If Milton is rendered into prose, does that mean, somewhere, there is a Finnegans Wake for dummies? Even now is someone plodding through Ulysses reducing it to “Everyday English”; the literary equivalent of “Rory Gallagher for Easy Guitar” or “Jimi Hendrix in Three Chords”.
The thought of a prose version of Milton has been nagging at me all day. It’s like studying Jane Eyre by watching the BBC version and thinking the book is then unnecessary. (There are times when the Eyre Affair or the awful film version of the Dumas Club are entertaining in their own right. There are times when Meatloaf the band is essential listening. So I’m not saying that we should only have the most difficult and the rest is dross. There are filmed versions of Jane Eyre which are excellent films. But the novel they ain’t. )
In Thom Gunn’s poem “Expression” the narrator has been reading “The poetry of my juniors”. “It is very poetic poetry” says our narrator, who heads for the art museum, not knowing what he’s looking for until he sees “an Early Italian Altar Piece’.
“the sight quenches, like water
after too much birthday cake.”
Which is a what Heaney calls, somewhere else, a “mind clearing simile”. Listening to Bach’s partitas for solo violin, or his Cello Suites. Or reading Joyce after listening to the Tv/radio presenters…Like wading though so much “poetic poetry” to find the pure drop.
In Zbnigiew Herbert’s “Why the Classics.”
if art for its subject
will have a broken jar
a small broken soul
with a great self pity
what will remain after us
will be like lover’ weeping
in a small dirty hotel
when wall paper dawns.
As Mr. Cogito says in his envoy:
repeat humanity’s old incantations fairy tales and legends
for that is how you will attain the good you ill not attain
repeat great words repeat them stubbornly
like those who crossed a desert and perished in the sand.
A literary education should be about creating choices. But I don’t see how you can explain why some people think poetry is worthwhile if you turn it into prose so they can read it like a newspaper. How does anyone develop generic competence (in this case the skills, knowledge and reading practices called on when reading poetry) if they don’t engage with poem as poem?