Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

TED HUGHES, the poet Laureate, has written a sonnet in honour of the Gidleigh Park Hotel in Devon. Does this herald the return of `praise poetry'? It would solve all sorts of problems if it did. The budding praise-poet who wishes to become master of this art should at once turn to the rules formalised in the 3rd century AD by the orator Menander (not the comedian).

Let us assume our poet has to praise the company's new factory. Drawing on Menander's tips about praising a city, he will think in terms of pleasure and utility. Will it catch the sun? Excellent. Is it set in a permafrost zone? Talk about what hell it is baking in the sun. Is it near the sea? Discuss ease of communications. Inland? Say how unreliable transport by sea is. A mixture of both? `It possesses both sets of advantages.' As to neighbouring factories, what are they like? Great or small? Unknown or famous? Old or new? Praise and blame accordingly. `Surrounded by ancient factories, weary with age, we are in our bloom'; surrounded by famous industries, `we are no less distinguished'.

Now the managing director requires an encomium. Look up Orations for Emperors. Invest the subject with grandeur `on the grounds that he is hard to match', or say that you `have entered a contest in which it is difficult to succeed with mere words'. …

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