How to make a poem

July 26th, 2017

In John Williams’ novel Augustus, one of the Emperor’s oldest friends, a poet named Gaius Cilnius Maecenas, quotes the poet Horace on how to make a poem.  It is the best thing I have read on the subject.  According to Maecenas, Horace said, “I decide to make a poem when I am compelled by some strong feeling to do so – but I wait until the feeling hardens into a resolve; then I concede an end, as simple as I can make it, toward which that feeling might progress, though often I cannot see how it will do so.  And then I compose my poem, using whatever means are at my command.  I borrow from others if I have to – no matter.  I invent if I have to – no matter.  I use that language that I know, and I work within its  limits.  But the point is this: the end that I discover at last is not the end that I conceived at first.  For every solution entails new choices, and every choice made poses new problems to which solutions must be found, and so on and on.  Deep in his heart, the poet is always surprised at where his poem has gone.”

This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 26th, 2017 at 11:21 pm and is filed under art, Literature, Poetry. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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