It’s a poetry controversy! These are rare and I can’t pass up an opportunity to weigh in on Tony Hoagland’s essay on the necessity of meanness in poetry. I agree with Jim Henley and Eve Tushnet (scroll down to “Golden Mean,” Blogspot archives hosed as usual) that “meanness” is not the right word. Jim suggests “savagery” or “ruthlessness,” but I don’t find those quite satisfactory either. I propose “hatred.”

Love is blind, hate never. Hate clarifies, and great poets hate with excellent reason, as Yvor Winters tactlessly points out:

During the Romantic movement a great deal of sentimental nonsense was written about the isolation of the artist, and the nonsense usually verges on self-pity… The fact remains, however, that the artist, if he really is an artist, is really isolated, and his personal life in this respect is a hard one. There are few people with whom he can converse without giving offense or becoming angry. It is no accident that so many great writers have sooner or later retreated from society: they retreat because they are excluded. A first-rate poet differs from his contemporaries (and I include those who think of themselves as literary contemporaries) not in being eccentric or less human, but in being more central, more human, more intelligent. But the difference in this respect between, let us say, a great poet and most distinguished scholars is very great, and few scholars are distinguished; and the scholar cannot recognize the difference and is scarcely prepared to admit the possibility of the difference, for he regards himself as a professional man of letters. To the scholar in question, the poet is wrong-headed and eccentric, and the scholar will usually tell him so. This is bad manners on the part of the scholar, but the scholar considers it good manners. If the poet, after years of such experiences, loses his temper occasionally, he is immediately convicted of bad manners. The scholar often hates him (I am not exaggerating), or comes close to hating him; but if the poet returns hatred with hatred (and surely this is understandable), he is labeled as a vicious character, for, after all, he is a member of a very small minority group.

This passage is not free from self-pity either, but it is salutary to be occasionally reminded by our betters how they really see us. The overwhelming fact in the life of any great poet is impenetrable human stupidity, yours and mine. Emily Dickinson did not spend her life in her room because she was a crazy lady.

Some of the greatest poetry in English is hate poetry, although you’d never guess it from Hoagland’s limp examples. Proceeding by century, from the 16th we have Ralegh’s The Lie, Gascoigne’s Woodmanship, and Ayton’s To an Inconstant One. From the 17th, Jonson’s Ode to Himself (“Come, leave the loathed stage”) and Dryden’s MacFlecknoe. Paradise Lost is an interesting case. God, whom Milton loves but cannot see, is a bore: Satan, whom he hates and sees all too clearly, comes to life. This is the truth behind Shelley’s remark that Milton was of the devil’s party without knowing it.

The best English poem of the 18th century is Churchill’s Dedication to Warburton, a savage attack on a literary bully and fraud. (It’s unavailable on the web; if someone asks nicely I’ll post it.) Honorable mention to The Dunciad and Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift. In the 19th century vituperation seemed to go out of fashion; but the 20th yields up Bogan’s Exhortation, J.V. Cunningham’s Ars Amoris and “Hang up your weaponed wit”, Winters’ own Danse Macabre. This is more or less off the top of my head. You’d be hard-pressed to produce a list of love poems of comparable quality.

And always remember, when you read these poems, that it’s you and me they’re talking about.

(Update: Jim Henley comments.)

Aaron Haspel | Posted April 5, 2003 @ 10:18 PM | Poetry

18 Responses to “Hate Poetry”

  1. 1 1. acdouglas

    Aaron wrote: "Love is blind, hate never. Hate clarifies…."

    Makes a nice symmetry of opposites, but is simply in error. Hate is as blinding as love, and in the same way, but to opposite effect.

    Aaron also wrote: "And always remember, when you read these poems, that it’s you and me they’re talking about."

    Speak for yourself, son. They may be talking about you, but they’re surely not talking about me.

    Trust me.

    ACD


  2. 2 2. Aaron Haspel

    It’s hard to argue about love and hate without appealing to introspection, which never convinces. I will say only that in my experience you can find a great deal more about a person from their enemies than their friends.

    As for the belief that one is personally exempt from the strictures of the great, well, isn’t it pretty to think so?


  3. 3 3. acdouglas

    Aaron wrote: "I will say only that in my experience you can find a great deal more about a person from their enemies than their friends."

    Quite true — and totally non sequitur.

    ACD


  4. 4 4. Aaron Haspel

    I don’t know about totally. The fact is susceptible to several explanations, one of which is that your enemies understand you better than your friends do. And one reason for this might be that in hatred there is clarity. At the very least it argues against your counter-proposition that hate and love are equal and opposite.


  5. 5 5. acdouglas

    Aaron wrote: "The fact is susceptible to several explanations, one of which is that your enemies understand you better than your friends do."

    Oh? And where is that written?

    No such thing. One’s enemies, if they truly hate, see the object of their hatred through a glass darkly just as much as one’s friends, if they truly love.

    Both views are distorted by the same mechanism, but with opposite result.

    ACD


  6. 6 6. Eddie Thomas

    I’ve always preferred negative campaigning to whatever its alternative might be. When a politician blathers on about his virtue, there isn’t much you can say. But when he speaks ill of an opponent, you can properly hold him to account. The friction brings greater honesty into the contest.


  7. 7 7. Jim Valliant

    I’m with ACD on this one, Aaron. I don’t identify with the objects of most of those poets’ attack. They’re not talkin’ about me, either.

    Art is all about strong emotion, i.e. the important. Which emotions the reader finds more "clarifying" or "blinding" or simply interesting, says more about the individual reader than it does about poetry or human emotions. Both love and hate can be either "clarifying" and "blinding." The clarity provided by one is no greater than that provided by the other. The difference isn’t between love and hate, but the thinking (or lack of thinking) that goes on as well. "Clarity" is only a product of cognition–never emotion of any kind. The emotion, at best, is only evidence and motivation, but it is neither the thinking nor the understanding achieved.


  8. 8 8. Aaron Haspel

    Nobody "identifies with the objects of most of these poets’ attack." It’s not you doing the identifying, sport.

    I could have been clearer about love and hatred, however. Obviously emotions are not a means of cognition; on that we can all agree. Hatred tends to be better grounded, I think, because benevolence is the default. We like others until we can find something to dislike.


  9. 9 9. acdouglas

    Aaron wrote: "Hatred tends to be better grounded, I think, because benevolence is the default. We like others until we can find something to dislike."

    And to what world, in what galaxy far, far, away are you referring? Surely not the third planet from the sun in this small portion of this galaxy. Here, if anything, the reverse is the case.

    ACD


  10. 10 10. Jim Valliant

    If I’m not the one doing the "identifying," then I’m SURE these poems were not about me, sport!! What they "identify" ain’t me, nor do I see myself as their foil! Good poems, just not me.

    Giving an open-minded "benefit of the doubt" is hardly "love," any more than a "default" suspiciousnesss would be a "default" hate. Not the same — AT ALL!! Good policy towards
    strangers has little to do with love and hate.


  11. 11 11. Aaron Haspel

    Thomas Shadwell was not a stupid man, by ordinary standards. Neither was Warburton or Colly Cibber. But they were, by the standards of Dryden, Churchill, and Pope. It is unpleasant and anti-democratic to acknowledge how far superior great men are to ourselves, but there it is, and no number of exclamation marks will dispel the fact.

    Ordinary benevolence is not love, of course, but it resembles love more than hate. But here’s another way to look at it. Love tends to be private: the virtues may be real, but you need a great deal of personal knowledge to place them properly. Hate, on the other hand, can often be public. It is possible to hate, but not to love, someone you don’t know, just by examining the public record. (I hate Michael Moore and Courtney Love, for instance, despite never having met either.) Public virtues and vices, I submit, make for better poetry.


  12. 12 12. Bill Kaplan

    I too hate Michael Moore. But have you seen the Penn & Teller show "Bullshit" on Showtime? They use Michael Moore’s methodology but turn it upside down. It is a wonderful show. I particularly like the one in which they circulate a petition among environmentalists to outlaw Di-Hydrogen Monoxide to universal acclaim.


  13. 13 13. wats realy hood

    yo get some beta poems yanno some advice from me 2 u peace


  14. 14 14. blah

    Forever does it always
    Wondering what would happen
    To the inside of me
    Helping the tears fall of my face
    Longing without being me
    needing help, needed to brace
    When falling wondering what would happen
    be there for me, catch me when I fall
    Konfuzing helpless, painless sorrow
    your heart was mine not to borrow
    I had it tight, sealed so close
    This was my mistake
    My big hit going chose
    I didn’t do that shit
    Never did it happen
    the pieces of my puzzle
    Always used to fit
    Never will I give up
    movnig down the line
    I’ll always be here for you
    Through day; helping the time fly bye
    Just always know, i’ll try to stand here
    Waiting for you
    I’ll try to stay standing in just one place
    no matter how much you hate me
    cussing words out to my soul
    i’ll always know you were my true love
    think it over, think of us
    remember that picture, holding me so tight and close
    don’t bite nor even cussing me out
    Just remember what fun we had
    Our kisses so touching
    Our hugs a tight
    your baby soft skin, your inloving deep eyes
    I’ll always love you, through day and time
    No second goes bye without me thinking
    Of us, the perfectness we had
    Please come back to me, please just show up
    I Love you always and forever
    Longing to be free
    you are my heart and soul
    my life and dying goal.
    Knifes can wait for your love
    Im giving my life to you to hold
    You have my heart and also my life
    Nothing can pull me away from you
    Just give it a shot
    please jsut open your eyes
    show me how just like u used to
    I love you sweetheart, just like I always have
    that day we sat together crying is what we did
    Remember that day we had our fist kiss, our first fight?
    Ill remember in my bed what I had
    I through it away but it jumped right out
    I didn’t do that, not at all
    i need your help your loves i’ll always shout
    Love me and think what you wanted to have
    We’ll have it again just again
    If not i’ll always be stuck under this trap
    I love you so frikkin much
    just show up at my door, just take me back
    Your heart is mine, i’ll always touch
    I LOVE YOU ALWAYS AND FOREVER


  15. 15 15. blah

    Forever does it always
    Wondering what would happen
    To the inside of me
    Helping the tears fall of my face
    Longing without being me
    needing help, needed to brace
    When falling wondering what would happen
    be there for me, catch me when I fall
    Konfuzing helpless, painless sorrow
    your heart was mine not to borrow
    I had it tight, sealed so close
    This was my mistake
    My big hit going chose
    I didn’t do that shit
    Never did it happen
    the pieces of my puzzle
    Always used to fit
    Never will I give up
    movnig down the line
    I’ll always be here for you
    Through day; helping the time fly bye
    Just always know, i’ll try to stand here
    Waiting for you
    I’ll try to stay standing in just one place
    no matter how much you hate me
    cussing words out to my soul
    i’ll always know you were my true love
    think it over, think of us
    remember that picture, holding me so tight and close
    don’t bite nor even cussing me out
    Just remember what fun we had
    Our kisses so touching
    Our hugs a tight
    your baby soft skin, your inloving deep eyes
    I’ll always love you, through day and time
    No second goes bye without me thinking
    Of us, the perfectness we had
    Please come back to me, please just show up
    I Love you always and forever
    Longing to be free
    you are my heart and soul
    my life and dying goal.
    Knifes can wait for your love
    Im giving my life to you to hold
    You have my heart and also my life
    Nothing can pull me away from you
    Just give it a shot
    please jsut open your eyes
    show me how just like u used to
    I love you sweetheart, just like I always have
    that day we sat together crying is what we did
    Remember that day we had our fist kiss, our first fight?
    Ill remember in my bed what I had
    I through it away but it jumped right out
    I didn’t do that, not at all
    i need your help your loves i’ll always shout
    Love me and think what you wanted to have
    We’ll have it again just again
    If not i’ll always be stuck under this trap
    I love you so frikkin much
    just show up at my door, just take me back
    Your heart is mine, i’ll always touch
    I LOVE YOU ALWAYS AND FOREVER


  16. 16 16. Chuck

    There are two causes for being unable to identify with a poem: it is a bad poem, or it was written in a time when things critically different from the way they are now. For instance, it’s hard to identify with Plato’s argument whether it is better to love women or boys. But can you identify with Astrophil’s frustration? You can, even though you refuse to admit it. Can you identify with Stephen Crane? Can you identify with Donne? Roethke? Plath? Ginsberg?

    The answer is in all cases a resounding yes. That’s why they’re the classics.


  17. 17 17. B

    It was Blake’s remark I think. Never heard of Ayton.


  18. 18 18. B

    And – to the right of me – it’s ‘Was ist so nur?’ ‘ohne’ means ‘without’. I liked that book too.


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