Verse was used by all the ancients. Versing and rhyming did not make a poet. There are lines in rhyme which seem to be poetry, but may be very poor in subject-matter, language, style and appeal; hence cannot be called true poetry. Nursery rhymes have in them both versing and rhyming, yet they cannot be called true poetry. True poetry must have universality of appeal to all the ages, all the people, all the countries. On the other hand, there were a host of poets who did not versify and there were a swarm of versifiers who could not claim the name of Poets. “One may be poet without versing and a versifier without poetry. Verse was not the soul of poetry but it was a beautiful garb to beautify it. Verse polished poetry. It is the fit speech for music that strikes the heart and goes into it.”
Sidney had heard of the different charges against poetry. Verse was attacked by the critics. Sidney maintained that verse was an ornament of poetry. Versing and rhyming helped in memorizing the poem and its virtuous action.
In his praise of unrhymed classical verse, Sidney’s membership of the ‘Areopagus’ is noteworthy. Sidney was following Aristotle and most of the Italian critics in denying verse to be the essential element in poetry.
So it was not rhyming and versing that mattered more; they were like ornaments, like garbs to beautify a body. Poetry must have a body and soul of its own. It must have rich imagination and power to appeal. It must have good, noble and lofty subject; it must have a suitable style and language. Poetry must be able to teach and delight. Poetry is full of virtue; it has divine origin, prophetic nature, cultural value, universal appeal, elevating power and alluring methods. Most excellent poets have existed who never versified, and ‘now swarm many versifiers that need never answer to the name of poets’. Xenophon and Heliodorus are the examples of great poets who did neither versify nor rhyme. Heliodorus wrote in prose but made a poetic picture of the love of Theagenes and Chariclea. These examples go to prove that “it is not rhyming and versing that maketh a poet—nor more than a long gown maketh an advocate, who though he pleaded in armour should be an advocate and no soldier. But it is that feigning not able images of virtues, vices, or what else, with that delightful teaching, which must be, the right describing note to know a poet by, although indeed almost all the poets have written in verse.
Music, he says, is ‘the most divine striker of the senses’ and verse lends music to poetry. Hence its charm and appeal. “Moreover, the exquisite observing of number and measure in words. …did seem to have some divine force in it.” It is easier to learn through verse and retain it in memory. That is why some of other arts such as Grammar, Logic, Mathematics, etc. compile their rules in verse. Hence verse has been preferred by poets for long.
It will be noticed here, as J.W.H. Atkins has pointed out that “in denying verse to be the essential element in poetry” Sidney was following
the lead of Aristotle and most of the Italian critics…………. In practice, however, Sidney was conscious that verse, if not the essence, was at least a necessary and inseparable element of poetry.” This is evident from his criticism of contemporary poetry.” This is evident from his criticism of contemporary poetry towards the end of the Apologie. There Sidney confines his attention only to those practical works which are composed in verse. This is significant to understand his real attitude towards the use of verse in poetry.
POINTS TO REMEMBER
1. Versing and rhyming are not compulsory elements and attributes of poetry. They increase musicality and help in memorising things; they in themselves are not poetry.
2. They are like a garment of an advocate, not the advocate himself.
3. It is not rhyming and versing that maketh poetry. It is the power to move, to delight, to elevate, to transport that maketh a piece of literature truly poetic.
4. Most excellent poetic works without rhyming and versing have existed; and there are numerous versifiers who have never proved themselves to be great pets.
5. Xenophon and Heliodorus are the examples of great poets who did neither versify nor rhyme.
6. Universal appeal, power to teach and delight, language, images etc. make a composition truly poetic, not metre.