Suzanne Fields
The other day a teacher of a ninth-grade English class at an elite private school in the nation's capital asked students who had transferred from public schools to list the poets they had studied. Several hands shot up, eager to tell. When one of them said "Langston Hughes," the hands quickly went down. Langston Hughes, a distinguished black poet well worth reading, was nevertheless the only poet they knew.

Gone from their classrooms were the old staples, Samuel Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," Emily Dickinson's "Because I Could Not Stop for Death," Walt Whitman's "O Captain! My Captain!" These poems once were essential parts of a child's poetic repertoire, learned before high school. Many public school students are cheated now by the politically correct, deprived of a sense of the sweep of poetry power that once made up the common cultural heritage.

Kids don't get to dance with the daffodils, grow thirsty with "water, water, every where/Nor any drop to drink," and read "Quoth the raven, 'Nevermore.'" They never know the playful fun of teasing someone with big feet as having "longfellows."

Help may be on the way. Last week James Billington, the librarian of Congress, named Charles Wright as the new poet laureate of the United States, a man who thinks poetry leads to thoughtful reflection, a scarce commodity indeed in contemporary Washington. Mr. Wright, a soft-spoken Southerner who keeps a lock of Robert E. Lee's hair on his desk, is apolitical in a political world. He finds "the true purpose of poetry to be a contemplation of the divine -- however you find it, or don't find it."

Such refreshing insights could usher in a new appreciation of language, reviving an interest in the importance of the precise word in the right place at the right time for those addicted to the idiomatic shortcuts of texting. This is particularly good news for conservatives since the use of precise language conserves what's left of the best in a debased media culture where talk drives out the written word.

If the young have heard of Robert Frost, it's only because they know he read one of his poems at John F. Kennedy's inauguration, but they have no idea what he meant by "the road less traveled." Few have heard of the romantic poets. Mention Shelley and teenagers think only of Mary -- they've read about "Frankenstein," but know none of her dead white husband's odes.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

Be the first to read Suzanne Fields' column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com delivered each morning to your inbox.

©Creators Syndicate