Dan Chiasson throws down the gauntlet in his pronouncement on Derek Walcott (“Eight Takes,” April 2005). Not that I’m going to be among those rushing to bolster Walcott’s standing in the canonthe work will speak for itself. What concerns me more is Chiasson’s apparently cavalier dismissal of poetry’s relation to its sister art: “People who like Walcott think poetry ought to be 'musical,’ which, to my thinking, makes about as much sense as saying music ought to be 'poetical.’” So. In a neat reversal Chiasson nixes six centuries of lyric tradition? (I’m speaking only of the lyric in English, from Chaucer on: the line of course extends to Anacreon and Sappho.) What’s wrong, one wonders, with thinking poetry might bear some analogous or mutually fructifying relation to musicor to painting, or to dance for that matter? Our best thinkers have thought so; as our best poets have had, for the most part, musical ears. Chiasson quotes one, Yeats, a “musical” poet if ever there was one, who adamantly thought “poetry ought to be 'musical,’” and whom Pound said had the best ear of his generation (never mind that Yeats was tone deaf). And Pound is a fine example, now that we’re quoting Pound again, of one who built upon the analogy of poetry to painting, dance, and song: recall his delineation of “three kinds of poetry ”phanopoeia, logopoeia, and melopoeiathat latter treating poetry’s “musical property.” These notions need not be considered quaint or outdated; they are real, verifiable, and, to a responsive mind, imaginatively potent.
Exeter, New Hampshire