The Study of Poetry

I. The Nature and Elements of Poetry. What is Poetry ?—Some Definitions—Some Elements of Poetry—Poetry as a Form of Art—Poetry and Metre—The Significance of Rhythm—Rhythm a Natural Vehicle of Poetic Feeling.

II. Poetry as an Interpretation of Life. Poetry and Science—Poetic Truth—Fidelity of Fact in Poetry— The “Pathetic Fallacy”—The Poetic Use of Scientific Knowledge—Another Aspect of Poetic Truth—Poetry the Complement of Science. III. Poetry as Revelation. Poetry and Life—The Revealing Power of Poetry—The Ultimate Standard of Greatness in Poetry—Didacticism in Poetry. IV. The Classification of Poetry. The Two Great Divisions of Poetry—Subjective Poetry—Its Simpler Forms—Meditative and Philosophical Poetry—The Ode—The Elegy—Other Kinds of Subjective Poetry—Objective Poetry—The Ballad—The Epic—The Metrical Romance—Other Kinds of Narrative Poetry—Dramatic Poetry. V. The Study of Poetic Form. The Elements of English Metre— Metrical Variation—Characteristics of Different Metres—Rime— Stanzas—Blank Verse—Other Aspects of Poetic Technique. VI. The Study of Poetry and the Appreciation of Poetry. The Study of Poetry—The Appeciation of Poetry.

Were we challenged to answer off-hand the question, What is poetry? most of us would probably be inclined to evade it with the words which St. Augustine once used in reference to other matters—”If not asked, I know ; if you ask me, I know not.” A certain instinctive sence of what constitutes poetry we all have ; but to translate this into exact language seems difficult, if not impossible. Nor, I imagine, should we be likely to find much practical help in even the most careful consideration of the innumerable definitions which from time to time have been offered by critics of poetry and by poets themselves. A few of these may be quoted by way of illustration.
Poetry, says Johnson, is “metrical composition”; it is “the art of uniting pleasure with truth by calling imagination to the help of reason”; and its “essence” is “invention.” “What is poetry,” asks Mill, “but the thought and words in which emotion spontaneously embodies itself ?” “By poetry,” says Macaulay, “we mean the art of employing words in such a manner as to produce an illusion on the imagination, the art of doing by means of words what the painter does by means of colours.” Poetry, declares Carlyle, “we will call Musical Thought.” Poetry, says Shelley, “in a general sense may be defined as the expression of the imagination” ; it is, says Hazlitt, the language of the imagination and the passions” ; says Leigh Hunt, “the utterance of a passion for truth, beauty, and power, embodying and illustrating its conceptions by imagination and fancy, and modulating its language on the principle of variety in unity.” In Coleridge’s view, poetry is the antithesis of science, having for its immediate object pleasure, not truth; in Wordsworth’s phrase, it “is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge,” and “the impassioned expression which is in the countenance of all science.” According to Matthew Arnold, it “is simply the most delightful and perfect form of utterance that human words can reach” ; it is “nothing less than the most perfect speech of man, that in which he comes nearest to being able to utter the truth;it is “a criticism of life under the conditions fixed for such a criticism by the laws of poetic truth and poetic beauty. According to Edgar Allan Poe, it is “the rhythmic creation of beauty”; according to Keble, “a vent for overcharged feeling or a full imagination.” It expresses, says Doyle, our “dissatisfaction with what is present and close at hand.” Ruskin defines it as “the suggestion, by the imagination, of noble grounds for the noble emotions” ;Prof. Courthope, as “the art of producing pleasure by the just expression of imaginative thought and feeling in metrical language” ; Mr. Watts-Dunton, as “the concrete and artistic expression of the human mind in emotional and rhythmical language.”
This list of definitions might be extended through many pages; but the above examples will suffice to indicate the enormous difficulties which beset every attempt to imprison the protean life of poetry in the cast-iron terms of a logical formula, and the measure of success which has been reached. How far they help us, separately or in combination, to answer the question, what is poetry ? is a matter which each reader must decide for himself. Suggestive, one and all, they doubtless are. Yet when we look at them critically, and compare them with one another, certain disturbing facts about them become clear. They are almost distracting in their variety because the subject is approached from many different points of view. Some, strictly speaking, fail to define, because they express rather what is poetical in general, wherever it may be found, than what is specifically poetry. Some, on the other hand, are too narrow and exclusive, because they recognise only the particular kind of poetry in which the writer happened to be personally interested. And all are necessarily so abstract in statement that, whatever may be their philosophic value, they leave us in a region very remote from that world of concrete reality in which we move when we are reading poetry itself.
It is fortunate for us, then, as students, not of æsthetic theory, but of poetry, that we need not concern ourselves greatly to begin with about formulas and definitions, and the controversies about the ideal aims of poetry which these will often be found to involve. At the same time, some preliminary inquiry into the commoner qualities of poetry is manifestly necessary, since otherwise we should start on our work without any principles to guide us. Our initial task must therefore be, not to seek a formula of definition but—a very different, and happily a much simpler thing—to mark out some of the characteristics of poetry which, when we take it as we find it, seem on the whole to be fairly general and constant.
We have said that literature is an interpretation of life as life shapes itself in the mind of the interpreter. What, then it has to be asked, is the essential element in that interpretation of life which we describe as poetical? We have only to think carefully of the connotations of the word poetical and an answer will at once suggest itself. By poetical we understand the emotional and the imaginative. In this sense we use the word in current conversation to describe a person, a book (whatever its subject or form), a picture, an idea thrown out in talk. By the poetical interpretation of life, therefore, we mean a treatment of its facts, experiences, problems, in which the emotional and imaginative elements predominate. It is one chief characteristic of poetry, then that whatever it touches in life, it relates to our feelings and passions, while at the same time by the exercise of imaginative power it both transfigures existing realities and “gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.” Hence the emphasis thrown in sundry of the definitions we have quoted upon the emotional and imaginative attributes of poetry ; and hence Bacon’s conception of poetry as the idealistic handling of life which lends “some shadow of satisfaction to the mind of man in those points wherein the nature of things doth deny it.”
The full significance of poetry as an interpretation of life through imagination and feeling will be made apparent when we come presently to deal with the relations of poetry and science, and with the properties of poetic truth. Another aspect of the matter has first to be considered.
When we speak of imagination and feeling as predominating in poetry we mean to distinguish these as general and constant characteristics of the poetic treatment of life ; but we do not mean to say that their presence, even in the highest degree, is itself sufficient to constitute poetry. We may regard them as essential qualities of all true poetry, and we may insist that without them even that which offers itself as poetry, and is commonly accepted as such, must, as lacking these differentia, be pronounced unworthy of the name. But they are not the only essential qualities, because they may exist in what we should agree to call poetic prose, which is not the less to be denominated prose because it possesses these poetic attributes. The common way of looking at this matter seems to me perfectly sound. There is much ‘poetry’ which is purely ‘prosaic’ ; there is much ‘prose’ which is markedly ‘poetical’ ; but a dividing line between prose and poetry still exists. What does this imply? It implies that poetry, specifically so termed, is a particular kind of art; that it arises only when the poetic qualities of imagination and feeling are embodied in a certain form of expression. That form is, of course, regularly rhythmical language, or metre. Without this, we may have the spirit of poetry without its externals. With this, we may have the externals of poetry without its spirit. In its fullest and completest sense, poetry presupposes the union of the two.
Here, indeed, as must be frankly said, we touch upon a question concerning which there has been much controversy ; for many critics have categorically denied that poetry has anything to do with form. Thus Sir Philip Sidney, while he acknowledges that “the greatest part of Poets have apparelled their poetical inventions in that numbrous kinde of writing which is called verse,” maintains that verse is “apparell” only, “being but an ornament and no cause to poetry ; sith there hath beene many most excellent Poets, that have never versified, and now swarme many versifiers that neede never aunswere to the name of Poets.” Bacon took the same ground when he stated that the “feigning,” which was for him the peculiar function of poetry, may be “as well in prose as in verse.” Coleridge, too, emphatically declares that “poetry of the highest kind may exist without metre,” and cites the writings of Plato and Jeremy Taylor, and even Burnet’s Theory of the Earth, as “undeniable proofs” of his assertion. In these and in other similar cases, as in some of the definitions which have been quoted, the poetical qualities of thought and manner are emphasised to the exclusion of all consideration of poetry as a specific kind of art. But from the other side the reply has come that, whatever else poetry may or may not involve, the employment of a systematically rhythmical language is one of its necessary conditions. It has been contended by some,” writes Leigh Hunt, “that poetry need not be written in verse at all ; that prose is as good a medium, provided poetry be conveyed through it ; and that to think otherwise is to confound letter with spirit, or form with essence. But the opinion is a prosaical mistake. Fitness or unfitness for song, or metrical excitement, make all the difference between a poetical and prosaical subject ; and the reason why verse is necessary to the form of poetry is that the perfection of the poetical spirit demands it—that the circle of its enthusiasm, beauty, and power, is incomplete without it.” This undoubtedly overstates the case for form, since the writer appears to ignore the fact that the truest spirit of poetry has often been expressed, and very adequately expressed, without recourse to the medium of verse. The difference in question, as I understand it, is not nece­ssarily between a “poetical” and a “prosaical” subject, but between the forms in which perhaps the same subject may be handled. Treated in prose, it may be made richly poetical ; but only when treated in metre is it fashioned into actual poetry. If poetry, then, as regards its substance and spirit, is the antithesis of science, or matter of fact, as Wordsworth and Coleridge rightly insisted, it is nonetheless to be distinguished from prose, as regards its form, by the systematically rhythmical character of its language.
This view receives important support from one great critic who, on general principles, might rather have been expected to oppose it. Carlyle thought of the poet always as the seer, and many of his own pages might be adduced as splendid examples of poetry in prose. Yet he distinctly says :—”For my own part, I find considerable meaning in the old vulgar distinction of poetry being metrical, having music in it” ; though he characteristically adds that there is much in the form of poetry which was under no “inward necessity” to be in that form at all, and had for better therefore have been in plain prose. Thus also, Matthew Arnold, despite his pre-occupation with the idea of poetry as a “criticism of life,” lays stress upon “the essential difference between imaginative production in verse, and imaginative production in prose.” The “rhythm and measure” of poetry, he maintains, “elevated to a regularity, certainty, and force very different from that of the rhythm and measure which can pervade prose, are a part of its perfection.”
That in thus asserting metre to be one of the general and constant characteristics of poetry and in making it the chief, point of distinction between poetry and prose, we involve ourselves in various critical difficulties, is not to be denied. Whateley’s declaration that “any composition in verse, and none that is not, is always called, whether good or bad, a poem, by all who have no favourite hypothesis to maintain,” is obviously correct. Yet it seems a hard saying, for to accept it means that we are bound to admit under the head of poetry much that we should be tempted to exclude, and to exclude much that we should like to admit. To call Garth’s Dispensary poetry, and to deny the name to some of the magnificent imaginative and emotional passages in Sartor Resartus, seems at first a strange abuse of the word. Nothing but “poetry, Mr. Frederic Harrison urges, can properly express what we find in portions of the Morte d’ Arthur and in some of the chapters of Job and Isaiah. Mr. Bagehot goes farther, confessing that he cannot “draw with any confidence” the “exact line which separates grave novels in verse, like Aylmer’s Field or Enoch Arden from grave novels not in verse, like Silas Marner or Adam Bede”; and such uncertainty as to precise boundaries becomes greater if we substitute for the narrative poems named such works as The Inn Album, Aurora Leigh, Lucile, and Faithful For Ever, in which the resemblance to prose fiction is much more marked. Other questions start up on every side. What, for example, it may be asked, are we to say about the hundreds of lines in The Excursion which have often been described as “prose cut into lines of equal length,” and in which, as even the most devoted Wordsworthian will admit, of all poetical qualities that of metrical form alone is retained ? Does a poem cease to be a poem when it is turned into the prose of another language ? Are the Psalms no longer poems when we read them in our ordinary English version ? Is the Odyssey only a prose tale in Butcher and Lang’s admirable translation, while it remains a poem in Pope’s immeasurably less poetical as well as less accurate rendering ? And how are we to deal with the many experiments which from time to time have been made in productions which are intended to be read and judged as poetry, but in which regularity of rhythm is abandoned, and the language used may be said to hover between verse and prose ; such as Macpherson’s Ossian, the rhapsodies of Blake, Gessner’s Death of Abel, imitated by Rousseau in his Lévite d’ Ephraim and by Coleridge in his fragmentary Wanderings of Cain, Fénelon’s Télémaque, Chateaubriand’s Les Martyrs, the Prose Poems of Turgenev, and (most important of all in recent discussions as to form) Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass ? These questions show the futility of attempting to enforce hard and fast distinctions in matters in which the border lines are often undefined and the territories overlap, and in which, therefore, the widest differences in point of view must always be allowed for; and they should be borne in mind as a warning against dogmatism. Yet on the whole, we may safely adhere to the “old vulgar distinction” referred to by Carlyle. Without discussing the abstract problem whether regularity of rhythm is essential to a complete definition of poetry, and without considering whether we may not have to recognise, here and there, exceptions to our rule, we may lay it down as a principle that metre always has been and still is the most general and constant feature of poetry on the side of form. This it is, therefore, which we have to accept as the fundamental quality of poetry conceived as a distinct kind of literary art. Only in fact by an extension of its meaning and by a certain license of speech is the word poetry to be applied to any composition, no matter how high may be its poetical energy of thought and expression, which is not in verse.
Of the significance of rhythm in poetry much might be said, but the subject is too large and too intricately entangled with questions of psychology, to be dealt with in detail here. A few points only may be touched upon in passing.
In the first place, even if the relation between rhythmical form and poetical substance and feeling were only an accidental one, the ordered measure of verse would still hold its ground as an important accessory of poetry, because it adds greatly to the aesthetic pleasure which it is a chief function of poetry to afford. So familiar is this fact that to mention it is enough. A few theorists may argue in favour of the ‘liberation’ of poetry from the formal restraints of metre ; a few practical exponents of the creed of enfranchisement may cast these restraints aside ; but the vast majority of those who love poetry will acknowledge that the definitely regulated music of its language is one peculiar element in the satisfaction yielded by it. It is indeed by the use of this wonderful instrument that, as a means of producing æsthetic pleasure, poetry maintains an advantage over ‘the other harmony’—the loose and unregulated rhythm—of prose. Metre, then, we may rightly call, with Arnold, a “part of its perfection.”
It is, however, in the second place, a part of the perfection of poetry in a much more important sense than is implied if we rest in the assumption that it is nothing but a mere accessory. A mere accessory in fact it is not. It is rather the form which the poetic spirit seeks spontaneously to fashion for itself and as such, it ‘perfects’ poetry by providing it with its most natural and adequate means of expression. “Ever since man has been man,” says Mill, “all deep and sustained feeling has tended to express itself in rhythmical language, and the deeper the feeling the more characteristic and decided the rhythm.” It is this psychological truth which lies at the root of the almost universal connection—which is therefore a casual, and not simply an accidental connection—between poetic feeling and metrical diction. It has often been noted as a striking proof of the closeness of the relationship that what is known as impassioned, or oratorical prose—prose which is fraught with strong imagination and emotion—commonly exhibits, as in many passages in the poetic books of our English Bible, a rhythmical emphasis which distinctly approaches, though it does not actually reach, the regulated cadences of verse.
Nor is this all. It was noted by Hegel that the use of verse in a given piece of literature serves in itself to lift us into a world quite different from that of prose or everyday life. The German philosopher was thinking only of the influence of verse upon the reader. But that his remark has wider bearings is strikingly shown by the testimony furnished by a great German poet to the effect produced upon the poet himself by the substitution of the medium of verse for that of prose. “I have never before,” writes Schiller to Goethe, “been so palpably convinced as in my present occupation”—which was that of turning a prose composition into verse—”how closely in poetry Substance and Form are connected. Since I have begun to transform my prosaic language into a poetic rhythmical one, I find myself under a totally different jurisdiction ; even many motives which in the prosaic execution seemed to me to be perfectly in place, I can no longer use ; they were merely good for the common domestic understanding, whose organ prose seems to be ; but verse absolutely demands reference to the imagination : and thus I was obliged to become poetical in many of my motives.” The interest of this passage, as will be seen, lies in the fact that in it the relation between poetic substance and metrical form is regarded from an unusual point of view. Commonly we think of poetic feeling as fashioning metrical form for its expression. Schiller helps us to realise the intimacy of the connection between them by emphasising the influence of poetic form in stimulating the poetic spirit.
We may conclude, therefore, that while verse is of course often used as the vehicle of purely prosaic thought, it ought not to be so used ; and that conversely, while an exalted mood of passion and imaginative ecstacy may often find utterance in prose, prose is not its most appropriate or even its most natural medium. The offices of prose and verse are, in fact, distinct ; and their distinction is not fortuitous nor arbitrary, but vital. Thus it is that in all true poetry that union of substance and form, of which Schiller speaks, is so organic and complete that it impresses us with a conviction of its absolute inevitability. For this reason we may acquiesce in Herbert Spencer’s grim remark that “no one should write verse if he can help it.”
This, however, is only one side of the matter. There is another side which, from the standpoint of the reader, is even more important.
Metre, like music, makes in itself a profound appeal to the feelings. Merely to arrange words in a definitely rhythmical order is to endow them, as by some secret magic, with a new and subtle emotional power—to touch them with a peculiar suggestiveness which in themselves, simply as words conveying such and such meanings, they do not possess. Why this is, the student of literature must leave it to the psychologist to explain. For him it is a fact, and a fact of the utmost interest and significance. He knows that the recurrent beats and pauses, the rapid march or the languid movement, of verses read to him in a language he does not understand, will often stir him, as he is stirred by sonata or symphony, to moods of martial excitement or pensive melancholy ; and from this he learns—what otherwise, indeed, his whole experience should have taught him—that metre is a powerful aid in the emotionalisation of thought, and that the various metrical forms in which the poet most naturally and appropriately embodies his feeling, are also, of all possible forms, the most potent to excite the reader’s feeling to a sympathetic response. “How much the power of poetry depends upon the nice inflections of rhythm alone, may be proved,” as James Montgomery pointed out, “by taking the finest passages of Milton and Shakespeare, and merely putting them into prose, with the least possible variation of the words themselves. The attempt would be like gathering up dewdrops, which appear jewels and pearls on the grass, but run into water in the hand; the essence and the elements remain, but the grace, the sparkle, and the form are gone.”
More than ever, then, it is evident that metre is no mere accessory or conventional ornament of poetry, but a vital product of the poetic spirit, and that the common sense of the world is right in regarding it—whatever occasional exceptions may have to be made—as a distinctive and fundamental characteristic of poetry as a form of art.
We may now inquire a little more particularly into the purport of the statement that poetry is an interpretation of life through the imagination and the feelings. We can best approach this subject by noting the fundamental difference between poetry and science.
The world with which science deals is what we commonly call the world of fact ; by which we properly mean the world of physical actuality objectively considered. The business of the scientist, as the current phrase has it, is with things as they are in themselves. He studies their forms and organisations, their qualities, characteristics, and connections ; he collates and classifies them; he investigates the conditions and processes under and by which they have come to be what they are. Each science treats of some one aspect of the external world in this purely objective way ; while science in the larger sense advances from fact to generalisation, and from generalisation to still more and more comprehensive generalisations, thus seeking to reduce the multiplicity and apparent confusion of the universe to unity and order. Science, therefore, aims to afford a systematic and rational explanation of things—an explanation which shall include their natures, genesis, and history—in terms of cause, effect, and physical law. With what remains after such explanation has been given, science as science has nothing to do.
Yet no fact of experience can be more familiar or more patent than this—that with what remains after such explanation has been given we ourselves have a great deal to do. In our daily converse with the world we are indeed chiefly interested, not in things as they are in themselves, but with the aspect which they bear and the appeal which they make to our emotional natures. While we are actually engaged in scientific study we may, it is true, think of the universe merely as a vast aggregation of phenomena to be examined, catalogued, accounted for ; but in our common human dealings with it, we do not so think of it. When science has provided us with its completest rationale of things, we are still primarily impressed by their mystery and beauty. No explanation can ever destroy this impression ; rather, we may say that every explanation will serve only to intensify it. In this simple fact we have to seek both the foundation and the permanent significance of poetry. Though the mystery and beauty of the world are habitually recognised by us, they are recognised for the most part only in a vagus and sluggish way. There are, however, moods of heightened feeling in which they come home to us with special vividness and power. It is then that we are deeply stirred to delight or wonder, to gratitude or reverent awe. Out of such moods poetry springs ; to such moods it addresses itself. It reports to us of things from their emotional and spiritual sides. It expresses and interprets their appeal to us, and our response to them. It is thus at once the antithesis and the complement of science.
“Poetry,” says Leigh Hunt, “begins where matter of fact or of science ceases to be merely such, and to exhibit a further truth, the connection it has with the world of emotion, and its power to produce imaginative pleasure. Inquiring of a gardener, for instance, what flower it is 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 poetical 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 splendour.”
In one sense, of course, this passage is unsatisfactory. It gives a wholly inadequate idea of the work of science. For science is not merely nomenclature and classification, and it has a great deal more to tell us about the lily than that, according to the Linnaean system, it is “of the order of Hexandria monogynia.” Yet, allowance made for this superficiality, the relation of poetic description to scientific fact is quite felicitously indicated. The botanist may dissect the “flower in the crannied wall,” and, with its tiny members laid out before him, may discourse to us of its bracts and petals, its stamens and pistils. That everything he has to tell us will prove profoundly interesting and wonderful, I need not pause to insist.  Yet, after all,  the  botanist’s dissected flower is not our flower—is not the flower that we actually know and love ; nor does his most elaborate analysis of it help us in the least to realise more keenly, what we often specially want to realise, the delight which we experience in its simple sweetness and beauty. For any vivid sense of such sweetness and beauty, for any translation into words of the pleasure they give us, we have rather to turn to the poet who, by his imaginative handling of his subject, catches the meaning that it has for us, and expresses, with absolute fidelity and stimulating power, the feelings to which it gives birth in ourselves. For this reason Matthew Arnold is perfectly right in maintaining that “the grand power of poetry” is “the power of so dealing with things as to awaken in us a wonderfully full, new, and intimate sense of them, and of our relations with them.” “I will not now inquire,” Arnold continues, “whether this sense is illusive, whether it can be proved not to be illusive, whether it does absolutely make us possess the real nature of things ; all I say is, that poetry can awaken it in us, and that to awaken it is one of the highest powers of poetry. The interpretations of science do not give us this intimate sense of objects as the interpretations of poetry give it ; they appeal to a limited faculty, and not to the whole man. It was not Linnaeus or Cavendish or Cuvier who gives us the true sense of animals, or water, or plants, who seizes their secret, who makes us participate in their life ; it is Shakespeare, with his
That come before the swallow dares, and take
The winds of arch with beauty” ;
it is Wordsworth, with his
‘voice… heard
In spring-time from the cuckoo-bird,
Breaking the silence of the seas
Among the farthest Hebrides” ;
it is Keats, with his
‘moving waters at their priest-like task
Of pure ablution round Earth’s human shores’ ;
it is Chateaubriand with his ‘cime indéterminée des foréts’ ; it is Senancour, with his mountain birch-tree : ‘Cette écorce blanche. lisse et crevassée ; cette tige agreste ; ces branches qui s’inclinent vers la terre ; la mobilité des feuilles, et tout cet abandon, simplicite de la nature, attitude des déserts.’ “ 
The relations of poetic interpretation to scientific fact should now be sufficiently clear ; but, as the subject is one of fundamental interest in the consideration of the place and functions of poetry, space may be found for one further illustration. This I take from the pages of Mr. Edmund Clarence Stedman’s book on The Nature and Elements of Poetry. “The portrayal of things as they seem,” which is the special business of the artist, whatever his medium may be, “conveys,” as Mr. Stedman rightly argues, “a truth just as important as that other truth which the man of analysis and demonstration imparts to the intellect” when he exhibits things as they are in themselves; and this doctrine he enforces by reference to the difference between the scientist’s treatment and the poet’s treatment of a storm on the Atlantic coast. “The poet says:
When descends on the Atlantic
The gigantic
Storm-wind of the Equinox,
Landward in his wrath he scourges
The toiling surges
Laden with sea-weed from the rocks.
Or take this stanza by a later balladist :
The East Wind gathered, all unknown,
A thick sea-cloud his course before :
He left by night the frozen zone,
And smote the cliffs of Labrador ;
He lashed the coasts on either hand,
And betwixt the Cape and Newfoundland
Into the bay his armies pour.
All this impersonification and fancy is translated by the Weather Bureau into something like the following:
” ‘An area of extreme low pressure is rapidly moving up the Atlantic coast, with wind and rain. Storm-centre now off Charleston, S.C. Wind N.E. Velocity, 54. Barometer, 29.6. The disturbance will reach New York on Wednesday, and proceed eastward to the Banks and Bay of St. Lawrence. Danger-signals ordered for all North Atlantic ports.’ “
With these contrasted passages before us we have no difficulty in realizing the weight of Mr. Stedman’s contention that the imaginative rendering of fact is in its own way just as important as the plain statement of it. But we may go even farther than this, and assert that from one point of view the imaginative rendering contains a quality of vital truth which is not to be found in the plain statement. For which gives us the more genuine and vivid sense of a storm as we ourselves actually feel it—the “impersonification and fancy” of the poet, or the colourless and unimpassioned language of the Weather Bureau bulletin ? The question can easily be decided by a direct appeal to experience. Let anyone who has ever enjoyed a great gale on some rocky seacoast turn to the meteorologist’s dry catalogue of phenomena and ask himself if any suggestion of the life and reality of what he then witnessed and felt be in it. For the life and reality of the storm he will have to go to the poet’s imaginative version of it.
We are thus able to realise the essential quality of poetic truth. By poetic truth we do not mean fidelity to facts in the ordinary acceptation of the term. Such fidelity we look for in science. By poetic truth we mean fidelity to our emotional apprehension of facts, to the impression which they make upon us, to the feelings of pleasure or pain, hope or fear, wonder or religious reverence, which they arouse. Our first test of truth in poetry, therefore, is its accuracy in expressing, not what things are in themselves, but their beauty and mystery, their interest and meaning for us.
Here, then, we reach the full significance of poetry as an interpretation of life—the life of nature and the life of humanity— through the imagination and the feelings. To prevent possible misapprehension, however, several points have now to be considered.
In the first place, it is not to be assumed that because a poet’s principal concern is with the beauty and mystery, the human interest and meaning of the things with which he deals, he is under no restraint or obligation in respect of objective reality. Such assumption is, indeed, a not uncommon one ; yet a moment’s thought will convince us that it is utterly erroneous. The poet, it is true, gives us that intimate sense of things and of our relations with them, of which Arnold speaks, by touching them with imagination and feeling, and linking them with our own life. But we none the less demand of him that his vision of the world shall still be a clear and steady vision, and that absolute fidelity shall be his guiding principle in all his renderings of perceived facts. All poetry has to be tried by the criterion of this fidelity, for it belongs to the essential foundations of poetic greatness. When, for example, Oliver Wendell Holmes speaks of the crocus as the “spenthrift crocus…with his cup of gold,” he does what the poet should do—he touches the flower with imagination and feeling, and links it with our own life ; and by so doing, he doubtless gives the careless or ignorant reader a lively sense of its beauty and charm. But for the reader who really knows the crocus, and who has himself watched it closely, the magic of his description is spoilt by its unveracity ; since, as Ruskin pointed out, the crocus cannot rightly be called “spendthrift,” for it is a hardy plant, while its yellow is not gold but saffron. Here, then, we have a case in which the imaginative handling of natural fact is unsatisfactory because it wants the basis of reality ; the poetry is wrought, not out of, but at the expense of truth. The fidelity, and therefore the poetic value of some of Milton’s natural imagery have similarly been impugned on the score of lack of substantial knowledge and accuracy of detail. “A close observe of things around us would not speak”—as Milton does in L’Allegro and Il Penseroso—”of the eglantine as twisted, of the coswlip as wan, of the violet as glowing, or of the reed as balmy. Lycidas’, laureate herse it to be strewn at once with primrose and woodbine, daffodil and jasmine,” which indicates a strange confusion as to the flora of the seasons in the poet’s mind. “The pine is not ‘rooted deep as high’ (P.R. 4416), but sends its roots along the surface. The elm, one of the thinnest foliaged trees of the forest, is inappropriately named starproof (Arc. 89). Lightning does not singe the tops of trees (P.L i. 613), but either shivers them, or cuts a groove down the stem to the ground. These and other suchlike inaccuracies,” says Mr. Mark Pattison, by whom they are collected, “must be set down partly to conventional language used without meaning, the vice of Latin versification enforced as a task, but they are partly due to real defect of natural knowledge.” To us the source of such infidelity does not for the moment matter. The point now to be insisted upon is simply this—that, despite all popular ideas to the contrary, the imaginative handling of nature does not properly include, and must certainly not be held to excuse, such lax treatment of natural facts.
As a contrast to Milton’s occasional slips and conventionalisms we may note the detailed accuracy which almost invariably characterises Tennyson’s treatment of nature. In such passages as
More black than ashbuds in the front of March ;
A crowd of hopes,
That sought to sow themselves like winged seeds ;
Her hair,
In gloss and hue the chestnut, when the shell
Divides threefold to show the fruit within ;
In the spring a fuller crimson comes upon the robin’s breast;
In the spring the wanton lapwing gets himself another crest ; we know that the poet’s eye: has indeed been upon his object, that he has looked steadily at things for himself ; that he records carefully what he has seen. Such first-hand knowledge of the aspects of nature dealt with, and such fidelity in the treatment of them, must be reckoned among the elements of poetic truth. We can now see in what ways Bacon’s conception of poetry as mere ‘feigning’ has to be qualified before it can be accepted. The touch of imagination and feeling upon the outer world may often transfigure, but should never misrepresent or distort it. This principle holds good whether we consider the poet’s rendering of particular natural phenomena, as in the instances cited, or his treatment of nature in general or his interpretation of human life and experience.
It is often, it must be admitted, extremely difficult to distinguish between the poetic transfiguration of natural fact, which is entirely justifiable, because it gives us only another kind of truth, and that which is tantamount to misrepresentation, and should therefore be condemned. This question, though important, is one which is unfortunately too involved to be discussed fully within the narrow limits of the present section, and the briefest consideration of it must suffice. The reader will remember that it was definitely raised by Ruskin in his famous chapters on The Pathetic Fallacy and Classical Landscape in Modern Painters. By “pathetic fallacy”—an injudiciously chosen phrase, as a substitute for which Oliver Wendell Holmes proposed “sympathetic illusion” —Ruskin means our modern ‘subjective’ way of dealing with nature ; that is, our habit of transferring our own mental and emotional states to the things which we contemplate. This Ruskin pronounces a defect. Yet it cannot properly be regarded as such ; nor is he himself very clear or consistent in what he says in his criticism of it. He falls foul of Kingsley because in the ballad of The Sands of Dee he writes:
They rowed her in across the rolling foam—
The cruel, crawling foam;
“the foam is not cruel, neither does it crawl,” he protests and to speak of it in these terms is to falsify it. But he presently acknowledges that, while the epithets used “fallaciously describe foam,” they “faithfully describe sorrow” ; in other words, they truly reflect our feeling about the sea when in a mood of violent grief we think of it as a destructive agent. Again, he finds fault with the lines in which Keats depicts a wave breaking, out at sea:
Down whose green back the short-lived foam, all hoar.
Bursts gradual with a wayward indolence—
because salt water can be neither wayward nor indolent. Nonetheless he concedes that “the idea of the peculiar action with which foam rolls down a long, large wave could not have been given by any other words so well as by this wayward indolence.” Surely, therefore, Keats’s description furnishes us with an admirable example of poetic, as contradistinguished from scientific, truth. I have said this much because the question of the subjective treatment of nature in modern poetry is one which perpetually arises, and cannot therefore be passed over in silence. Without pursuing the matter further we may, I think, lay it down as a rule for our guidance that the translation of natural facts into terms of our own feelings is wrong only when those feelings are themselves morbid, or in the circumstances unreasonable or illegitimate, or when they are so violent as to render our vision of things untrustworthy and our transcript of them essentially untrue.
This brings us to another consideration. While the poet will always and of necessity deal largely with such aspects of things as appeal directly to the senses and the feelings, there is nothing to prevent him from penetrating beneath their surface, or from taking as his subject-matter those more recondite truths of nature which are revealed by science. There is thus a poetic interpretation of nature based upon scientific knowledge and the emotions stirred by this, as there is a poetic interpretation which limits itself to appearances and the emotions stirred by them. When the hero of Tennyson’s Maud soliloquises over the tiny shell which he picks up on the Breton coast :
See what a lovely shell
Small and pure as a pearl,
Lying close at my foot,
Frail, but a work divine,
Made so fairily well
With delicate spire and whorl,
How exquisitely minute,
A miracle of design ;
he gives us for the moment nothing beyond careful observation and appropriate feeling. But when his imagination begins to play about it and its history, and he continues :
The tiny shell is forlorn,
Void of the little living will
That made it stir on the shore.
Did he stand at the diamond door
Of his house in a rainbow frill ?
Did he push, when he was uncurl’d,
A golden foot or a fairy horn
Thro’ his dim water-world ?—
we see that he is drawing in part upon knowledge furnished by science to complete that given by observation. Herbert Spencer, writing as a scientist, tells us how much more the geologist can find in a highland glen than can ever be found there by deer stalker or ordinary tourist. “He, observing that the glacier-rounded rock he sits on has lost by weathering but half an inch of its surface since a time far more remote than the beginnings of human civilisation, and then trying to conceive the slow denudation which has cut out the whole valley, has thoughts of time, and power to which they are strangers— thoughts which, already utterly inadequate to their objects, he feels to be still more futile on noting the contorted beds of gneiss around, which tell him of a time immeasurably more remote, when far beneath the earth’s surface they were in a half-melted state, and again tell him of a time, immensely exceeding this in remoteness, when their components were sand and mud on the shores of an ancient sea.” Here in the mind of the scientist himself we have the mood of wonder arising from contemplation of the facts which science has brought to light—a mood, it is manifest, closely akin to the mood of poetry. It is by contemplation of the same facts that Tennyson is inspired to writer :
There rolls the deep where grew the tree.
O earth, what changes hast thou seen !
There where the long street roars, hath been
The stillness of the central sea.
The hills are shadows, and they flow
From form to form, and nothing stands ;
They melt like mist, the solid lands,
Like clouds they shape themselves and go.
In this case, it is evident, the poet is not thinking about the ordinary appearances of nature. He is thinking about what science has told him of the evolution of the world. His interpretation of nature is thus illuminated and transformed by science. Indeed, with a boldness possible only to one who has read the geologic record, he sets appearances at nought so completely that in his hands the hills become mere fleeting shadows—those everlasting hills which from time immemorial have been for men who judge by appearances alone the pillars of the universe and the very symbols of eternity.
Thus Wordsworth has the best of grounds of declaring that “the objects of the poet’s thoughts are everywhere,” and that “though the eyes and senses of man are, it is true, his favourite guides, yet he will follow wherever he can find an atmosphere of sensation in which to move his wings.” It may indeed be said that, as a really great poet is, of necessity, a great thinker—a point we shall have to return to presently— he can hardly fail to be interested in and influenced by, if not the separate discoveries and controversies of science, at any rate the large movements in thought to which these give rise. The new knowledge of the time, with all the changes which it brings about in men’s inherited beliefs and traditional views of the cosmic order and their relations with it, and all the fresh problems and speculations which it everywhere thrusts to the fore, must have an irresistible fascination for him on their emotional and spiritual sides. Their bearings for good or evil upon the cherished hopes and aspirations of the world will almost inevitably force themselves upon his attention ; and even if he does not make them the subjects of direct consideration, they are certain in countless subtle ways to enter into and colour the texture of his verse, as they enter into and colour the current thought of his age. So far from its being true, therefore, that the poet has nothing to do with the scientific knowledge of things, it may rather be maintained that the wider issues of that knowledge can never be entirely ignored by him ; while if he be a poet of the philosophic class, he will find himself specially tasked to challenge it in its relation with every question and interest belonging to the higher life of man. In an era of rapidly accumulating scientific discoveries and vast and far-reaching intellectual change, like our own, we must expect to encounter a certain amount of antagonism between science and poetry, in the same way and for the same reason as we must expect to encounter a certain amount of antagonism between science and religion. In the development of thought the feelings can never quite keep pace with the intellect ; and, as a result of this, the poet is, in the average of cases, conservative ; he clings by preference to what is old and familiar ; he is commonly repelled by what is new and strange. Hence, the spiritual unrest, the uncertainties, the struggles and doubts and pessimism, which were so marked among the characteristics of our Victorian poetry. The emotionalisation of knowledge is inevitably a slow and gradual process ; but meanwhile, one measure of a poet’s greatness as a thinker is his ability to perceive the possibility of it, and by his insight into the spiritual meanings of scientific fact, to point forward and help in its accomplishment.
It is an important implication of the high conception of poetic truth which we have now reached, that the poet who is a philosopher no less than the philosopher who is not a poet must be held responsible in the fullest degree for the soundness of the foundations upon which he builds his arguments and rests his conclusions. The widest margin may be allowed to every poet for the play of his imagination so long as his purpose is only to delight by the creation of beauty. But the moment he enters upon the work of a teacher, we demand that his teachings shall satisfy the understanding as well as engage the fancy and touch the heart. The application of this principle may be made clear by a single illustration.
In his Gebir, Landor has a striking passage dealing with the old notion that the murmuring of a sea-shell held to the ear is the reverberation of the sea-waves, still lingering in it:
But I have sinuous shells of pearly hue
Shake one and it awakens, them apply
Its polished lips to your attentive ear,
And it remembers its august abodes,
And murmurs as the ocean murmurs there.
Wordsworth in turn takes up the same pretty notion (indeed, Landor complained that he stole his shell), and this is the use to which he puts it:
I have seen
A curious child, who dwelt upon a tract
Of inland ground, applying to his ear
The convolution of a smooth-lipped shell ;
To which, in silence hushed, his very soul
Listened intensely ; and his countenance soon
Brightened with joy ; for from within were heard
Murmurings, whereby the monitor expressed
Mysterious union with its native sea.
Even such a shell the universe itself
Is to the ear of Faith ; and there are times,
I doubt not, when to you it doth impart
Authentic tidings of invisible things;
Of ebb and flow, and ever-during power ;
And central peace, subsisting at the heart
Of endless agitation.
Now it is evident that there is a very important difference between Landor’s treatment of the sea-shell’s murmur and Wordsworth’s. Landor employs it only as what Arnold would call “a play of fancy,” and as such it is excellent. Wordsworth presses it into the service of a transcendental philosophy, and since, as everybody knows, the alleged fact is not a real fact, the use of it for such a purpose only serves to make the philosophy itself seem unreal. Then a third poet, Mr. Eugene Lee-Hamilton, appears and, starting from Wordsworth’s parallelism between the sea-shell and the universe, boldly turns the argument upon the transcendentalist himself by contending that what is demonstrably illusion in the one case is unquestionably illusion also in the other :
The hollow sea-shell which for years hath stood
On dusty shelves, when held against the ear
Proclaims its stormy parent ; and we hear
The faint far murmur of the breaking flood.
We hear the sea. The sea ? It is the blood
In our own veins, impetuous and near,
And pulses keeping pace with hope and fear
And with our feelings’ ever-shifting mood.
Lo ! in my heart I hear, as in a shell,
The murmur of a world beyond the grave,
Distinct, distinct, though faint and far it be.
Thou fool ! this echo is a cheat as well,—
The hum of earthly instincts ; and we crave
A world unreal as the shell-heard sea.
We are not now called upon the inquire into the general value of Wordsworth’s transcendentalism, or of Lee-Hamilton’s reply. We have only to insist that, so far as this particular case of the sea-shell is concerned, Lee Hamilton is right, because he deals with the known fact of the matter, and Wordsworth wrong, because he gives us merely a bit of pleasing fancy. And the poet who assumes the role of teacher of philosophic truth must not invoke fancy to do the work of fact.
We need not here enter into any further discussion of poetic truth. Its general nature is now clear. In some curiously wild and whirling words, Macaulay once spoke of the truth that “is essential to poetry” as the “truth of madness,” and went on to declare that in poetry, though “the reasonings are just,” the “premises are false,” and that their acceptance “requires a degree of credulity which almost amounts to a partial derangement of the intellect.” No more glaringly absurd conception of poetry has ever been suggested by a critic of any pretensions; Mr. Gradgrind himself could hardly have improved upon it as an expression of utter Philistinism. Poetic truth is emphatically not the “truth of madness.” It has, on the contrary, and in the fullest sense of the term, the essential quality of sanity. It is the truth of things as seen, indeed, from a point of view different from that of science ; and it is this fact which misled Macaulay into his strange vagaries concerning it. But as we can never learn the whole truth of things until this other point of view has been taken—as to know things in their entirety means to know them in their poetic as well as in their scientific aspects and meanings—the truth of poetry while antithetical to that of science, is at the same time, as I have shewn, complementary to it ; and it has at least an equal importance.
Thus as Leigh Hunt says, to the poet “truth of every kind belongs . . . provided it can bud into any kind of beauty, or is capable of being illustrated and impressed by the poetic faculty.” Or, as Principal Shairp put it : “There is no truth cognisable by man which may not shape itself into poetry.   It   matters   not   whether   it   be   a   vision   of   nature’s on-goings, or a conception of the understanding, or some human incident, or some truth of the affections, or some moral sentiment, or some glimpse of the spiritual world ; any one of these may be so realised as to become fit subjects for poetic utterance. Only in order that it should be so, it is necessary that the object, whatever it is, should cease to be a merely sensible object, or a mere notion of the understanding, and pass inward,—pass out of the coldness of the merely notional region into the warm atmosphere of the life-giving imagination. Vitalised there, the truth shapes itself into living images which kindle the passion and affections, and stimulate the whole man. This is what has been called the real apprehension of truths, as opposed to the merely notional assent to them.” And this shows that poetic truth has a human value to which scientific truth cannot possibly lay claim.
We are now in a position to appreciate the relations of poetry to life, and the large part that it has to play in that comprehensive cultivation of all our faculties by which alone we can ever get out of life all that it has to afford.
One chief element of poetry is its revealing power. It opens our eyes to sensuous beauties and spiritual meanings in the worlds of human experience and of nature to which otherwise we should remain blind. There are few of us who have not some endowment of poetic insight and feeling, some measure of “the vision and the faculty divine.” But in the large majority of cases such poetic capacity as we possess, slight as it probably is at the best, is cramped by the ordinary conditions of existence, crippled by the mere material interests which fill so vast a place in our daily routine, and sometimes even consciously or unconsciously repressed. The true poet, whatever his range and quality, is one in whom the power of seeing and feeling the sensuous beauty and spiritual meaning of things exists in a pre-eminent degree, and to whom, moreover, another special  power has been granted—the power of so expressing and interpreting what he sees and feels as to quicken our own imaginations and sympathies, and to make us see and feel with him. Thus one great service that the poet renders to us is that of “awakening the mind’s attention to the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the loveliness and wonders of the world before us ; an inexhaustible treasure, but for which, in consequence of the film of familiarity and selfish solicitude, we have eyes, yet see not, ears that hear not, and hearts that neither feel nor understand.” This is why Browning calls poets the “makers-see,” and why Carlyle writes of them as “gifted to discern the god-like mysteries of God’s universe” ; and this is why we may describe every true poet, as Arnold once described Wordsworth, as “a priest to us all of the wonder and bloom of the world.” How much we need the poet’s help, how greatly we are benefited by it, a moment’s thought will show. For, as Browning puts it, speaking through the mouth of his Fra Lippo Lippi:
For, don’t you mark ? we’re made so that we love
First when we see them painted, things we have pass’d
Perhaps a hundred times, nor cared to see ;
And so they are better, painted—better to us,
Which is the same thing. Art was given for that.
This is a painter’s noble apologia for his own art. Manifestly, the poet might quite as justly say as much for his. Poetry, too, was given for that ; and in carrying out this great purpose, let us never forget, while it helps us directly by revealing fresh beauty and unsuspected significance in the actual things with which it deals, it does at the same time something more than this. It educates us to look at life for ourselves with more of a poet’s insight and power of comprehension ; it strengthens our own vision and sympathies ; and thus it develops within us the latent faculty of poetic interpretation.
Poetry, therefore, covers our relations with life at almost every point, appeals to nearly all our moods and finds its subject-matter in whatever, rightly treated, will yield poetic beauty and meaning. Thus every kind of poetry—even the poetry which touches things intrinsically trivial with the charm which it is its special function to give—has its efficacy and justification. Yet, if poetry be an interpretation of life through the imagination and the feelings, its essential greatness must ultimately be judged by the greatness of the power with which it handles life’s greatest and most abiding things—the things which belong to our highest experiences and interests. Since poetry is an art, it must, it is true, be estimated also with respect to its purely artistic or technical features. But this consideration must not blind us to the fact that poetic art is after all an embodiment of spirit and a vehicle of thought and feeling, and that it is from the character of the spirit, thought, and feeling which it expresses that it derives its substantial value. This does not involve any denial of the proposition that the immediate object of poetry, as of all other forms of art, is to give pleasure. It simply means that the quality of the pleasure itself must depend upon the nature of the subject-matter and the manner in which it is presented. From time to time we hear more than enough of “art for art’s sake.” But this vague and shadowy doctrine is, so far as the art of poetry is concerned, brought into contempt by the rank and standing of those who inculcate it ; for it is for the most part associated with minor poets and dilettante critics. The really great poets of the world have never taken any account of it. One and all, they have been substantial men. They have always recognised that poetry is made out of life, belongs to life, exists for life. On this primary principle they have done their work ; and it is by their grasp of life and power of interpreting it that their greatness may in large measure be explained. We can thus go every step with Matthew Arnold when he writes : “It is important, therefore, to hold fast to this : that poetry is at bottom a criticism of life ; that the greatness of a poet lies in his powerful and beautiful application of ideas to life—to the question : How to live. Morals are often treated in a narrow and false fashion ; they are bound up with systems of thought and belief which have had their day ; they are fallen into the hands of pedants and pro fessional dealers ; they grow tiresome to some of us. We find attraction, at times, even in a poetry of revolt against them ; in a poetry which might take for its motto Omar Khayyam’s words: ‘Let us make up in the tavern for the time we have wasted in the mosque.’ Or we find attractions in a poetry indifferent to them ; in a poetry where the contents may be what they will, but where the form is studied and exquisite. We delude ourselves in either case ; and the best cure for our delusion is to let our minds rest upon the great and inexhaustible word life, until we learn to enter into its meaning. A poetry of revolt against moral ideas is a poetry of revolt against life ; a poetry of indifference towards moral ideas is a poetry of indifference towards life.’
We need not, therefore, be afraid of laying the utmost stress upon the nature of a poet’s subject-matter, his powers of thought, his moral strength and influence. “No man was ever yet a great poet,” says Coleridge, “without being at the same time a profound philosopher.” “The great poets,” says Emerson, in one of his penetrating apothegms, “are judged by the frame of mind they induce.” “We may’, says Landor, “write little things well, and accumulate one upon another, but never will any be justly called a great poet unless he has treated a great subject worthily. He may be the poet of the lover and the idler, he may be the poet of green fields or gay society ; but whoever is this can be no more. A throne is not built of birds’ nests, nor do a thousand reeds make a trumpet.” And again : “A pretty sonnet may be written on a lambkin or on a parsnip, there being room enough for truth and tenderness on the edge of a leaf or the tip of an ear; but a great poet must clasp the higher passions breast high, and compel them in an authoritative tone to answer his interrogatories.”
I am not asserting that in order to fulfil the conditions of poetic greatness a poet must of necessity address himself to the direct communication of ideas, or even write with a conscious ethical aim. We are not to confuse the functions of the poet with those of the preacher or homilist ; their business is to instruct and guide, his to stir and vivify, to inspire, energise, and delight. This vital distinction is indeed implied in everything that has been said about the specific characteristics of that interpretation of life which poetry affords ; and too much weight can hardly be attached to it. On the other hand, however, the horror which critics of the so-called aesthetic school continually express of any poetry which deals with ideas and is written with a conscious ethical aim, is entirely without warrant. With much that they urge against didacticism in art we may, it is true, cordially agree ; but we must not be misled by them into an unqualified condemnation of it. When Browning says—”Philosophy first, and poetry, which is its highest outcome, afterwards” ; and when Lowell says, “No poem ever makes me respect its author which does not in some way convey a truth of philosophy,” we feel that in these utterances the scope and powers of poetry are unduly circumscribed. But there is no reason why poetry should not be the outcome of philosophy and the vehicle of philosophic truth without sacrificing anything of its essential poetic qualities and graces. The real objection to so much that passes as didactic poetry is not that it is didactic, but that it is not poetry. Nevertheless, there is no inevitable antagonism between the didactic and the poetical. It all depends upon the poet. Take, for example, the work of Wordsworth, who, as we remember, wished to be “considered as a teacher or as nothing.” “In deserts of preaching,” says Lord Morley, “we find almost within sight of one another, delightful oases of the purest poetry.” But examination shows that in his passages of “purest poetry” Wordsworth is often quite as much occupied with ideas as in his passages of flat prosaic preaching. It is not, therefore, the presence or absence of ideas which makes all the difference ; it is the difference in treatment which counts. From this fact we learn that we have no just ground to take exception to a poet’s didacticism ; what alone really calls for adverse criticism is his inability to give to his ideas a poetic form and setting. We do not, therefore, quarrel with any poet who offers us philosophy in the fashion of poetry. We require only that his philosophy shall be transfigured by imagination and feeling ; that it shall be shaped into a thing of beauty ; that it shall be wrought into true poetic expression ; and that thus in reading him we shall always be keenly aware of the difference between his rendering of philosophic truth and any mere prose statement of it. These conditions fulfilled, we welcome the poet as teacher and moralist, because we know that in his hands the truths of life and conduct will acquire a higher potency and value.
In concluding this brief discussion of the relations of poetry and life I may, therefore, repeat that a poet’s greatness must ultimately depend upon the greatness of his subject-matter, the power of thought, which he brings to bear upon it, and his moral strength and influence. And if it should be objected that in putting the matter in this way I am overstating the ethical side of poetry, I will reply by quoting the testimony of one who among our modern English critics stands out conspicuously as a supporter of the claims of art. “It is”, says Walter Pater, “on the quality of the matter it informs or controls, its compass, its variety, its alliance to great ends, or the depth of the note of revolt, or the largeness of hope in it, that the greatness of literary art depends, as The Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost, Les Misérables, The English Bible are great art.”
In the study of poetry, therefore, as in the study of all other kinds of literature, our attention must first be directed to the poet himself ; to his personality and outlook upon the world ; to the interpretation of life expressly given by or held in solution in his work ; to the individual note in it. However deeply we may presently become interested in questions of art and form, origins and historical affiliations, these primary aspects of poetry must never be permitted to slip out of our sight.
As a guide to the systematic study of our subject, we have next to pass under rapid review the principal kinds of poetry.
In a broad way, poetry may be divided into two classes. There is the poetry in which the poet goes down into himself and finds his inspiration and his subjects in his own experiences, thoughts, and feelings. There is the poetry in which the poet goes out of himself, mingles with the action and passion of the world without, and deals with what he discovers there with little reference to his own individuality. The former class we may call personal or subjective poetry, or the poetry of self-delineation and self-expression. The latter we may call impersonal or objective poetry, or the poetry of representation or creation. The boundary-lines between these two divisions cannot, of course, be drawn with absolute precision, and in much poetry, especially in our extremely composite modern poetry, personal and impersonal elements continually combine. But the distinction none the less rests on a firm foundation of fact, and for purposes of classification it is undeniably useful.
We may begin with personal or subjective poetry, to which, rather loosely, the name lyrical is often also applied. Lyric poetry, in the original meaning of the term, was poetry composed to be sung to the accompaniment of lyre or harp. In this sense, much poetry belonging to the impersonal division—like the old ballads and even early epics—might strictly speaking be described as lyrical. But the use of ‘lyrical’ will be restricted here to the simpler forms of the poetry in which, in contradistinction to the epic and dramatic kinds, the poet is principally occupied with himself.
In such simpler forms this personal poetry is almost unlimited in range and variety, for it may touch nearly all aspects of experience, from those which are most narrowly individual to those which involve the broadest interests of our common humanity. Thus we have the convivial or bacchanalian lyric ; the lyric which skims the lighter things of life, as in the so-called vers de société ; the lyric of love in all its phases, and with all its attendant hopes and longings, joys and sorrows ; the lyric of patriotism ; the lyric of religious emotion ; and countless other kinds which it is unnecessary to attempt to tabulate.
In our study of any lyric certain elementary principles of valuation should always be kept in view. We must inquire into the character and quality of the emotion which inspires it and the manner in which that emotion is rendered ; for a lyric, to be good of its kind, must satisfy us that it embodies a worthy feeling ; it must impress us by the convincing sincerity of its utterance ; while its language and imagery must be characterised not only by beauty and vividness, but also by propriety, or the harmony which in all art is required between the subject and its medium. It will also be found that the pure lyric, having for its purpose the expression of some single mood or feeling, commonly gains much in emotional power by brevity and condensation, and that over-elaboration is almost certain to entail loss in effectiveness.
Though the essence of lyrical poetry is personality, it must yet be remembered that the majority of the world’s great lyrics owe their place in literature very largely to the fact that they embody what is typically human rather than what is merely individual and particular, and that thus every reader finds in them the expression of experiences and feelings in which he himself is fully able to share. In such cases we do not have to put ourselves in the poet’s place because he has already put himself into ours. Moreover, there is much lyrical poetry which is communal rather than personal in character. Investigations into the beginnings of literature have shown that poetry originated in the desire to give outward form to the feelings not of the individual but of the clan or group. Hebrew lyrical poetry was chiefly of this kind. “The awakening of the individual consciousness in the western nations since the introduction of Christianity” had, as Canon Cheyne has said, “no parallel in the Semitic East” ; and though the old Hebrew was a magnificent egotist, his egotism was emphatically that of race. Thus the “I” and “me” of the Psalms, as modern scholars tell us, refer, not to David or any other individual singer, but to the community of Israel, with its common tribulations, hopes, contrition, trust. The immense development of individuality in the modern world has naturally been followed by an increase of the personal and a subsidence of the communal factor in poetry. Yet group-consciousness still produces group-poetry ; as in hymns and lyrics of patriotism. Of such group-poetry the chorus, which is so popular a feature of many songs, is also an interesting survival. A further fact of importance is that in periods when general feelings are deeply stirred, and men are lifted out of themselves and the concerns of their private lots, the communal element in poetry becomes specially conspicuous. Thus Byron, though one of the greatest egotists of our literature, and our fullest exponent of that extreme individualism which was one characteristic of the romantic movement, often poured into his verse the world-passions which shook all Europe in the revolutionary age.
Personal poetry passes by insensible degrees from the simpler forms of lyric’ into meditative and philosophic poetry, in which the element of thought becomes important. Here, of course, emotional qualities and the beauty, vividness, and propriety of language and imagery, have still to be considered ; but in addition, as we have already shown in sufficient detail, the substantial value of the thought itself has also to be estimated, together with the poet’s success in giving it a poetic rendering. Thus, if we pass adverse judgement on Pope’s Essay on Man, it is not only because, while it contains many passages of brilliant rhetoric, it is on the whole rather a versified treatise than a poem, but also because its philosophy, as philosophy, is confused, inconsistent, and radically unsound. It should be observed that there is a good deal of poetry which is didactic in intention but narrative in form—poetry in which the truths to be conveyed are wrought into story, parable, or allegory. This poetry is of course commonly classed as narrative, and therefore falls into the objective division ; but we mention it here on account of the purpose by which it is dominated. A poet will often choose such indirect method of inculcating his ideas because in this way he can obtain the immense advantage of translating abstract ideas into concrete forms. Tennyson’s Palace of Art and Vision of Sin may be referred to as popular illustrations.
It is here also that we may best find place for the Ode, which may be defined as ‘a rimed (rarely unrimed) lyric, often in the form of an address ; generally dignified or exalted in subject, feeling, and style” ; or as “any strain of enthusiastic or exalted lyrical verse, directed to a fixed purpose, and dealing progressively with a dignified theme.” It will be seen from these definitions that the ode is not specifically differentiation by any one constant feature, or combination of features, from other kinds of lyric ; the term is, in fact, an elastic and most ambiguous one ; and there has always been in consequence an extreme diversity of view among the critics as to what poems shall and what shall not be included under it. In addition to dignity or exaltation of matter and manner and a logical evolution of thought, which may be accepted among its more habitual characteristics, it is generally, though it would seem not necessarily, marked by a certain amount of complexity and elaboration ; it has often something of the quality of a poetical oration ; while often, again, it is inspired, like Lowell’s Memorial Poems, by some great public occasion. In structure, it may be regular, like Spenser’s Epithalamion, Collins’s Ode to Evening, Shelley’s West Wind, and Keats’s Odes To a Nightingale and On a Grecian Urn ; or irregular, like Dryden’s Alexander’s Feast, Collins’s The Passions, Wordsworth’s Ode on the Intimations of Immortality, and Tennyson’s Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington. In some cases a classic form is taken as model; and we have imitations, more or less close, of the ‘Horation’ ode, so-called ; as in Jonson’s Ode to Himself and Marvell’s Upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland; or of the choric odes of Pinder, with their systematic disposition of parts into strophe, antistrophe, and epode, or, in Jonson’s language, turn, counter-turn, and stand. Gray’s Pindaric odes are probably the most successful examples in English of the latter type. But such poems follow their model in appearance only, and as the original choric significance of the divisions no longer exists, they are, like all such attempts to reproduce “an ancient form through which the spirit breathes no more,” essentially artificial productions.
We come next to one of the most important divisions of personal poetry, the Elegy. In its simplest form, as in David’s Lament for Saul and Jonathan, Landor’s Rose Aylmer, and Tennyson’s “Break, break, break,” this is a brief lyric of mourning, or direct utterance of personal bereavement and sorrow. Its basis is manifestly, therefore, absolute sincerity of emotion and expression, since on the slightest hint of simulation or artifice we are prompted to turn on the poet with the warning words of Guiderius to Arviragus :
Prithee, have done,
And do not play in wench-like words with that
Which is so serious.
In the evolution of literature, however, the elegy has undergone great elaboration, and has expanded in many directions. It has sometimes become the medium of communal feeling ; as in the five poems of the Book of Lamentations which, while fashioned on the professional mourning-songs of the Hebrew “cunning women,” are dirges, not for an individual, but over the fall of a city “that was full of people.” It has grown into a memorial or encomiastic poem, containing the poet’s tribute to some great man (not necessarily relative or personal friend), and often a study of his life and character, with reminiscences and thoughts suggested by them ; as in Spenser’s Astrophel, Ben Jonson’s celebrated verses To the Memory of my Beloved…Mr William Shakespeare, Milton’s Lycidas, Arnold’s Rugby Chapel and Thyrsis, Whittier’s In Remembrance of Joseph Sturge. Often, too, the philosophic and speculative elements become predominant in it, sometimes even to the total subordination of the purely personal interest ; the poet, brooding upon his subject, being moved to meditations over questions immediately raised by it, or over the deepest problems of life and destiny ; as in Shelley’s Adonais and Browning’s La Saisiaz. In many cases, of course, all these characteristics are combined; as in some of the examples just cited, and even more notably in In Memoriam, which is at once one of the most frankly personal of elegies, a large tribute to the dead friend, a spiritual autobiography extending over some three years of intellectual struggle, and a philosophic poem of immense reach and significance. Moreover, under the powerful influences of a bookish age, the elegy in modern literature has often been used as a vehicle for literary criticism ; as by Arnold in Heine’s Grave, the two “Obermann” poems, and Memorial Verses, 1850 ; and by Sir William Watson in Wordsworth’s Grave—unquestionably the finest poem of the kind in our language. The fact that these poems have an intrinsic value as appreciations of the authors dealt with, no less than for their beauty as poems, will serve to remind us that in our study of the critical elegy, as in our study of all other classes of poetry in which the thought-element is in the ascendant, the criteria already indicated have still to be applied. One particular type of elegy calls for separate mention—the pastoral type, in which the poet expresses his sorrow under the similitude of a shepherd mourning for a companion, or otherwise through conventional bucolic machinery. This form arose among the Sicilian Greeks; it passed into modern European literatures at the time of the Renaissance ; and it has often been employed by English poets from Spenser to Matthew Arnold. Thus far we have considered the elegy in its various developments as a memorial poem only. It remains to add that the word has long been more broadly used for any poem distinctively reflective in character, and of a markedly melancholy strain. One of the most famous of English poems—Gray’s Elegy in a Country Churchyard—shows this extension of meaning.
Under the general head of subjective poetry we may also include the descriptive poem, the Epistle, and the Satire. Finally, it may be mentioned that there are certain kinds of lyrical poetry which are classified wholly on the basis of form. The only one of these which has any real importance for English readers is the Sonnet, a poem of fourteen lines, governed by certain prescribed rules in general structure and in the disposition of the rimes. These rules have indeed been often ignored by English sonnet-writers from Shakespeare downward, and thus a distinction has grown up between the regular (or Italian) and the irregular (frequently called the Shakespearan) types. The theoretical system of the sonnet should, however, be carefully analysed and mastered by every student of poetic technique.
We now pass from subjective or personal to objective or impersonal poetry. The fundamental characteristic of this poetry is, as I have already said, that it deals directly, not with the thoughts and feelings of the poet, but with the outer world of passion and action. While, therefore, in subjective poetry, which is the poetry of introspection, the poet looks into his heart to write, and even draws the outer world down into himself and steeps it in its own emotions, in objective poetry he projects himself into the life without, and, seeking there his motives and subjects, handles these with the least possible admixture of his own individuality.
Such impersonal poetry falls naturally into two groups— the narrative and the dramatic. As these must manifestly have much in common with the prose-story and the regular play, the reader will find a great deal which bears directly upon them in our succeeding chapters on the novel and the drama. A rapid survey of their principal subdivisions and of the more salient characteristics of these, is all that we have now to undertake.
In our study of narrative poetry we naturally begin with the popular ballad, or short story in verse ; a form which appears to have arisen spontaneously in almost all literatures, and represents one of the earliest stages in the evolution of the poetic art. Our own literature is particularly rich in ballads of the true traditional kind, of which the authorship has long since been forgotten, and which alike in form and spirit bear evident traces of the unlettered but vigorous times out of which they sprang, and of the tastes of the popular audiences for which they were originally made. Their themes are commonly furnished by the more elementary aspects of life ; large space is given in them to tales of adventure, fighting; deeds of prowess and valour ; they have frequently a strong infusion of supernaturalism ; while love, hatred, pity, and the simpler interests of the domestic lot, receive a full share of attention. In method and style they are characterised by straightforwardness and rapidity of narration, and a certain childlike naivete ; often crude, they are often, too, astonishingly energetic ; and while habitually garrulous in matters of detail, they seldom linger over description or concern themselves about motives and passions, save as these translate themselves immediately into action. Many of these ballads have immense dramatic power and wonderful metrical beauty, and for this reason they must be assigned to a distinct place among the great imperishable things of our literature. But apart from their intrinsic merits, they are specially deserving of study at a time like our own  when, in literature as in music, the current runs so strong in the direction of ever-increasing complexity that our tastes are becoming sophisticated and we are in danger of losing all healthy appreciation of what is simple, broad, and elemental.
The modern ballad may be defined as a literary development of the traditional form. To this form it often keeps very close; as in such admirable examples of the simpler narrative in verse as Scott’s Eve of St. John, Kingsley’s The Sands of Dee, Longfellow’s The Wreck of the Hesperus, Rossetti’s Stratton Water, and William Morris’s Shameful Death. More often, on the other hand, while it clearly owes much to the inspiration of early poetry, and preserves its best traditions, it shows the powerful influences of a later age in its tendency to greater elaboration, the enlargement of description and psychological interest, and a more finished style of art. The really characteristic modem ballad, therefore, represents the natural expansion, not the artificial reproduction, of the primitive type. It is not in laborious imitations of primitive models, with their attempts to recover the spontaneous simplicity of nature through the studied simplicity of art, their deliberate archaisms, and their consequent flavour of affection and formalism, but in poems like Tennyson’s The Revenge, Browning’s Hervé Riel, Rossetti’s The King’s Tragedy, and Robert Buchanan’s The Ballad of Judas lscariot, that we are in the true line of literary evolution ; for these, while they have all the sterling qualities of the old ballads, have nothing merely imitative about them, but are, on the contrary, essentially modern and original poems.
From the ballad, or story-poem, we pass to the longer narrative in verse. Of this large species a number of fairly well-marked varieties may be distinguished, the first place among which must be given to the Epic. For purposes of historical study this again has to be subdivided into primitive epic and later epic. The former of these has also been called the ‘epic of growth,’ to mark the fact that, unlike the ‘epic of art,’ with which it is thus contrasted, it is not in its entirety the work of a single author, but to some extent the result of a process of evolution and consolidation, and that a large amount of pre-existing material, in the shape of floating legends and earlier folk-poems and sagas, is gathered up into its composition. An epic of this kind may, therefore, be regarded as the final product of a long series of accretions and syntheses ; scattered ballads gradually clustering together about a common character into ballad-cycles (like the English Robin Hood cycle), and these at length being reduced to approximate unity by the intervention of conscious art. Well-known examples are to be found in the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf, the old Germanic Nibelungenlied, and the Finnish Kalevala. To the same general class we may also assign the Iliad and the Odyssey, though we must do this with some diffidence, since, as all but the most radical critics admit, whatever may have been their genesis and early history, the controlling power of a single supreme artistic genius is clearly evident in the poems as they stand. All primitive epics deal, broadly speaking, with the same kind of subject-matter. Their themes are furnished, in Homeric phrase, by χλέα άvδρωv—the “deeds of heroes,” generally the great legendary heroes of a race ; and vast bodies of immemorial traditions provide the basis of their structure. As these traditions are almost invariably bound up with a people’s mythology, the supernatural element is also more or less prominent ; whether, as in the Homeric epics, it is distinctively religious in character and is everywhere interfused with the human interest of the action ; or whether, as in the Nibelungenlied, it has become attenuated into the merely marvellous and appears only occasionally in the background. In the style of such poems there is much to remind us   of the   popular  ballad ;   even   the Iliad and the Odyssey, notwithstanding the individual greatness of their manner, being marked by the directness and simplicity, the naivete and frequent garrulity, which, in all literatures, belong to the poetic art in the earlier stages of its development.
The relation of the ‘epic of art’ to the ‘epic of growth’ is much the same as that of the later ballad to the traditional form. It is the product of individual genius working in an age of scholarship and literary culture on lines already laid down. One great epic of art occupies a place of capital importance in literary history, not only on account of its own splendid qualities, but also because, itself fashioned closely on the Homeric poems, it became in its turn a chief model for other workers in the epic field—the Æneid. In Paradise Lost English poetry possesses one of the supreme masterpieces of epic literature ; while for other examples of the same class reference may be made to Tasso’s Gerusalemme Liberata, the Lusiadas of Camoens, and on a much smaller scale, Arnold’s ‘episode,’ or epic fragment, Sohrab and Rustum. The literary epic naturally resembles the primitive epic, on which it is ultimately based, in various fundamental characteristics. Its subject-matter is of the old heroic and mythical kind ; it makes free use of the supernatural ; it follows the same structural plan and reproduces many traditional details of composition ; while, greatly as it necessarily differs in style, it often adopts the formulas, fixed epithets, and stereotyped phrases and locutions, which are among the marked features of the early type. But examination discloses, beneath all superficial likenesses, a radical dissimilarity. The heroic and legendary material is no longer living material ; it is invented by the poet or disinterred by scholarly research ; and it is handled with laborious care in accordance with abstract rules and principles which have become part of an accepted literary tradition. Where, therefore, the epic of growth is fresh, spontaneous, racy, the epic of art is learned, antiquarian, bookish, imitative. Its specifically ‘literary’ qualities—its skilful reproduction and adaptation of epic matter and methods, its erudition, its echoes, reminiscences, and borrowings—are indeed, as the Æneid and Paradise Lost will   suffice to prove, among its most interesting characteristics for a cultured reader.A minor form of the epic of art may just be mentioned—the Mock Epic, in which the machinery and conventions of the regular epic are employed in connection with trivial themes, and thus turned to the purposes of parody or burlesque. The earliest specimen of this form is the fragmentary Batrachomyomachia, or Battle of the Frogs and Mice, once ascribed to Homer, while the finest example of it in English is Pope’s The Rape of the Lock. It will be observed that thus far I have spoken of one particular kind of literary epic only—the classic kind. In rare instances, however, a non-classic form may be taken as model. Thus Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha was in part at least inspired by and fashioned upon the Kalevala, the rhythm and style of which are adopted in it.
Another division of narrative poetry which, with many resemblances to the epic, is yet distinguished from it in source, matter, and method, is the Metrical Romance. As, however, in the evolution of literature this term has undergone considerable enlargement of meaning, various different classes of composition have to be included under it. There are, first, those poems which fall under the strictest definition of romance, which originally signified a story told in one of the romance languages, and dealing, as all such stories did, with chivalry, knight-errantry, fighting, adventure, enchantments, love : like the chansons de gestes which were popular in France during the Middle Ages, and flourished in England in Anglo-Norman times. Then there are the English narratives of the same general type which, as the word had already come to denote a certain kind of matter and treatment, were called romances though not written in a romance tongue. In part developed from these earlier forms, though in part touched by the classic culture of Italy, Chaucer’s splendid idealised picture of the fast-vanishing world of chivalry, The Knightes Tale, next deserves special mention on our list. Thence we pass to such poems as Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso and Spenser’s Faery Queene, in which the familiar characters and machinery of the old romances—wandering knights, distressed damsels, battles, tournaments, giants, dwarfs, wizards, enchanted castles—are remanipulated for different purposes by poets for whom such things have become as much matters of literary tradition as are heroic and mythical subjects for writers of epics of art. In yet another subdivision of the verse-romance we may place the numerous narrative poems of more recent literature which were inspired by that imaginative revival of the past which, as we have seen, was one conspicuous feature of the romantic movement ; for example, Scott’s Lay of the Last Minstrel and Marmion, and later, Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, Swinburne’s Tristram of Lyonesse, Arnold’s Tristram and Iseult, Hawker’s Quest of the Sangreal, and the tales in Morris’s Earthly Paradise. These last are specially interesting as showing the purely romantic handling even of subjects taken from Greek mythology. The Idylls of the King, on the other hand, are equally suggestive, because they exhibit the combination, natural in an age of literary eclecticism, of the romantic with the classic, since, while their theme is mediaeval, their art owes so much to their author’s long and loving study of Homer that with almost as much propriety we might define them as epic. It may further be remarked that, like the Faery Queene, they exemplify on a large scale the use of narrative for allegorical purposes, of which I have already spoken. Finally, the word romance has been still further extended to cover poems like Moore’s Lalla Rookh, and the verse tales of Byron and his imitators, which are products of the romantic movement in literature, and are romantic in matter and spirit in that secondary, though now current, sense in which the term has now come to mean anything that is remote, passionate, fantastic, wild.
One other class of narrative poetry remains to be mentioned, but for this unfortunately it seems impossible to find any name which could be accepted as entirely satisfactory. It may be best described, perhaps, by saying that in contrast with both the epic and the romance it represents the tendency towards realism in poetic art. It is the distinguishing feature of such poetry, therefore, that in its subjects it keeps relatively close to the ordinary world of experience and action, though it may treat this world in very different ways ; as we may see by comparing the hard and uncompromising literalness of Crabbe, who set out to “paint the cot as Truth will paint it and as bards will not,” with Tennyson’s so-called ‘idealistic realism,’ or habit (as in the English Idylls), of transfiguring homely detail by the subtle touch of poetic magic. Naturally, this kind of narrative poetry often finds its themes and characters in the present ; and even when it goes back into the past for them, it seeks them still, as in Longfellow’s Evangeline, amid commonplace poeple and surroundings, and not in heroic legend, or romantic achievements, or among the great movements and figures of history. Sometimes it may take the form of a humorous transcript from contemporary manners, especially the manners of “low” life, as in several of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and in the delightful character-studies loosely set in the economic argument of Goldsmith’s Deserted Village. But the greatest interest belongs to two subdivisions of it, both of comparatively recent growth. The first of these comprises such poems as derive their material from “the short and simple annals of the poor,” or from the lives of the humble and obscure ; like Wordsworth’s Michael and Tennyson’s Enoch Arden and Dora. To the second we may assign all such poetic narratives as, like Mrs. Browning’s Aurora Leigh, Owen Meredith’s Lucile, Coventry Patmore’s The Angel in the House, and Robert Browning’s Red-Cotton Night-Cap Country, are to all intents and purposes novels in verse. The former class has a special historical significance as marking the influx into narrative poetry of that ever-broadening sympathy with “all sorts and conditions of men,” which is one aspect of the modern democratic movement. The latter is manifestly the result of that same complex of forces, social and literary, which produced the modern novel. It is particularly worthy of critical consideration, both because it exhibits the effort of poetry to follow prose fiction into the field of contemporary social life, and because it thereby raises the difficult problem as to how far, and under what conditions of treatment, modern facts and problems can be successfully handled in verse.
The last division of objective poetry is the Dramatic. By this I do not here mean the regular acted drama which, as a specific form of literary art, is reserved for separate treatment. I mean simply poetry which, though intended not for the stage but to be read, is essentially dramatic in principle ; poetry, that is, in which the poet merges himself in his character or characters, and does not, as in subjective poetry or ordinary narrative, describe or relate in his own person and from the outside. In all varieties of narrative poetry the dramatic element commonly appears more or less prominently in the shape of dialogue ; while more rarely it fills considerable space as incorporated autobiographical material, as in the long tales told about themselves by Odysseus in the Odyssey and Æneas in the Æneid. In many cases it is not necessary to distinguish what should strictly be called dramatic narrative from ordinary narrative. Thus, to be entirely consistent, we ought to class Aurora Leigh under the former head ; but nothing would be gained by doing this, and it seems more natural, therefore, to describe it as a narrative in verse in the autobiographical, or first-personal form. The use of the epithet “dramatic” should rather, I think, be confined to poems in which the poet’s assumption of character has a real importance in the working out of his theme. So understood, dramatic poetry may be subdivided into several groups. There is first the Dramatic Lyric. This is in spirit and method a subjective poem ; but the subjective element pertains, not to the poet himself, but to some other person, into whose moods and experiences he enters, and to whose thoughts and feelings he gives vicarious expression. Browning’s works furnish many familiar examples of this type, and to these, such widely differing pro­ductions as Macaulay’s Ivry, Hood’s Song of the Shirt, and Stevensons Child’s Garden of Verses, may be added by way of further illustration. There is, secondly, the Dramatic Story, includ­ing the ballad, or short story in verse, like Tennyson’s The First Quarrel and The Revenge, Browning’s How they brought the Good News from Ghent and Muléykeh, and Arnold’s Forsaken Merman ; and the more extended narrative, like Browning’s A Forgiveness, Rossetti’s A Last Confession, and Tennyson’s ‘monodrama,’ Maud. Sometimes the story is told entirely in dialogue, as in Rosselti’s Sister Helen ; and sometimes, while the bulk of the story is in direct narration, the dialogue element plays an important part in the scheme, as in The Holy Grail, in which Sir Percival’s tale is interrupted from time to time, and its moral significance punctuated, by the questions and comments of his auditor, the old monk Ambrosius. This poem also shows that in a dramatic story there may be a certain amount of non-dramatic description and ‘setting” ; a point which is again illustrated by The Ancient Mariner. Another plan, adopted by Coventry Patmore in Faithful for Ever, is to unfold the incidents and characters in letters. A third species of dramatic poetry comprises the Dramatic Monologue or Soliloquy. It  is often  difficult to distinguish this from the dramatic lyric on the one hand, and, on the other hand, from the dramatic narrative ; from the former, because it too is vicariously subjective ; from the latter, on account of the amount of story which frequently enters into its composition. Speaking generally, however, it differs from the dramatic lyric as the more elaborate forms of personal poetry differ from the simple lyric proper; while, however closely it may approximate to the narrative by its free use of incident, the fact that it treats all outward things as subordinate to those inner forces and problems upon which its interest is concentrated, is sufficient to put it into a class by itself. It is essentially a study of character, of mental states, of moral crises, made from the inside! Thus it is predominantly psychological, analytical, meditative, argumentative. Of this form, though it has been used with success by other modern poets, Browning is, of course, our greatest master, and in his work may be found examples of almost every variety of it, from brief and subtle self-delineation, as in My Last Duchess, to long and profound exploration of spiritual depths and moral complexities, as in The Bishop orders his Tomb at St. Praxed’s, Bishop Blougram’s Apology, and Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau. One problem involved in the study of the dramatic monologue is too important to be passed over without a word. In theory, it is clear, dramatic poetry is the most entirely objective form of poetry, that in which the poet most completely loses himself. The ideal aim of a dramatic monologue may, therefore, be defined as the faithful self-portrayal, without ulterior purpose, of the personality of the supposed speaker. In practice, however, it is often used by the poet as a medium for his own philosophy. He may so use it to present his philosophy directly, as when the supposed speaker is to all intents and purposes his mouthpiece and representative ; or he may so use it to present his philosophy indirectly, as when he makes the supposed speaker give expression to ideas antagonistic to his own in such manner as to convey or suggest adverse judgment upon them. The direct method is exemplified by Browning’s Rabbi Ben Ezra ; the indirect, by the same poet’s Cleon, and by Tennyson’s St. Simeon Stylites. Despite Browning’s rather too emphatic claim for the absolute objectivity of his dramatic writing, his own religious and ethical teachings continually appear in it, in either positive or negative statement ; and the problem in his case, and in all other similar cases, therefore, is to disentangle the personal from the impersonal elements, and to determine how far, and in what ways, poetry which is dramatic in form and spirit is none the less to be taken as a contribution to the poet’s interpretation of life.
The foregoing are varieties of the poetry which rests upon the dramatic principle, though it does not employ the actual structure and machinery of the regular stage-play. There is, however, another class of dramatic poetry in which such structure and machinery are adopted. Browning’s Paracelsus, Longfellow’s Golden Legend, Arnold’s Empedocles on Etna, Ibsen’s Brand and Peer Gynt, will indicate some of the shapes which this ‘closet drama’ may assume.
In closing this analysis, I must ask the reader to remember that it is not intended to be either rigorously logical or exhaustively complete. I have sought only so to arrange the principal genera and species of poetry according to a natural scheme of classification, as to provide thereby a useful basis for systematic study.
Thus far our attention has been directed mainly to the content of poetry and to its general importance as an interpretation of life. A few pages must now be devoted to its formal and technical aspects.
From what has already been said about the vital connection between poetic feeling and rhythmical expression, it is evident that careful consideration must be given, in the first place, to the facts and problems of metre.
By metre we understand that ordered rhythm which results from a regulated alternation of syllables of different characters or values. In the Greek and Latin languages this difference in character or value depended upon what is called quantity, or the length of time taken in pronunciation ; and the metrical ‘foot,’ or group of syllables forming the basis of the line or verse, was composed of short and long syllables arranged according to certain schemes. Thus the iambic foot was made up of a short syllable followed by a long one (     orˇ¯) ; the dactylic, of a long syllable followed by two short ones (          or ¯ ˇ ˇ) ; the spondaic, o two long syllables (    or ¯ ¯);and so on. In English, the basis of metre is not quantity but accent, and ordered rhythm arises from a regulated alternation of syllables which are stresssed, or heavy, and unstressed, or light. Now a stressed syllable may be combined in a foot with one unstressed or with two (never, in English verse, with more than two) ; and thus we may have feet of two syllables or of three, the character in each case being determined by the relative position of the accent. The five chief measures of English verse—two dissyllabic and three trisyllable—are thus reached :—
I.        Feet of two syllables :—
(1)     The iambic, in which the unaccented syllable precedes the accented (ˇ´), as in begínThus—
“Awake | my sÓul, | aňd wíth| the sún| .”
(2)      The trochaic, in which this order is reversed, and the unaccented syllable follows the accented (´ ˇ), as in mérěy. Thus—
“CÓmrades, | leάve mă” | hére ă| líttle |whǐle ăs | yet’tǐs | eάrly | mórn.”
II.       Feet of three syllables :
(1) The anapaestic, in which the two unaccented syllables precede the accented (ˇˇ´), as in colonnάde. Thus—
“Aňd the shéen | ŏf thěir spéars |   was   lǐke stάrs | ŏn thě sea |.”
(2) The dactylic, in which the accented syllable precedes the two unaccented (´ ˇ ˇ), as in mércifŭl. Thus—
“Tάke hěr ŭp | ténděrly |.”
(3) The amphibrachic, in which the accented syllable comes between the two unaccented (ˇ´ˇ), as in ětérnăl. Thus—
Ŏ hush thee, | my babǐe | thy síre wăs | ă kníght.”
Other feet are also recognised by some English metrists, and even of the five principal forms here given there are numerous intricate variations and combinations. But limitations of space compel me to confine myself to the most elementary facts of a subject which is so vast and involved that for its adequate treatment a volume, not a section, would be required. As a matter of convenience I adopt, without discussion, the descriptive names which, though strictly applicable only to classic metres, have been, and are still employed by the great majority of writers on English verse though not without protest from those who advocate them abandonment in favour of a new nomenclature. It will of course be understood that in using them we take accented and unaccented as equivalent to long and short.
These feet form the foundation of lines or verses, which may be called iambic, trochaic, anapaestic, dactylic, and amphibrachic, as the dominating movement is one or another of these. Such lines or verses may then further be described as dimeter, trimeter, tetrameter, pentameter, heptameter, and octameter, according to the number of feet of which they are composed. Thus, the measure of In Memoriam is iambic tetrameter ; of Locksley Hall, trochaic octameter ; of The Bridge of Sighs, dactylic dimeter ; our English blank verse is unrimed iambic pentameter ; the closing line of the Spenserian stanza (generally called an ‘alexandrine’) is iambic hexameter ; the measure of Evangeline, dactylic hexameter ; and so on.
It must not be forgotten, however, nor is the attentive student ever likely to forget, that these theoretic systems are in actual practice subject to continual variation, and that much of our English poetry, and especially of modern English poetry, is characterised by great metrical irregularity. One of the simplest and most frequently occurring of all metrical phenomena, even in verse-structures marked by sustained uniformity, is the substitution of another kind of foot for that which constitutes the basic principle of the verse. Take these two lines from Akenside’s delightful little poem, For a Grotto, which is written in iambic pentameter :
To me, whom in their lays the shepherds call,
Lulled by the murmur of my rising fount;
and, though in an ordinary way we read them with no suspicion of anything aberrant in them, examination at once shows that in the second foot of the former and in the first foot of the latter, the accent is so changed that a trochee takes the place of the normal iambus. This kind of substitution is, in fact, so common as to pass unnoticed.
Often the accent is so evenly distributed between two syllables in reading that what may be analysed as an iambic foot becomes practically a spondee (¯¯), as in Milton’s line (cited by Johnson):
Thús ăt | thěir shă | dy lódge | ărrív’d, | both stood |, and in one recurrent line of Newman’s well-known hymn—
The night | ǐs dărk, | aňd Í | ăm fάr | fróm hóme | —
Lōad Thōu | mē on |.
Frequently the entire character of an iambic line may be changed by an additional number of unaccented, or light syllables, which in such examples as—
Myrǐads ŏf | rivúletš | húrry | iňg through | thě lawns |
Ŏf sóme | precíp | itouš rív | úlět to | thě wave,
serve to give to the verse, in the one case a dectylic, in the other an anapaestic movement. As an addition of extra light syllables will thus turn an iambic or trochaic foot into an anapæst or dactyl, so the omission of a light syllable will turn an anapæst or dactyl into an iambus or trochee. The facility with which such changes may be made is therefore evident. To refer to a single example, Tennyson’s Vastness is dactylic :
Peάce, lět ǐt | bé ! fŏr Ǐ | lóved hǐm, and | lóve him for | éven the | déad are nŏt | déad bút ă | live |.
But there are in fact very few of such completely dactylic lines, and throughout trochees are frequently interspersed, as in—
Líes ŭpoň | this sǐde, | liés ŭpoň | that sǐde, | trúthlešs | viŏlěnce| mourn’d by thě | Wíse,
Hóusehold | hάppǐněss, | graciŏus | childrěn, | débtlešs | cómpetěnce,| golděn | méan.
The frequent intermixture of iambic and anapaestic feet has been, since Coleridge introduced it in Christable and Scott gave it vogue by The Lay of the Last Minstrel, one of the most  common  characteristics  of octosyllablic  poetry, of the now familiar free movement of which the following passage may be taken as a type :
Aňd Christ | ăběl sάw | the lά | dy’s éye, |
ňd nóth | ing elsé | she sάw | théreby, |
ăve the bóss | ŏn the shíeld | ŏf Sir Lí | ŏněl tάll, |
ǐch húng | ŏn a múrk | y old níche | ǐn the hάll |.
Sometimes the unaccented syllable may be dropped even from a dissyllabic foot, and its place supplied in reading by a pause, or the dwelling of the voice upon the accented word ; as in Tennyson’s
Break, break, break,
On thy cold grey stones, O sea !
Birds in the high Hall-garden
When twilight was falling,
Maud, Maud, Maud, Maud,
They were crying and calling.
In much trisyllabic verse, moreover, the interchange of the three kinds of foot is so continual that one almost hesitates to describe the metre by any single term. Thus in the first four lines of Byron’s The Bride of Abydos
Know ye the land where the Cyprus and myrtle
Are emblems of deeds that are done in their clime ?
Where the rage of the vulture, the love of the turtle,
Now melt into sorrow, now madden to crime ?—
the first line, as will be seen, is dactylic, the second and fourth, amphibrachic, the third, anapæstic.
These few examples will suffice to introduce the question of metrical variation, which, of all questions connected with the subject of versification, is at once perhaps the most fascinating and the most difficult.
It is commonly recognized that each of our five principal measures has its own distinctive quality, and therefore its special fitness for particular purposes. The triple metres, owing to their greater number of unstressed syllables, are undoubtedly lighter and more rapid in movement than the dissyllabic. This explains why the introduction of anapæstic or dactylic feet into iambic verse tends to render it more swift and graceful; which in turn shows the inner motive of the variation in metre in Tennyson’s two lines about the rivulets, quoted above. It is possible still further to distinguish differences in æsthetic character and effect within the two groups ; and thus we find critics describing the iambic measure as smooth, dignified, and stately, and the trochaic as energetic and abrupt ; the anapæstic as swift and forcible, the dactylic as airy and graceful, and the amphibrachic as swinging and free. In these matters, it is true, it is rather hazardous to generalise, for we do not have to go far in our practical study of poetry before we discover that every form of meter has a much wider range of power than such abstract statements would suggest. Iambic measure, for instance—the standard verse of English poetry—has been used with complete success for all kinds of subjects “from grave to gay, from lively to severe” ; while examples are not wanting to prove that the lighter trisyllabic metres are often (as in Tennyson’s Vastness, Arnold’s The Future, and Cosmo Monkhouse’s A Dead March) singularly effective as vehicles for solemn meditation and feelings of tenderness and sorrow. On the principle that the connection between matter and form in poetry is an organic one, the question of the propriety and æsthetic value of the verse employed in a given case is, therefore, of the utmost interest. Similarly, in our study of any poet it will always be worth while to consider the measures most frequently and most successfully used by him, and their relation to the characteristic qualities of his temper and genius.
While metre is an essential concomitant of poetry, rime is to be regarded as only an accessory ; yet it is so common an accessory in English verse, and in most of its forms, indeed, so nearly constant a feature, that its importance can hardly be overstated. It adds much to the beauty of poetry as ‘musical speech,’ and there­fore to the pleasure which poetry affords. It has also frequently been pointed out that, by marking distinctly the close of lines and stanzas, it helps to emphasise rhythm.
Rime is the correspondence in sound between syllable and syllable ; the conditions being : identity in vowel sound, and, if the words end in a consonant or consonants, in these also ; as in see, me, ark, mark ; difference in the consonant or consonants, if any, preceding the vowel, as in ray, stray ; similarity of accent, as in ringing, singing, beautiful, dutiful ; identity in the syllable or syllables, if any, which follow the accent, as in the illustrations just given. Thus, singer and ringing, dutiful and beautify, are not rimes. Rimes, as will be seen, may be single (or ‘masculine,’ as they are sometimes called), as ring, sing ; or double (‘feminine’), as ringing, singing ; or triple as unfortunate, importunate. These different kinds may be employed at the discretion of the poet in different ways. A poem may be entirely in single rimes, or in double, or in triple ; or different kinds may be introduced in regular alternation ; or the alternation may be occasional and arbitrary. A large proportion of double or triple rimes unquestionably adds lightness and rapidity to the verse, and on general principles, therefore, we should expect to find them sparingly used in poems of a markedly serious or melancholy character. Yet no hard and fast rule can be laid down. Mrs. Browning’s Cowper’s Grave, for example is entirely in double rimes; but every reader must feel that they serve here to deepen, not to interfere with, the subdued elegiac tone. Double and triple rimes which are too obviously ingenious and far-fetched, always produce a grotesque effect, and are therefore admirably adapted to the purposes of burlesque, as in Butler’s Hudibras. Browning’s frequent recourse to them in the treatment of high and solemn themes was a perverse habit, often attended with disastrous results.
A stanza (commonly, though incorrectly, called a verse) is a group of lines forming within itself a unit of organisation. In many cases the stanzas composing a poem are quite irregular alike in length and structure, as in Wordsworth’s Ode on the Intimations of Immortality and Tennyson’s Maud. But as a rule (poems in blank verse being excepted), a poem is built up of sections strictly identical in form. Regular stanzas are commonly defined by the number of their lines and the disposition of the rimes which bind these lines together. The stanza-forms of English poetry are so numerous and varied that no complete tabulation of them could be attempted here ; but the following may be mentioned as some of the best-known examples : the couplet (riming aa), as in Pope’s Essay on Man and Keats’s Endymion ; the triplet (aaa), as in Tennyson’s Two Voices ; the quatrain in various forms, as, e.g., that of Keats’s La Belle Dame sans Merci (abcb) ; that of Gray’s Elegy (abab) ; that of In Memoriam (abba) ; that of FitzGerald’s version of the Rubάiyάt (aaba) ; the six-line stanza in various forms, as, e.g., that of Byron’s “She walks in Beauty” (ababab) ; that of Browning’s Rabbi Ben Ezra (aabaab) ; that of Southey’s The Scholar (ababcc); and a form much used by Burns (aaabab) ; the eight-line stanza (abababcc), as in Byron’s Don Juan ; the nine-line stanza (ababbcbcc), first used in The Faery Queene, and hence commonly called the ‘Spenserian.’ For a proper classification of stanzas, the relative lengths of the lines would also of course have to be taken into consideration. Thus it is not only the rimescheme but also the peculiar arrangement of the metres (three tetrameters, a dimeter, a tetrameter, a dimeter), which gives its special character to the six-line ‘Burns’ stanza ; while the closing alexandrine must be emphasised as a constituent feature of the Spenserian stanza. It will be remembered that in the language of our hymnals, the octosyllabic quatrain (or measure of ‘eights’) is called ‘long measure’ ; the quatrain of alternate ‘eights’ and ‘sixes,’ ‘common measure,’ ; the quatrain of three ‘sixes’ and one ‘eight,’ ‘short measure.’
Apart altogether from any question of their special propriety, otherwise condidered, stanzas may be used with a sense of their traditional significance, or significance of literary association. It is with such a sense of fitness that Byron takes Dante’s interwoven triplets (aba, bcb, cdc, ded, etc.) for his Prophecy of Dante, and the ‘Italian’ stanza (abababcc) for his Beppo ; that Keats chooses the same form for his Isabella, and the Spenserian stanza for his Eve of St. Agnes ; and that Wordsworth, Longfellow, and William Watson all employ the ‘Burns’ stanza for memorial poems on the great Scots poet. But in a more general way the problem of the aesthetic qualities of different stanzas, and their applicability to particular purposes, will always have to be investigated. In a poet’s choice of metres and stanzas alike, we shall furthermore find a great deal of interesting food for thought. Rossetti’s frequent use of intricate and curious structures, heavily weighted with rimes, is itself an index of the exotic character of his genius and the fastidious element in his art. Longfellow’s wide reading, eclecticism, power of absorption, and lack of originality are all indicated by the fact that he experimented with marked success in an astonishing number of metrical forms, derived from nearly all the literatures of Europe, while he struck out none of any importance for himself. The use of different stanzas at different periods has also a great historical significance. The publication of some fifty poems, small and large, in the Spenserian form, and often on subjects for which that form was not in the least appropriate, in the half century between 1725 and 1775, is itself a sign of awakening interest during those years in Spenser and his work. The history of the iambic pentameter (or ‘heroic’) couplet, from the Augustan to the Romantic age, is familiar to every student of English poetry. In its ‘classic’ form, as perfected by Pope—the form in which the sense ended with almost absolute regularity at the end of every second line—it favoured epigrammatic terseness and force, and was thus an admirable instrument in the hands of writers of satire and gnomic verse. The rise of the ‘romantic’ form, reintroduced by Leigh Hunt and Keats—the form in which the sense was allowed to flow on uninterrupted from one couplet to another indefinitely, while the rhetorical pause could occur in any part of a line—was simply one more indication of that general quest for greater freedom and more variety in the harmonies of versification which had already giver popularity to blank verse and the Spenserian stanza.
We have said that rime, though an important accessory of English poetry, is not essential to it. This is shown by the large amount of poetry, including much of the most important poetry in the language, which is without rime. The principal form of unrimed verse is the iambic pentameter, popularly called ‘blank verse.’ But other kinds exist ; such as the trochaic tetrameter of The Song of Hiawatha ; the dactylic hexameter (often loosely called ‘hexameter’ simply) of Longfellow’s Evangeline, Kingsley’s Andromeda, and Clough’s Bothie of Toberna-Vuolich; the irregular measures of Southey’s Thalaba the Destroyer, Shelley’s Queen Mab, and some of Arnold’s poems, like The Strayed Reveller and The Future. These, however, have no established place in English poetry, unless, indeed, an exception be made in favour of the dactylic hexameter, which I personally hold to have justified itself completely, though many fierce critical attacks have been made upon it.
The study of versification does not, of course, exhaust the interest of poetry on the technical side. There are innumerable other matters which are equally deserving of attention. There is, for instance, the whole vast problem of poetic diction ; of the qualities which make it peculiarly strong or tender, passionate or beautiful ; of the specific differences between it and the diction of prose ; of the mysterious power of certain words and combinations of words, whether through association or through sound, to stir the imagination and go home to the heart ; of the ‘natural magic’ of expression which belongs to the rare moments of highest inspiration, and that final felicity of phrasing by which language is steeped in meanings beyond the formal definitions of the lexicographer. Since the diction of poetry is inevitably figurative and allusive, those figures of speech and subtle suggestions “and innuendoes which are so important an element in its texture, have also to be considered from the point of view alike of their sources and of their aesthetic value. And as further illustrations of the manifold interest of the lines of inquiry which I am now seeking just to open up, mention may be made of such details of poetic style as the varied use of consonants and vowels in the production of special effects, and of the service which, in the hands of an accomplished master, may be rendered by “apt alliteration’s artful aid.”
Regarding the systematic study of poetry, enough has already been said, either statedly or by implication, in our chapters on the study of literature in general. All that is necessary, therefore, is to point out how, on the principles laid down for guidance, various plans may be suggested for definite courses of reading.
We may, for example, take up the work of a single poet, and our business will then be to analyse the content of his writings and investigate the salient qualities of his art ; to examine his literary ancestry and affiliations ; to trace to their sources the derivative elements in this thought and style ; and to consider his relations with the spirit and movements of his time. After this, we may pass from him to the other poets of his age, taking his work, point by point, as a foundation for comparison and contrast. Or we may make a historical study of some great body of poetry, like our English poetry, following its ebb and flow from epoch to epoch, and the rise and decline of schools, methods, and traditions; noting every significant change in subject-matter, spirit, and style; and seeking its explanation in the initiative power of particular men, in the circumstances which helped to give them popularity and influence, and in the larger tendencies of life and thought in the world outside. Or, limiting our field of inquiry on one side while broadening it on another, we may devote our attention to the history of some one great poetic form, such as the epic or the elegy, through the whole course of its evolution and transformation in different literatures and at different times. Or, again, we may select some special theme—the treatment of nature in poetry, for example—and make this the basis of a study which, as we shall soon discover, will branch out in various directions, and connect itself at many points with the consideration of the development of literature at large.
These are some of the ways in which our reading of poetry may be systematised, and thus made at once more interesting and more profitable than it would otherwise be. A warning, already given, should nonetheless be here repeated. However far afield we may pursue our researches, however wide and accurate our knowledge of the development and technique of poetry may become, however engrossing we may find the special problems of the historian and the critic, we must never forget that our chief purpose, after all, should be the enjoyment of poetry as poetry—of poetry for its own sake, as a thing of beauty fraught with infinite meanings for those who have the capacity to feel and the heart to understand. More important, then, than all the acquisitions of scholarship is the cultivation of the faculty of poetic appreciation. On this matter, indeed, it is of little use to discourse in the abstract ; for though the lover of poetry may, by personal contact, transmit something of his enthusiasm to others, rules and counsels will prove of slight service to those who need them most, and in the end each reader must be left, very largely, to himself. Perhaps the most valuable of all suggestions that may be thrown out in the way of help is one so simple and obvious that, but for the fact that its practical bearings are seldom realised, it would hardly call for formal statement. In our reading of poetry we should always remember that the poet appeals directly to the poet in ourselves, and that our real enjoyment of poetry therefore depends upon our own keenness of imaginative apprehension and emotional response. This means that the true secret and virtue of a poem are to be seized and appropriated by us only through the exercise on our parts of powers similar in kind to those which gave the poem life, however far they may fall short of these in strength and vitality. To those who are born without any poetic sense at all, it is, of course, as futile to talk about the beauty and meaning of poetry as it is to talk about the beauty and meaning of music to those who are born without a musical ear. But wherever the poetic sense exists, in however rudimentary a form—and it is at least latent in the majority of normally constituted men and women—it is capable of cultivation ; and for its cultivation no better course  can be  proposed  than  its daily exercise in sympathetic contact with great poetry. Thus we learn to appreciate through appreciation and to enjoy through enjoyment. In this case the end and the means are one.
A word of practical advice on a matter of detail may be added. “The art of printing.” as Prof. Butcher has pointed out, “has done much to dull our literary perceptions. Words have a double virtue—that which resides in the sense and that which resides in the sound. We miss much of the charm if the eye is made to do duty also for the ear. The words, bereft of their vocal force, are but half alive on the printed page. The music of verse, when repeated only to the inward ear, comes as a faint echo.” The moral of this is clear. If poetry is ‘musical speech,” if it owes much of its beauty, its magic, its peculiar power of stirring the feelings and arousing the imagination, to its verbal felicity and its varied melodies of metre and rime, then its full significance as poetry can be appreciated only when it addresses us through the ear. The silent perusal of the printed page will leave one of its principal secrets unsurprised. As much as possible, therefore, we should make it a practice to read our poetry aloud.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s