Poetry has a right to children

William Empson wrote the following “pat little theory” in Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930) about the limitations of 19th century poetry, but it seems like it still might apply to contemporary “new sincerity” art, or any work seeking to evade cynicism on one side and elitism on the other.

For a variety of reasons, they found themselves living in an intellectual framework with which it was very difficult to write poetry, in which poetry was rather improper, or was irrelevant to business, especially the business of becoming Fit to Survive, or was an indulgence of one’s lower nature in beliefs the scientists knew were untrue. On the other hand, they had a large public which was as anxious to escape from this intellectual framework, on holiday, as they were themselves. Almost all of them, therefore, exploited a sort of tap-root into the world of their childhood, where they were able to conceive things poetically, and whatever they might be writing about they would suck up from this limited and perverted world an unvarying sap which was their poetical inspiration. …  An imposed excitement, a sense of uncaused warmth, achievement, gratification, a sense of hugging to oneself a private dream-world, is the main interest and material.

If you are trying to escape irony and phoniness and defensiveness, you have no choice to seek some original source of truth and warmth and goodness, which inevitably leads to the blankness of childhood, that golden era of one’s personal consciousness when hermeneutics were blessedly beyond and trust was an instinct rather than a choice. If this glorification of childhood is not to lead to the conclusion that is better to die a child than corrupt one’s innocence, youth has to be framed as a nostalgic tourist attraction, a place we can get away to when we can spare the time, and thereby remember what it is like to be before forgetting.


One thought on “Poetry has a right to children

  1. BC

    Use of games, online resources, in-class activities. No long writing please. Teaching syllables, types of rhyming, types of poetry and some children’s poets.


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