O generation of the thoroughly smug
and thoroughly uncomfortable,
I have seen fishermen picnicking in the sun,
I have seen them with untidy families,
I have seen their smiles full of teeth
and heard ungainly laughter.
And I am happier than you are,
And they were happier than I am;
And the fish swim in the lake
and do not even own clothing.
- by Ezra Pound
This poem was sent to me by a reader in Iowa, and she pondered whether it has more relevance in these troubled times or during the wild spending spree of the 80s. For what it’s worth, Pound wrote the poem in 1916, apparently feeling that its insight on the true value of material goods was relevant nearly a century ago.
That is a sign of lasting poetry – that sensation of reading something written years or continents away, and thinking “yeah, that’s it, exactly!”. Alexander Pope described this sensation 3 centuries ago, in his famous couplet,
True wit is nature to advantage dress’d;
What oft was thought, but ne’er so well express’d.
I suppose the point here is that much poetry defies attachment to a single time. because it expresses things about human nature that are constant.