The following provocation closely aligns with my own views. This passage is by a forceful voice, Barbara Guest, from a book of her writings, Forces of Imagination:
There is no substitute for imagination. Words deprived of their stability—that is if not fed by the imagination—rush around attempting to attach themselves to a surface. They have no stabilized vocation; they become furtive, ready to sell themselves. Wordsworth, not immune to appropriating landscape, wrote:
“Language, if it do not uphold, and feed, and leave in quiet, like the power of gravitation or the air we breathe, is a counter-spirit, unremittingly and noiselessly at work to derange, to subvert, to lay waster, to vitiate, and to dissolve.”
It is the counter-spirit we must beware of, even in the presence of despairing academic anxiety that—overwhelmed by the creative spirit, angered by imagination that disrupts its formulaic view of life—would like to convert imagination into a conservative toy.
In such an atmosphere of controlled tedium it is always refreshing to turn to a poet such as Jules Laforgue, who is 1883 wrote:
“In the flashes of identity between subject and object lie the nature of genius. And any attempt to codify such flashes is but an academic pastime.”
From the “flashes of identity”—marvelous phrase—and above academic anxiety rises an elite structure, elite not because it is marble, but because it is rock in which Art survives in every era sustained by desire and necessity.
Finally, in case we become discouraged or overwhelmed or even disappointed in our era, in the state of our art, I would like to remind us of the remark Valéry made in 1933, a year that was to initiate the close of an era: “Profound changes are impending in the ancient craft of the Beautiful.”
About Barbara Guest: Poet, critic, expert on the poetry of H.D., was awarded the Frost Medal for Lifetime Achievement by the Poetry Society of America in 1996. She died in 2006.
Michael Palmer’s moving description of her work: “To speak with Barbara Guest about poetry was always to be in the presence of a fiercely uncompromised vision of the art and its obligations. Her insights continually astonished me. They were beholden to no one. And the work itself, of a lyric intelligence entirely her own. For whatever reasons, and I can sadly imagine many, it has not received its full due, but it will. The music insists.”