Thursday, April 20, 2006

First Influence

I may have touched on this before, but I wonder to what extent one is influenced by early exposure to art; and to what extent those early - first - influences stay with you. Last week at work, I decided to find an Easter poem to show people, and remembered George Herbert's Easter Wings. It's not the greatest poem in the world, but it was appropriate, and with its "shape", that of an angels' wings, and the lines reducing and expanding with the poet's mood, I feel it's an early "concrete poem." But the Metaphysicals, Herbert, Donne and Marvell, were foisted on me at 'O' Level, along with Macbeth and Pride and Prejudice. In their own way, they've all remained touchstones in some ways. I guess, left to my own devices, I may have found Shakespeare, but I wonder if I'd have found Donne, and "Pride and Prejudice" might have come too late. Then for A level it was more Shakespeare (Hamlet and Othello), Waiting for Godot, the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and Wuthering Heights. For non-American English literature I couldn't have had a better base; or so it seems. Othello, Wuthering Heights, P&P and Coleridge appealed - and still appeal - to my romantic nature, whilst the metaphysicals and Godot have a clarity about them, and a sense of the existential that is equally important to me; and I'd put Eliot alongside the metaphysicals there. Perhaps all great literature will have this effect but I think they were more close to my psyche than, say, Trollope, Dickens, King Lear and Tennyson might have been. So which came first, my sensibility or my set text list? Perhaps its just coincidence. From Godot I developed an appreciation of the minimalist, and the unsaid, rather than an appreciation of Beckett; whilst I've not read Coleridge or Austen that widely since. But these texts are lodestones - one s that I came across before I was 18, and have perhaps defined, to some extent what I want from literature. There have been others since - the Americans in particular - and George as well as T.S. Eliot, Borges, Calvino et al; but, having tentatively written a number of poems in the last week, and seeing that yes, they are romantic, and yes, metaphysical, it makes me wonder whether nature or nurture has most effect on my art. You do tend to study English exams at a particularly susceptible age.

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