The Roots Essay Human Lyrics

The Roots Essay Human Lyrics-42
It is thus dangerous to assume a too-similar relationship between those ancient lyrics and ours.Schmidt reminds us that Yeats says lyric poems are overheard, not heard. A fascinating difference between the Greek lyricists and ourselves derives from the entity we label “the self.” How did the self come to be?Have we always been self-conscious, of two or three or four minds, a stew of self-aware voices? In —that famous book my poetry friends adore and my psychologist friends shrink from—Jaynes surmises that the early classical mind, still bicameral, shows us the coming-into-consciousness of the modern human, shows our double-minded awareness as, originally, a haunted hearing of voices.

It is thus dangerous to assume a too-similar relationship between those ancient lyrics and ours.Schmidt reminds us that Yeats says lyric poems are overheard, not heard. A fascinating difference between the Greek lyricists and ourselves derives from the entity we label “the self.” How did the self come to be?Have we always been self-conscious, of two or three or four minds, a stew of self-aware voices? In —that famous book my poetry friends adore and my psychologist friends shrink from—Jaynes surmises that the early classical mind, still bicameral, shows us the coming-into-consciousness of the modern human, shows our double-minded awareness as, originally, a haunted hearing of voices.

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These, too, are intended for public recital and performance, as Schmidt notes, are hortatory in nature, and often are not lamenting or memorial but erotic.

Only much later does the rhetoric of the dirge overtake the metrical origin of the elegy, thus shifting the term from a formal to a thematic designation.

In her essay “Coherent Decentering,” Annie Finch agrees with this critique of the notion of the stable self: “Like many contemporary writers, I find the Romantic poetic construct of the fixed, central self and its point of view to be extraordinarily limited. The poet and philosopher John Koethe is succinct: “I know that exist, but what about that place we lived? / / —Of course it is.” That is to say, we have a self because we insist on an “I” as separate from a “you” or a “she.” And when we say “I,” we all seem to agree more or less on what that word signifies. I wish I could propose a tidy linear, historical explanation: that the first lyric poetry was private and coherent, and that poetry has become more complicated or contaminated as it addresses its social and postmodern mien; or that the history of privacy in the lyric has moved from fact to irony to utter impossibility; or vice versa. The issue has never been stable, just as the self has never been stable.

When I turn far back to the classical Greek poets, I find it significant that already the literary arts have gravitated into discreet genres.

Schmidt says that melic poems “take the form of a monody, a single voice perhaps with musical accompaniment.” Here Sappho and Anacreon are forebears of what we conventionally refer to as lyric poetry.

Most speak from an “I” and address a single listener.

But I seek lyric poetry specifically for its meditation, for the example of its music, the solace of its radical interiority. How do communities, indeed how do urban and technological constructions, fit into the private or pastoral space of the lyric?

I turn to works of literature for many things, in many needs. What is the place of the popular in a seemingly hermetic site?

Critics have suggested that in melic poetry we find a point of departure for the first-person subjective lyric; Sappho’s apparently intimate perspective, for instance, often marks the origin of the personal lyric.

But, Schmidt points out, this overlooks three significant things: the entirely public context for which melic poems were composed, the necessity of instrumental accompaniment, and the fact that the emotions and the “personal” elements were “shared” by the symposium participants.

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