Poetical Theraputics

The Poetry Cure: A Medicine Chest Of Verse, Music and Pictures. Edited by Robert Haven Schauffler. (Dodd, Mead & Co.).

THOSE who are afflicted with doctorates of letters or philosophy, and have sometimes strayed into nonacademic communities without sufficient introductory publicity, must have experienced the chagrin that may arise from being mistaken for an honest-to-goodness doctor of the pill-and-potion sort. There is likely to be a considerable let-down when the error is corrected; for, while it may be true that literature and philosophy can stand a good deal of doctoring, wouldn’t it be just as well to let them die and be out of their misery? In certain atmospheres the proposition can be made to seem extremely reasonable.

However, it begins to appear now that doctors of letters, at least, may yet attain the statuts of the village physician. In fact, it seems not too much to hope that, in good time, departments of literature may be absorbed by Colleges of Medicine.

How does one get this way? By reading the latest edition of Robert Haven Schauffler’s very lovely volume, “The Poetry Cure.” When the book first appeared, two years ago, it was hailed immediately as an epoch-making contribution to the literature of therapeutics. But so many now are engaged in the hailing business that one is not always greatly impressed: for a steady uproar, in a sensitive ear, may produce the same result as silence. However, judging by the many testimonials of the past two years and by numerous literary photos revealing the patient’s condition before and after taking, the solid merit of the new system of medicine seems beyond question.

Briefly, and with all due respect for lay ignorance, Dr. Schauffler’s theory may be stated as follows: Poets write poems by way of escape from, or compensation for, the woes of life. Being abnormally sensitive and seldom wealthy, their particular brand of woe is likely to be of very high potency, and the antidotes they exude in their poems must therefore partake of the nature of knockout drops for the woes in question.

For instance, if life in general seems to have one of these poets pretty thoroughly buffaloed, he exudes a song of high courage all about being absolute captain of his soul and positive master of his fate. It seems to work on the same principle as that involved when a very scared little boy whistles blithely down a very dark alley.

The foregoing is, of course, only one example, for spiritual funk is not what is wrong with everybody. One may be suffering from spiritual fat-headedness or hardening of the heart or hypertrophied ego or painful suppression of the sense of humor — and so on throughout the whole spiritual pathology. Poets, differing from other human beings only in being more so, have concocted powerful specifics for every ailment imaginable.

Granting all this, what could be simpler than to treat the rest of ailing humanity with precisely those medicines which the poets have tested upon themselves?

No doubt there are those in the audience who, having tasted some of the concoctions of certain modern poets, have leaped to the conclusion that the cure may be worse than the disease; but a casual examination of Dr. Schauffler’s poetical medicine chest should be reassuring. There is not an uncoated pill or a bitter potion in the whole pharmacopoeia, from the sleepiest of the sedatives to the shrillest giggle of the stimulant section.

Though every effort has been made to render this medicine chest as safe as possible for self-treatment by the layman, a solemn warning seems necessary. Before venturing upon self-treatment, the layman should familiarize himself thoroughly with the Index, so that if by any chance he should swallow the wrong poem, the proper antidote may be found before too much harm has resulted. For example, if one should be suffering from light-headedness and should take a powerful poem from the giggle section, he should know just where to lay his hand on a tear-fetcher, and vice versa.

Out of a democratic sympathy for the illiterate, Dr. Schauffler has added to his poetical pharmacopoeia some choice medicinal pictures as well as several pieces of music in which therapeutic properties have been detected by the experts.