The pottiness of poets

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Just as coal is indispensable to a steamship, so to poets are rushes of blood to the head. Bereft of that energy-source for so little as one day, poets would deflate into mediocrities capable of nothing but eating and drinking in a lifelong haze of idleness. In sober truth, a rush of blood to the head is simply an attack of lunacy, but since no professional would care to admit that he cannot pursue his profession except when in a state of mental derangement, poets, even amongst themselves, do not call their madness madness. By an arrangement privately arrived at, a sort of literary conspiracy, they all seek to dazzle the foolish public by describing their derangement as inspiration. The fact remains that we are speaking of madness. Nevertheless, poets do have Plato on their side, for he called their ailment a sacred madness, a divine afflatus. Even so, and no matter what degree of divinity may really be involved, people would refuse to regard poetry with any measure of respect if it were openly identified with lunacy, and I therefore conclude conclude that poets are wise to cling to their inspiration because, though “inspiration” sounds to me like the name of some newly-invented patent medicine, it remains an impressive word, one behind which the pottiness of poets can most splendidly be sheltered.

Soseki Natsume, I Am a Cat (Charles E. Tuttle Co. 1986, III, 31-2)

The painting is Carl Spitzweg’s The Poor Poet

6 thoughts on “The pottiness of poets

    1. Many many good things in “I am a cat” which we are squirrelling away for future use, e.g
      “Had I the time to keep a diary, I’d use that time to better effect: sleeping on the veranda.”

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