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most playful effusions, and from ir rigination to fancy through all their degrees ;—from Homer and Dante, to Coleridge and Keats ;—from Shakspeare in King Lear, to Shakspeare himself in the Midsummer Night's Dream; from Spenser's Faerie Queene, to the Castle of Indolence ; nay, from Ariel in the Tempest, to his somewhat presumptuous namesake in the Rape of the Lock. And passages, both from Thomson's delightful allegory, and Pope's paragon of mock-heroics, would have been found in this volume, but for that intentional, artificial imitation, even in the former, which removes them at too great a distance from the highest sources of inspiration. With the great poet of the Faerie Queene the Editor has
+ taken special pains to make readers in general better acquainted ; and in furtherance of this purpose he has exhibited many of his bost passages in remarkable relation to the art of the Painter.
For obvious reasons no living writer is included; and some, lately deceased, do not come within the plan. The omission will not be thought invidious in an Editor, who has said more of his contemporaries than most men; and who would gladly give specimens of the latter poets in future volumes.
One of the objects indeed of this preface is to state, that should the Public evince a willingness to have more such books, the Editor would propose to give them, in succession, corresponding volumes of the Poetry of Action and Passion (Narrative ana Dramatic Poetry), from Chaucer to Cainpbell (here mentioned because he is the latest deceased poet); the Poetry of Contemplation, from Surrey to Campbell ;—the Poetry of Wit and Humor, from Chaucer to Byron ; and the Poetry of Song, or Lyrical Poetry.
from Chaucer again (see in his Works his admirable and only song, beginning
Hide, Absalom, thy gilded tresses clear),
to Campbell again, and Burr.s, and O'Keefe. These vo. lumes, if he is not mistaken, would present the Public with the only selection, hitherto made, of none but genuine poetry; and he would take care, that it should be unobjectionable in every other respect.*
KENSINGTON, Sept. 10, 1844.
* While closing the Essay on Poetry, a friend lent me Coleridge's Biographia Literaria, which I had not seen for many years, and which I mention, partly to notice a coincidence at page 31 of the Essay, not other. wise worth observation; and partly to do what I can towards extending the acquaintance of the public with a bock containing masterly expositions of he art of poetry.
AN ANSWER TO THE QUESTION
WHAT IS POETRY!
REMARKS ON VERSIFICATION.
POETRY, strictly and artistically so called, that is to say, considered not merely as poetic feeling, which is more or less shared by all the world, but as the operation of that feeling, such as we see it in the poet's book, is the utterance of a pas. sion for truth, beauty and power, embodying and illustrating its conceptions by imagination and fancy, and modulating its language on the principle of variety in uniformity. Its means are whatever the universe contains; and its ends, pleasure and exaltation. Poetry stands between nature and convention, keeping alive among us the enjoyment of the external and spiritual world: it has constituted the most enduring fame of nations; and, next to Love and Beauty, which are its parents, is the greatest proof to man of the pleasure to be found in all things, and of the probable riches of infinitude.
Poetry is a passion,* because it seeks the deepest impressions; and because it must undergo, in order to convey them.
It is a passion for truth, because without truth the impression would be false or defective.
It is a passion for beauty, because its office is to exalt and refine by means of pleasure, and because beauty is nothing but the loveliest form of pleasure.
• Passio, suffering in a good sense,—ardent subjection of one's self to emotion
It is a passion for power, because power is impression triumphant, whether over the poet, as desired by himself, or over the reader, as affected by the poet.
It embodies and illustrates its impressions by imagination, or images of the objects of which it treats, and other images brought in to throw light on those objects, in order that it may enjoy and impart the feeling of their truth in its utmost convic. tion and affluence.
It illustrates them by fancy, which is a lighter play of imagination, or the feeling of analogy coming short of seriousness, in order that it may laugh with what it loves, and show how it can decorate it with fairy ornament.
It modulates what it utters, because in running the whole round of beauty it must needs include beauty of sound; and because, in the height of its enjoyment, it must show the perfection of its triumph, and make difficulty itself become part of its facility and joy.
And lastly, Poetry shapes this modulation into uniformity for its outline, and variety for its parts, because it thus realizes the last idea of beauty itself, which includes the charm of diversity within the flowing round of habit and ease.
Poetry is imaginative passion. The quickest and subtlest test of the possession of its essence is in expression; the variety of things to be expressed shows the amount of its resources; and the continuity of the song completes the evidence of its strength and greatness. He who has thought, feeling, expression, imagination, action, character, and continuity, all in the largest amount and highest degree, is the greatest poet.
Poetry includes whatsoever of painting can be made visible to the mind's eye, and whatsoever of music can be conveyed by sound and proportion without singing or instrumentation. But it far surpasses those divine arts in suggestiveness, range, and intellectual wealth ;—the first, in expression of thought, combination of images, and the triumph over space and time the second, in all that can be done by speech, apart from the tores and inodulations of pure sound. Painting and music, however, include all those portions of the gift of poetry that can be expressed and heightened by the visible and melodious. Painting,
in a certain apparent manner, is things themselves; music, in a certain audible manner, is their very emotion and grace. Mu. sic and painting are proud to be related to poetry, and poetry loves and is proud of them.
Poetry begins where matter of fact or of science ceases to be merely such, and to exhibit a further truth; that is to say, the connexion it has with the world of emotion, and its power to produce imaginative pleasure. Inquiring of a gardener, for in. stance, what flower it is that we see yonder, he answers, “a lily.” This is matter of fact. The botanist pronounces it to be of the order of “ Hexandria Monogynia.” This is matter of science. It is the “lady” of the garden, says Spenser; and here we begin to have a poe•ical sense of its fairness and
grace. It is
The plant and flower of light,
says Ben Jonson; and poetry then shows us the beauty of the flower in all its mystery and splendor.
If it be asked, how we know perceptions like these to be true, the answer is, by the fact of their existence,-by the consent and delight of poetic readers. And as feeling is the earliest teacher, and perception the only final proof, of things the most dernonstrable by science, so the remotest imaginations of the poets may often be found to have the closest connexion with matter of fact; perhaps might always be so, if the subtlety of our perceptions were a match for the causes of them. Con. sider this image of Ben Jonson's—of a lily being a flower of light. Light, undecomposed, is white; and as the lily is white, and light is white, and whiteness itself is nothing but light, the two things, so far, are not merely similar, but identical. A poet might add, by an analogy drawn from the connexion of light and color, and there is a “golden dawn” issuing out of the white lily, in the rich yellow of the stamens. I have no desire to push this similarity further than it may be worth. Enough has been stated to show that, in poetical as in other analogies, “the samc feet of Nature,” as Bacon says, may be seen “treading in different paths ;” and that the most scornful, that is to say,