“Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.” -Plato

This may just be my opinion, but I think poetry has a great potential for measuring a person’s fluency in a foreign language.
“But Samwise,” you say, fighting off gradeschool trauma, “We’re not all [incredibly powerful and talented English majors] like you! We hate [everything that is good in this world]!” (Author’s Note: the brackets contain what I am pretty confident you actually said.)
To which I say, “Yes, you are right. But as I am both merciful as well as highly intelligent, I will simultaneously explain to you my reasoning.” To which you said, “Hallelujah, etc. and so on.”
Think back to High School, back to your English classes. Now, please stop twitching and/or foaming at the mouth. Remember how difficult analyzing poetry could be? Now do that in a language you didn’t grow up with and therefore lack the inherent knowledge of a native speaker. Yes, it’s now okay to resume the foaming.
How can you analyze Edgar Allen Poe without knowing he was horribly depressed? How can you study Flannery O’Connor without knowledge of Southern culture and symbolism? (my teacher tried this, I don’t recommend it.) How can you read Ayn Rand without wanting to bash your own head in?
The same concept applies to every other culture out there. Believe it or not, they have actually been around longer, and their mores and values are even more deeply ingrained in their art. Even aside from the cultural fluency, you need a lot of exposure and experience to fling words around like a poet. It pains me to admit it, but even… *gulp* Even I am frequently lost if the poem isn’t in English.
I know. I know.
The fact of the matter is there are a lot of different elements in play when it comes to poetry, from cultural context to implicit allegory to simply the way the poet chose to craft their rhymes. Poetry doesn’t spell anything out. It can be vast and complicated, or short and simple. Or any combination of those things.
And so, although poetry majors (English or Foreign Language) are largely considered to be a step behind underwater basket-weavers, we should all consider one fact: these men and women loved something so much that they studied only that.
And anyone with that kind of dedication has to be pretty badass.



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