Friday, June 4, 2010

"No Newspapers"; Or, "Melons Are Crowned By The Crowd"

Although the following two poems are about newspapers, I have no particular axe to grind when it comes to that particular form of news reporting.  Rather, the topic at hand is "news" -- whether delivered via newspapers, television, radio, or the Internet.

Let me be clear:  I  do not claim to maintain an Olympian distance from "news."  On the contrary, I bring this topic up because I am often troubled by my concern with "news," and by my habit of letting it work itself into my life.  In addition, I have recently been thinking about Thomas Hardy's poem "In Time of 'The Breaking of Nations'" -- "only a man harrowing clods," etc. -- and the perspective that we ought to put on things.

First, Mary Coleridge (1861-1907):

          No Newspapers

Where, to me, is the loss
   Of the scenes they saw -- of the sounds they heard;
A butterfly flits across,
   Or a bird;
The moss is growing on the wall,
   I heard the leaf of the poppy fall.

Collected Poems (edited by Theresa Whistler) (1954). 

Yes, sentimental and Victorian.  Well, then, if it is vitriol that you want, let us proceed to Stephen Crane:

A newspaper is a collection of half-injustices
Which, bawled by boys from mile to mile,
Spreads its curious opinion
To a million merciful and sneering men,
While families cuddle the joys of the fireside
When spurred by tale of dire lone agony.
A newspaper is a court
Where every one is kindly and unfairly tried
By a squalor of honest men.
A newspaper is a market
Where wisdom sells its freedom
And melons are crowned by the crowd.
A newspaper is a game
Where his error scores the player victory
While another's skill wins death.
A newspaper is a symbol;
It is feckless life's chronicle,
A collection of loud tales
Concentrating eternal stupidities,
That in remote ages lived unhaltered,
Roaming through a fenceless world.

The Poems of Stephen Crane (edited by Joseph Katz) (1966).

            Luis Melendez (1716-1780), "Still Life with Melon and Pears"

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