The Purpose of Poetry
by Ned Boudreau
So what is the purpose of all this art stuff? This is no idle question. Most of my students roll their eyes or groan aloud when I introduce poetry in English class. Many of my acquaintances simply do not believe me when, quoting, T.S. Eliot, I say "Life without poetry would be a mistake", or that I could not live in a world without the like of Bach, Mozart or Dylan Thomas. They want a practical reason for why I value art above all things.
Well, I have a practical use for art. Consider this: I once spent Christmas with friends in Los Angeles. The son of the family, Dylan, was infatuated with a beautiful, refined young German American lass of 19 years, Ashleigh, who played the piano. He was and still is a true SoCal (South-California) Dude: surfer, biker, fitness freak. He was frustrated: "What can I do, man? I need the perfect gift!" I used to change his nappies, so I told him the truth: "Buy her poetry."
Dylan looked at me with great disbelief in his eyes: "Poetry? You're kidding." His tattoos all but vibrated with contempt. I was not kidding. It took some time to convince him, but then we raced to a bookstore where he purchased Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese and Rainer Maria Rilke's Duino Elegies. That was on Christmas Eve. He took the volumes of poetry to his young Lady Love the next morning, as his parents, my Lady (a musician) and I celebrated around the Christmas Tree; Bach cantatas and Mozart arias played in the background.
Dylan arrived back in time for Christmas dinner with a huge grin on his face: "She kissed me! Her mother kissed me, too! Thanks, man!" It turned out that he had completely surprised his Ashleigh, who had never expected such gifts from him.
So there it is: A practical reason for studying poetry, music or other arts. They help even Righteous Dudes to romance and win beautiful women. It may be a humble, perhaps even a base, reason. But it might move a few people (especially, guys) to discover how all true Song can help us--more than anything else--to live our lives intensely and fully. Plus, from personal experience, I know it works.