Mike: The student reader-community came to the poem with
very different cultural assumptions and symbolizations.
What did Roethke intend? Who cares?
We should all care and I feel like ranting about it. As Bertrand Russell noted in _The ABCs of Relativity_, if everything is relative there's nothing for it to be relative to. The student-reader community is seldom right about poetry, or to be less dogmatic here, the student-reader community has an unschooled opinion. That's why they are....students. Poetry and the traditions of poetry are important especially because they preserve cultural values, and as such they are subjects that can be taught, meaning that students are unschooled and trained teachers can correct their naive understanding.
Instead of taking a cue from TS Eliot's "Tradition and the Individual Talent," contemporary poets now give us prose lineated as poetry, as generation after generation of poets was taught to abandon meter and metaphor altogether in favor of trying to write philosophy, social commentary, private diaries, and essays with a ragged right edge.
Now poetry is belittled and marginalized -- no longer a force for anything in culture, except among an increasingly alienated elite who find it difficult to say just what it is they're doing, and why, to ordinary people.
The politics of poetry are so vicious because the stakes are so small, as Hutchins famously said of academic politics. I mean, except as an article to read in the New Yorker that you don't even read all of because after a while you realize that it's all just the same sort of politics that you're reading the New Yorker to avoid thinking about in your own life. Instead of apprenticeship to poetry, we have an ultrademocratized easy-and-fun-for-beginners approach, based on a sense that students can never be wrong.
It's not progress. It's not liberating. It's not cool. It's the tedious "old spontaneous me" of Whitman imitation. Get out the old bongo drums, snap your fingers, then walk home amid the blowing trash and waste of a million egotists who never can be wrong.
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