Nebraskiana: Resources and Materials on the 37th State
Laureate Address of John G. Neihardt Upon Official Notification of His Choice as Poet Laureate of Nebraska
Date of this Version
I want to talk to you about the technique of Poetry and the relation of that art to education and the social process in general. In order that you may be able to judge as to the relevance of my remarks, I must first tell you what I understand by the word "education. "
Were the definition, that I hold, my own, I would not presume to offer it here; but I need only find the proper words with which to express the common opinion of many seers in many times and countries; and this, unfortunately, seems now to be necessary, for we have been living in one of the most materialistic ages that have ever been known, and of the many ideals that have suffered, that of education has not suffered least.
I would say that education is fundamentally a spiritual process. In its proper function it is concerned less with the problem of acquiring the means of life than with the far more difficult one of knowing what to do with life after one is in possession of the means to live. We have heard much of practical education; and there is no fault to find with the expression; for "practical" means that which will work, and surely only that which will work may be regarded as good. But there has been something radically wrong with our Understanding of the word "practical." Owing to the tremendous economic pressure of our individualistic social system, we have been forced to interpret the word as meaning that which contributes directly to material success; and for a great many people practical education has come to signify that mental training which is calculated to give the maximum of income in the minimum of time.
As a reaction against a barren formalism, the "new" poetry, as it is called, will no doubt serve a good purpose in the end; for experimentation is always necessary in a universe where rigidity is death. But formlessness can not survive; and already the inevitable reaction seems to be setting in. Thanks to the abnormal pressure of war-conditions, we have been driving in the general direction of Democracy (though we are still very far from it) -- a form of social organization never as yet realized upon this planet. Contrary to the opinions of many, Democracy connotes no free-and-easy mode of life, but intensive organization, the universal reign of law in the interest of the race as a whole. As we near the realization of that supreme social concept; our whole view of life and, consequently, of art, will be correspondingly modified. We shall come to insist more and more upon experts in all things. Respect for standards, love of order, will return. The petty personalism, that has long dominated us, will die away. Our poets will achieve the objective view of the world of men and things -- and it is out of that view that all great art, as all great life, must grow.
CHICAGO. THE BOOKFELLOWS. 1921