Poets: Voices of Prophecy and Custodians of Truth

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Poetry is often the voice of courage, found in every generation, a voice which often exposes the truth and challenges the times in which we live.  It can also be the voice of prophecy which has as its principle source the past; how we have been affected by it personally and ways to avoid repeating past mistakes; a voice of warning. History as an academicsubject, has been relegated or replaced by other more topical interests, yet to forget or ignore history is to go forward ill-equipped into a future fraught with danger and unforeseen difficulties. History is an important tool of the poet alongside current world events, as they can profoundly affect our lives and views in the societies in which we live.

As we move further into the 21st Century we do so with trepidation. Social media assails us by the day. There are demands made of us to form questions and provide answers. To do this effectively we need to harness the past, to draw comparisons and give a prophetic voice for those who read our work. We have a moral obligation to be custodians of the truth and to speak out boldly and convincingly.

The last century was cataclysmic, immensely varied in its content. Trench warfare, the war to end all wars aroused a response from many poets who spoke out and condemned its futility. Wilfred Owen and
Siegfried Sassoon are renowned to this day. A war along with the Second World War which seriously impacted on people´s religious beliefs; a decline which has continued to bring about more secular societies. Genocide, Concentration Camps, the former Yugoslavia and Ruanda have continued to highlight man´s capacity for evil. Again, poets spoke warning future generations. Fanaticism has arrived and brought with it enhanced prejudice as is clearly witnessed in the Middle East and elsewhere, bringing into our homes a regular catalogue of violence.

Sexuality, once swept under the social carpet has found a voice amongst eminent poets who have attempted to educate society and champion the rights of minorities. Walt Whitman, MacCullough and  MacWilliams to name but a few.  Racism, slavery and feminism have inspired and given poets a
rich diet on which to think and write. Then the erosion of democracy and freedom of speech that calls upon poets to shout aloud and warn others by their prophetic voice.

The golden age of poetry is here and amongst us. We are gifted and privileged through inspiration, knowledge and revelation to articulate to society the dangers and pitfalls which lie ahead. The past is our prime source as it speaks to us through previous generations, people we have known, been with and listened to.

As a boy I remember queuing in a local fish and chip shop. The man behind the counter had a very bad cough. A customer enquired as to what had caused this. Mustard Gas was the reply, ¨ I got a good dose of it in the trenches ¨. Today chemical weapons are still being used. I heard this old man cough and speak. This is what motivates me to write poetry, to warn of the perils that face humanity. Most poets are free thinkers, not a favoured group, in the less democratic nations. We have a responsibility to read the poets of the past: the antebellum slave poets, poets who were sent to prison and worse, poets who defied tyrannical regimes and spoke out. Let us count ourselves worthy to be amongst this illustrious group and take up the pen with history girded about us. Poetry can influence the thoughts of people which in turn can determine our common future.

◄ Ledbury 2018: A review

Last call for Foyle Young Poets Award entries ►


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Stu Buck

Wed 25th Jul 2018 22:30

lovely article keith and great to see your talents used more widely on WOL. Look forward to reading more.

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keith jeffries

Thu 19th Jul 2018 17:34

Colin, Martin and MC.,

Thank you for your comments on this article which I hope will be a prelude to a closer study of poetry and what it offered previous generations and what it can achieve in the future. War seems to have inspired some incredible poems which speak of human suffering in the extreme. MC you raise a number of interesting points which I hope to cover in my next article.

Thank you indeed,
Keith Jeffries

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M.C. Newberry

Thu 19th Jul 2018 16:44

Both timely and true in so many respects.
But there are common denominators in human behaviour
that carry on down the centuries. War - with its varied
causes and reasons - has never left us, and seems to need
any old excuse (religion, secularism, greed, vanity...to
mention just a few) to get started. Ironically, at the same
time, it can often set in motion a sort of fast-forward in
change of a positive sort - like advances in medicine and
medical treatment or more civilised housing conditions when the old are demolished - and one can wonder sometimes if it is all part of some unknown pre-ordained blueprint for the story of humanity on this small planet,
almost a speck of dust amongst such wealth of planetary
surroundings that linger in zones beyond our ability to
reach or - as yet - understand.
If I was to be asked for one word that all humanity should
aspire to, I would offer "kindness". For out of that one
word comes so much more to enhance and not despoil, to
enrich and not deplete - and THAT, surely, has to be good!
In the meantime, we stagger from generation to generation, trying to make sense of why we are here and
forgetting too often that the good in us is there to be
tapped to the benefit of the present and of the future.

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Martin Elder

Wed 18th Jul 2018 22:54

splendid article Keith and a real encouragement.

<Deleted User> (13762)

Wed 18th Jul 2018 22:50

Thank you for this article Keith - good to see your name up here. I look forward to more. All the very best, Colin.

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