Poetry and the Ancients

Finally, I’ve finished The Well-Educated Mind and am ready to read through Susan Wise-Bauer’s list of “great books.” The book was excellent and very interesting, and I’m a pretty fast reader in general; but I forced myself to take my time through the material, really digesting it and trying to hold onto as many of the ideas as I could.

“All poetry is about three things: God, love, and depression.”

I had never considered this, but I really like this summation. Susan expounds on this idea a little, stating that the poet feels isolated or withdrawn from the world or her subject (depression), feels intensely drawn to or in love with her subject (love), or is contemplating a greater force outside of herself (God, in the most general sense). ┬áSusan also characterizes poetry as having two elements: the presence of the poet and the language of the poem. I won’t go into her argument for the first point, but for her second point, she states that poetry is the only literature that ceases to be itself when the language is changed. You can turn a novel into a drama or movie and maintain its essence. You can abridge a classical work and it still remains what the author intended. But try paraphrasing a poem or making a movie of it, and you’ve lost the poetry.

She then traces these ideas and elements throughout the history of poetry. I loved seeing the connections I’d never noticed before and am so excited about getting started. (I’m the dork who loved reading Beowulf in high school.)

I’ll be reading through her list chronologically so that it parallels what we’ll be studying in the classical cycle of history, and periodically, I’ll update you on my progress. It might be a little slow, but thankfully I’ve read nearly everything in this first grouping (ancient history) once before. So, here it goes, “He who saw the deep, the country’s foundation…” [Epic of Gilgamesh]

One thought on “Poetry and the Ancients

  1. I’m looking forward to reading about the list from the fully chronological perspective. Happy reading!

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