The Spike or Victoria College Review 1936
The Poet and the Typewriter — A Legend Taken from a Manuscript of the 21st Century
The Poet and the Typewriter
A Legend Taken from a Manuscript of the 21st Century
It is related that in the early years of the twentieth century there was a youthful Poet who aspired to win Fame by the publication of Lyric Verse, but who was cut off from the achievement of his ambition by the fact that his writing was quite illegible to all but himself. He had endeavoured to overcome this obstacle by inducing his friends and near relatives to take down the poems from his dictation, but the nature of their comments on the outpourings of his soul was such that the sensitive spirit of the poet revolted, and he decided that even Fame was not worth this price.
Now the affections of this poet were set upon a Typist, to whom he felt drawn alike by her personal attractiveness and by the possibility of access to an instrument which might bring him in touch with Editors and the Public, and there by in sight of the Recognition of his Talents. One day in the absence of his Boss he slipped unperceived into the room where the Typist worked, hoping for an opportunity to promote his suit; but as it was about the hour of Afternoon Tea the lady, of course, was disappearing through another door just as the Poet entered. His first impulse was to follow her, but his eye fell on the Typewriter, and a thought came to him that raised his clear spirit above Love and Hunger. He glanced round; no one was in sight; and he quickly took from his pocket the manuscripts of two of his latest poems.
A few days later the editor of a progressive magazine received two effusions from a new contributor. By their shape they were obvi- page 16 ously Poetry, and in quality they were equal to much that he daily received; but they were in one respect Different from the usual productions, and on account of that rare and valuable virtue they were duly published and praised as the work of a New and Original Poet, whose principles of poetic workmanship soon became the subject of lively controversy.
The New and Original Poet was not in the least surprised at this tribute to his poetic genius, but he was certainly mystified at the theories of his own poetic art as explained eulogised and criticised by others. Soon, however, a light broke in upon his mind and he realised what it was that had brought him this sudden celebrity. In his haste and his ignorance of the working of a typewriter he had copied his poems entirely without capital letters and almost without punctuation. However lofty his ideas in some respects the Poet was not the man to repudiate the publicity this lucky accident had brought him. He therefore learned by heart the principles attributed to him by his admirers and declaimed them on all possible occasions, and in recopying his previous verses carefully denuded them of all capital letters, full stops, commas and other traces of the obsolete conventions of punctuation. This resourcefulness and adaptability duly brought him the success he deserved, and he was the initiator of a fashion which in the next few years spread rapidly, appealing chiefly to the very young, newly emancipated from the tyranny of the teacher's red pencil.
We must not judge too hardly this quaint old poetic custom or convention whose true origin as here related is one of the recent discoveries of literary research. Strange as it may seem, the idea of unpunctuated verse was not altogether ridiculous. The public liked it because it gave them a fresh reason for regarding poets as mad and a new excuse for not reading the productions loosely styled Poetry. The poets liked it because it marked them out from the common herd and threw an aura of distinction about brows which were often otherwise only too commonplace. Perhaps they hoped that the reader would imagine the poet as a soul still in its primal innocence untouched by the sordid influences of education. Or else the poet might appear as a hero defending the noble cause of Equality and Freedom. Why should a few letters in no way more worthy than their fellows be singled out and raised into a higher class known as Capitals? Why should the expression of burning emotion and profound thought be hampered and restrained by conventional stops and pauses? Thus the harmless versifier would be imagined as setting out to defy Capitalist Society with bombs in every pocket and umpteen illicit love affairs in his life.
A further advantage of the new style was that it prevented confusion with the works of Shakespeare, Milton, Shelley and other old-fashioned writers, a contingency remote enough, perhaps, but which was strangely dreaded by twentieth century authors.
Perhaps too the poets aspired to achieve the fame of that well-known passage,
"every lady in the land
has ten fingers on each hand
five and twenty on hands and feet
and this is true of all you meet."
Or of the equally noble example of English prose,
"charles the first walked and talked half an hour after his head was cut off."
Indeed this may well have been their reason, for is it not a poet's duty to make his lines as full of meaning as possible?
Whether it was done to invest the person of the poet in a haze of romance or his meaning in a veil of mystery (both qualities being rare and attractive in an age of standardization and routine) we cannot now tell; but this fashion lingered for many years, especially among the minor poets of "intellectual" circles until it had long ceased to be the latest innovation in poetry and a new generation laughed out of print their elders' cherished affectations. Youth has no reverence. But perhaps in this year of grace 2036 some student of literature reading these lines may decide to earn himself a reputation for originality by reviving this quaint custom of a bygone age.