Tag Archives: ode to a nightingale

Keats’s Beaker

Perhaps I think
Too much on fallen leaves,
When I ought to drink
From Keats’s beaker.

Hemlock is not my friend,
Yet the nightingale, Keats heard
Speaks of beauty,
And life’s end.

Should Poetry be “Relevant”?

Yesterday evening, my friend and I fell into a discussion concerning poetry. This came about as a consequence of me mentioning that I am in the process of producing a further collection of my own work.

During the course of our conversation, my friend mentioned that “poetry should be relevant”.

I responded that Keats great poem, “Ode to a Nightingale” (https://poets.org/poem/ode-nightingale), remains as relevant today as when the poet composed it. I said that the poem deals powerfully with the themes of beauty, life and death, and continues to resonate with the 21st century reader due to the fact that it touches on the human condition.

My friend acknowledged that “Ode to a Nightingale” is a wonderful poem. However he said that Keat’s work was written for an educated elite and was not read by ordinary people.

It is undoubtedly the case that at the time of the poems composition few “working class” people possessed the ability to read and write. Consequently “Ode” was (by and large) appreciated by an educated (and often wealthy) reading public. To acknowledge this self-evident fact does not, however imply that we ought to embrace the contention that “poetry should be relevant”.

Every poem is, of course relevant to the poet who puts pen to paper, (he would not have composed it where this not the case). A poet feels love, sadness, despair, sorrow, happiness (or a myriad other emotions) and feels impelled to compose a poem. In the moment of composition his poem is “relevant” to him and usually remains so throughout the remainder of his life.

However the power of a great poem lies in it’s ability to transcend time and place. From the early 19th century Keats “Nightingale” speaks poignantly to people of all social groups today. for the themes of life, death and beauty are as “relevant” to 21st century man as they were to the man or woman of the 19th century. Unlike the early 19th century, in the 20th (and 21st centuries) education is (in the developed world at least) now widespread, which enables people of all backgrounds to appreciate more complex poetry. I say “more complex”, for humans have always enjoyed poems, whether of the nursery rhyme variety, baudy verses or Homer’s “Odyssey” and “Iliad”. The latter were of course (originally) recited from memory so were accessible to people of all social stations. Therefore Homer, who is considered by some as “elitist”, was not viewed in this manner when his great works enthralled the ancients, when recited to the assembled populace.

We do, I believe need to be wary of assuming that because someone grows up in a tower block where the lifts rarely (if ever) work and gangs roam the estate, that they need (if, indeed they need poetry at all), to read poems about people living in similar circumstances to those in which they find themselves.

If an individual living in the circumstances described above writes poetry, she may well compose poems about gangs, drug dealers and other issues which often plague run down estates. Her work may possess literary merit (or it may not). However it should not be argued that her work is (due to it being based in gritty reality) more “relevant” than “Ode to a Nightingale”.

Of course the work of the poet living on a badly maintained estate is as “relevant” to her, as was Keats “Nightingale” to the poet as he sat penning it on Hampstead Heath. We should not, however jump to the assumption that merely because a person comes from poor circumstances that they are, somehow incapable of appreciating Keats, Shakespeare or Wordsworth. Through good teaching people of all kinds can (and should) enjoy our rich literary heritage, for it belongs to all of us. Certainly it is easier for the child growing up in a household full of books to gain an appreciation for the literary arts. But its by no means impossible for the girl or boy growing up on a poor estate to do likewise. Ultimately great art does not only transcend time and place, it also goes beyond social class and touches the hearts of us all. This is why I dislike the word “relevant” when applied to the appreciation of literature.

Why Do Certain Sounds Bring Sadness To Mind?

Why do certain sounds bring
Sadness to mind?
I find
That when birds sing
And engine’s notes are in distance
Lost, that my resistance
To melancholy
Is low
And I go
In search of Keat’s Nightingale.
Yet tis folly
I think
To drink
Too much of Keat’s brimming cup.
But o how sweet it is to sup
At melancholy’s table
Provided we are able
To partake of her store
For a while,
Then, with a wisthful smile
Withdraw.

Hemlock

Hemlock

 

The girl approached Malcolm and taking his hand in hers intoned in a soft musical voice “Darkling I listen; and for many a time I have been half in love

with easeful death, called him soft names in many a mused rhyme, to take into the air my quiet breath; now more than ever seems it rich to die, to cease

upon the midnight with no pain, while thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad in such an ecstasy! Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain – to

thy high requiem become a sod”.

The audience, hard bitten venture capitalists all, gaped with wonder at this beautiful girl with her long blonde hair falling in cascades down her back,

at her deep blue eyes and her slender figure.

“OK Professor, the jokes over. Who is this young lady? What is her name?” asked the chairman of the board, Sir Steven Carter.

Professor Steel smiled indulgently and speaking in a manner which he usually reserved for his more obtuse students said “As I explained at the start of

this demonstration the lady you see before you is Becky the first ever truly intelligent robot. Becky is designed for the discerning gentleman, for the

man who wants to be around a beautiful and intelligent lady but who, for whatever reason is not in (or does not wish to be in) a relationship with a flesh

and blood female. Imagine the potential of this invention gentlemen. No more need for the man of means to wine and dine a girl, buy her expensive presents

and (god forbid actually marry her)! If you gentlemen can come up with the finance then your company will be world famous. Imagine being known as the firm

who launched the first ever artificial woman of culture!”

A hand was raised “Yes, the gentleman at the back of the room with the red tie and white shirt”. “Can she er … I mean can Becky do other things”. The Professor

smiled (he smiled a lot but the smile never reached his eyes), “Indeed she can. Becky has a very convincing set of female organs all of which are in perfect

working order. Even gentlemen of culture have their needs and Becky is designed to cater to your, sorry I mean their every whim”.

“I want one” said the chairman. “I’ve often wished to switch off my wife and now this robot has come along it is, at long last possible for me to do just

that”! Miss Mortimer the only female board member looked daggers at the chairman who vissibly shrank in his seat and coloured deeply, “I was only joking,

no offence meant” he mumbled turning as red as the curtains which flanked the stage on which the Professor stood.

Another hand was raised. It was that of Malcolm Fisher the journalist who had been the recipient of Becky’s attentions. “Yes Sir, the gentleman with the

press pass sitting in the front row”. “Isn’t there something sacrilegious about Becky?” “Sacrilegious, what do you mean?” Malcolm thought of Jane, of how

they’d walk for hours in the countryside. One day, as dusk was falling the song of a nightingale had reach their ears. Jane’s eyes had become moist and

turning to Malcolm she said “It’s to beautiful, I want to cry and she quoted those self-same words that that “thing” had just intoned. He’d taken Jane

in his arms and softly kissed away the tears from her gentle brown eyes. With a jolt Malcolm pulled himself back to the present, the Professor was staring

expectantly at him. “I don’t know how to put it accept to say that this invention seems to have crossed some line. Once we have crossed the Rubicon who

knows what will happen”. The Professor suppressed a sigh, “My dear sir man is but a machine. He takes in food to fuel his body and his very mind is but

a highly intricate mechanism for processing thoughts and emotions. Becky is a machine, why should not two machines come together. This invention will enhance

the sum of human happiness by enabling those who can not find (or do not want for whatever reason to find) a human companion and from the perspective of

you gentlemen it will to borrow a phrase mean “loads of money”!

“Well Professor we are certainly very interested in your invention. I’ll discuss it with the board but I’m sure that you will be hearing from us in the

very near future. Many thanks for your informative presentation” said the Chairman.

As he left the building those words of Keat’s popped into Malcolm’s head “As though of hemlock I had drunk”. “I need a drink” he thought turning his steps

in the direction of the nearest pub but perhaps not hemlock.

 

(The above story can be found in my collection of short stories, The First Time. For this and other stories in this collection please visit http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-First-Time-ebook/dp/B00AIK0DD6 or http://www.amazon.com/The-First-Time-ebook/dp/B00AIK0DD6/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1363296273&sr=8-2&keywords=the+first+time+kevin+morris).

 

Quacking ducks and poetry reciting robot women!

What is it to be human? Surely one of the many and highly complex capacities which converge to form the human animal is our ability to create and appreciate art whether in the form of painting or literature. My dog has many admirable qualities but I’ve never seen him take down a book from my shelves and lose himself in it. No the ability to derive pleasure from literature and other high art is confined to we humans, or is it? Some proponents of artificial intelligence (the theory that we can create machines which equal or perhaps surpass us in intellectual capacities) contend that robots and computers will, one day possess the capability to understand and create high culture. Indeed the inventor and technological guru, Ray Kurzweil argues that machines will be able to create and comprehend art in precisely the same manner as we humans do. In the same way in which we can be moved to tears by a profound poem or other expression of artistic prowess so, in years to come will our artificial creations be moved to tears by the self-same cultural expressions.

In “Hemlock”, the final story in my collection of short stories, “The First Time” we are introduced to Becky, a robot who recites Keat’s Ode to a Nightingale with passion. She truly feels the beauty and sadness of Keat’s magnificent poem or does she? Perhaps Becky’s apparently genuine responses to Ode to a Nightingale are mere tricks stemming from clever computer programming. Becky is according to this perspective a mere shell with no thoughts and emotions of her own, she is in the true sense of the word a robot. However others would contend that we are all products of our genetic programming. Becky’s responses are therefore no more or less genuine than those of any other “programmed” creation whether of the biological or the non-biological variety. “If it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck then it is a duck”, or is it? I will leave you, my readers to decide.

 

(For “Hemlock” and the other stories in “The First Time” by Kevin Morris please visit http://www.amazon.com/The-First-Time-ebook/dp/B00AIK0DD6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1357854695&sr=8-1&keywords=the+first+time+kevin+morris. For John Keat’s Ode to a Nightingale please visit http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173744