« PreviousContinue »
them with representative conceptions. When Dante, Shakespear, and Milton first conceived their greatest works, it must have been a picture that appeared to loom before their imaginations. It is doubtful whether Wordsworth, Cowper, and Campbell thought of any thing except an argument.
In smaller poems similar defects are not so noticeable; but it would be well for poetic culture if they were. Longfellow outgrew the period of his Excelsior ; but the world that welcomed it admiringly when it first appeared might welcome it with equal rapture now; yet the lack of representative truth in its conception makes it so unreal and absurd that nothing but repeated experiences at school exhibitions should convince one that it can be read or heard with a sober countenance. Look at its beginning:
The shades of night were falling fast
“O stay," the maiden said, "and rest
There in the twilight cold and gray,
Excelsior! It is impossible to believe that the series of events described here could ever have been perceived, except, perhaps, in a dream ; which this tale does not purport to
represent. Of course there is in the poem an underlying moral; but this could have been brought out just as well, and better, in connection with a form representative of what really takes place on the earth. The following is a specimen of Longfellow's more artistic method :
The day is cold, and dark, and dreary ;
- The Rainy Day : Longfellow. Even in the last stanza of this, however, some would say that there is too much of a tendency to moralize. This tendency which Longfellow manifests, in common with Whittier and most of our American poets, is something that of course, in its way, is inartistic; not that a poem should have no moral, but, as has been said before, that this should be represented rather than stated. But the power to represent, as all art should represent,—as well as the artistic sense to appreciate such a representation when it has been produced, -seems, as yet, not to have been fully developed among us. Most of us appear to think that thought alone constitutes poetry, or, if not this, at least thought in connection with a strong and metrical expression of it, without regard to other features
necessary to render its character in all respects representative.
The truth is, however,--and this is the truth which the whole line of our argument has been intended to emphasize,-that poetry is more than thought; it is more even than a strong and metrical expression of thought. The mere fact that a girl was drowned on the sands of Dee, or that three fishermen were lost at sea, is not enough to account for the interest that we take in Charles Kingsley's O Mary, Go and Call the Cattle Home, and The Fishermen. It is his poetry that interests us; and by his poetry we mean the representative way in which he has told these tales. So with reference to any statements of facts or opinions. If Wordsworth had said that Milton had a bright intellect and lived a comparatively solitary life, few would have found his words particularly interesting, or noteworthy; but when, in his sonnet on that poet, he said:
Thy soul was like a star and dwelt apart,
the representative nature of his statement, giving it form and beauty-which latter exists, if at all, as a characteristic of form,-made his expression at once attractive and fitted it to be remembered. So, again, it is not Pope's authority, nor the thought in the following lines, which gives them such a value that they are inserted in every book of quotations; it is the representative form in which the thoughts are expressed, without which form, mere statements to the effect that order must characterize heaven, or that wise and good men are cautious, would not be deemed deserving of remembrance.
Order is heaven's first law.
-Essay on Man, 4:
For fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
-Essay on Criticism, 3. Damn with faint praise.
-Epis. to Dr. Arbuthnot.
-Epis. of Horace, ii., 1 ; Trs.
--Essay on Man, 4. In one word, then, the important thing that needs to be borne in mind in judging of poetry, is that it is an art, and partakes of the nature of the fine arts; and that, as such, its one essential is a representative form appealing to a man through that which causes him to admire the beautiful. Tennyson has expressed this truth well in what he calls The Moral of his Day-Dream.
So, Lady Flora, take my lay,
And if you find no moral there,
What moral is in being fair.
The wildweed-flower that simply blows ?
Within the bosom of the rose ? But he has suggested in his next stanza another truth that needs to be considered in connection with the last, before all the facts concerning the functions of poetry in the world can be understood.
But any man that walks the mead
In bud, or blade, or bloom, may find,
A meaning suited to his mind.
In Art like Nature, dearest friend,
Should hook it to some useful end.
THE USEFUL ENDS OF POETIC REPRESENTATION.
These are all developed from Possibilities and Methods of Expression un
derlying equally the Formation of Poetic and of all Language—Poetry forced to recognize that Nature symbolizes Processes of Thought-Influence of this Recognition upon Conceptions of Truth, Human and Divine, Scientific and Theologic-And its Effects upon Feeling and Action-Conclusion.
PERHAPS this discussion of poetry as a representa
tive art can be brought to a close in no better way than by dwelling for a moment upon the thought suggested by the stanza at the end of the last chapter. Poetry is not, in a technical sense, a useful art, yet its forms have their uses, and many uses—as many, in fact, as have the forms of nature itself, which poetry, when it fulfils its mission, employs in its representations. To give a complete list of these uses here would be irrelevant. It is sufficient to suggest, that in the last analysis all of them are developed from possibilities and methods of expression, underlying the formation of all language but especially of poetic language.
Language involves, as we have found, a representation of mental facts and processes through the use of analogous external facts and processes, which alone are apprehensible to others, and which alone, therefore, can make others apprehend our thoughts. But facts and processes fitted to furnish such representations may be