Dear Poetry Doctor,
I don't get it. People tell me that poetry is applicable to my life, but I can't see how the ramblings of a seventeenth century ponce can help me with the tribulations of modern existence. How can it help me with paying the rent, the fact that idiots are governing the country, or my secret desire to become a ballroom dancer (rather than just watching “Dancing with the Stars” every Saturday night)? I've got more chance of finding the meaning of life on Wikipedia than I have in poetry.
Call me biased, but I think poetry can solve all of your woes. Let's start at the very beginning- the rent. Seventeenth century ponces were quite preoccupied with self-sufficiency, actually. In “The Character of a Happy Life”, Sir Henry Wotton knew as well as you do the difficulties of standing on one's own two feet, but he also knew the importance of being “Lord of himself”. Money comes and goes but self respect is worth preserving at all costs. When feeling downhearted about battles with the bank balance, use this poem to remind yourself what it is you are fighting for: pride in being independent.
Even poems tied to a specific point in history can resonate with modern hearts. In “September 1 1939”, W.H. Auden commences a rant against the politicians who led the world to war again. But he unravels the delusion that individuals are separate from the state, merely the pawns of those in power. Instead he reminds us that we are all equally responsible for running society and equally clueless about how to do so. This sense of civic responsibility became prevalent during the war, but it has been forgotten in more affluent times. With poetry behind you, perhaps you will be inspired to help the idiots in charge, rather than complain about them.
Keep throwing problems at me; I could do this all day. The trick is recognising that all human difficulties boil down to universal themes which will surface and resurface in poetry for as long as mankind can put thoughts to meter. For my grand finale, I will show how the most fantastical, fuddy-duddy verse relates to your secret sequinned dancing desires. Suppose the problem has its root in a fear of breaking out of the mould. You resemble the tragic heroine of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shallot”. The eponymous Lady is bound by curse to spend her days completing a long, boring arts and crafts project, weaving a pallid depiction of a world she cannot see except in her mirror. But when the time comes, she suffers the curse for a glimpse of Sir Lancelot's “mighty silver bugle”. When the bugle calls to you, like the Lady of Shallot, you answer it and damn the consequences. She espouses the ideal that it is better to die on the way to Camelot than to live a sham (a lot). Though archaic, the Lady could teach you a few things about sequins.
No matter how modern your problems, your feelings are as old as your opposable thumbs. There is no emotion you can experience that has not been experienced by someone else in human history. Luckily, some of those humans used their thumbs to pick up a pen and leave a record of what they were feeling. These records can bring you comfort, catharsis, a fresh perspective and a bloody good rhyme. As for the meaning of life, I always think that unless in can be summed up in a cheeky limerick, then it's not worth bothering with.
Author: Isabella Flanders.