Since writing the following, an associate informed me that the Baconian Theory was conclusively disproved in 1989. However, I have yet to verify this information—which I do not contend. In fact, I would not be surprised to learn that Shakespeare is indeed the author of the works in question, for—as the Apologia will attest—this is what I have maintained all along.
Be that as it may, I chose not to delete that segment because—insofar as I am a poet with the same surname—my view of the theory is unique, and, moreover, because it establishes my objectivity. My sole regret is that I was not more prolific. The sage King Solomon counsels, “...be admonished: of making many books there is no end....” On that note I conclude my career. Easier said than done! Even now I am bewitched by the achingly-beautiful, soothingly-supernal, sad-sweet warble of my muse and my daemon insists on ink as anodyne.
With the authority of empirical knowledge—interspersed with my philosophy and opinion—I maintain that: Poetry is the one element intrinsic to all of the arts; finding outlet in music (at once the most versatile, creative, and sublime of all art forms), literature, sculpture, architecture, painting, dancing, and acting. Poetry is the vehicle that conveys expression; the apparatus that depicts and interprets the statuesque, the picturesque, and the profound. Poetry is the essence that portrays what is unique, humane, heroic, tragic, romantic, satirical, comical, spiritual, immortal, noble, and sublime. Poetry is a state of mind, and minstrel of the inner-ear, it is the intercourse of our daily lives; it extols our virtues and attributes while exhorting us to surmount and subjugate our base, counter-nature. Poetry elevates us above our mediocrity and alleviates the tedium of an otherwise humdrum existence; it is a stimulus for acquiring and imparting knowledge and culture—which excites the imagination, satisfies the senses, evokes emotion, and arouses passion—thereby broadening the scope and enriching one’s experience.
Well-crafted work is the hallmark of the dedicated artist. The difference between superlative and so-so art is the distance between a connoisseur and a dilettante. The controversy that may result from a review on an artistic endeavor is decided by the art lovers who constitute a majority, thus establishing popular consensus—which occasionally overrules the verdict of a noteworthy authority. It is the patron, then, who is the final arbiter on the quality and value of art; who pronounces the life or death sentence, as it were, on real or imagined talent.
All too often, many artists are not recognized for their contributions and achievements until after their death (the case of Vincent Van Gogh is a prime example), there are some—perhaps more than one might suspect—who are so modest as to avoid the embarrassment of recognition. In any event, this posthumous acclamation can be ascribed to the sad fact that people are not truly missed or fully appreciated until we are deprived of them. On the other end of the spectrum, there are mealy-mouthed wordmongers who—inasmuch as they are unable to defend their art and/or actions—are emboldened to malign the dead with innuendo and aspersion. I commend those critics who refrain from this practice; who scrupulously refrain from personal bias to render an impartial evaluation—leaving the personalities to biographers and their peccadilloes to the judgment of a higher authority.
Virtually every poet has written at least one mediocre poem. Passable poetry is more difficult to write than superb prose and not all good poetry is spontaneous. Take the example of Walt Whitman or other literati who often revised and enlarged their works—which have withstood the test of time and won world renown. In good poetry a stanza is a compact chapter and a complete poem is the equivalent of a short story, which is achieved by diction selected for economy of language; especially when composing bound verse, where the poet has to be concise in order to conform his sentences to predetermined lines—measured by the number of syllables each sentence contains; consistent with the type of meter selected for any given poem—as opposed to the more flexible genre of free verse. The following excerpt—from Edgar Allan Poe’s critical essay The Poetic Principle—informs us further:
“...while the idea that, to merit in poetry, prolixity is indispensable-has, for some years past, been gradually dying out of the public mind, by mere dint of its own absurdity-we find it succeeded by a heresy too palpably false to be long tolerated, but one which, in the brief period it has already endured, may be said to have accomplished more in the corruption of our Poetical Literature, than all its other enemies combined. I allude to the heresy of the Didactic. It has been assumed, tacitly and avowedly, directly and indirectly, that the ultimate object of all Poetry is Truth. Every poem, it is said, should inculcate a moral; and by this moral is the poetical merit of the work to be adjudged. We Americans especially have patronized this happy idea...We have taken it into our heads that to write a poem simply for the poem’s sake and to acknowledge such to have been our design; would be to confess ourselves radically wanting in the true Poetic dignity and force;-but the simple fact is, that, would we but permit ourselves to look into our own souls, we should immediately there discover that under the sun there neither exists nor can exist any work more thoroughly dignified-more supremely noble than this very poem-this poem per se-this poem which is a poem and nothing more-this poem written solely for the poem’s sake.”
What is Poetry? Ask a hundred poets that question and you will get a hundred different responses, some will be similar but all will differ. My authority—a Collegiate Dictionary—defines poetry: writing that formulates a concentrated awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm. That is as good a definition as you can find anywhere, although, while technically correct, it fails to capture the essence of the art—which is subjective and sure to challenge even the most capable Lexicographer.
None are exempt from the human condition (i.e., flawed and fallible from conception to casket), we differ only to the extent of our virtues and shortcomings, or strengths and weaknesses. Likewise every writer has literary strengths and weaknesses. The accomplished are rewarded with lucre and prestige; the mediocre are relegated to obscurity. I long ago realized that—beginning with Adam and Eve—we are not created equal; Justice is blind; and life is not fair…particularly for the poet, who is the least paid and appreciated in the publishing industry despite being no less industrious and/or talented than many popular prosaists. This is due, in part, to the disproportionate number of poets in relation to prosaists—there are a plethora of poets in comparison—resulting in too much supply for too little demand; thus inundating the market and thereby making poetry the most competitive genre. From the Publisher’s perspective: there is an enormous crowd outside his window, if you will, and only the loudest voices are distinguishable from the clamor for recognition.
The more notable writers, prosaist and poet alike, are born with an aptitude for their craft that is easily mistaken for erudition, the equivalent of confusing knowledge with intelligence. Academia will broaden one’s understanding of linguistics and enrich one’s vocabulary, but it does not enable one to write creatively. Writing as an art form occurs when aptitude and imagination are applied in conjunction, and the author is impeded only by the boundaries of vocabulary. Words are the Writer’s stock-in-trade and a bigger inventory makes for a better writer; or, a larger variety of fruit makes a sweeter fruit salad. Aptitude (talent), imagination, and vocabulary are the key ingredients to the Writer’s creative process, spiced with a propensity and passion for self-expression.
What I would deem delectable verse another might dismiss as bland. I do not purport to be an authority on the subject of poetry, or any subject, however, I am at least competent enough to make somewhat-astute observations and provide insight into the works of other poets. They should never expect me to compromise my artistic integrity for favor or any reason whatsoever, nor should I disappoint them. Rather than denigrate and discourage my peers, I should seek to inspire and encourage them whenever possible.
The would-be writer is well advised to discover his/her own, unique voice—even if it means bending the rules. According to the rules one should never end a sentence with a preposition, but I did not consent to that rule and so I occasionally ignore it. Redundancy is anathema and tantamount to literary suicide; it ought to be shunned—like the proverbial plague—at all cost, even at the expense of alliteration, syntax, and assonance. Negotiating the numerous pitfalls of composition (e.g., cliché, run-on sentences, etc.) for the space of a book-length manuscript can be exacting, especially when attempting to sustain continuity of style and ambience. An ample elaboration on what constitutes good and not-so-good composition would require a tome, but the best barometer for a work’s merit is the heart.
Writing as an art form is second only to musical composition, and there is no accounting for taste. Some, for instance, will enjoy reading my poetry; some not-so-much, while others will prefer my prose or perhaps even dislike my work altogether. I hope the latter is seldom the case. However, the patron is entitled to his/her preferences. As both artist and patron (anyone who has ever purchased a novel, painting, theater and/or concert tickets is a patron of the arts), I like to think I have discerning taste and that I can distinguish between earnest effort and actual ability. Talent cannot be forced or faked, it is a gift from God bestowed at conception which enables one to perform, with comparative ease, a task others must labor to accomplish. I believe all are born with at least one such gift.
There are poets and then there are those who write poetry; there is a distinct difference between these two groups: The former are born with an undeniable passion and indisputable talent for writing poetry and they are, at some point in their lives, irresistibly drawn to their vocation, while the latter write poetry (or what passes for it) willy-nilly, as an avocation, rather than from the desire to create literary works of art. Not all poetry is written with publication in mind, nor, for that matter, with the intention of sharing it with others. In fact, the preponderance of all existing poetry is romantic in nature and it is therefore normally written for a particular individual and intended for a private or select audience. It follows that most people write poetry for the sheer joy of creativity and self-expression—at least that was the case in my case. However, it is not for me to say which group I belong to—that is for the literati to determine—but, ultimately, I hope it can be said that I occasionally managed to combine the passion and talent of the former with the joy and spontaneity of the latter.
If three-fourths of my readers were roused to enthusiasm by my poetry then I could claim a modicum of talent for writing same, unless they were being polite or politic in order not to pain or risk offending me; in which case either tact would be a disservice. How else am I to gage my ability, or the lack thereof, if not by the sincere and objective response of my peers? Whenever I attempt to evaluate and improve my craft, as the author, bias impairs my judgment, making it unreliable—similar to a defective compass. And what author, irrespective of genre or gender, does not at some point wonder whether he or she has had a positive influence on any of his or her readers? I welcome constructive criticism and I am open to interaction; I have much to share but even more yet to learn. One should be receptive to correction and instruction and allow for growth—as an individual as well as an author—otherwise he will get in his own way. I therefore prefer the incisive critique of a competent critic who cuts me to the quick over the flattery and praise of sycophants and poseurs. I would rather be left to fend for myself in the jungle than be led on a safari by fools. The Road Less Traveled is less traveled for good reason, at times it narrows to a rocky, winding footpath; overgrown with foliage, thorn and nettle; most are quickly discouraged and turn back but a few stout souls press on, the more robust will blaze a new trail.
If I eventually decide to write again it will be in another genre, poetry is too time-consuming and sells poorly; one would be hard put to make a living at it although sales have apparently increased recently. Nevertheless, poetry should only be written for the joy and catharsis it brings, with no other expectation than that it may, when shared, be appreciated and perhaps admired. Good reviews validate the author and the accolade is comparable to a hearty handshake or warm embrace, but nothing compares with the exhilaration one experiences while composing an inspired poem or manuscript. I am not ashamed to admit that I was often moved to tears when writing this collection, especially when I wrote poems like As the Sun Set, Unalive, In a Forest, Near a Stream, My Promiscuous Muse, Smile Again, and This Nameless Thing, to name a few.
I could have continued revising and enlarging this collection for years, however, there are at least three reasons why I decided to end this project. Clint Eastwood once said, “A man’s gotta know his limitations,” and, compared to Leonard Bacon—who won a Pulitzer Prize for Sunderland Capture—and poets of that ilk, I am run-of-the mill, as well as past my heyday. Nevertheless, at the risk of vanity, though my work is neither significant nor accomplished enough to preserve on parchment and exhibit in a museum, I venture that perhaps five of these poems will continue to be appreciated long after I return to dust—it is these very poems which justify my title, if not this collection.
Although I began writing poetry without the benefit of an adequate formal education and despite the affliction of Bipolar Disorder, I cannot help but feel like I have finally arrived. I nearly abandoned this project after importuning an English Professor to critique my work. His verdict was, “Anachronistic.” Naturally I was crestfallen, having wasted several years pursuing an illusive dream (I was forty-one then), and was on the verge of tossing the manuscript in the wastebasket when it occurred to me to attempt to salvage my work by contemporizing it. Beset by self-doubt and frustration, I set about the task with hope emerging from the mire of disappointment and depression; each success bolstered my confidence and encouraged me to persevere. It proved to be a daunting challenge, requiring more imagination than I imagined myself capable of, but I somehow managed to pull it off and it was the most rewarding experience of my life. Now I am content to leave writing to those more adept at it; besides, I prefer reading over writing. The best advice I can impart to the aspiring author and/or poet is arrived at from a journey spanning more than three decades: Read often—anything from articles to the classics—absorb as much as you can, and write only when you must.
Words are the tools and materials wherewith we construct bridges of enlightenment over the chasm of ignorance; they are the vessels that ferry messages across the channel of silence. English is an advanced language yet it falls short of our ideal. Language, per se, is limited in its ability to convey meaning and emotion, no matter how skilled the craftsman. My thought is lucid and fluid, but it becomes muddled in translation. At first I was like a kid in a candy store, surrounded by the many-flavored words of our vast vocabulary; as I matured I felt a deficiency of diet and hungered for more nutritious fare. Eventually I realized that my appetite would never be appeased; it was no small discouragement to learn that the closest I would ever come to precise self-expression is an approximation. Actions are the most effective expressions; that is to say, communication by demonstration. Jesus communicated volumes by his example. Here Mohandas Gandhi would add:
“Life is greater than all art. I would go even further and declare that the man whose life comes nearest to perfection is the greatest artist; for what is art without the sure foundation and framework of a noble life?”
The ideal poet is a sounding board, a mirror, and a thesaurus who echoes the sentiments of society, reflects its conscience, and is the culmination of its consciousness. He is a receptacle attuned to the currents generated from his environment; he is an interpreter who elects to dwell on topics of inspiration, aspiration, attainment, and the exultation of exalting love—impregnable in his fortress-like faith in the inherent good of mankind. At the selfsame instant the poet is an individual and subjective creature—possessing his own psyche, strengths, and weaknesses—and represents himself, in addition to the society that fosters him, in the image of the Creator.
In view of the fact that I write poetry, and share the same surname, one might erroneously assume that I subscribe to the Baconian Theory; the controversial theory that Sir Francis Bacon is the author of the works attributed to William Shakespeare. The basis of this theory is that Shakespeare was a poor country-boy who could not have possessed the knowledge and experience necessary to write with such sophistication and command (by age fourteen he could read and write Latin). While, on the other hand, Bacon was a man of many accomplishments; known chiefly as an essayist, philosopher (today he is regarded as the Father of Modern Philosophy), and statesman (his popularity eventually led to knighthood, and his appointment as Chancellor of England); he was also a lawyer (admired for his acumen and eloquence, his services were much sought after), and a scientist (he was experimenting with the concept of refrigeration—by stuffing a chicken with snow—when he succumbed to pneumonia and died).
The following are excerpts from a summary of a thesis, by T. L. Hubeart, Jr.:
“The anti-Stratfordian movement was publicly triggered by the claim of Delia Bacon in the 1850’s that Francis Bacon was the real author of Shakespeare’s works...the movement which not only disputes the claim that William Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the plays and poems attributed to him, but also usually holds that they were written by a nobleman, such as Francis Bacon or the Earl of Oxford, has had not only a long history but a very vocal one, dating as far back as the end of the 18th century. Although most of the world of “orthodox” scholarship has regarded it with a good deal of scorn and although many of its members have been justly considered eccentric (if not lunatic), the movement has caused such well-known men as Walt Whitman, Otto von Bismarck, Sigmund Freud, and Mark Twain to deny that the historical Shakespeare had anything to do with the works going under his name. Further, anti-Stratfordianism gained a great deal of support during the latter half of the 19th century, causing many to believe its assertions that Shakespeare was an illiterate oaf who merely served as a front man for an aristocrat...The only indisputable link between the Stratford man and his works—one which anti-Stratfordians have to discredit in making their cases—is the First Folio of 1623, the first collected edition of his plays. Here the prefatory matter explicitly associated Shakespeare of Stratford with the author of the works...In 1769 Herbert Lawrence, in The Life and Adventures of Commonsense, was the first to raise the Shakespeare authorship question; by 1884 the controversy had stirred France, Germany, and India, in addition to England and America, and resulted in over 250 books, pamphlets and articles.”
Bacon was indeed an extraordinary man of uncommon vigor, and yet one can only wonder how he managed to conjure the time and summon the incredible energy needed to acquire his considerable erudition; compose his essays and philosophy; attend to the numerous responsibilities of statehood; pursue his passion for invention, ad infinitum, and produce the prolific masterpieces of Shakespeare all in a sixty-five year life span. This controversy has lasted for centuries and will, I predict, continue until the Sun goes nova. A right-thinking individual will realize that the Baconian Theory has value only as a mental exercise, since only Bacon and Shakespeare can settle the question. I say give each man his due and quit raking his bones.
While some will share and support my views others will reject them and maintain their own. Democracy entitles us to our prerogatives and opinions. Opinions are like vowels, most words have at least one. Truth and reality are interchangeable and subject to individual interpretation. Truth (and/or reality) is similar to a multifaceted jewel; viewed from any angle, every facet cannot be seen at once, and the man who can focus on the largest number of facets (as if endowed with an uncanny, extra-peripheral ability) will shine with enlightenment, and his works will reflect his insight. His vision transforms him into a man of stature; qualifying him as an authority; or great artist, and we lesser mortals revere him as a genius, or giant, and call him gifted. He is indeed gifted in that his ability is God-given, yet we—those of creative and intellectual inclination—share the same potential as he. We are just as capable of philosophy as profound and thought-provoking; of science and analysis as sound; of arithmetic as complex and exact; of speech as articulate and eloquent; of poetry and pathos as powerful; of art as aesthetic and eclectic; of invention as ingenious and innovative, but we bite our nails and fidget, procrastinate, vacillate, and many are, in the end, afraid to believe in themselves. Our ideas want impetus and our dreams are destitute, because we have yet to realize that our limits are, for the most part, self-imposed. We are productive in proportion to our self-confidence and ambition. The outcome of any undertaking is determined by the effort expended toward its fulfillment. Said another way, you get out of a thing only what you put into it. Ralph Waldo Emerson—essayist and poet—observes, from his essay on Self-Reliance:
“We but half express ourselves, and are afraid of that divine idea which each of us represents...but God will not have his work made manifest by cowards. A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he has said or done otherwise shall give him no peace....
To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men—that is genius...the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato, and Milton is that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men, but what they thought.... Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else tomorrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.
There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conclusion that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better for worse as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.”
Genius ignores the idle and spurns the conservative, the industrious and the pioneer these he loves and will embrace. To the latter he is a generous taskmaster, and they are his devoted servants. I salute the steadfast who heed their calling; who, despite seemingly overwhelming odds against any success, stand their ground, face the looming specter of failure and brave the outcome undaunted by the sting of censure! This in itself is a triumph, a feat not measured in terms of success or failure—either eventuality is merely the aftermath of a valiant struggle. Hold to your course through the tempest of opposition. Onward! Advance, you who are stalwart, to the fore of the fracas with the enemies of art; armed with script, score, chisel, brush and pen. Conquer dark doubt and injurious envy!
These sentiments are more succinctly expressed by the stirring words of Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles...the credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood...who at the best knows in the end the triumphs of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
If I were related to, say, an acclaimed actor, while I would be eclipsed by his shadow, I would not begrudge him his fortune and fame—with its limelight and adoring autograph-seekers. I prefer the peace and privacy of relative obscurity (a notch above nonentity on the yardstick of social status) lest I forfeit my legacy. Neither would I covet his talent, my own modest aptitude is sufficient for my needs. As a kinsman I would own a clannish pride in his accomplishment; as a fellow artist I would admire his art. Likewise I am influenced by the art and scope of many prominent people, insofar as I am related to them by spiritual affinity. Even so, my reverence stops short of idolatry, and my admiration is devoid of envy. Life is too precious to experience it secondhand as a disgruntled spectator and not as a cheerful participant. I am not overawed by any man’s genius, for God is my mentor; and the existence of the omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent entity known as God is apparent—transcending the ambiguity of superstitious and intangible belief, He appears as a tangible fact evinced by matter; by the cycle of the seasons, and by the coexistence of all living things. I therefore conclude that: our Creator is the author of all superior art, while man is but a medium through whom He expresses Himself for the admiration and amelioration of all. The greatest artists are those most receptive to the inflow of God’s Creative Force—exemplified by nature, and the infinite universe.