Democratic Poetry - Intercollegiate Studies Institute: Think. Live Free.

Democratic Poetry

At first glance, for many, using the term “democratic poetry” would seem to be an oxymoron, because the democratic man is not as concerned with aristocratic leisure as he is with pursuing the details of everyday life.  However, I, like Tocqueville, would like to explore the concept a little deeper.  Beginning his chapter, Of Some Sources of Poetry among Democratic Nations, Tocqueville defines poetry as, “the search for and the portrayal of the ideal.”  He then goes on to say that, the aim of poetry, often, is not necessarily to display the truth but rather to embellish it and to offer a greater image than is actually present.  If nostalgia and aristocratic leisure are often the foundations of poetry, then can equality and democracy fit within that framework?

Aristocratic societies by nature are favorable towards poetry while democracies and equality make it difficult for man to portray the ideal because of his focus on daily tasks and work.  Within this framework, aristocracies lead the mind back to what is ancient, while democracy loathes what is old.  Here, democracy is able to remove the past, which reduces the ability to embellish and alter the portrayal of the ideal.  In contrast, democratic poetry teaches us to avoid selective nostalgia.  So instead of dreaming of the days of old when you could sit on the front porch and enjoy a glass of tea, democratic poetry reminds us that there was less equality…and no air conditioning.

This understanding of poetry opens the future and allows democratic people to dream about what will or can be, which focuses man on the future of what his ideal will be, thus achieving democratic poetry.  The actions, dress, and language of the people are no longer poetic during democratic times, rather the poets move past the material to the internal avenue of man, the soul.  A spectacular thing has happened, “now there is nothing that lends itself more to portraying the ideal than man envisaged in this way than in the depths of his non-material nature.”

This is significant because it allows for being to survive, even when it has been separated from family, land, and tradition.  We are now able to gain a better understanding of ourselves, “I have only to consider myself.  Man comes out of nothing, passes through time, and goes to disappear forever into the bosom of God.  You see him only for a moment wandering at the edge of the two abysses where he gets lost.”  This leaves man with “unprecedented prosperity” and “incomprehensible miseries.”  As Dr. Peter Lawler says, “There is nothing more wonderful than the lost being who wanders for a moment between two abysses,” because man is now wondering as he wanders.

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