Horace Traubel

 

 

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You poets of today and tomorrow. Listen to me, too. You have heard others. You have heard yourselves. You have talked it all over between you. Now hear what I have to say. I have no standing [66] among you. I am not an artist. I have no skill in writing meaningless pretty phrases. Yet I want you to listen to me. I want you to lay down your pens and set your minds on what I am going to say. It will do you no harm. It may do you good. It may do you the most needed good. For there is something the matter with you. What is the matter? Do you know? I dont believe you know. But I know. You are writing the best worst stuff of all time. You are the gracefulest of performers. You are the perfectest technicians. You leave everyone behind. All the generations. The Shelleys the Miltons and the Hugos. You leave them all behind. When it comes to the show of the thing nobody can touch you. You shame the masters. They all thought they could write. The old fellows. But you have shown that they were a cheap lot. Any one of you can beat them out. They have passed their forms on to you. You have elaborated them. You are the logical result. The legitimate conclusion. If art is for art's sake then form is for form's sake. And if it dont matter what you say and does matter how you say it then you hold the fort and your flag is to be honored. You are singing away not at the top of your voices. It would be vulgar to sing at the top of your voices. You are meandering about in the sickly atmospheres of repressed cultures. Talk low. Be pensive. Wear a cloak of literary piety. Sable yourself. Mask your eyes and powder your cheeks. It all goes with being a poet. Let the makeup be more significant than the madeup. Do nothing that is likely to suggest that you belong to the crowd. Resent the mob. Elevate yourself beyond the cares of life. Dance on the points of needles. Show how agile you are. Did you suppose it was a poet's function to inspire and foresee? Oh no, It is the poet's business to drag back. To whip all the stir and struggle out of art. To live and work on a level. To discourage original faculty. In all the ages poetry was never fairer. In all the ages poetry was never emptier. Imagine a man going to battle with a magazine poem on his lips. Every now and then someone says: The age of poetry is dead. Then all the poets take out their handkerchiefs and cry. They point to their rhymes. They figure up their slim editions. People wont read poetry any more. The people have turned poetry down. Every book of poems is a graveyard in which lie the perfumed dead. You poets. Listen. Maybe it is not true that the people are dead. Yet the people no longer like poetry. Maybe it is true that you are dead. That you are not writing the poetry the people want. Maybe the people love poetry more than ever. Maybe that is the reason they dont love your poetry. Maybe the people are more ready to be moved than ever. But maybe you dont know how move them. You say this is the age of the machine. I say this is the age of poetry. I do see that you are rejected. But I do not see that poetry is rejected. The people have asked for substance. You have brought them form. They have asked for that which will help them to live. You have brought them something that will only help them to die. They do not forbid you. You forbid them. You say: Art for art's sake. You say: A beautiful word for a beautiful word's sake. But the people shake their heads. The people say: No: if it's not all for our sake then it's for nothing. You have wandered off. They call you back. You have taken your book under your arm and forgotten the people. Your decoy sentences have not fooled the people. They have only fooled you. You wonder why the people dont care for what you say. I'll tell you why. Because the people are more interested in how you live than in what you say. You dont talk out of your lives. You talk out of books. You are not creators. You are beggars and borrowers and stealers. You dont build from foundations. You only hang flowers on the walls. You are decorators. That is the reason the people have turned away from you. You first turned away from the people.

You poets of today. Listen to me now. I am not against you. But I want to explain you. You say the age of poetry is past. So it is. The age of your rhymes. The age of your false trills and runs and quavers. That age is past. And well past. The people are starving. What do you bring to feed them? They cry out in their pain. How do you propose to help them? You file up like a procession of priests each one of you offering a book. But your books are humbug books. They are not books of life. They are books of words. They are books of idiotic rhymes and lying adjectives. They are books of verbal acrobats. Books of words with records. Words that run a mile a minute. Words that vault over a bar too many feet high. You are all repeating each other. And you are all repeating thousands who died before you lived. You have taken your forms from them. And as for substance – you have let that go. For what has substance to do with poetry? You are in[67]sulted when a poem shows some signs of sense. You call the poet to order. You remind him that a poem is made not as a vessel but as a surface. It is only to glitter and glisten. Your poems are most of them sick things. They are subjects for a hospital. And those which are not sick are dead. They never had a breath of life them. They hang around like last year's leaves. Probably there are more frauds calling themselves artists than calling themselves anything else. The money maker and the poem maker are instinctively brothers. At the footlights they wink at each other. Behind the scenes they shake hands. They both fool the public. Live by exploitation. Create fake values. Water their stocks. There's more water in most poems than in most corporations. And the injustices which some people are willing to commit for money the poets are willing to commit for ambition. They take fame any way they can get it just as their confreres in trade take money any way they can get it. And this sort of commerce and this sort of art acknowledge no communal obligation. They are superiors. And superiors are always entitled to rob and browbeat the failures. You may think it should be just the other way about. That we are especially bound to be scrupulous with those who cant defend themselves. But no. That is all right for savage tribes. All right for wolves and hyenas. But it's all wrong for men. Men must give and take without qualification. Especially take. So the financier takes dollars. And the poet takes praise. While the people take nothing. While the people only give. The poets meet together and tell each other what a poor lot the people are. How much the people need to be educated. How little the people know of essentials in the spiritual realm. How great a gap there is between the culturally saved and the culturally damned. How glorious it would be to have a world of poets rather than a world of people. They pass around cigarettes and repeat each other. The yeses are in the majority. Now and then a discordant note is struck. Some fool breaks in with a question. Some ass who has not yet cut himself entirely loose from the people. But they browbeat him into silence. He either shuts up or resigns or is kicked out. Poetry is no place for a man. It is only a place for a poet. The minute a man shows his head in poetry they soak it. Poetry is not for the natural and the rudimentary. It is for the makebelieve and the sophisticated. When you write poetry you must not show how simple you can be. You must show how ornamental you can be. You must not show how near you are to life. You must show how far away you are from life. And in the contests between the words of life and the words of the dictionary be sure you choose the words of the dictionary. Art is even more brutal than trade. Trade is quite free to confess that it proposes to do you. But art always puts on airs. Always ambles around as a friend of man. So that while trade though doing you does you in the front, art, also doing you, does you in the back. Art is the last perfidy. The art of artists. I dont mean the art of men. The poets are sold out. As much sold out as if they took money in the transaction. Why should poetry be bought and paid for? I ask even the poetry sort of people: What's the news? and they shake their heads: There is no news. That is, there is no poetry. Poetry is dead. The traditions are worn out. The machine wont work any more. Is no longer plausible. The people who know nothing got onto this before the artists who know everything. That is why this is not an age of poetry. That is also why it is the best of all ages of poetry. But the poetry of this age so far except in a few exceptions has only been lived. It has not been written. It will be more and more lived and then will be more and more written. But the message of the age cant be conveyed through alien forms. It must create its own forms. It must talk art according to its own instincts. Give science a voice. Give the machine a voice. Give labor a voice. Especially labor. The giant greatest force of all. Give it a voice. Not in the confused singsongs of the dead. No. In the capacious anthems of the living. You poets of today. I have no standing among you. But you will listen to me. For I am telling you what is the matter with you. You say there is something the matter with the world. You are wrong. There is something the matter with you. The world is as hungry as ever. What can you do to feed it? But the poets of the world never come out of your traditions and formulas. They come out of the world's heart. Out of its common everyday degradation and glory. The trouble is not with the world but with you. The world is listening. But you do not sing. You are echoers. You are not singers. You poets of today.

You poets of tomorrow. You will not report on the dead. You will report on the living. You will not busy yourselves with words. You will busy yourselves with life. You will not disdain form. But you will let form take care of itself. The song will take care of its form. It will not make light of form. Nor will it let form make [68] light of it. But they will always freely go together. But the form will grow. It will not be manufactured. It will get its warp and woof from what it is intended to do. One thing is sure. The matter is sure. Another thing is sure. The manner is sure. But the manner will suit the matter. Matter will slip into it and be accommodated. There will be no tyrannies of tradition to prejudice the partnership. You poets of tomorrow. You will step out of your own light. You will stop your rhymes. You will treat with the people in a language they understand. And you woman: the first real song is still to be sung to you. And you man: the first song is yet to be sung to you. For the singers have been so engaged with their songs they have forgotten what they were singing about. But the new word is spoken. Now they will be so busy with their motive they will not have time for their songs. And then their songs will sing real for once. Then woman will be sung. Her sex. Her essential genius. Not her eyebrows and her feet and her alabaster skin. The woman in the woman will be heralded. And the man in the man. Science has yet to be sung. Its first song is yet unwritten. And the laborer is yet to be sung. His first song has yet to be conceived. The whole thing has been done wrong so far. Has been done as an art instead of as a frenzy. Has been done with respect for words rather than with respect for life. Has any poet yet frankly loved in a poem? Put his body's love into it and his spirit's love? The artists have been preoccupied. They are victims of grammars and tenses and adjectives. They follow forms. They do not lead forms. They hate worse to have a thing badly said than to have the thing itself bad. Here is the outspread world. The world listens. It is waiting for some one to speak in its voice. Waiting for some one to be its eyes and mouth and ears and heart. Who will compete? Let no one come with the ancient formulas. They wont do the job. Let no one come who is not convinced. No one who looks back. No one whose models are dead and epitaphed. Let those only come who come unpledged. Who can start with what they see and hear. Who do not need rules and covenants as guides. Who can stand on their own feet. Who are not afraid of the shops and the stores and the offices and the crowd. Who are not afraid of the plainest words. Who are afraid to be normal. Who do not doubt the capacity of the vocabulary of daily life to take care of all verbal situations. Who would as lief be dishonest with your purse as with a word. Let no one come who does not come prepared to forget that he is an artist and to remember that he is a man. That first and last of all. Listen to me today. For you will have to listen to my successor tomorrow. Do not trifle with what I say. My feet are not misled. I am parting a veil for you. Look into the future. Drop all your baubled arts behind you. Rise to the levels farther on. Empty handed. Desire leading desire to the democratic ideal. The world is tired of artists. It wants men. Is tired of the polishers of phrases. It wants life. The world says: Sing. It has not shut the singer up. It has waited for him to sing. The singer has shut himself up. Has not sung. We have not called the rhymes and rhythms of a pettifogging finesse song. The emasculated enunciators of traditions. They have not sung. The world has always been willing to hear. But the poets have not always been willing to sing. The people say: Sing. But they also say: Sing in the language of people. You poets of today and tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

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The Conservator.
Jg. 22, 1911, Nr. 5, Juli, S. 65-68.

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Literatur

Brandmeyer, Rudolf: Poetiken der Lyrik: Von der Normpoetik zur Autorenpoetik. In: Handbuch Lyrik. Theorie, Analyse, Geschichte. Hrsg. von Dieter Lamping. 2. Aufl. Stuttgart 2016, S. 2-15.

Newcomb, John T.: How Did Poetry Survive? The Making of Modern American Verse. Urbana, Ill. u.a. 2012.

Newcomb, John T.: The Emergence of "The New Poetry". In: The Cambridge Companion to Modern American Poetry. Hrsg. von Walter Kalaidjian. Cambridge 2015, S. 11-22.

Robertson, Michael: Worshipping Walt. The Whitman Disciples. Princeton, N.J. u.a. 2008.
Kap. 6: Horace Traubel and the Walt Whitman Fellowship: The Gospel according to Horace.

Schmidgall, Gary (Hrsg.): Conserving Walt Whitman's Fame. Selections from Horace Traubel's "Conservator," 18901919. Iowa City 2006.

 

 

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Lyriktheorie » R. Brandmeyer