The first question that I want us to begin with this evening is: What is literature (poetry)? What has its function always been? What kind of truth does it convey? It is not simply the expression of an emotion, nor is it mere entertainment, nor autobiographical confession, nor therapy. Nor is it information, of the sort that we consider historical studies to give us. We do not gain "information" from the Beowulf, for instance, though it is based on physical details from its own time But it surmounts those details to speak of human hopes and fears. It is a formed vision of life, seeing in the life of the hero Beowulf a model not of our outward actions but of an inward one: a force, an urge, a thrust within our psyches in a region to which we do not ordinarily have access: a region of that primordial oneness which was the origin of the human race, so that differences of sex or age or race fall away from our consciousness when we reach this place--and we reach it only through prayer, love, and poetry. And though prayer and love enable us to grow in grace, poetry enables us to grow into culture--into that harmonious and virtuous sense of community that shapes all good societies.
Cowan, Louise, "Igor Lecture 1992" (1992). Russian Novel. 28.