Saturday, September 16, 2006


Confessions of a Philistine

Both Anecdotal Evidence and languagehat recently discussed Basil Bunting's poem At Briggflatts Meetinghouse.

The first sentence of the poem is "Boasts time mocks cumber Rome." I sat in front of my computer for a few minutes trying to parse that sentence, without success. Apparently it means:
"Boasts (noun, plural) [at which] time mocks [en]cumber Rome"; or, "The boasts which Rome [metonymically, the culture of ancient Rome, or perhaps the Roman Catholic Church] once made about its permanence now encumber it, and are mocked by the passage of time."
I didn't understand the rest of the poem either.

Now and then I make a half-hearted effort to understand modern poetry (I recently read all of Philip Larkin's Collected Poems), but to tell the truth I really don't comprehend or appreciate much after A.E. Housman, W.B. Yeats, and Robert Frost. The fault, I know, lies in me, and not in poets like Bunting. People whose judgment I respect find meaning and inspiration and pleasure in At Briggflatts Meetinghouse, where I find only obscurity.

I seem to be afflicted with a kind of mental astigmatism or hyperopia. Poems far distant in time are clear to my mind's eye, but more recent ones are blurred, indistinct, and distorted to my vision. Ditto for music and painting.

Neverthless I sincerely appreciate the efforts of Anecdotal Evidence, languagehat, and others who write about modern poetry. I'll keep trying to understand.

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