SparkNotes Blog

Should You Learn About Poetry From a Teacher or an Older Boyfriend?

This post is going to take the form of a classic debate. The statement up for debate is:

You should learn about poetry from an older boyfriend.

PRO will arguing for, CON will argue against.

Opening statements

PRO: The majority of poetry written in the history of the world is about love, about romance, deep feelings, and connection. What better way to learn about it then, than while falling in love yourself, while staring into your lover’s eyes, or leaning back into their arms? Indeed, some poetry, if encountered before the reader has ever experienced love, might seem excessive or even, perhaps, boring—not so, once one has felt love, and particularly while one is in love—then no sentiment can seem too high or too low. What’s more, the time spent discussing poetry will no doubt deepen you and your boyfriend’s intellectual and spiritual connection.

CON: The work of teaching has no place in a romantic relationship and should be left in the hands of an actual teacher. To learn anything—whether it’s poetry or calculus—from an older boyfriend is to establish a teacher-student relationship, one in which you, as the student, and possibly also as the woman, will be placed in a subordinate position, be seen as less knowledgeable, less intelligent, and, ultimately, less capable, than the man, the teacher. What’s more, assuming that you and the boyfriend break up—perhaps he even breaks your heart—you will forever associate that particular subject with him. Do you want to ruin poetry for yourself forever? Do you want to wonder, years later, with some unease, if you would’ve turned into a poet if your college boyfriend hadn’t wanted to be a poet and you felt competitive enough with him to try for it too? Do you want to be stuck in the teacher-student dynamic so many couples get caught in?

Rebuttals (Round 1)

PRO: It is clear that the CON side is speaking with no small amount of bitterness from personal experience. It is both unfair and inaccurate to project one’s own experience onto others, to assume that every situation will lead to similar outcome. Part of being in a relationship is learning from the other person; in good relationships, the roles of teacher and student are constantly shifting—both partners are learning, both partners of teaching. Just because the boyfriend is teaching his partner about poetry, it doesn’t mean that that partner isn’t also teaching the boyfriend about something.

CON: It is laughable to suggest that certain poems might be inaccessible to people who have never felt certain emotions—isn’t the whole point of poetry to transmit a feeling? In which case, shouldn’t it be irrelevant whether the reader has actually felt that feeling or not? Sure, lying in someone’s arms and talking about Keats sounds pretty romantic, but, in reality, the “lesson” is more likely to be your boyfriend talking down to you for an hour and maybe even laughing at your unsophisticated questions.

Rebuttals (Round 2)

PRO: I maintain that the CON side speaks out of bitterness. I also disagree with their definition of poetry: transmission of feeling is just one of many goals of a poem—a poem can be about conveying a certain sound or idea. What’s more, the poet’s attempt to convey their emotion—the result of which is the poem—might actually engender another emotion in the reader. As long as it leaves the reader with something, it’s still a good poem. Yet I maintain that a love poem becomes more meaningful, and may even unlock itself to the reader, when the reader is in love.

CON: First, I object to the PRO team calling me “bitter”—it is clearly a gendered insult equivalent to “shrill” or “hysterical.” The PRO team could just as easily be speaking from personal experience as myself. All experience is also knowledge and therefore fair game in a debate. Second, I agree, relationships are about learning, BUT in a casual way, from the way that person interacts with others or handles situations, not in a “let’s sit down and talk about iambic pentameter” way.

Closing Statements 

PRO: Poetry is not something that can really be “taught” in school, where students are worried about getting good grades and being “wrong.” Poetry isn’t about being wrong—it’s about thinking and feeling and hearing together with the poet, just as one thinks and feels and hears together with a lover. Poetry, like love, isn’t rational. It can’t be easily explained. It’s a mystery. What better place to learn about it than from within another mystery?

CON: Learning about poetry from a boyfriend will stress the relationship by creating an imbalanced power dynamic. The student/partner, in an effort to please their lover, might even feign greater interest than exists and then find themselves, as the relationship progresses, stuck in this charade. What’s more, it’s best, especially with a subject like poetry that’s so closely tied to personal taste, to encounter it independently, on one’s terms. Otherwise, if the relationship ends, the partner won’t be able to untangle poetry from the relationship. It might even ruin poems for them forever.

Which side wins? You be the judge!