O Soul

Lately I find myself envying both Walt Whitman and Coldplay.

As ideophonic interjections go, “Oh” is pretty hard to beat, and while it gave good service to a generation of Romantic poets, I just don’t have the balls to use it these days. So, I’ve added it to top hats and being described as ‘clubbable’ on my list of things for which I regret being born a century or so too late.

More seriously though, I do wonder if this is one of the reasons for the decline in the readership of modern poetry. By excising direct address to the numinous, whether in the form of gods or souls or history, modernism removed a sense of the sublime from poetry. We got a lot in return, but nothing has replaced that path to transcendence.

I’m not talking about religious belief of course (if you believe in God, you can always pray). In fact, in many ways, the fundamental humility of atheism actually encourages you towards contemplation of life’s exalted contradictions (how completely bizarre that for seventy years or so, my sense of my own existence effectively creates an entire universe, which then disappears utterly at the moment of my death). This is what poetry was once capable of – in the right hands, and with a few “oh”s thrown in, it could be the voice of creation begging for the understanding of its creator.

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