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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 9, No. 10. August, 7, 1946


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Dear Sir,—In the face of two letters. one genuine and one abusive, and the utterly unexpected appearance (complete with a misprint and all—"thy" for "my" in verse 2. line 1) of a poem I had sent in some four or five months ago, all in the last issue of "Salient." I feel that some more or less open comments are expected of me. I shall not attempt to defeat "Vox, etc." at his own game—for abuse is a fine art that only a select few can handle—and, while I must thank him for his tardy and some-what too obviously planned recognition of the adjectival fish, since the point that does, somewhat soiled it is true, finally appear in his letter is more adequately managed by W. H. Mabbett, I shall make reference to this latter writer only.

W.H.M. reduces the material of poetry to two classes—vague, unanalysed feelings; and ideas already sufficiently explicit to allow a more ready reduction to words. The ideas must be "worked out," and the residue, which cannot be logically formulated, which thus remains in terms of feeling, and which consequently would perhaps correspond to the "feeling" element originally present but lost during the "working out" process, must be "recreated"—success in such "recreation" being dependent largely upon success in the "working out" of the ideas. The value of the poem depends on the thought and thought depends on the way it is presented after it has been worked out. so that a good poet will be justifiably un intelligible only when his thoughts are beyond those of his fellows.

All this, which constitutes what I am regarding as his first point, follows incontestably from W.H.M's. assumptions and I have restated it partly because I agree entirely that it does draw attention to matters of considerable truth. My objections arise at each of the three assumptions and run as follows:—
1.Is there not a third type of material in which, as in Rilke's "reception" of the first lines of the Duino elegies, the content is simply verbalization of an idea whose meaning still remains implicit only? I think Rilke is a sufficiently large exception to break W.H.M.'s rule, and no doubt there are others (e.g.. Blake), and, if this is granted, would it not suggest that the verbal form of a poem may sometimes express not so much an explicit and logical idea or proposition as one of those "feelings" referred to by W.H.M.? In other words, and this is linked to my second objection below, is it not sometimes the case that the unanalysed feelings of a poem may furnish material in their own right, and not just as deductions from or "recreations" or even complements of explicit and logical ideas? And, if this is so, it is not likely that the poem will be intelligible to the meticulous and logical any more than to the lazy and disinterested reader; nor can the poet really do very much about it.
2.Another way of seeing this is to realise that some types of feeling or idea are unfortunately so elusive that the analysis of them yields a result that, while certainly being something, is just as certainly something quite different. This is, for instance, surely one of the reasons why people have to have recourse to symbols.
3.The counter-objection to all this is, of course, that I would appear to be suggesting that all incomprehensible utterances right down to the "flight of ideas" of the psychotic, are "poetry." My third objection, however, is that poetry is not valuable just in proportion to its thought as such, that even a flight of ideas may sometimes be poetic. W.H.M. would not, I think, really hold that poetry is valuable in proportion as its thought is only, yet he has based a large section of his argument on this assumption and his apparent concession, in the phrase "the skill with which he works them (the thoughts) out," is not good enough. If the "skill" is not "poetic." the thought remains, in his words, "scientific, not artistic."

These three objections cover. I think, the real crux of the whole matter, and I may deal with the second and third points of W.H.M.'s letter in a more summary fashion. With regard to Keats and the "permanent, clarified ecstasy." If my conclusions above are even slightly true, the part that is clarified will, in some cases, be not so much the thought as the words, the poet will know not so much what he means as what he is going to say. I am not suggesting at all that this was Keats' condition, but simply that there are many types of "ecstacles." all perfectly clarified in their own way.

The question of symbols is more difficult, but since I agree up to a point with W.H.M.'s conclusions. I shall answer the personal point he raises, by saying that the only fact required for the interpretation of the "fish" symbol was the knowledge that fish have cold blood. The rest were perfectly obvious also — "river" is "stream of life," and so on—and no more personal than Is unavoidable with any symbol. The degree of interpretation desirable actually within any poem rests, of course, on the degree possible, and this rests on the type of poem; the justifiability of the type of poem not taken account of by W.H.M. rests, so far, on the validity of my suggestions earlier in this letter. If anyone has any ideas that will enhance that validity, or show it to be non-existent, or. better, if anyone can take up the topics that naturally arise at the point I reached three paragraphs ago. I expect that this whole matter will be able to be fairly speedily closed. At least the real points at issue have been made clear.

P. S. Wilson

Answer for that misprint. Hollyman!—Ed.

Someone else proofed it, not me. Apologise yourself—Holly.