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This article is taken from PN Review 84, Volume 18 Number 4, March - April 1992.

Poetry and The Good Laura (Riding) Jackson


POETRY IS TRADITIONALLY attended by an aura of sanctity, as something that partakes intimately of the nature of the Good. It has retained the aura through the changes of ages, occupying now as it occupied in older times, even very long ago, an elevated place among the most respected human pursuits. The word itself has, from long tender utterance, an awesomely lovely ring to the ear; what bears the name of poetry automatically invites expectation of something rarefied, of a very pure form of the Good.

Poetry's enjoyment of a sacred status comes of there having been superimposed upon its rudimentary concern with the physical potencies of words a mystical preoccupation with their powers of truth. This enlargement of its primitive functions was a moral addition: poetry fell heir to truth as an objective identified with the noblest conceptions of the Good. But the moral objective of truth remained veiled in mystery, in poetry. Truth in poetry - or what seems truth - seems to have the character of a miracle; the poem seems the work not just of the poet - another Hand, other Hands, besides, seem to have worked at it. Indeed, truth in poetry seems capable of being both truth and not truth, that which can be there attained, but that whicll is substantially unattainable. The ambiguity of the sense in which truth is assumed to be native to poetry is bound up with its symbolizing the perfection that is truth ...

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