Someone confronted me once with an all-purpose generalization he had learned somewhere about poetry: all poems are about death. I, for my part, had supposed that many of them focused on life-in all its dizzying variety. To some extent, however, I had to admit that he had some of the greatest poets on his side. Many have claimed that poems exist as their creators' assault on their own mortality. Poems may be about any number of topics, but all serve a similar purpose. They defy death. "Not marble, nor the gilded monuments/ Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme," Shakespeare boasted in Sonnet 55. Robert Frost echoed his assertion-more guardedly, of course, when he wrote in his introduction to E. A. Robinson's King Jasper that "poems are all that matter. The utmost of ambition is to lodge a few poems where they will be hard to get rid of, to lodge a few irreducible bits." Other poets may express themselves even more modestly, but who can doubt that most hope to create one or more works of art that will survive them and partially sustain their memories? To this end they shape their verses to lodge them in other peoples' minds, to make them memorable and sustainedly meaningful.



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