Poetry’s verses can instill values in us

Thursday, May 17, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:28 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008

Recently a local school boy was awarded a prize for a poem he composed. Joseph Brodsky, Soviet dissident and Nobel Laureate, proposed that all high school freshmen should be presented with the gift of a volume of American verse. What does poetry teach us? Form, structure, discipline, the beauty of our language, imagery and proper usage. As Mark Twain observed, the difference between the correct word and the almost correct word is the difference between “fire” and “firefly.”

Samuel Coleridge’s “Ancient Mariner” teaches, “He prayeth best who loveth best all things both great and small. For the dear God who loveth us, He made and loveth all.” Francis Thompson can’t escape his “Hound of Heaven?” “I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him and down the arches of the years.” Does Oliver Goldsmith’s “Deserted Village” have relevance? “Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, Where wealth accumulates and men decay.” Grey’s “Elegy,” is about us, the unknown and unheralded. Why do our parents weep when they read Robert Frost’s “Home Burial”? We learn values, not about how to make a living, but about how to live. Perhaps that’s what is missing in our current school curricula and deficient in so many of our students. Columbia might start a trend honoring Brodsky’s proposal. We might award a school letter for “varsity poets.” I’d be willing to make a modest annual donation if our high schools would establish a fund to finance the proposal.

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