— Randall Jarrell
, Poetry and the Age (1953), Context: When I was asked to talk about the Obscurity of the Modern Poet I was delighted, for I have suffered from this obscurity all my life. But then I realized that I was being asked to talk not about the fact that people don’t read poetry, but about the fact that most of them wouldn’t understand it if they did: about the difficulty, not the neglect, of contemporary poetry. And yet it is not just modern poetry, but poetry, that is today obscure. Paradise Lost is what it was; but the ordinary reader no longer makes the mistake of trying to read it — instead he glances at it, weighs it in his hand, shudders, and suddenly, his eyes shining, puts it on his list of the ten dullest books he has ever read, along with Moby-Dick, War and Peace, Faust, and Boswell’s Life of Johnson. But I am doing this ordinary reader an injustice: it was not the Public, nodding over its lunch-pail, but the educated reader, the reader the universities have trained, who a few weeks ago, to the Public’s sympathetic delight, put together this list of the world’s dullest books.
Since most people know about the modern poet only that he is obscure—i. e., that he is difficult, i. e., that he is neglected — they naturally make a causal connection between the two meanings of the word, and decide that he is unread because he is difficult. Some of the time this is true: the poet seems difficult because he is not read, because the reader is not accustomed to reading his or any other poetry.
“The Obscurity of the Poet”, p. 3