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Importance of poetry

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Here are two gems that emerge in the telling of the naughty cat who went fishing in a goldfish bowl.

File picture: Pixabay

Poetry almost always elicits a knee-jerk rejection on the grounds of exclusivity and elitism.

Allow me to look at four poems by Thomas Gray, the author of Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.

The first is Sonnet On the Death of Mr Richard West. It provides realistic strategies for dealing with death.

He says: “My lonely anguish melts no heart but mine”.

He reminds us that the dead cannot hear our grief, and ends by saying: “I fruitless mourn to him that cannot hear/and weep the more, because I weep in vain.”

These words have provided solace and strength for me during my own period of bereavement.

The next poem has an intimidating title: Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College.

I draw your attention to the closing lines, which will have a relevance after you have read the whole poem: “where ignorance is bliss/’Tis folly to be wise”.

The next poem has an even longer title: Ode, with the sub-title: On the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes.

Surely, I hear my two readers say, this can’t be serious enough to look at? But wait. Here are two gems that emerge in the telling of the naughty cat who went fishing in a goldfish bowl.

When the cat screams for help with its dying breath, no one comes.

And Gray pens the line: “A favourite has no friend”. A cautionary moral truth, methinks.

The poem provides a clanger.

The cat dies because it ignores the prior injunction: “What female heart can gold despise? What cat’s averse to fish?”

The denouement comes with the closing lines: “Not all that tempt your wandering eyes/and heedless heart, is lawful prize;/Nor all that glitters, gold.”

Finally, a brief reference to the famous Elegy, which provides the following aphorism: “The paths of glory lead but to the grave.” A grim truth that we all must face.

I will just remind my two readers about the immortal quatrain that starts: “Full many a gem of purest ray serene” (the 14th stanza in 32 exquisitely crafted verses, much loved and much quoted.) These could be the most-quoted lines in poetry.

It is of some interest that the opening words of verse 19 should provide the title for a seminal novel by another Thomas, this time with the surname Hardy: Far from the Madding Crowd. In this case, madding means “milling” or “restless”.

I think that I have made my point. Poetry is vital to our daily language. Writers do obfuscate and embed meanings in vague musings and tortuous argument. But the fabric of our daily discourse has its origins in these poems. The poems I looked at were written round about 1742 and later. Gray died in 1771.