And why do poets write poems about their experience reading other poems? Some of it has probably to do with the common instinctive response to beauty: we want to reproduce it, whether by telling someone about it, by drawing what comes to mind, or by blogging about it. Some of it has to do with trying to make sense of, or impose some form on, a powerful but inchoate experience; it relieves psychic pressure. Some of it has to do with claiming literary ancestors or mentors or rivals, or with distracting readers' attention from the real ancestors, mentors and rivals by writing about someone else.
And how does the poet, in writing such poems, avoid redundancy if what she does is merely to reproduce the other poem's essence? How avoid the charge of parasitism? Or the charge of excessive literariness and self-referentiality since one must know the original poem if one is to appreciate the response-poem?
Or think about the issue of audience. In writing about another poet, what does our poet assume about her audience? How much of the original poet can our response-poet assume her audience would know? To what extent does our response-poet think it is her job to explicate the original? What about cross-cultural audience? Or multi-cultural?
I am led to these thoughts by two sonnets on Chaucer written by two American poets. I like the cummings poem much better than the Longfellow one. They gave me the idea of collecting poems on the topic of reading poems.
An old man in a lodge within a park;
The chamber walls depicted all around
With portraiture of huntsman, hawk, and hound,
And the hurt deer. He listeneth to the lark,
Whose song comes with the sunshine through the dark
Of painted glass in leaden lattice bound;
He listened and he laugheth at the sound,
Then writeth in a book like any clerk.
He is the poet of the dawn, who wrote
The Canterbury Tales, and his old age
Made beautiful with song; and as I read
I hear the crowing cock, I hear the note
Of lark and linnet, and from every page
Rise odors of ploughed field or flowery mead.
honour corruption villainy holiness
riding in fragrance of sunlight (side by side
all in a singing wonder of blossoming yes
riding) to him who died that death should be dead
humblest and proudest eagerly wandering
(equally all alive in miraculous day)
merrily moving through sweet forgiveness of spring
(over the under the gift of the earth of the sky
knight and ploughman pardoner wife and nun
merchant frere clerk somnour miller and reve
and geoffrey and all) come up from the never of when
come into the now of forever come riding alive
down, while crylessly drifting through vast most
nothing's own nothing children go of dust.
-e. e. cummings