Technology and Poetry

Brad DeLong rhapsodizes the iPhone as poetry delivery device:

The Odyssey and the Iliad and Gilgamesh I found gripping to the extent that I could read them in prosy or semi-prosy translation, and occasional stanzas ripped out and presented to me were poewrful and affecting. But all the rest, or the Iliad and Odyssey in verse translations, were annoying and painful. When I read them at my normal pace the syntax was awkward and confusing. When I read them more slowly, the plot and the ideas dragged and came through much much too slowly–almost as painful as watching the uniformed pundits babble on CNN, where at most one thought a minute emerges, and that is usually wrong. And the rhythm and assonance and rhyme–well, I have never heard what I read in my mind’s ear, or if I ever did it was forty years ago and that faculty I have lost.

But when you have an iPod/iPhone, you have no excuse not to put the audiotext on it and carry it around with you, and when you attend to it the poetry forces itself upon your brain, and you don’t mind nearly as much that the plot and ideas are as from an eyedropper because the words are so glorious,

I think this is, in many ways, a golden age of poetry. Why? Because you can now find a huge amount of poetry online with a quick Google search. Moreover, most of the best poetry ever written is in the public domain (such as Paradise Lost).

The only difficulty is reading it, of course, but here’s a tip: read for verbs. When you sit down to read something really complicated like Milton’s epic, give more emphasis to the verbs. This brings to mind the subjects of the verbs—the actors—and meaning follows more easily. If you have a copy of the poetry handy, pick up a pencil and, each time you come across a verb, put a check mark by it. You may be surprised at how easily the meaning forms in your brain. The verb is the semantic core of every sentence.

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