Ars Poetica

The Art of Poetry was a guide to literary criticism written by the Roman poet Horace.  It “established precepts for subject matter, decorum and poetic form that were highly esteemed up to the 19th century.”

I have often wondered if there is subject matter that is simply unsuitable for poetry.  How about compost–or, worse yet, decaying bodies, which Walt Whitman wrote about in Leaves of Grass (1900)?

Behold this compost! behold it well!
Perhaps every mite has once form’d part of a sick person–yet behold!
The grass of spring covers the prairies,
The bean bursts noiselessly through the mould in the garden,
The delicate spear of the onion pierces upward,
The apple-buds cluster together on the apple-branches,
The resurrection of the wheat appears with pale visage out of its graves,
The tinge awakes over the willow-tree and the mulberry-tree,
The he-birds carol mornings and evenings while the she-birds sit on
their nests,
The young of poultry break through the hatch’d eggs,
The new-born of animals appear, the calf is dropt from the cow, the
colt from the mare,
Out of its little hill faithfully rise the potato’s dark green leaves,
Out of its hill rises the yellow maize-stalk, the lilacs bloom in
the dooryards,
The summer growth is innocent and disdainful above all those strata
of sour dead.

Perhaps Whitman (one of my favorite poets, along with Emily Dickinson) was a major reason why Ars Poetica lost esteem after the 19th century.

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