NOTES ON POETRY AND ACTION




I had not neglected the feeling of poetry, even while I was listening to Marxian expositions at the International Club and had become involved in radical activities. A little action was a nice stimulant for another lyric. 

— Claude McKay, A Long Way from Home (1937) 

Reasons and opinions concerning acts are not history; acts themselves alone are history, and these are not the exclusive property of either Hume, Gibbon, or Voltaire, Echard, Rapin, Plutarch, or Herodotus. Tell me the Acts, O historian, and leave me to reason upon them as I please; away with your reasoning and your rubbish! All that is not action is not worth reading. Tell me the What; I do not want you to tell me the Why and the How; I can find that out myself, as well as you can, and I will not be fooled by you into opinions, that you please to impose, to disbelieve what you think improbable or impossible. His opinion who does not see spiritual agency is not worth any man's reading; he who rejects a fact because it is improbable must reject all History, and retain doubts only. 

— William Blake, A Descriptive Catalogue of Pictures, Poetical and Historical Inventions (1809) 

Wordsworth devoted the greater part of his life to the study of political and social questions, and Marx a great part of his life to the study of poetry. For both men the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution were supreme facts; and of the other chief ingredients of Marxism the poetry of the Romantic age is at least as important as the German metaphysics. Marx himself was once a young romantic poet, and if later on he and his friends were notably silent about the nature of their ideals, it was because they took these for granted and could confine themselves rigorously to building the road across chaos to the new world that the poets had seen in the distance. Today it may be time for Marxism to defend not only the economists of that age against their erring successors, but its writers, as men of revolutionary hopes and therefore in bad colour now, though in good company, with Milton. 

— Victor Kiernan, “Wordsworth and the People” (1954)  



The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels and God, and at liberty when of Devils and Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil's party without knowing it. 

— William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790) 

Frequently Iqbal may seem to be urging us to action with only an indefinite indication of its motive, as if action were an end in itself. But Marx left his followers with only a very rough outline of the socialist society to come; and both men were right in implying that mankind could only advance by advancing, exploring, by trial and error. Iqbal’s Asia like the Germany of Marx’s youth had been for too long sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought: his contemporaries might have seen themselves, as Marx often did, in the mirror of Hamlet. In such a climate energy, resolve, action really were cardinal virtues, and no one has ever paid more glowing tribute to the splendor of mankind's capacity for them. The thought is always with him of the contrast between man’s physical frailty and grandeur of spirit, between the handful of dust and the limitless desire. His compass needle may have wavered, some of the symbols he made use of in his efforts to chart and unknown future may have been outworn; but the last lines of all in Payam-e-Mashriq are a call, once more repeated, to throw off the chains of the past, not to imitate but to create.  

— Victor Kiernan, “Iqbal as Prophet of Change: The Message of the East” (1980)  

Fuck poems 
and they are useful, wd they shoot  
come at you, love what you are,  
breathe like wrestlers, or shudder 
strangely after pissing. We want live  
words of the hip world live flesh &  
coursing blood. Hearts Brains 
Souls splintering fire.  

— Amiri Baraka, “Black Art” (1966)

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