HALFWAY through Mary Kenny's play, Allegiance, currently playing on the Fringe, Winston Churchill and the Irish republican, Michael Collins, fuelled by brandy and champagne, begin reciting poetry from memory.read more...
They discover that they both know great chunks of GK Chesterton and can do the Charge of the Light Brigade by heart from beginning to end. They delight in finding they share so much.
"Stiff flags straining in the night-blasts cold; in the gloom black-purple, in the glint old-gold - I love that line," says Collins. "Battle poetry is so inspiring. I love it."
I doubt if such a scene could take place today. The art of recitation has become a thing of the past, and with it has gone the shared heritage of well-learnt poetry or prose. It must be more than 100 years since someone said that, if the works of Horace were lost to the world, they could be re-compiled thanks to the collective memories of MPs and peers at Westminster. Does Tony Blair recite a little Keats to George Bush, and get a dose of Longfellow in return? I don't think so.
The Narrowness of Novelty
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