Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

An open letter to a young poet

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Arthur Davison Ficke

It is a little hard to comply with your request and give you sensible advice on the subject. But I will try. Let me first ask you a series of questions.

Are you willing to work for many years without the slightest recognition? Are you strong enough to turn your back on all the cliques and schools of the hour, and devote yourself to principles of poetic composition that have not changed since the days of David the Psalmist? Would you rather write poetry than have all the kingdoms of the earth at your feet?

Are you strong enough to bear the dislike of the mob? Are you individual enough to go your own way, no matter what prudent counsel advises an opposite course?

Have you a real desire to explore the last depths of your emotions? Are you aware that those emotions are of no interest to anybody, except in so far as you give them beautiful and dignified expression?

Can you study endlessly the great masters of the past? Can you learn the lesson of their method—not merely of their manner—and borrow from them nothing except their power to express the passion of the individual heart? Can you refrain from copying them? Can you refrain from being “modern?”

Can you find some way of earning a decently liberal living, quite apart from your writing? Are you aware that poverty is a dark room, into which no sane man will voluntarily go? Do you know that the lovely fable of the poet’s attic is a lie invented by rich people, and that lack of books and of diversion and of freedom is stunting to the soul? Are you prepared, I repeat, to earn a decent living quite apart from your poetry?

If you can honestly answer all these questions in the affirmative—then, I would say to you: “Go on! I wish you well! Maybe your great hopes will come true.”

Arthur Davison Ficke

Written by nevalalee

June 27, 2015 at 7:30 am

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