12th June 2015
They say that stroke victims who have lost the power of speech, can sometimes still sing lyrics, because that song-part of your brain isn't the same as it is for speech. In fact it's on the opposite side of the brain. This is a very neat metaphor for why we need stories and in particular poetry: It isn't speech.
Modern poetry has lost that differentiation and eschews the lyrical and the rhyme. It no longer understands how close to music it is on the spectrum. That's why it tends not to rhyme but why songs still need to. A sung verse with an off-rhyme leaves you feeling oddly dissatisified, like a bite into plastic fruit.
Here's two lines from Don MacLean's lovely song, Empty Chairs:
Beams of blue come flickering through my window pane
Like gypsy moths that dance around a candle flame
Supposing the last line had ended candle light? It jars, doesn't it? That other side of our rational linear selves doesn't like it, even though we have convinced ourselves that poetry should not give in to anything so contrived and pat.
Speech belongs to the linear part of the brain; art is seated over there in the messy beautiful circles we call creativity. It sings.
The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the teacup opens
A lane to the land of the dead.
You have to stroke this verse from Auden. Though it has no music, it has to be sung.