I have said before, and will keep on saying until my strength gives out, that there is nothing more important in society than teaching the growing generations to express themselves in good, clear, concise, forceful English. For the individual, such a skill is a tool whose value lasts throughout a lifetime. For the nation, a highly literate population not only inspires enlightenment and preserves culture but also is a tremendous asset in economic development. It is desperately important that our school system measures up to this need.
I want to go a step further and make the case not just for putting much more emphasis on the teaching of English in schools but, beyond that, make a plea for more and better teaching of poetry. I realize that there must be a great majority who see such a suggestion as highly impractical, not to say slightly mad, at a time when the national emphasis is on science, agriculture, useful trades, and everything educational that might lead in future to better and bigger businesses, increasing profits, greater economic growth and multiplying the Gross National Product. It will be asked why should the teaching of poetry find any place at all in an educational system devoted to hard, practical, bread and butter development?
I believe there is an answer to this. Fundamentally it comes down to the fact that what distinguishes human beings more than anything is their use of language. And poetry matters profoundly because it is a central example of the use human beings make of words to explore and understand all experience. Poets work at the frontiers of language. They are deeply engaged with the struggle for clarity and meaning. Because they wrestle with and refine language in order to be lucid and expand the imagination they are, in the most crucial sense, guardians of the accumulated richness of our written and spoken inheritance. And if a nation forgets or neglects such an inheritance its soul dries up, however great its material success…..