Dear Students,—Students of Poetry and of many other subjects,—I would like to send a message to you, in very few words, as Lovers of Poetry rather than as Students. The word Student carries with it, to my mind at least, the sense of labour and while there is much to be studied in Poetry what is essentially to that task is an inherent love for it.
The material of Music is sound and of Painting, drawing and colour. The medium of Poetry is Language. It expresses thoughts and feelings in words that came to the Poet unsought which may give a new meaning to life. It is communicated by rhythm which is the basis of all the Arts. In reading Poetry you are at once in the midst of the greatest possession of man, —Language. You have in the English language one of the world’s greatest Treasuries of Poetry; your text-books have touched only the outer wall of that Treasury. I hope the early and partial knowledge will stimulate a desire to know as much as possible of the riches that lie behind the wall.
The art[s] of Music and Painting have their treasuries also but there is one faculty in which they cannot compete with Poetry,—the faculty of Memory. A symphony or a master-piece of painting can be remembered, but not in the complete and absolute way in which Memory serves a poet. When you have committed a Poem to Memory you have the whole of it as the Poet wrote it, and you have at the same time your own conception of its meaning or of the feelings to which it gives rise. To memorize a Poem is the next best thing to have [sic] written it. Certain poems will appeal to you more strongly than others; they will seem to have been written for you alone; these are the poems to memorize. A well known English politician [page 515] called poetry, “the great refreshment of the human mind,” and he was in the midst of great events and national turmoil. When you recall these memorized poems, always, I hope with a sense of “refreshment,” and as time brings experience with comprehension of their deeper meanings you will know that memory could not have been stored with anything of greater value as a defence against the days of this troubled life.
There is a story about this poem which will interest you. It was published in 1895 in the Christmas No. of a New York weekly paper, Truth. At that time John Masefield, the Poet Laureate, was working as a “hand” in a carpet-factory at Yonkers in New York State. He read the poem with “intense delight,” and memorized it. Until that time he had never cared very much for poetry, but afterwards poetry become the one deep influence of his life. He has written “The Piper of Arll” “has perhaps given me pleasure more frequently than any poem.” He tells the story in his book In The Mill, published in 1941, which is an interesting record of his youthful days. [page 516]