The Magic of Words
I have called this book In Pursuit of Poetry to indicate that the essential spirit of poetry is always on the wing and indefinable. No one can communicate the exact effect of a poem any more than a poet can describe the exact moment when the idea for a poem swung into his mind. "How do you write a poem? Is it a sudden inspiration or do you sit down and say to yourself that you're going to write a poem?" How many times I have been asked that question in almost precisely those words. There is no answer, of course. Every poem has its own method of coming to birth, sometimes by long labor, and occasionally by a quick impulse so overmastering that the result is a kind of divine dictation. The same variety of mood applies to the reception of a poem by a reader.
Music, dancing, and poetry are the oldest of the arts and came into being before the dawn of history, moving to the recurrent rhythms of Nature itself. The most ancient poems that survive from Egypt, China, and the Old Testament speak to us clearly from the heart of our remotest forerunners. In the words of Walter Savage Landor:
Past ruin'd Ilion Helen lives,
Alcestis rises from the shades;
Verse calls them forth; 'tis verse that gives
Immortal youth to mortal maids.
Poetry is the one unbroken thread between us and the past; from vanished cities and civilizations this common utterance links us with the heroism and piety, the loves and festivals -- all that has gone before, unchanged and ever renewed.