If There Were no Poetry
would Ted Kooser be just another folksy rural
Nebraskan in an ill-fitting cardigan — Billy
Collins a popular humorist? Might Emily
Dickinson have been an unknown recluse,
Joyce Kilmer an arborist, Dylan Thomas and
Charles Bukowski, full-time sots? Would Bob Dylan’s
poetic murmurings have won a Nobel Prize regardless?
Would there be other venues for personification and
There would be no readings,
no muted ahs, ums, and studied nods of affirmation
from patient devotees. Might words such as ethereal,
gossamer, and cerulean be unused, affectation rare?
Without poetry would April still be the cruellest month?
Would red wheelbarrows and cold plums be of little
significance in our daily lives? Would we know if Andrew
Motion’s father lost his wedding ring while hiking a
dangerous cliff-edge above the North Sea, Ray
Carver studied a cobweb hanging from a lampshade
as he contemplated his final days, or Hayden
Carruth was eating pie and weeping at one-thirty
in the morning while he read Carver’s last book?
If there were no poetry would anyone know or
care who Lycidas was? Would a Grecian Urn,
still unravish’d bride of quietness, simply be a
decorative container for storing water and wine,
the Nightingale, light-winged dryad of the trees,
but a brownish-plumed flycatcher? Would we
no longer be merely players on the world’s stage,
but companion travelers on a journey through life,
songs of ourselves unsung? Would we never know
why the caged bird sings or what happens to dreams
deferred and roads not taken? Might Wordsworth have
celebrated some other artistic endeavor as at the center
of the human experience, the first and last of all knowledge?
Would sunsets and a full-hearted evensong be unremarkable
events at day’s end. Might we be incapable of expressing
wonderment or deconstructing the world around us? Who
would we be? How would we be? Could we bear the
intolerable hunger — if there were no poetry?
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How would humankind be different if there were no poetry?