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PROSE AND POETRY ; PRESENTATION AND REPRESENTA
TION IN ITS VARIOUS FORMS.
Tendencies of Plain Language toward Prose, and of Figurative toward
Poetry-Plain Language tends to Present Thought, and Figurative to
especially of those who, with strong imaginations and delicate ästhetic sensibilities, have not improved their critical faculties by a wide acquaintance with the best poetry, that figurative language only is in the highest sense poetic. Whenever a feeling like this exists, it should be treated with respect; we may be sure that there is a reason for it. The feeling in the particular case before us, leads to an erroneous inference, as we must conclude from considerations already noticed, and this conclusion will be confirmed as we go on. But how about the origin of the feeling? It springs, as seems most likely, from the fact that plain and figurative language are judged less from the effects that they produce when actually used
in poetry, than from the principles that appear to be exemplified in their formation. ( If carried to an extreme, the tendencies that lead to plain language move unmistakably toward prose, as those that lead to figurative language move toward poetry.) The error just mentioned lies in mistaking tendencies for a consummation of them.
These tendencies, however, are important in their bearings upon the real distinction that separates prose from poetry. Let us for a little consider them.
Plain language, as we have traced it, is a development of the instinctive methods of expression used in natural ejaculations. These, by being associated with the circumstances in which they are uttered, come to be used as words; and, in a broad way of generalizing, there is a sense in which all words, no matter how originated, whenever they come to mean what they do on account of this principle, can be put in this class. But now, if we think a little, we shall recognize that, from the moment of the utterance of the first ejaculation to the use of the latest sound which means what it does merely because conventionally associated with an idea to which it stands in the relation of an arbitrary symbol, the tendency exemplified is a desire to present rather than to represent the thought or feeling.
(Just the contrary, however, is true of figurative language. We have traced it to a development of the reflective methods of expression which arise when one hears and imitates for a purpose the sounds about him. The same tendency is carried out when he puts these sounds together, after they have become conventional words, so as to represent the relations between the sights about him, as in the terms express, understand; in fact, it is carried out in every case in which there is a use of imaginative or figura
tive language. This latter language, then, from its earliest source to its utmost development, exemplifies a tendency to represent rather than merely to present the thought or feeling.
This work has constantly maintained that art is representative ; and, bearing this in mind, we shall begin to get a glimmer of the reason why poetry, which is the artistic form of language, is associated in many minds with only these representative words or figurative modes of expression. But we have not yet reached the whole truth with reference to the matter.
It must be remembered that thus far we have been dealing mainly with single words or with a few of them arranged in single sentences. Each of these words or sentences may be supposed to express some single phase or process of the mind's experiences. But to express a series of these processes, as words usually do when used at all, we need a series of words and sentences. Now it is conceivable that, though each factor of the series when taken by itself, should merely present some single phase, all the factors when taken together should represent a series of these phases; and it is equally conceivable that though each factor of the series when taken by itself should represent a mental phase, all the factors when taken together should merely present a series of these phases. In other words, it is conceivable that owing to the artistic use, not of single words but of series of them, plain language should represent the thought and feeling, and therefore be poetic; and it is equally conceivable that figurative language should merely present these, and there fore be prosaic; prose, so far as it is determined by the mode of communicating thought, being the presentative form of that of which poetry is the representative.
These conditions which we have considered conceiv. able, we shall find to be true in fact; and for this reason poetic methods of communicating thought, considered as a whole, must be judged, precisely as was said in another place of poetic sounds, by the degree in which they represent the thought or feeling to which they give expression.) Now what, in the last analysis must determine the method of the communication ?-what but the method in which the thought itself is conceived in the mind of the writer? If he think in pictures, his words, whether or not picturesque or figurative in themselves, will describe pictures Otherwise they will not. Moreover, if we reflect a moment, we shall recognize that there are many times when he can think in pictures, even when he is not thinking of pictures; as, for instance, when he is impressing a truth upon the mind through using a story, a parable, or an illustration, as we call it. In this case, his method, if it accurately convey to us that which is passing before his own mind, must be representative, and not merely presentative.
Accordingly we find, when we get to the bottom of our subject, that the figurative or the representative element in poetry may exist in the conception as well as in the phraseology. If it exist in only the conception, we have representation in plain language, or direct representation; if in the phraseology, by which is meant now the words or expressions illustrating the main thought, we have representation in figurative language, or illustrative representation, which, in turn, as will be shown presently, it is possible, but not practicable, to divide again into the expressional and the descriptive. If, in any of these ways, all the significance expressed in a passage be represented, the form of the representation will in this work
be termed pure; if a part of the significance be merely presented, the representation will be termed alloyed; and in the degree in which this is the case, it will be shown by and by that the whole is prosaic.
Pure representation is pictorial in character, as we should expect from the pictorial tendency of which we have found it to be an outgrowth, and its methods are not wholly unlike those of painting. When composing in accordance with them, the poet indicates his thought by using words referring to things that can be perceived; and in this way he causes the imaginations of those whom he addresses to perceive pictures. Alloyed representation, while following in the main the methods of that which is pure, always contains more or less of something which cannot be supposed to have been perceived, at least not in connection with circumstances like those that are being detailed. For this reason, that which is added to the representation is like alloy, interfering with the pureness and clearness of the pictures presented to the imaginations of those addressed. It appeals to them not according to the methods of poetry, but of science or philosophy, or of any kind of thought addressed merely to the logical understanding.
The distinction between pure and alloyed representation lies at the basis of all right appreciation of poetic effects. Yet a man is more fortunate than most of his fellows, if among all his literary friends he finds one who really understands the difference between the two. Because, therefore, of the general ignorance with reference to this distinction, as also of its intrinsic subtlety, both forms of representation will now be explained and illustrated in full.