Poets give the mind a motion too changeable and bewitching, to consist with right practice. We must avoid their specious tropes and figures and the vicious abundance of phrase, this trick of metaphors, this volubility of tongue, which makes so great a noise in the world. I saw the soul of Hesiod bound fast to a brazen pillar and gibbering, and the soul of Homer hung on a tree with serpents writhing about it, this being their punishment for what they had said about the gods. For they deserved to be chased out of the lists and beaten with rods. No one can interrogate poets about what they say. The dialectic cannot engage them. Most often when they are introduced into the discussion some say that the poet’s meaning is one thing and some another, for the topic is one on which nobody can produce a conclusive argument. The wit of the fables and religions of the ancient world is well nigh consumed: they have already served the poets long enough; and it is now high time to dismiss them; especially seeing they have this peculiar imperfection, that they were only fictions at first. Poets are liars. Their creation is far removed from the truth, and this, it seems, is the reason why it can produce everything, because it touches or lays hold on only a small part of the object and that a phantom. The very fact that they are poets makes them think that they have a perfect understanding of all other subjects of which they are totally ignorant.

Who suffered these seducing mummers to approach this sick man? Never have they nursed his sorrows with any remedies, but rather fostered them with poisonous sweets. These are they who stifle the fruit-bearing harvest of reason with the barren briars of the passions; they do not free the minds of men from disease but accustom them thereto. I make fun of the self-styled madness of the poets, of their overbearing claim to divine inspiration. They should be charged with heresy, uselessness, complete lack of substance and solidity; they are venal and obsequious, malicious and immoral, unashamed plagiarists; they are worthy of punishment rather than of praise. I must confess that poets are whetstones of wit, notwithstanding that wit is dearly bought: where honey and gall are mixed, it will be hard to sever one from the other.
Pull off the vizard that Poets mask in, you shall disclose their reproach, beware their vanities, loath their wantonness, lament their folly, and perceive their sharp sayings to be placed as pearls in dunghills, fresh pictures on rotten walls, chaste Matrons apparel on Common courtesans. These are the cups of Circes, that turn reasonable creatures into brute beasts, the balls of Hippomanes that hinder the course of Atalanta; and the blocks of the Devil that are cast in our ways, to cut off the raze of toward wits. No marvel that Plato shut them out of his school, and banished them quite from his common wealth, as effeminate writers, unprofitable members, and utter enemies to virtue. I confess, in discourses where we seek rather pleasure and delight than information and improvement, such ornaments as are borrowed from them can scarce pass for faults. But yet if we would speak of things as they are, we must allow that all the art of poetry, besides order and cleanness; all the artificial application of words eloquence has invented, are for nothing else but to insinuate wrong ideas, move the passions, and thereby mislead the judgment, and so indeed are perfect cheats.
Poets write verses on a new principle; see rocks and rivers in a new light; and remaining studiously ignorant of history, society, and human nature, cultivate the fantasy only at the expense of the memory and the reason; and contrive, though they retreat from the world for the express purpose of seeing nature as she is, to see her only as she is not. They didn't have much trouble teaching the ape to write poems: first they strapped him into the chair, then tied the pencil around his hand (the paper had already been nailed down). Then Dr. Bluespire leaned over his shoulder and whispered into his ear: "You look like a god sitting there. Why don't you try writing something?" Yet, behold, in the course of centuries, the singers have been multiplying, the singers who, while singing, are forced to assume the posture of the singer and it is this posture that in time becomes more and more rigid. And one singer arouses another and one confirms the other in an ever more stubborn frenzy of song, ha, they are no longer singing for the other people but for one another; and between them, on a path of unceasing rivalry, a constant perfecting of themselves in the singing, a pyramid is created whose peak reaches the heavens and which we admire from below, from earth looking upward. The poem has grown to monstrous proportions so that we no longer control it; it rules us. Poets have become slaves and we could describe the poet as a being who can no longer express himself as much as someone who must express—a Poem.
Why do they call that thing they gave me nutsteak? Nutarians. Fruitarians. To give you the idea you are eating rumpsteak. Absurd. Salty too. I detest that: so tasteless. Those literary ethereal people they are all. Dreamy, cloudy, symbolistic. Esthetes they are. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was that kind of food you see produces the like waves of the brain the poetical. Why do poets wear deodorant and brush their teeth? Because they have B.O. and bad breath. Behold he not only vaunts poetry, he is also enamored of it; being a poet, he adores the greatness of the poet; he not only demands that others fall to their knees before him, he, too falls to his knees in front of himself. If only a poet could treat his singing as a mania or ritual: if only he would sing as those who must sing even though they know they sing in a vacuum. If, instead of a proud “I, the poet,” he were capable of saying these words with shame or with fear, even with revulsion.

Originally Published: November 15th, 2008

Javier O. Huerta's debut collection Some Clarifications y otros poemas (Arte Publico 2007) received the 31st Chicano/Latino Literary Prize from UC Irvine. He is also the author of American Copia (2012). A graduate of the Bilingual MFA Program at UT El Paso, Huerta is currently a PhD student in the...

  1. November 15, 2008
     Desmond Swords

    As it currently stands, the 8C BC oral poet Hesiod's 1022 line creation myth poem - Theogony (trans. seed of the gods) is an 8C BC synthesis of local Greek myth on which the entire 500 yr old modern English poetic tradition is founded on and currently rests.
    It was first written down when writing reappeared in 6C BC Greece after 300 years of the Greek Dark Ages (1100 - 800 BC) which began around the time the Iliad was set 500 years earlier at the end of the Mycenaean empire, which ran from 1600 - 1100BC, during the final phase of the Bronze Age in ancient Greece.
    The nucleus of Mycenaean culture was the warrior caste, and it displaced the mercantile Minoan civilisation based on Crete, which was a sea faring trading empire based that ran from 2700 BC to 1500 BC, and whose demise wascoterminous with The Minoan eruption of the island of Thera (now Santorini) around 1500 BC.
    Santorini, (Thera) is 70 miles north of Crete, and had a Minoan trading settlement at Akrotiri, and the eruption was one of the largest volcanic events in recorded history, which occurred in the mid second millennium BC and may have contributed to the collapse of the Minoan culture.
    Minoan civilisation had no warrior class and traded with Greece (notably Mycenae), Anatolia, Cyprus, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Syria and as far west as Spain. Religious frescoes and statuary depictions of Minoan goddesses and/or priestesses, far outnumber those of anything which could be remotley akin to a Minoan god, with the consensus being these represent at least several goddesses including a great fertiltiy Goddess, a Mistress of Animals, the protectress of cities, the household, the harvest, and the underworld, and more.
    The frescoes also shopw men and women engaging in the same sports, the most prominent of which was the Minoan bull leaping ceremony, in which men and women leaped over a bull torso first. Due to this absence of a warrior caste, the femal religion and the physical and pictoral evedience, and from what is known of other cultures of that time, it is specualted that matrilinaeal succession was the norm, as opposed to what we have now, patrilineal succession.
    Anglo-German-Hibernian poet Robert Graves, who was one of the foremost creative minds of the 20C - won a scholarship to St John's College Oxford where he studied classics and he fought in the Great War remembered in Britian last week. He was a prominent translator of Classical Latin and Ancient Greek texts, author of historical novels such as I, Claudius, King Jesus, The Golden Fleece, and Count Belisarius and he wrote 140 books. His poetic theory is one which he attempted to piece together, by going as far back as Minoan civilisation, which ran from 2700 - 1500 BC.
    Graves case is that the female chthonic deities represented in the statuary and frescoes of Minoan civilisation, are all aspects of a single Mother Goddess symbolised by the moon and that the Minoan's, religious practices centered on the female aspect.
    After the Thera eruption at the Mycenaean warrior culture displaced the 1200 year old Minoan civilisation which in the Graves model, is a peaceable female-faith based one, reliant on long distant trade with Egyptian and Levantean civilisations, and this version of the Greek Poetic, 1 -2000 years before Hesiod, is what Graves terms the *unimprovable original*. His theory is that:
    *..the language of poetic myth....was a magical language bound up with popular religious ceremonies, in honour of the Moon-goddess, or Muse, some of them dating back to the Old Stone Age, and that this remains the true language of poetry - *true* in the nostalgic sense of the unimporovable original, not a synthetic substitute.*
    One of Hesiod's other (of three extant) works, Works and Days, an 800 verse poem, details five Ages of Man; which began with
    1 - Golden Age during the rule of Cronus, youngest of the 12 Titans, son of Mother Earth Gia and parthenogenitically birthed Sky Father son-husband, Uranus. Mens spirit's in this age, lived on as daemons who could help out the living.
    Man and gods lived in peace and harmony and it was all smiles and happy, maybe like in Minoan times 1000 years before Hesiod?
    2 - Silver Age - in the age of Zeus, who had overthrown Cronus who had overthrown his own father Uranus. Humans in this time lived a 100 years as children and a short span as adults who spent that time fighting with each other. Human spirits in this age, became blessed spirits of the underworld.
    3 - Bronze Age. Men were hard and war their passion, everything forged in bronze, including houses, but undone by their violent ways, their spirits remained unamed, dwelling in a "dank house of Hades".
    4 - The Heroic Age - not corresponding to any metal. Noble heroes. and demi-gods who fought at Thebes and Troy and on death went to Elysium.
    5 - Iron Age. Hesiods time, a rubbish life for humans, kids don't respect their parents, no decency, immoralty patracide, brother killing brother and "there will be no help against evil."
    I dunno, but is Hesiod tellin porkies? if so, could Graves be right, that the Golden Age of Hesiod's Works and Days is Minoan civilisation a 1000 years before -- Hesiod not havin wiki, writing stopped when the bronze age collapsed into the iron age proliferation of new more kill-effective implements, coinciding with the swift destruction and demise of all Egyptian, Hittite and Mycenaean culture and civilisation, including Troy at the time of the Iliad?
    This is a theory which only now with the advent of IT, can we search the answers with a speed unthinkable prior to the rise of information technologies. To retrieve the relevent information would have taken ten life times, wheras now it is at our fingertips, a million libraries of Alexandria.
    And so when Homer and Hesiod come along, their whole culture for the previous three hundred years, has been a post-apocolyptic Iron Age one, and for 500 years before that, the slow grind of continual regional wars, and before that, on Crete at least, 50/50 female Moon-goddess as Muse magical language unimprovable original Poetic.
    Graves levelled the accusation of *intellectual homesexuality* against Socrates, who is the Holy ghost in the trinity of philosophers underpinning Western thought, and along with his pupil Plato, Father to the son Aristotle, these human beings, men, just like any man today, are somehow deemed infallable, but is the truth not they were trapped by their history of war-as-normal and the whole accusation of Graves, not entirely unjust.
    The ancient Greek 6C BC Poetic, is the one on which Tudor courtiers founded modern English language poetry, 500 years ago and this tradition, is very short lived, when compared to the bardic tradition native on the British Isles, for 1200 years in print. The touchstone text of the whole bardic enterprise, was first translated in 1983, and is found in a 15C Harleian (Robert Harley, 1st earl of Oxford) manuscript 3.18, one of the Irish legal codices now at Trinity College, with the identification tag: MS 1337.
    This text was only translated in 1983, and when i first clapped eyes on it three years ago, thought this cannot be, as - on the face of it - it explains what poetry is, where it comes from and how it humanly works; from the point of view of a 7C bard, who had (say) 1000 years of druids behind him or her, and 1000 years ahead of them, and it has no title, i am guessing, because it needed none as it was the first poem the grade one fochloc (sapling) was given at their first day in bard school. A/the touchstone text of the whole bardic enterprise, my instinct immediately thought and after 18 months sniffing round the hugely important poet-biggers in Dublin doing their very important biz of public reading at book launches et al, asking if they knew of it, expecting the higher ups to of course know it, it became clear this text is all but unknown and it was only when Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill agreed my hunch was correct after 18 months of asking, i stopped asking as that was proof enough for me.
    At a stroke, this text does away with the What is Poetry? question, or rather it is a text that no TS Eliot, Pound, or any other figure in the history of English language poetry, is gonna persuade me they are speaking deeper than Amergin.
    Because it was only translated into English in 1983, its significance has not yet been grasped and the older mob, won't want to know as it makes their lifes work less important than they would like to have it, but Ireland and Scotalnd and the British Isles, were the last oputpost of this pure unimprovable original poetic, and had a literate tradition that ran from proto-Old Irish of ogham (2-4 C AD), Old Irish 5-9 C AD), Middle Irish (9-12 AD) and early Modern Irish (12-17C AD).
    Twice as long as the current English poetic based on a dodgy all male myth in which erastes and eremenos, an old man has a young one say he's submissive, in a warrior centric fight fight fight system of warring boring poets, and the Amergin text, is like finding a key to a locked door, behind which the answer lies and in front of which a load of poets from all the various camps and gangs, arguing on the question:
    What is Poetry?
    And this text comes along and says, well ..
    Read it and unblock.
    love and peace
    gra agus siochain