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A Question 200 Years Old: Do We Need Poetry?
   
 
  Kim Sung-joong  
 
By Kim Sung-joong
Professor, Faculty Advisor
Dept. of English Lang. & Lit.


We all know that less and less people are reading poetry. But still, we are teaching poetry to students. Why? It is amazing to find that the question on the usefulness of poetry was already posed about 200 years ago. Thomas Love Peacock, an English writer, born in 1785, says, ' A poet in our times is a semi-barbarian in a civilized community. He lives in the days that are past.?As our society has changed dramatically in recent years, his society experienced tremendous changes through scientific and industrial developments. Poets are barbarians in the sense that they are reluctant to adjust to the advanced industrial society. Therefore, he believes that poetry cannot claim the slightest share in any one of the comforts and utilities of life of which we have witnessed so many and so rapid advances.?Obviously, his comment applies to our current situation. Poetry does not seem to provide any comforts or usefulness to today's rapidly advancing environment.
"Quantity of pleasure being equal, push-pin is as good as poetry,?says Jeremy Bentham, another English scholar, who was born in 1748. "Prejudice apart, the game of push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry.?Push-pin is a kind of game that everyone, including even children, can play. In this view, we can say that push-pin makes better contribution to our society since everyone can play the game, whereas only a few can relish music and poetry. Take video games for example. Many people enjoy playing video games when they are stressed out, and they say it really helps them to let off steam. What is the use of poetry for them, if it cannot help them in any way? Besides, we all know that the video game industry has emerged as a very profitable business and created an enormous number of job opportunities, but poetry will never be able to do this.
Advocating poetry, some maintain that poetry can change one's perspective; it can also change the way one feels towards oneself and towards the world. But, if people don't read poetry any more, they would not have a chance to change anything. Or, others say that we need poetry in order to express our innermost thoughts. But, who wants to have the innermost thoughts?anyway? Aren't we too busy keeping up with fast-flowing information to think about ourselves? The innermost part is located in the place that is too deep inside for us to reach; and we have no time for that.
John Stuart Mill, a disciple of Bentham, left a famous dictum: It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.?Satisfaction here means pleasure. Given the rise of mass culture in the current business world, his belief that poetry is better than push-pin seems to have been outdated because satisfaction has become one of the most important values in our society. What really matters is not what we are, but whether we are satisfied or not. Unfortunately, poetry is no longer a useful tool to satisfy us. So why do we bother to read poetry?

Kim Sung-joong  Professor, Faculty Advisor

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