The Canon

Published 15 June 2019 | Posted under CreativeWriting

I wrote a little poem called “The Canon” during my university days. The Canon is a term which represents the accepted list of documents of a specific genre. In English Literature, there is an accepted list of stories, poems and plays which are considered required reading if you want to understand the arts of Western culture and civilization. Almost every English department in any university will have courses teaching Shakespeare, Milton, Woodsworth, Shelly and more. Not sure why I decided to write this poem. It just occurred to me one day at University thinking about all this literature I had to read and understand. Why must I learn this? How does it help me? Is it giving me insights into life I didn’t know before?

As it turns out all these years later, this literature did provide an explanation to this shared culture we call Western civilization. Has it brought us any closer to understanding the “Truth” about life, about how we go about making and maintaining society? Not sure really. Without a doubt it has made me understand that we in the West have produced some great literature. Yet, this literature has as its underpinning deeper understandings and interpretations of life from other great ancient societies. We are indeed blessed by the writings of this literature. it is only a glimpse into the Truth of life as seen through many windows. It is worth knowing.

For university students, these glimpses come usually from one major source - the Norton Anthology of English Literature.

Somehow, after all these years, I still have my Norton Anthology. It is a bit dog-eared. I kept it because it has been well read and it has my enlightened annotations next to many of the poems and stories therein.

Norton Anthology of English Literature

My dog-eared Norton Anthology of English Literature.

So, here it is. My poem.

The Canon

Corpse, have you considered your own body?

You the hallowed, holy, hearty Carcass

Called the sacred “Norton Anthology”.

Looking through smoked glass believing it clear,

The panes of the Norton dimly show “truth”;

Something so longed for; allusive as air.

From Frye’s archetypical book of Books,

From whose panes English Culture

He said derives now its “origin, strength and core”;

“What is Truth?” asked a now troubled solder;

He for all the Robe’d inquisitors;

Was this Pilate-without-oars given ear?

This record of their interrogation

Leaves English, perhaps all Human culture

Wanting - for a man gave him no answer.

“What is Truth?” For an answer came a

Silence that seems louder than we can hear,

Louder than at least you Norton can hear.

Thus for Milton, Woodsworth, Shelly or Blake,

If Western culture’s “greatest influence”

Remained silent at the Soldier’s request

How can robes of the honoured academy

Find answers from inferior minds who

“Through Eden took their Solitary Way”

Corpse, have you considered your own body?

Copyright © 1990-2020 Glenn J. Lea