‘Imagination, the Divine Vision’

“I have criticized a certain widespread and popular kind of modern poetry as being itself coloured by the materialist ideology whose premisses are unquestioned in our current secular culture. Such writers depict a material universe devoid of meanings and values, a rather distasteful commonplace to which (such poetry implies) it is courageous and honest to come to terms because that is ‘reality’ (…) Photographic precision of detail is the measure of the poet’s skill, and a kind of knowing cynicism which reduces all to the commonplace of his ‘honesty’ and, it is implied, his or her social commitment. (…) Such verse — I cannot call it poetry — corresponds to the premisses of the current materialist culture and its assumptions and expectations but does nothing to nourish the heart or the soul, or in Blake’s words ‘to open the eternal worlds’ which are our true universe. Such work fulfils no function at all which cannot be done as well or better in a news bulletin or a social survey or a weather report. (…) ‘One thing alone makes a poet,’ Blake wrote, ‘Imagination, the Divine Vision.’ To obscure or deny that vision in verse is not to be a poet. The calling of a poet is indeed a sacred one, but only in so far as the poet performs that sacred task of speaking to the human imagination in its own language, of the eternal order and harmony of which all being is a manifestation. For those who like their news and social surveys in verse, well and good, but I suggest that this is not poetry and has no bearing on the true function of the arts which is to nourish the human spirit, to build the invisible house of the soul.”

From Nature & Meaning, Kathleen Raine (in The Underlying Order and other essays, Temenos Academy, 2008)

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