What Oft Was Thought

“What oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed” is how nineteenth-century poet Alexander Pope described “true wit” in “An Essay on Criticism.” So poets & authors strive for the fresh rendering of ideas.

Nothing wads a writer’s undies faster than trying to express  the concept of “romantic love.” One of my favorites is from the song “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” featured in the movie The Lion King. Elton John wrote the music & Tim Rice, the lyrics.

Excerpt: It’s enough to make kings & vagabonds believe the very best.

My Take-away: I think volumes could be written about this sentence. First, consider the power in what’s left out. Rice could have preceded it with something like “Love is universal” or “Love is a feeling shared by all.” But simply making “kings & vagabonds” equals in the same sentence, wow! Second, what if he’d said, “. . . everyone from kings to vagabonds . . .?” Wouldn’t that just sap the power of the phrase?

I’m reminded, too, that we enjoy unexpected word pairings. So “cheeseburgers & champagne” tickle our imaginations while “cheeseburgers & Cokes” do not. OK, it’s not the level of “kings & vagabonds,” but you get the idea.

What’s your take-away? Leave a comment.

4 thoughts on “What Oft Was Thought

  1. While what you’re writing about is not an oxymoron, I love to use the following poem to teach students about both oxymorons (devious love) and how poems tell stories that if we don’t understand, we just gloss over.

    Shared Plight
    Kamilah Aisha Moon

    Bound to whims,
    bred solely for
    circuses of desire.
    To hell with savannahs,
    towns like Rosewood.

    Domestics or domesticated,
    one name or surnamed, creatures
    the dominant ones can’t live without
    would truly flourish
    without such devious love,
    golden corrals.

    Harnessed. Muzzled.
    Stocks and bonds. Chains
    and whips held by hand.
    Ota Benga in a Bronx cage,
    Saartjie Baartman on display—
    funds sent to her village
    didn’t make it okay. Harambe,
    Tamir, Cecil, Freddie—names
    of the hunted, captives
    bleed together. The captors
    beasts to all but themselves
    and their own.

    Two endangered beings in a moat
    stare into each other’s eyes.

    Slower than light, mercy
    must not survive entry
    into our atmosphere, never
    reaching those who lose
    unbridled lives
    long before they die
    in this world of zoos
    and conquerors who treat
    earthlings like aliens.

    Copyright © 2016 by Kamilah Aisha Moon. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 21, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

  2. I’d love to be in your class when this poem is discussed. I had to cheat & read about it–learned that Moon wrote it after seeing video of the gorilla with the little boy who fell into its cage.

  3. Your words remind me why I envy songwriters. Good songwriters write concise, descriptive, emotional stories in just a few lines. For example, Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors,” which is based on her childhood experience of a coat her mother made for her.

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