My mother keeps everything. From pig trinkets my brother and I gave to her as children to family heirlooms that friends or family gave to her since her childhood, she still has it all. Most of all, she treasures the handiwork of her two sons.
Over the summer, while cleaning out my brother’s room for some guests, I went through an old box of art projects from elementary school. Included in this collection were several poems I had written and “artistically” decorated across construction paper. My poetry was dreadful and – to be quite honest – worthless, but my mom would never get rid of it.
It was choppy, mostly illegible, and poorly rhymed in the simplest of words, but it was a treasure for my mom because I created it.
I would consider myself blasphemous if I were to claim that poetry is worthless, but a great part of its value stems from its intrinsic lack of what one might call “practical use.” Poetry is a fully human pursuit, because the poet recognizes beauty and reflects upon it in such a way that others may understand and conceive of that action, or moment, or sight. Poetry is an active pursuit to recognize and share beauty.
In his essay, “The Defense of Poetry,” Sir Philip Sidney argues for the value of poetry by separating it from other activities and pursuits, such as horsemanship, which men do for pleasure, but also for the skill and practicality and monetary worth of the materials and skill. He names it a pursuit for no purpose but for beauty.
“The poet only bringeth his own stuff, and doth not learn a conceit out of a matter, but maketh matter for a conceit; since neither his description nor his end containeth any evil, the thing described cannot be evil,” Sidney says.
Poetry takes raw action, nature, and thought and reflects it in a human way, bringing about an image of humanity in even completely inhuman things.
Works of art, while often strikingly similar to reality, are feats of the imagination. Poetry teaches something invaluably human to people. It uses extraordinary human instances, examples of life that appear unusual, to teach its audience about what we, too, endure.
“The poet never maketh any circles about your imagination, to conjure you to believe for true what he writeth.” Sidney writes. “He citeth not authorities of other histories, but even for his entry calleth the sweet Muses to inspire into him a good invention; in troth, not laboring to tell you what is or is not, but what should or should not be.”
The worth of poetry does, in great part, come down to the worn out old idiom “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” as arguing the brilliance in a work or the effort it may have taken to create something is not the same as the value and power that emanates from a truly beautiful poem. Beauty is subjective in so far as not all people admire and understand the same ideas, but the ability to recognize beauty, pure and unadulterated, is what makes people human. Not to be able to recognize beauty is to lack an essential aspect of person-ness.
Poetry is a reflection on beauty. It can do this in many ways. It can be done well and it can be done very, very poorly, but it opens the reflections of the soul on something majestic which essentially brings out love and the ability to connect and relate to other humans.
In this regard, the writing of a semi-literate child can be valuable. It is not great, and it is not valuable to any other person, but it gave to my mom a glimpse of what was lovely, and shows that even a child is drawn to express the impact of wonder upon himself.