Friday, April 16, 2010

The limits of art

I am reading a biography of Anne Sexton, a poet previously quite unknown to me. Especially her early poems are remarkable stuff: at heart serious speech in lovely, quite strict and complex form. Quite a contrast to her messy, often unkind personal life and self, like so often with serious artists. We are not measured by our exalted moments, by our exalted thoughts and beliefs, but by deeds, only by deeds, of love or otherwise. The limits to art are our human limits. But to say this is to leave much unsaid: the serious speech, the exalted thoughts are not made meaningless by life, by deeds, by human failure. Larkin always comes to mind in this context: a miserable man if there ever was one, whose poetry was not miserable at all. The poems stand independent but not separate from the poet. They stand witness to life, to humanity. They measure our potential reach and the extent of our failure to reach it in this cold, cruel world.

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