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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 3, No. 4. 1940

Literary Columns

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Literary Columns

In Defence of Poetry.

I struggled through Saroyan, but "the emotion evident in me" forced me to abandon the blasphemous coprology of the "Grapes of Wrath" at Chapter 2, and to return to the realas of gold from which I had been suddenly roused by the distant challenge of the writer of a "Short Discourse of Poetry".

Ballad-mongers, penny-a-liners, witling spinsters, furnace- breasted Don Juans, film-stars with secret sorrows, devotees of the latest corn-cure, futurists, classicists, nihilists, impressionists, Surrealists - all have desecrated the sacred shrine of poetry by offering on it to the muses the murdered and mutilated ecstasies which they have deemed too passionate to be couched in mundane prose. None of these are poets, nor any of their works true poetry; class then as versifiers and their product verse.

Poets are those rare visionarios blessed with an intense prophetic power, who, living in the light of an anticipated eternity, translate into the hearts of other men those divine mysteries which they alone can comprehend.

Poetry is eternal, but prose must die Prose will remain in use as long as there exist some human imperfections, some worldly problems, some enigmas unsolved. But poetry, being divine, transcends things worldly, outstrips time and space and is as immutable as the divine spirit from which it springs. For prose is of man and it mirrors the doubts, the fears, the conflicts, the limitations of man's mind It is the slave of argument, criticism, exposition, end the other expressions of severely logical mentality. But poetry has no worldly fetters, no creed, no faction and it belongs to no age. It is the sublime escape from materialism, ant the purest and the noblest of human passions - - a lust for eternity.

J. B. W.

The author of the "Short Discourse" being indisposed, the Literary Editor takes it upon himself to reply.

God save us! You who are litterateurs will remember with what odium the Quarterly Review, attacked the Cockney poets, and John Keats. But the epithets of these righteous gentlemen are sweet as honey compared with "blasphemous coprology". The world has many a one and one age wears scarlet and another purple, what is apt for one age is out of place in the next - so if the "Grapes of Wrath" is not clad in the holy light of Shelley, we have no right to be perverse. This is twentieth century, and writers obey themselves and their audience.

I agree wholly with the spirit of this defence of poets. Poets are" the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present, the words which express what they understand not the trumpets which sing to battle .. the unacknowledged legislators of the world." But recognising this, how are we to decide in Individual cases, and should any decision be made?

It seems to no that John Steinbeck is the author of some thing more eternal than most of our "poets". If this be true he is poet, and it is falso to draw a distiaction between prose and poetry saying one is eternal and divine, the other reeks of materialism. . There is no distinction except that of form. Both are the children of the blind urge to create which impels men through the mises of the world, and both are twins born of man's doubts, fears, conflicts, desires and aspirations. Both prose and poetry are Digressions, to be read and enjoyed. Let there be no standards. Above, all we must remember the ago decides - will always decide - cannot escape the mystery and mastery of the age.

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The Grapes of Wrath

"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of Wrath are stored;
He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword.
His truth is marching on."

It was these lines of the Battle Hymn of the Republic that gave John Steinbeck the inspiration for the title of his tremendous indictment of the present rotten economic system. The insignificance of human life where profits are concerned is brought out in all its starkness. People who dislike the message of the book may cavil at its obscenity, but few people could fail to be impressed by this passionate, white-hot indictment of the system which condemns millions to a life of poverty and squalor, which starves men, women and children with delightful impartiality, and which brands as "Reds", "foreign agitators", those who attempt to band themselves together to secure the bare minimum for a tolerable existence.

It tells the story of a Kansas dust-bowl family forced off their farm by big business, who are lured by inviting leaflets to trek to the "Sunshine state", California. These leaflets distributed by the thousand by big Californian farming interests, promise abundant and well-paid labour picking fruit in Californian orchards. In reply to a leaflet promising work for a few hundred people, thousands of refugees from the dust and drought stricken areas flock to California. When they try to get work they find that anyone who will not accept the employers' terms may starve, and watch his wife and family do the same.

The Joads, who set out with such high hopes, are terribly disillusioned. Casey, a former itinerant preacher who has accompanied them on their long trek, attempts to organizo a strike against a wage which, in the words of one of the characters, "you couldn't starve on"; has his skull smashed in by a pick- handle, wielded by a drunken deputy upholding the interests of law and order. Tom Joad does the samo by the deputy and becomes a hunted criminal.

Although this book does not and up on a very hopeful note the author has all through indicated that capitalism is digging its own grave. And perhaps the most significant passage in the book is that where he predicts that one day the workers will "stop praying"


Yogi by a Tree-Trunk.

Load of cumbersome
Heaviness, soft spreading
Inchoate, renewed
Life-pulse unthrobbing....



Cremation, though tasteful
And certainly clean,
Is economically wasteful
Of them-as-has-been.