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EXPLANATORY ALLOY IN ILLUSTRATIVE REPRESENTATION.
Illustrations that are not always necessarily representative-Their Develop
ment gradually traced in Descriptions of Natural Scenery—Practical Bearing of this on the Composition of Orations—Why Common People hear some gladly and others not at all-Obscure Styles not BrilliantExamples of Obscure Historical and Mythological References in Poetry -Alloyed Representation Short-lived—How References to possibly unknown Things are made in Poetry that lives—Mixture of Main and Illustrating Thought so as to destroy Representation-Examples of how this Result may be prevented.
IT must not be supposed that a poet, even though he
uses illustrative representation, can overcome-merely by doing this--the tendency in his verse to pay too much attention relatively to thought as contrasted with form, and thus to make his representation not pure but alloyed. Alloyed illustrative representation is a fault on a larger scale, similar to that of the “ blending" of metaphors in which plain and figurative language are both used with reference to the same object in the same clause or sentence (see Chapter XVIII.). To understand the nature of this fault we must go back to pure representation for a moment. The sixth line of the following is a departure from pure representation. It expresses what could not have been perceived: it explains.
So saying, from the pavement he half rose,
As in a picture. Him Sir Bedivere
-Mort D'Arthur : Tennyson.
Even in Homer, notwithstanding assertions made to the contrary, we find exceptional passages identical in character with this :
Back he sprang,
-Iliad, 12 : Bryant's Trs.
This last line is not characteristic of Homer. But there are numberless ones like it in the works of modern writers, for the reason that all of us modern people are more accustomed than the ancient to look beneath the surface of things; and therefore we are more prone in our descriptions to assign real or imaginary motives to the actions of those whom we are watching. The moment, however, that this analyzing of motives becomes characteristic of description, the style is evidently in danger of becoming less representative. To show the effect produced upon it, notice this quotation from Crabbe's Parish Register. It is certainly poetry; series of pictures are called up as we read it; the general is embodied in the concrete; the versification adds to the interest that we take in the ideas expressed in it; and yet nothing could be more unlike the poetry of Homer; and this because it is not pure representation, but representation alloyed with much that is merely a direct presentation of the writer's own thoughts.
Phoebe Dawson gayly crossed the green ;
The joy of youth and health her eyes displayed,
Frets the meek soul, and then she's calm again. To understand how this explanatory poetry, in which thought that is not at all representative is constantly being thrust into the form, can be produced even when figurative language is used, let us trace the gradual de velopment of the tendency from its beginning. In the following description of evening, analogies are drawn between certain effects usually seen in connection with evening, and certain others usually seen in connection with human beings. In each case, however, only such effects are mentioned as are externally perceptible, like those represented in the words twilight, silence, Hesperus, and moon on the one hand, and in the words still, gray, livery, clad, accompanied, pleased, led, rode, rising, majesty, and apparent queen, on the other. For this reason, as we read the description, the picture of what is done by a human being, as well as of the evening effect to which this is likened, comes at once before the imagination.
Now came still evening on, and twilight gray
Silence accompanied; for beast and bird,
- Paradise Lost, 4: Milton. A similar analogy is given us in the following; but in certain places, somewhat subtle to detect, as in the words needing, suffices, and ostentatious, the appearances of the natural objects mentioned are likened not to what is perceptible in human beings, but to imperceptible motives which can only be surmised by an observer. The harm done to the representation by such words happens, in this passage, to be very evident. For, in the end, the last of them, ostentatious, runs the poet, as it seems, entirely off his track. That it is less ostentatious to wear a moon or jewel in a zone than on high, is inferred, not perceived by him, and, in order to give us his view of the Evening's modesty, he apparently forgets all about his picture of her in the west; for he says that the low moon, which decorates her, is of an ampler round. But the evening moon never is this except when in the east. He may mean, indeed, the dim old moon encircling as it does at times the crescent; but few would derive this impression from his words. Or he may mean to have the round refer to the zone of the Evening herself, and so make her corpulent enough to fit the girdle of the whole horizon! But whatever he may mean, the moment we try to frame a picture from this or any of his later phrases, we find that the alloy at first introduced very slightly has finally injured his picture very greatly.
Come, Evening, once again, season of peace ;
- The Task; Winter Evening : Cowper, A little further development of the tendency under consideration leads to a style in which there appears to be in the figures still less distinctness of representation. As we read the following, the imagination does not perceive clearly whether the orb, ocean, Vesper, night, clouds, breezes, moon, etc., are meant to be likened to human or to some other beings; nor is there any thing to tell us why these beings act as is indicated. That is to say, we fail to see pictures here, because the representation is alloyed by the introduction of too many of the thoughts of the writer. Instead of referring us to what can be seen in a sentient being, to which a material object is compared, he refers us to what may or may not be an explanation of what might be seen in such a being. Men sometimes for. get—not often, however,-because they are hushed. So, he says, it is with the ocean ; and the same principle is exemplified in many other of his words.
The sun's bright orb, declining all serene,