Going Somewhere

How poets like Walter Raleigh reported on the quick flickers and sudden changes in emotional life.

Robert Pinsky


Sir Walter Raleigh

A compliment among jazz musicians, delivered after a killer solo, is “You were really going somewhere.” That kind of improvised performance, at its best, is not just a stack of impressive phrases or a show of virtuosity: It makes a shape in time, purposeful from beginning to destination. It discovers and reveals a feeling.

The words of a poem, too, unfold in time to create an emotion: style as a motor, not upholstery. The poem enacts a journey or process, a movement of the soul. A poem is (among other things) something that happens.

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