Many people seem to have a sort of love/hate relationship with poetry. People will recite even the most obscure song lyrics with an easy familiarity and almost a pride of ownership – as though those words were their own personal anthem, and the song’s authorship by somebody else merely a quirk of fate.
But if you quote from Eliot’s “The Wasteland” or Byron’s “Don Juan”, many people will just grow pale. Rather than an act of cultural inclusion, quoting poetry is often seen as a form of cultural exclusion.
I’m not sure I understand why this is. Is poetry really so fundamentally changed when you add a melody to it? Does verse set to music become magically transform from “high culture” to “low culture” – and only then become valid as a medium of emotional exchange and comfort between ordinary folk?
By common consensus all song writers belong to the people, but few poets can claim that distinction. Perhaps Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, E. E. Cummings and one or two others. There is a mysterious wall of perception between “song lyric” and “poetry”. And something there is that doesn’t love a wall… Can anybody shed any light here?