Whenever I write about the bad poetry or the un-poetry of contemporary hymnals, someone inevitably will call me an "elitist." The charge is strange. I have spent all my adult life bringing the beauty and glory and power of poetry to young people in college, urging them to remember that, until our own poor time, poetry was the universal human art—for the Inuit in his ice-hut on the Mackenzie delta just as for the pipe-smoking don on the banks of the River Cam.
I know one of the reasons for the charge. It is that nobody knows the art anymore. People who shrug at bad poems or un-poems in the hymnal would not shrug at silly or incompetent paintings on the walls of their churches—or on the walls of their homes, for that matter. They would not shrug at a bad violinist flaying a cat. Their eyes would cross and their ears would sting. But poetry appeals first to the eyes and ears of the mind, and theirs have never been awakened. People who call themselves poets are much to blame, writing doggerel and gibberish, as if it can't be poetry if it makes any sense.
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Anthony Esolen is a professor at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts in Warner, New Hampshire, and the author of many books, including Real Music: A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church (Tan, with a CD), Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture (Regnery), and The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord (Ignatius). He has also translated Dante’s Divine Comedy (Random House). He and his wife Debra publish a web magazine, Word and Song (anthonyesolen.substack.com), on poetry, hymnody, language, classic films, and music. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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