Winter 1955 • Vol. XVII No. 1 Nonfiction |

The Substance That Prevails¹

It is sometimes said that a man turns his thoughts into clichés in order to get rid of the words that erode the movement of thought into contortions of their sweet original agilities. It is then that we have another chance. But there is no less of a chance the other way round. Let us ignore the poor creatures of our own thoughts. Is there not a way of saying that the great experiences of thought come about when the current of our lifetimes suddenly explodes or finds expression in clichés of which the meaning had been forgotten or had not yet come to pass? In the wooing of these two chances lies much of the adventurous affair of lyric poetry; and the lover of lyric poetry must, I think, as in the adventure of other loves, choose both chances—if only because it is by the celebration of both chances, sometimes separately and sometimes at once, that our modern lyric poets come to make memorable statements. Thus, to study clichés, especially in poetry, is one way to study thought. I

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