyed, and hoping that you'll enjoy them too. Maybe you'll point out things I missed-- or disagree with me. It will be fun to talk about. I'll start with some of my favorites and later move on to some that are new to me. I'd welcome suggestions of poems or poets to look at. Tomorrow we'll get started with some Hopkins.