Poetry is a Need

Open your eyes: poetry is a need, not a pleasure; a feat, not a past time: the poet affirms, poetry is an affirmation of reality. When listening to a poem, we neither contemplate nor enjoy, we right an imbalance; we affirm what we have, throughout the day, disgracefully denied: the full reality of our actions, of our hope, of our freedom, the obscure certainty that existence has a meaning, a focus, a purpose. The ignorant have no great need for art; nor do those who believe in their own existence; but the wise man who knows that nothing around, nor within, him is real, that only the harsh reality of laws and ideal essences exists, such a one has a desperate need for art, he gorges on it, like someone who has scurvy gorges on fresh fruit full of the vitamins he craves. That is the price demanded of him: and it doesn’t matter if, out of hypocrisy or weakness, he continues to believe that the daily grind is real, and art an illusion.

He has the right to ignore the horrific suffering that lies behind the melodies of Mozart, the intolerable misery from which Baudelaire extracts his angelic matter, the tragic inhuman struggle that the poet wages against himself in order to draw forth the tiniest glimmer of being. Yet the poet, he must endure the excruciating pangs of giving birth; every day he must wrench from reality a few liters of the air without which he would cease to exist. Every day he must, at the cost of his life and reputation, secrete the required dose of affirmation that humanity needs to survive.


Benjamin Fondane