One upon a time there were two brothers.
No, not Jacob and Esau. And for heaven’s sake not Abel and Cain!
And no, not the Wachowski Brothers.
No. These were two brothers living in late 18th Century Germany (well, not Germany yet, more like the remnants of the Holy Roman Empire).
No, not the Brothers Grimm.
The guys I am telling about are the Schlegel Brothers. August Wilhelm and Friedrich Karl. Super-smart, intellectual, translators of Shakespeare. Cool guys interested in supporting all kinds of artists. Guys who dreamt of literary art being really big and really important and really generous and really expansive.
Here’s what Friedrich Schlegel says about romantic poetry:
Romantic poetry is a progressive universal poetry. Its destiny is not merely to reunite all of the different genres and to put poetry in touch with philosophy and rhetoric. Romantic poetry wants to and should combine and fuse poetry and prose, genius and criticism, art poetry and nature poetry. It should make poetry lively and sociable, and make life and society poetic. It should poeticize wit and fill all of art’s forms with sound material of every kind to form the human soul, to animate it with flights of humor. Romantic poetry embraces everything that is purely poetic, from the greatest art systems, which contain within them still more systems, all the way down to the sigh, the kiss that a poeticizing child breathes out in an artless song.. . . . It alone is able to become a mirror of the entire surrounding world, an image of their age in the same manner as an epic. . . .Romantic poetry is to the arts what wit is to philosophy and what society, company, friendship, and love are in life. Other kinds of poetry are finished and can now be fully analyzed. The Romantic form of poetry is still in the process of becoming.Indeed, that is its true essence, that it is always in the process of becoming and can never be completed. It cannot be exhausted by any theory. . .
For, in a certain sense, all poetry is or should be Romantic. (Athenaeum Fragment, 1798 — read entire fragment here)
Poetry at large has been in action all this month thanks to NAPOWRIMO, national poetry writing month. Participants write a poem a day for 30 days.
Sometimes it’s been hard to write a poem a day. But maybe it’s not so hard, if we think about poetry the way the Schlegels do. If we think about it as protean.
We are living in a literary time of an awful lot of categories. Commercial, literary, CYA, erotic, humor, self-help, memoir, essay, biography, autobiography, true crime, mystery, suspense, thriller, romance, horror….. and on and on and on.
And then there’s all the new stuff: videogames, and hypertext, and youtube, and all the weird hybrid type thingies that people are making. Real and virtual. Big and small.
But maybe it’s all one big THING. And maybe that big thing is or ought to be called poetry.
I don’t know. I’m just wondering.
And wondering about this gives me hope. I’m not quite sure why.
Here’s wishing you a week of universal progressive poetry. Whatever the heck that means.
Whatever the heck it might mean.