O Sport, you are Happiness! The body trembles in bliss upon hearing your call. But the inclusion of Olympic verse quickly proved contentious, provoking an outcry from highly competitive intellectuals.
Indeed, the most famous authors of the era refrained from the Pentathlon of the Muses, lending a homespun, sideshow quality to the contests. How could it not when the gold for literature in the Paris Olympics, for example, went not to T.
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Many of the poems from these seven Olympic Games have vanished and are now known only by their titles. In some cases, the obscurity may be justified: the arts contests at the Games in Berlin were held under the keen eye of Joseph Goebbels, and the fascists romped home with Germans and Italians having swept the lyric poetry medals.
View all New York Times newsletters. Laurel of Hellas noble-born,. This proved the last gasp for official Olympic poetry. Organizers began to doubt the quality of the offerings, as the gulf between the sports-related entries and contemporary poetry grew ever wider.
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Today, the International Olympic Committee does not list any of the poetry results on its records, suggesting some embarrassment about the whole interlude. But will the ubiquity of poetry in London this summer ignite another call for a Pentathlon of the Muses? After all, the requirement that contestants be nonprofessionals was phased out in the s.
A more vexing question is whether the poems being recited around London will stand the test of time. The ancient Greeks would surely sympathize: many of their most renowned Olympic poets are barely known to even the most obsessive classicist today. It may be some comfort to literati that the victorious Greek athletes, who were more famous than our N. Of course, the ephemeral nature of worldly glory has long been a ripe subject for poets. Tell us what you think.
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Please re-enter. You must select a newsletter to subscribe to. He decided on the immortal and free things, art and thought, and became a writer who revolutionized the transcription of consciousness in contemporary poetry. Most art, past or present, does not have the stamina to endure; but many of our graduates, like the ones mentioned above, have produced a level of art above the transient.
Alumni Publications | MFA for Poets and Writers | UMass Amherst
The critical question for us is not whether we are admitting a large number of future doctors and scientists and lawyers and businessmen even future philanthropists : we are. The question is whether we can attract as many as possible of the future Emersons and Dickinsons. How would we identify them? What should we ask them in interviews?
Writers and Artists at Harvard
How would we make them want to come to us? The truth is that many future poets, novelists, and screenwriters are not likely to be straight-A students, either in high school or in college. The arts through which they will discover themselves prize creativity, originality, and intensity above academic performance; they value introspection above extroversion, insight above rote learning. Such unusual students may be, in the long run, the graduates of whom we will be most proud. Do we have room for the reflective introvert as well as for the future leader? Will we enjoy the student who manages to do respectably but not brilliantly in all her subjects but one—but at that one surpasses all her companions?
Will we welcome eagerly the person who has in high school been completely uninterested in public service or sports—but who may be the next Wallace Stevens? Can we preach the doctrine of excellence in an art; the doctrine of intellectual absorption in a single field of study; even the doctrine of unsociability; even the doctrine of indifference to money?
Wittgenstein, who was rich, gave all his money away as a distraction; Emily Dickinson, who was rich, appears not to have spent money, personally, on anything except for an occasional dress, and paper and ink. Can frugality seem as desirable to our undergraduates as affluence—provided it is a frugality that nonetheless allows them enough leisure to think and write? Can we preach a doctrine of vocation in lieu of the doctrine of competitiveness and worldly achievement?
These are crucial questions for Harvard. But there are also other questions we need to ask ourselves: Do we value mostly students who resemble us in talent and personality and choice of interests? Do we remind ourselves to ask, before conversing with a student with artistic or creative interests, what sort of questions will reveal the next T. Do we ask students who have done well in English which aspects of the English language or a foreign language they have enjoyed learning about, or what books they have read that most touched them? Do we ask students who have won prizes in art whether they ever go to museums?
Do we ask in which medium they have felt themselves freest? Do we inquire whether students have artists writers, composers, sculptors in their families? Do we ask an introverted student what issues most occupy his mind, or suggest something justice and injustice in her high school for her to discuss? Can we see ourselves admitting such a student which may entail not admitting someone else, who may have been a valedictorian? It remains for us to identify them when they apply—to make sure they can do well enough to gain a degree, yes, but not to expect them to be well-rounded, or to become leaders.
Some people in the arts do of course become leaders they conduct as well as sing, or establish public-service organizations to increase literacy, or work for the reinstatement of the arts in schools. We need to be deeply attracted to the one-sided as well as the many-sided. Some day the world will be glad we were hospitable to future artists.
Of course most of them will not end up as Yo-Yo Ma or Adrienne Rich; but they will be the people who keep the arts alive in our culture. And four years at Harvard can certainly nurture an artist as a more narrowly conceived conservatory education cannot. Great writers and artists have often been deeply if eccentrically learned: they have been bilingual or trilingual, or have had a consuming interest in another art as Whitman loved vocal music, as Michelangelo wrote sonnets.
At Harvard, young writers and artists will encounter not only the riches of the course catalog but also numerous others like themselves; such encounters are a prerequisite for the creation of self-confidence in an art. It is no accident that many of our writers have come out of our literary magazines—the Advocate , Persephone , the Gamut , the Harvard Book Review —places where they could find a collective home.
Student drama productions, choruses, and orchestras offer comparable homes for the talented. We need such activities and the reflective students who will enable them.