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Ars Poetica

poets on poetry

Czeslaw Milosz / Dylan Thomas / Pablo NerudaOctavio Paz / More poerms on poetry/ Horace


Definition:  from a treatise of the same name by the Roman poet, Horace (65BC-8BC), setting forth principles of poetic composition. The term is also applied to other authoritative works dealing with the art of poetry.


How To Eat a Poem
by Eve Merriam

    Don't be polite.
    Bite in.
    Pick it up with your fingers and lick the juice that
              may run down your chin.
    It is ready and ripe now, whenever you are.

    You do not need a knife or fork or spoon
    or plate or napkin or tablecloth.

    For there is no core
    or stem
    or rind
    or pit
    or seed
    or skin
    to throw away.




Ars Poetica by Czeslaw Milosz

I have always aspired to a more spacious form
that would be free from the claims of poetry or prose
and would let us understand each other without exposing
the author or reader to sublime agonies.

In the very essence of poetry there is something indecent:
a thing is brought forth which we didn't know we had in us,
so we blink our eyes, as if a tiger had sprung out
and stood in the light, lashing his tail.

That's why poetry is rightly said to be dictated by a daimonion,
though it's an exaggeration to maintain that he must be an angel.
It's hard to guess where that pride of poets comes from,
when so often they're put to shame by the disclosure of their frailty.

What reasonable man would like to be a city of demons,
who behave as if they were at home, speak in many tongues,
and who, not satisfied with stealing his lips or hand,
work at changing his destiny for their convenience?

It's true that what is morbid is highly valued today,
and so you may think that I am only joking
or that I've devised just one more means
of praising Art with the help of irony.

There was a time when only wise books were read,
helping us to bear our pain and misery.
This, after all, is not quite the same
as leafing through a thousand works fresh from psychiatric clinics.

And yet the world is different from what it seems to be
and we are other than how we see ourselves in our ravings.
People therefore preserve silent integrity,
thus earning the respect of their relatives and neighbors.

The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.

What I'm saying here is not, I agree, poetry,
as poems should be written rarely and reluctantly,
under unbearable duress and only with the hope
that good spirits, not evil ones, choose us for their instrument.

Berkeley, 1968
translated by Czeslaw Milosz
and Lillian Valle
(top)


Dylan
Thomas

In My Craft or Sullen Art

In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms,
I labour by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.

Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I srite
On these spindrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.


Notes on the Art of Poetry

I could never have dreamt that there were such goings-on
in the world between the covers of books,
such sandstorms and ice blasts of words,,,
such staggering peace, such enormous laughter,
such and so many blinding bright lights,, ,
splashing all over the pages
in a million bits and pieces
all of which were words, words, words,
and each of which were alive forever
in its own delight and glory and oddity and light.


Poetic Manifesto, 1961


I fell in love � that is the only expression I can think of � at once, and am still at the mercy of words, though sometimes now, knowing a little of their behavior very well, I think I can influence them slightly and have even learned to beat them now and then, which they appear to enjoy.
"Poetic Manifesto" in the Texas Quarterly, Winter 1961

The best craftsman always leaves holes and gaps in the works of the poem so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash, or thunder in. The joy and function of poetry is, and was, the celebration of man, which is also the celebration of God.

"Poetic Manifesto" in the Texas Quarterly, Winter 1961

You can tear a poem apart to see what makes it technically tick, and say to yourself, when the works are laid out before you, the vowels, the consonants, the rhymes or rhythms, "Yes this is it. This is why the poem moves me so. It is because of the craftsmanship." But you're back again where you began. You're back with the mystery of having been moved by words.

"Poetic Manifesto" in the Texas Quarterly, Winter 1961

I am a painstaking, conscientious, involved and devious craftsman in words, however unsuccessful the result so often appears, and to whatever wrong uses I may apply my technical paraphernalia. I use everything and anything to make my poems work and move in the direction I want them to: old tricks, new tricks, puns, portmanteau-words, paradox, allusion, paronomasia, paragram, catachresis, slang, assonantal rhymes, vowel rhymes, sprung rhythm. Every device there is in language is there to be used if you will. Poets have got to enjoy themselves sometimes, and the twisting and convolutions of words, the inventions and contrivances, are all part of the joy that is part of the painful, voluntary work.
Notes on the Art of Poetry, 1951
(top)

The Poet
by Pablo Neruda

That time when I moved among happenings
in the midst of my mournful devotions; that time
when I cherished a leaflet of quartz,
and stared at a lifetime's vocation.

I ranged in the markets of avarice
where goodness is bought for a price, breathed
the insensate miasmas of envy, the inhuman
contention of masks and existences.

I endured in the bog-dweller's element; the lily
that breaks on the water in a sudden
disturbance of bubbles and blossoms, devoured me.
Whatever the foot sought, the spirit deflected,
or sheered toward the fang of the pit.

So my poems took beina, in travail
retrieved from the thorn, like a penance,
wrenched by a seizure of hands, out of solitude;
or they parted for burial
their secretest flower in immodesty's garden.

Estranged to myself, like shadow on water
that moves through a corridor's fathoms,
I sped through the exile of each man's existence,
this way and that, and so, to habitual loathing;
for I saw that their being was this: to stifle
one half of existence's fullness like fish
in an alien limit of ocean. And there,
in immensity's mire, I encountered their death;

Death grazing the barriers,
Death opening roadways and doorways.


Octavio Paz

The common thread that unites Octavio Paz' various literary and social identities is his enduring commitment to the complex communicability of metaphorical language. "Poetry makes things more transparent and clearer and teaches us to respect men and nature," Paz insists. A writer of interpenetrations�of solitude and solitarity, of clarity and allusiveness, of Mexican specificity and international applicability�Paz won the 1990 Nobel Prize in literature.

Transcript of Nobel acceptance speech: English, Spanish



more poems on poems / Horace's ars poetica (translation)

for more information about the Poets & Writers Picnic (but not for Latin translations), visit the picnic blog or contact Dale Harris, 505-242-4930



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