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Stephen Fry on The History of Light Verse

Sep. 15th, 2010 | 02:17 am

Light verse does not need to be comic in intent or witty in nature: it encourages the readers to believe that they and the poet share the same discourse, intelligence and standing, inhabit the same universe of feeling and cultural reference, it does not howl in misunderstood loneliness, wallow in romantic agony or bombard the reader with learning and allusion from a Parnassian or abstrusely academic height. This kind of poetry, Auden argues in his introduction to The Oxford Book of Light Verse, was mainstream until the arrival of the romantics. With the exception of sacred verse, Miltonic epics, drama and the more complex metaphysical poems of the seventeenth century almost all poetry was, more or less light. It was adult, it could be moving, angry, erotic and even religious, but it was digestible, it was not embarrassed by the idea of likeability or accessibility. A poem could be admired because it was prettily made and charming to read, Mozartian qualities if you like. Modernism appeared to drive lightness out of poetry for ever… In the knowledge that Gravity will destroy us in the end, perhaps Levity is not so trivial a response.

from his book The Ode Less Travelled

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