Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history ~ Plato
Since the beginning of this year we have been pleasantly surprised at the manner in which poetry readings have lifted world events to a new level. Perhaps because of the pandemic people are more willing to slow down and look at different ways of expressing. As a result there is a lot of appreciation of poems heard in the public space.
The most enduring visual image of last week was Queen Elizabeth II sitting all alone in accordance with Covid 19 restrictions at her husband’s funeral service. The news media may have talked ad nauseam about which member of her family are talking or not talking to each other and what they would be wearing and enough has been said about Prince Phillip himself as a royal consort, as a navy man, a promoter of charities and the tireless work done by him. But for us the real truth and emotional context was created by the elegy written by the Poet Laureate Simon Armitage. We have always admired his poetry and readings but The Patriarchs: An Elegy really brought home to us how poetry written with the right sentiments can connect people across the world. Mr. Armitage very astutely wrote the poem about a generation rather than just one person since, as he said, he did not know Prince Philip personally. As a result he manages to strike a chord with whoever reads or hears his reading of the elegy. The sombre tone of his reading and the serious content has an underlying note of cheekiness which comes from fondness and affection. Anyone with older parents or grandparents will surely connect when he describes the hands of the patriarchs at rest which look like maps with “hachured valleys and indigo streams“.
Earlier in the year, after the hotly contested and denied results of the US elections, the standout image of the Biden inauguration, overshadowing everything else, was the 23 year old Amanda Gorman reading her poem The Hill We Climb. Those of us who have not gone through the fractious US politics of the last few years or their history of the last 200 years could still understand and appreciate the sentiments expressed. Because that is what poetry does, it brings to the fore human nature and human sentiments in an emotional context rather than in the dry facts, figures and dates that history deals with. As such, it really is nearer to the vital truth.