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He is fifteen and a half – that most dreadful of ages – and quite bright when he can be bothered. Alas, that’s not always the case, lost as he is in that teenage tumult of rebellion, Fortnight games, and hunger for peer-approval. I might add that the long, long months of lockdown and Covid-related restrictions are hardly helping…

Still, the bright boy is still definitely in there – flashing through in bursts of love for history, art, and good literature (his latest venture having been Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian). Let him only learn to see the forest as well as the trees – and I have no qualm about his chances at academic success.

Meanwhile, though, we areĀ  stuck with all the melodrama of unquiet fifteen – and… well. The kid’s latest stunt? He bombed his extremely well-read and literature-worshipping mother with this angry gem:

And what’s the use of poetry, anyway? Who needs it? Who cares?

Now if only it had been genuine curiosity or the raising of a philosophical point… But the poor parent swears – halfway between bitter laughter and devastation – that it was neither. Just a rebuttal of poetry as a whole…

Cynical creature that I am (and, no doubt, not being the boy’s mother also helps), I incline to think it was something else entirely. Frustration against a little-loved teacher and her homework, yet another attempt at making his long-suffering parents jump – and, perhaps worst of all, a bout of that dreadful teenage need to show that he doesn’t give a damn.

I remember two teacher friends once bemoaning this particular phenomenon over dinner: both taught middle-graders, and both observed how, around the age of twelve, even the brightest, most eager, knowledge-thirstiest kid will be stolen by the fairies to be replaced with a bored, cynical, couldn’t-care-less changeling… At some point it becomes un-cool to care – and we all know that, in a teenager’s books, there are few worse sins than being un-cool.

As I said, my own young doubter isn’t quite that bad, thanks to a persistent family, a good school where to care is not entirely un-cool, and his own good (if slightly Fortnight-hazed) brains. I’ve no doubt that, in time, he’ll find his way back… It’s not that he must love poetry at all costs – but I fully trust him to see, once he’s done rebelling and being cool, the use of poetry, the need for it, and why, on the whole, mankind cares so very much.