Meet us on:
Welcome to Read Print! Sign in with
or
to get started!
 
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "Truth is beautiful, without doubt; but so are lies."
     

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Poetry

    by Arthur Quiller-Couch
    • Rate it:
    Launch Reading Mode
    (_underscores_ denote italics)

    "Trust in good verses then:
    They only shall aspire,
    When pyramids, as men
    Are lost i'the funeral fire."

    As the tale is told by Plato, in the tenth book of his Republic, one
    Er the son of Arminius, a Pamphylian, was slain in battle; and ten days
    afterwards, when they collected the bodies for burial, his body alone
    showed no taint of corruption. His relatives, however, bore it off to
    the funeral pile; and on the twelfth day, lying there, he returned to
    life and told them what he had seen in the other world. Many wonders he
    related concerning the dead, for example, with their rewards and
    punishments: but most wonderful of all was the great Spindle of
    Necessity which he saw reaching up into heaven with the planets
    revolving around it in whorls of graduated width and speed, yet all
    concentric and so timed that all complete the full circle punctually
    together.--"The Spindle turns on the knees of Necessity: and on the rim
    of each whorl sits perched a Siren, who goes round with it, hymning a
    single note; the eight notes together forming one harmony."

    * * * * *

    The fable is a pretty one: but Er the Pamphylian comes back to report no
    more than the one thing Man already grasps for a certainty amid his
    welter of guesswork about the Universe--that its stability rests on
    ordered motion--that the "firmament" stands firm on a balance of active
    and tremendous forces somehow harmoniously composed. Theology asks "By
    _whom_?": Philosophy inclines rather to guess "_How?_" Natural Science,
    allowing that these questions are probably unanswerable, contents itself
    with mapping and measuring what it can of the various forces. But all
    agree about the harmony: and when a Newton discovers a single rule of it
    for us, he but makes our assurance surer.

    For uncounted centuries before ever hearing of "Gravitation" men knew
    of the sun that he rose and set at hours which, though mysteriously
    appointed, could be accurately predicted; of the moon that she regularly
    waxed and waned, drawing the waters of the earth in a flow and ebb, the
    gauge of which and the time-table could be advertised beforehand in the
    almanack; of the stars, that they swung as by clockwork around the pole.
    Says the son of Sirach concerning them--


    At the word of the Holy one they will stand in due order,
    And they will not faint in their watches.


    So evident is this celestial harmony that men, seeking to account for it
    by what was most harmonious in themselves or in their experience,
    supposed an actual Music of the Spheres inaudible to mortals; Plato (who
    learned of Pythagoras) inventing his Octave of Sirens, spinning in the
    whorls of the great planets and intoning as they spin; Chaucer (who
    learned of Dante and makes the spheres nine) in his _Parliament of
    Foules_ telling, out of Cicero's _Somnium Scipionis_, how the great
    Scipio Africanus visited his descendant in a dream and--

    Shewed he him the litel erthe, that heer is,
    In regard of the hevenes quantité:
    And after shewed he him the nynè sperés,
    And after that the melodye herde he
    That cometh of thilke sperés thryés-three
    That welle is of musicke and melodye
    In this world heer, and cause of armonye.

    While Shakespeare in the last Act of _The Merchant of Venice_ makes all
    the stars vocal, and not the planets only:

    There's not the smallest orb which thou beholdest
    But in his motion like an angel sings,
    Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubims...

    And Milton in _Arcades_ goes straight back to Plato (save that his
    spheres are nine, as with Chaucer):

    then listen I
    To the celestial Sirens' harmony
    That sit upon the nine enfolded spheres
    And sing to those that hold the vital shears
    And turn the adamantine spindle round
    Of which the fate of gods and men is wound.
    Such sweet compulsion doth in music lie
    To lull the daughters of Necessity,
    And keep unsteady Nature to her law,
    And the low world in measured motion draw
    After the heavenly tune.


    From the greater poets let us turn to a lesser one, whom we shall have
    occasion to quote again by and by: to the _Orchestra_ of Sir John Davies
    (1596), who sees this whole Universe treading the harmonious measures of
    a dance; and let us select one stanza, of the tides:

    For lo, the sea that fleets about the land,
    And like a girdle clips her solid waist,
    Music and Measure both doth understand;
    For his great Crystal Eye is always cast
    Up to the Moon, and on her fixèd fast;
    And as she daunceth in her pallid sphere,
    So daunceth he about the centre here.


    This may be fantastic. As the late Professor Skeat informed the world
    solemnly in a footnote, "Modern astronomy has exploded the singular
    notion of revolving hollow concentric spheres...." (The Professor wrote
    "singular" when he meant "curious."--The notion was never "singular.")
    "These 'spheres,'" he adds, "have disappeared, and their music with
    them, except in poetry." Nevertheless the fable presents a truth, and
    one of the two most important truths in the world. This Universe is not
    a Chaos. (If it were, by the way, we should be unable to reason about it
    at all.) It stands and is continually renewed upon an ascertained
    harmony: and what Plato called "Necessity" is the duty in all things of
    obedience to that harmony, the Duty of which Wordsworth sings in his
    noble Ode,

    Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong,
    And his most ancient heavens, through thee, are fresh and strong.


    Now the other and only equally important truth in the world is that this
    macrocosm of the Universe, with its harmony, cannot be apprehended at
    all except as it is focussed upon the eye and intellect of Man, the
    microcosm. All "transcendental" philosophy,--all discussions of the
    "Absolute," of mind and matter, of "subjective" and "objective"
    knowledge, of "ideas" and "phenomena," "flux" and "permanence"--all
    "systems" and "schools," down from the earliest to be found in "Ritter
    and Preller," through Plato, Aristotle, Zeno, Epicurus, on to Aquinas,
    to Abelard, to the great scholastic disputants between Realism and
    Nominalism; again on to Bacon, Spinoza, Locke, Comte, Hegel, and yet
    again on to James and Bergson--all inevitably work out to this, that the
    Universal Harmony is meaningless and nothing to Man save in so far as he
    apprehends it, and that he can only apprehend it by reference to some
    corresponding harmony within himself. Lacking him, the harmony (so far
    as he knows) would utterly lack the compliment of an audience: by his
    own faulty instrument he must seek to interpret it, if it is to be
    interpreted at all: and so, like the man at the piano, he goes on "doing
    his best."

    * * * * *

    "God created Man in His image," says the Scripture: "and," adds Heine,
    "Man made haste to return the compliment." It sounds wicked, but is one
    of the truest things ever said. After all, and without vanity, it is the
    best compliment Man can pay, poor fellow!--and he goes on striving to
    pay it, though often enough rebuked for his zeal. "Canst _thou_,"
    demands the divine Interlocutor in the _Book of Job_--

    "Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands
    of Orion? Canst thou bring forth Mazaroth in his season? Or canst thou
    guide Arcturus with his sons?"


    To this, fallen and arraigned man, using his best jargon, responds that
    "the answer is in the negative. I never pretended to _do_ these things,
    only to guess, in my small way, how they are done."

    Nor is there any real irreverence in answering thus: for of course it is
    not the Almighty who puts the questions, but someone audaciously
    personating Him. And some of us find this pretension irritating; as
    Douglas Jerrold meeting a pompous stranger on the pavement was moved to
    accost him with, "I beg your pardon, Sir, but would you mind informing
    me--Are you anybody in particular?"

    Again, in the sixth chapter of the Second Book of Esdras, someone
    usurping the voice of the Almighty and using (be it said to his credit)
    excellent prose, declares:

    "In the beginning, when the earth was made, before the waters of
    the world stood, or ever the wind blew,

    Before it thundered or lightened, or ever the foundations of
    paradise were laid,

    Before the fair flowers were seen, or ever_ _the moveable powers
    were established; before the innumerable multitude of angels were
    gathered together,

    Or ever the heights of the air were lifted up, before the measures
    of the firmament were named, or ever the chimneys of Zion were hot.

    Then did I consider these things, and they all were made through Me
    alone, and through none other: by Me also they shall be ended, and
    by none other."

    It is all very beautiful: but (for aught that appears) no one was
    denying it. It has been shrewdly objected against the arguments of the
    "affable Archangel" in the later books of _Paradise Lost_ that argument
    by its nature admits of being answered: and the fatal fallacy of putting
    human speech into a divine mouth, as in the above passage, is that it
    invites retort.

    A sensible man does not aspire to bind the sweet influences of Pleiades:
    but he may, and does, aspire to understand something of the universal
    harmony in which he and they bear a part, if only that he may render it
    a more perfect obedience. "Let me know," he craves, "that I may accept
    my fate intelligently, even though it prove that under the iron rule of
    Necessity I have no more freedom of will than the dead,

    Roll'd round in earth's diurnal course
    With rocks, and stones, and trees.
    "

    The claim (as Man must think) is a just one--for why was he given
    intelligence if not to use it? And even though disallowed as
    presumptuous, it is an instinctive one. Man is, after all, a part of the
    Universe, and just as surely as the Pleiades or Arcturus: and moreover
    he _feels_ in himself a harmony correspondent with the greater harmony
    of his quest. His heart beats to a rhythm: his blood pulses through
    steady circuits; like the plants by which he is fed, he comes to birth,
    grows, begets his kind, dies, and returns to earth; like the tides, his
    days of gestation obey the moon and can be reckoned by her; in the sweat
    of his body he tills the ground, and by the seasons, summer and winter,
    seedtime and harvest, his life while it lasts is regulated. But above
    all he is the microcosm, the tiny percipient centre upon which the
    immense cosmic circle focusses itself as the sun upon a
    burning-glass--and he is not shrivelled up by the miracle! Other
    creatures (he notes) share his sensations; but, so far as he can
    discover, not his intelligence--or, if at all, in no degree worth
    measuring. So far as he can detect, he is not only an actor in the grand
    cosmic pageant, but the sole intelligent spectator. As a poor Welsh
    parson, Thomas Traherne, wrote of the small town of his childhood:--

    The streets were mine, the temple was mine, the people were mine, their
    clothes and gold and silver were mine, as much as their sparkling eyes,
    their skins and ruddy faces. The skies were mine, and so were the sun
    and moon and stars; and all the world was mine, and I the only spectator
    and enjoyer of it....


    But little did the infant dream
    That all the treasures of the world were by;
    And that himself was so the cream
    And crown of all which round about did lie.
    Yet thus it was: the Gem,
    The Diadem,
    The ring enclosing all
    That stood upon this earthly ball,
    The heavenly Eye,
    Much wider than the sky
    Wherein they all included were,
    The glorious soul that was the King,
    Made to possess them, did appear
    A small and little thing!


    We may safely go some way even beyond this, and lay it down for
    unchallengeable truth that over and above Man's consciousness of being
    the eye of the Universe and receptacle, however imperfect, of its great
    harmony, he has a native impulse to merge himself in that harmony and be
    one with it: a spirit in his heart (as the Scripture puts it) "of
    adoption, whereby we cry, _Abba, Father_"--_And because ye are sons, God
    hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba,
    Father._ In his daily life he is for ever seeking after harmony in
    avoidance of chaos, cultivating personal habits after the clock; in his
    civic life forming governments, attempting hierarchies, laws,
    constitutions, by which (as he hopes) a system of society will work in
    tune, almost automatically. When he fights he has learnt that his
    fighting men shall march in rhythm and deploy rhythmically, and they do
    so to regimental music. If he haul rope or weigh anchor, setting out to
    sea, or haul up his ship on a beach, he has proved by experiment that
    these operations are performed more than twice as easily when done to a
    tune. But these are dull, less than half-conscious, imitations of the
    great harmony for which, when he starts out to understand and interpret
    it consciously, he must use the most godlike of all his gifts. Now the
    most godlike of all human gifts--the singular gift separating Man from
    the brutes--is speech. If he can harmonise speech he has taught his
    first and peculiar faculty to obey the great rhythm: "I will sing and
    give praise," says the Psalmist, "with the best member that I have."
    Thus by harmonising speech (in a fashion we will discuss by and by), he
    arrives at Poetry.

    * * * * *

    But an objection may be raised. "_Is_ the tongue, rather than the brain,
    the best member that I have?" or (to put it in another way), "Surely a
    man's _thoughts_ about the Universe have more value than his words about
    it?"

    The answer is, that we cannot separate them: and Newman has put this so
    cogently that I must quote him, making no attempt to water down his
    argument with words of my own. "Thought and speech are inseparable from
    one another. Matter and expression are parts of one: style is a thinking
    out into language. This is literature; not _things_, but the verbal
    symbols of things; not on the other hand mere _words_, but thoughts
    expressed in language. Call to mind the meaning of the Greek word which
    expresses this special prerogative of Man over the feeble intelligence
    of the lower animals. It is called Logos. What does Logos mean? It
    stands both for _reason_ and for _speech_, and it is difficult to say
    which means more properly. It means both at once: why? Because really
    they cannot be divided.... When we can separate light and illumination,
    life and motion, the convex and the concave of a curve, then will it be
    possible for thought to tread speech under foot and to hope to do
    without it--then will it be conceivable that the vigorous and fertile
    intellect should renounce its own double, its instrument of expression
    and the channel of its speculations and emotions." Words, in short, are
    the outward and visible signs of thought: that, and something
    more--since you may prove by experiment that the shortest and simplest
    train of thought cannot be followed unless at every step the mind
    silently casts it into the mould of words.

    * * * * *

    As an instrument for reconciling Man's inward harmony with the great
    outer harmony of the Universe, Poetry is notoriously imperfect. Men have
    tried others therefore--others that appeared at first sight more
    promising, such as Music and Mathematics--yet on the whole to their
    disappointment.

    Take Mathematics. Numbers inhere in all harmony. By numbers harmony can
    be expressed far more severely than by Poetry, and so successfully up to
    a point, that poets have borrowed the very word to dignify their poor
    efforts. They "lisp in numbers"--or so they say: and the curious may
    turn to the _Parmenides_, to Book vii. of _The Republic_ and others of
    the _Dialogues_ and note how Plato, hunting on the trail of many
    distinguished predecessors, pursues Mathematics up to the point where,
    as a means of interpreting to Man the Universal harmony, Mathematics,
    like Philosophy, inevitably breaks down. Mathematics, an abstract
    science, breaks down just because it is abstract and in no way personal:
    because though it may calculate and time and even weigh parts of the
    greater Universe, it cannot, by defect of its nature, bring its
    discoveries back to bear on the other harmony of Man. It is impersonal
    and therefore nescient of his need. Though by such a science he gain the
    whole world, it shall not profit a man who misses from it his own soul.

    Philosophy, too, fails us over this same crux of "personality"; not by
    ignoring it, but by clinging with obstinacy to the wrong end of the
    stick. The quarrel between Philosophy and Poetry is notorious and
    inveterate: and at ninety-nine points in the hundred Philosophy has the
    better of the dispute; as the Fox in the fable had ninety-nine ways of
    evading the hounds, against the Cat's solitary one. But the Cat could
    climb a tree.

    So Philosophy has almost all the say in this matter, until Poetry
    interjects the fatal question, "I beg your pardon, Madam, but do you
    happen to be the Almighty, or are you playing Egeria to his Numa? You
    are constructing admirably comprehensive schemes and systems for _His_
    guidance, if your hints will but be taken. But if you address yourself
    to Man, you will find that his business is not at all to _comprehend_
    the Universe; for this, if he could achieve it, would make him equal
    with God. What he more humbly aspires to, is to _apprehend_; to pierce
    by flashes of insight to some inch or so of the secret, to some star to
    which he can hitch his waggon. Now there are," Poetry goes on, "certain
    men, granted to dwell among us, of more delicate mental fibre than their
    fellows; men whose minds have as it were exquisite filaments which they
    throw out to intercept, _apprehend_ and conduct home to Man stray
    messages between the outer mystery of the Universe and the inner mystery
    of his soul; even as modern telegraphy has learnt to search out, snatch
    and gather home messages wandering astray over waste waters of Ocean.
    Such men are the poets, my servants."

    "Moreover," Poetry will continue, "these men do not collect their
    messages as your philosophers do, by vigorous striving and learning;
    nor, as the priests of Baal did, by cutting themselves and crying; but
    by schooling their souls to harmony and awaiting the moment of
    apprehension with what one of them has called 'a wise passiveness.' For
    it is not their method to wrestle with God, like Jacob, or to hold Him
    up with a 'Stand and deliver.' It is enough for them to be receptacles
    of His passing breath, as the harps abandoned and hung on willow-trees
    by the waters of Babylon may have caught, at evening, and hummed the
    wind whispering from Israel. And for this, while they hang and wait,
    they will be despised by the commonalty for indolent fellows, as indeed
    they are; as when the wind inspires and sets them hymning, they will be
    accused of insobriety. Yet always they excel your philosophers, insomuch
    as they accept the transcendental as really transcendental and do not
    profess to instruct the Almighty in it; and chiefly, perhaps, they excel
    your philosophers by opposing a creativeness, potential at any rate,
    against a certain and foredoomed barrenness. For the philosophers would
    get at the secret by reason, contemning emotion; whereas the poet knows
    that creation implies fatherhood, and fatherhood implies emotion, even
    passionate emotion. It is (take it as a cold fact) only on the impulse
    of yearning, on the cry of Abba, that the creature can leap to any real
    understanding of the Creator."

    Yet the philosopher will go on to the end of time despising the poet,
    who grasps at mysteries _per saltum_, neglecting the military road of
    logic.

    Shall we then, by a violent recoil, abandon Mathematics and Philosophy
    and commit our faith to Music? Music is, above all things, harmonious:
    Music has the emotion in which Mathematics and Philosophy have been
    found wanting. Music can be "personal"; Music, since the invention of
    counterpoint, is capable of harmonies deeper and more intricate than any
    within the range of human speech. In short, against Poetry, Music can
    set up a very strong claim.

    But first we note that--_securus judicat orbis terrarum_--in the
    beginning Poetry and Music did their business together (with the Dance
    conjoined as third partner); and that, by practice, men have tended to
    trust Poetry, for an interpreter, more and more above Music, while
    Dancing has dropped out of the competition. The ballad, the sonnet, have
    grown to stand on their merits as verse, though their names--_ballata,
    sonata_--imply that they started in dependence upon dance and
    orchestra. This supersession of music by verse, whether as ally or
    competitor, is a historical fact, if a startling one, which Mr.
    Watts-Dunton, in his famous article on Poetry in the _Encyclopædia
    Britannica_, has been at pains to examine. He starts by admitting a
    little more than I should grant. "There is one great point of
    superiority," says he, "that musical art exhibits over metrical art.
    This consists, not in the capacity for melody, but in the capacity for
    harmony in the musician's sense...." "Why, of course," is my comment
    upon this: "every art can easily claim excellence, if it take that
    excellence in its own sense." Mr. Watts-Dunton proceeds: "The finest
    music of Æschylus, of Pindar, of Shakespeare, of Milton, is after all,
    only a succession of melodious notes, and in endeavouring to catch the
    harmonic intent of strophe, antistrophe and epode in the Greek chorus
    and in the true ode (that of Pindar), we can only succeed by pressing
    memory into our service." But I, for one, should not seek counterpoint
    in these any more than in the recurrent themes of a sonata. I should
    seek it rather in the running line which he pronounces (mistakenly, as I
    think) to be "after all, only a succession of melodious notes." C sharp,
    B, A, A, A, E, A are a succession of melodious notes and spell the
    opening phrase of "The Death of Nelson": as the vowels E, O, U, U, O, O,
    E, E, U are a succession of melodious notes, and, if notes alone
    counted, would spell a phrase of Milton's great Invocation to Light. But
    when we consider the consonantal value, the interplay and the exquisite
    repetition of--

    Seasons return; but not to me returns
    Day,...


    or note the vowel-peals throughout the passage, now shut and anon opened
    by the scheme of consonants; now continuous, anon modulated by delicate
    pauses; always chiming obediently to the strain of thought; then I hold
    that if we have not actual counterpoint here, we have something
    remarkably like it,--as we certainly have harmony--

    thoughts that move
    Harmonious numbers,


    or I know not what harmony is. In truth, if counterpoint be (as the
    dictionary defines it), "a blending of related but independent
    melodies," then Poetry achieves it by mating a process of sound to a
    process of thought: and Mr. Watts-Dunton disposes of his own first
    contention for music when he goes on to say (very rightly), "But if
    Poetry falls behind Music in rhythmic scope, it is capable of rendering
    emotion after emotion has become disintegrated into thoughts." Yet I
    should still object to the word "disintegrated" as applied to thought,
    unless it be allowed that emotion undergoes the same process at the same
    time and both meet in one solution. To speak more plainly, Music is
    inferior to Poetry because, of any two melodies in its counterpoint,
    both may be (and in practice are) emotional and vague: while of any two
    melodies in the counterpoint of Poetry one must convey thought and
    therefore be intelligible. And, to speak summarily, Poetry surpasses
    Music because it carries its explanation, whereas the meaning of a
    _concerto_ has to be interpreted into dull words on a programme.

    We have arrived at this, then; that Poetry's chief function is to
    reconcile the inner harmony of Man (his Soul, as we call it) with the
    outer harmony of the Universe. With this conception of "peerless Poesie"
    in our minds, we turn to Aristotle's _Poetics_, and it gives us a
    sensible shock to read on the first page, that "Epic Poetry and Tragedy,
    Comedy also and dithyrambic Poetry, and the greater part of the music of
    the flute and of the lyre are all, generally speaking, modes of
    imitation" ([Greek: _pasai tynchhanoysin ohysai mimhêseis to hynolon_]).
    "What?" we say--"Nothing better than _that_?"--for "imitation" has a bad
    name among men and is apt to suggest the ape. But, first bearing in mind
    that there are imitations and imitations (the _Imitatio Christi_ among
    them), let us go on to see what it is that in Aristotle's opinion Poetry
    imitates or copies. It is "the Universal" ([Greek: _tho chathholoy_]):
    and as soon as we realise this we know ourselves to be on the same track
    as Aristotle, after all. "Imitation," as he uses it, is not an apish or
    a slavish imitation; it is no mere transcribing or copying of phenomena
    as they pass (he even allows that the poet may "imitate" men as "better
    than they are"): it is an expressing, in fiction and harmonious speech,
    intelligible to his fellow-men, of what truth, order, harmony, and "law"
    the poet's mind has apprehended in the outer Universe. No fair-minded
    reader of the _Poetics_, as he lays down the treatise, will doubt that
    this, or something like this, was Aristotle's meaning, nor is it
    probable that he will find any essential difference (or any difference
    that seriously disturbs agreement) between Aristotle's "Universal" and
    the Platonic "Idea" or pattern of things "laid up somewhere in the
    heavens."

    * * * * *

    Now the Poet's way of apprehending the Universal is (as I have
    indicated) by keeping true to himself, attending to his soul's inner
    harmony, and listening, waiting, brooding with a "wise passiveness"
    until the moment when his and the larger harmony fall into tune
    together. The Psalmist describes the process accurately: "While I was
    thus musing the fire kindled, and at the last I spake with my tongue."
    "Poetry," writes Shelley, "is not, like reasoning, a power to be exerted
    according to the determination of the will. A man cannot say, _I will
    compose poetry_. The greatest poet, even, cannot say it: for the mind in
    creation is as a fading coal, which some invisible influence, like an
    inconstant wind, awakens to transitory brightness." But the Poet's way
    of reporting these apprehensions to his fellows, since he deals with
    Universals or ideas, is by "universalising" or "idealising" his story:
    and upon these two terms, which properly mean much the same thing, we
    must pause for a moment.

    The word "idealise," which is the more commonly used, has unfortunately
    two meanings, a true and a false; and, again unfortunately, the false
    prevails in vulgar use. To "idealise" in the true sense is to disengage
    an "idea" of all that is trivial or impertinent or transient or
    disturbing, and present it to men in its clearest outline, so that its
    own proper form shines in on the intelligence, as you would wipe away
    from a discovered statue all stains or accretions of mud or moss or
    fungus, to release and reveal its true beauty. False "idealising," on
    the other hand, means that, instead of trusting to this naked
    manifestation, we add to it some graces of our invention, some touches
    by which we think to improve it; that we "paint the lily," in short. But
    the true "idealisation" and the first business of the poet is a
    _denuding_ not an _investing_ of the Goddess, whether her name be
    "Life," "Truth," "Beauty," or what you will: a revealing, not a
    coverture of embroidered words, however pretty and fantastic; as has
    been excellently said by Shelley: "A poem _is the very image of life
    expressed in its external truth_. There is this difference between a
    story and a poem, that a story is a catalogue of detached facts, which
    have no other connection than time, place, circumstance, cause and
    effect; the other is the erection of actions according to the
    unchangeable forms of human nature, as existing in the mind of the
    Creator, which is itself the image of all other minds." Let us enforce
    this account of the true idealisation by a verse or two of our old
    friend Sir John Davies (quoted by Coleridge in his _Biographia
    Literaria_). "What an unworldly mass of impressions the mind would be,"
    says Sir John in effect, "did not the soul come to the rescue and reduce
    these crowding bodies by 'sublimation strange.'"--


    From their gross Matter she abstracts the Forms,
    And draws a kind of Quintessence from things,
    Which to her proper nature she transforms
    To bear them light on her celestial wings.
    This doth She when from things particular
    She doth abstract the Universal kinds....


    But it is time to descend from these heights (such as they are) of
    philosophising, and illustrate the difference between true and false
    "idealising" in Poetry by concrete example: and no two better examples
    occur to me, for drawing this contrast, than Webster's _Duchess of
    Malfy_ and Shakespeare's _Macbeth_. Each of these plays excites horror
    and is calculated to excite horror; both have outlived three hundred
    years, there or thereabouts; both may be taken as having established an
    indefinitely long lease on men's admiration--but to any critical mind,
    how different an admiration! Webster is an expert, a _virtuoso_ in
    horrifics; in flesh-creeping effects lies his skill; and, indulging that
    skill, he not only paints the lily, but repaints it and daubs it yet a
    third time. There is no reason on earth--she has offended against no
    moral law on earth or in the heavens--that could possibly condemn the
    Duchess to the hellish tortures she is made to endure. At the worst she
    has married a man beneath her in station. To punish her in Webster's
    extravagant fashion every other character, with the whole story of the
    play, has to be dehumanised. To me--as I penetrate the Fourth Act--the
    whole business becomes ludicrous: not sanely comic, or even quite sanely
    absurd: but bizarre, and ridiculously bizarre at that. It has no "idea"
    at all, no relation to the Universal in the shape of any moral order,
    "law," fate, doom, destiny. It is just a box of tricks, of raw heads and
    bloody bones, left with the lid open. That is false "idealising";
    Webster choosing his effect and "improving" it for all he was
    worth--which (let it be added) was a great deal.

    * * * * *

    Turn from _The Duchess of Malfy_ to _Macbeth_, and you find an English
    poet as sensitive of fate, doom, destiny, "law," the moral order, as
    ever was Aeschylus; nay, interpreting it perhaps more effectively than
    ever did Aeschylus. In the First Act we see it suggested to Macbeth by
    witchcraft (which is the personified foe of moral order) that he can
    achieve an ambition by an unlawful path, the ambition itself being
    suggested along with the way to it and growing as the way opens. We see
    them both communicated to a feminine mind, narrower, more intent and
    practical; because narrower, because more intent and practical, for the
    moment more courageous. (It was Eve that the Serpent, wily enough,
    selected to tempt.) Both Macbeth and his lady move to the deed under a
    law which--for a while--has usurped the true moral order and reversed
    it, he not without misgivings: the spectators all the while knowing the
    true order, yet held silent, watching the event. Outside the castle an
    owl hoots as Duncan is slain. The guilty man and woman creep back,
    whispering; and thereupon--what happens? A knocking on the door--a
    knocking followed by the growls of a drowsy if not drunken porter:
    "Here's a knocking indeed! If a man were porter of hell-gate, he should
    have old turning the key. (Knocking again.) Knock, knock, knock! Who's
    there, i' the name of Beëlzebub?" The stage direction admits Macduff,
    who in due course is to prove the avenger of blood: but the hand that
    knocks, the step on the threshold, are in truth those of the moral order
    returning _pede claudo_, demanding to be readmitted. From the instant of
    that first knock the ambitions of the pair roll back toward their doom
    as the law they have offended reasserts itself, and the witches'
    palindrome _In girum imus noctu, ecce!_ steadily spells itself backward,
    letter by letter, to the awful sentence, Ecce ut consumimur igni!

    * * * * *

    This is to "idealise" in the right sense of the word. Fixing his mind on
    the Idea of two human beings, a man and a woman who trespass from the
    law of the great moral powers ordering the Universe (Man along with it)
    and are overtaken in that trespass and punished, Shakespeare
    disencumbers it of all that is trivial, irrelevant, non-essential. He
    takes the wickedest crime of which man can be guilty; not a mere naked
    murder, nor even a murder for profit, but the murder of a king by his
    sworn soldier, of a guest by his host, of a sleeping guest by the hand
    on which he has just bestowed a diamond. Can criminality be laid barer?
    He illustrates it again in two persons lifted above the common station;
    and he does this not (as I think) for the practical reason for which
    Aristotle seems to commend it to tragic writers--that the disasters of
    great persons are more striking than those of the small fry of
    mankind--that, as the height is, so will be the fall--or not for that
    reason alone; but, still in the process of "idealising," because such
    persons, exalted above the obscuring petty cares of life, may reasonably
    be expected to see the Universe with a clearer vision than ours, to have
    more delicate ears for its harmonies. Who but a King should know most
    concerning moral law? Why is he with our consent lifted up so that he
    may hear the divine commandments better than we, and dictate them down
    to us? He is greater, but yet--and this is the point--_a man like
    ourselves_ ([Greek: _omoios_]). He cannot for purposes of tragedy be
    wholly good: for not only is this extremely rare in real life, and
    almost inconceivable, but the ruin of a wholly good man would merely
    shock, without teaching us anything. The disaster of a tragic figure
    must come, and be seen to come, through some fault--or, at least, some
    mistake--of his own. But again he must not be wholly bad, for the
    disasters of the wholly bad do not affect us save with disgust. Such
    men, we know, are not _like ourselves_. What happens to them may serve
    for _The Police News_. Tragedy does not deal with the worthless. How
    then are Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, beings like ourselves, to fall into
    crime so heinous? Again Shakespeare strips the Idea bare: their trespass
    comes through ambition, "last infirmity of noble minds," under the
    blinding persuasion of witchcraft, which (an actual belief in
    Shakespeare's time) is a direct negation of the moral law, and puts
    Satan in place of God.

    * * * * *

    It is curious that, some thirty-odd years after Shakespeare had handled
    this tremendous theme, another attempt on it was being meditated, and by
    the man whom the most of us rank next after Shakespeare in the hierarchy
    of English poets. Among the treasures in the library at Trinity College,
    Cambridge, lies a manuscript, the hand-writing undoubtedly Milton's,
    containing a list compiled by him of promising subjects for the great
    poem for which, between his leaving the University and the outbreak of
    the Civil War, all his life was a deliberate preparation. The list is
    long; the subjects proposed run to no fewer than ninety-nine. Of these,
    fifty-three are derived from Old Testament history (with a recurring
    inclination for the theme of _Paradise Lost_), eight from the New
    Testament; thirty-three from the history of Britain (with a leaning
    towards the Arthurian legend); while five of them are legendary tales of
    Scotland or North Britain, the last being headed "Macbeth. Beginning at
    the arrival of Malcolm at Macduff. The matter of Duncan may be expressed
    by the arrival of his ghost." Now that Milton (an adorer of
    Shakespeare's genius, as everyone knows) should have taken so deep an
    impression from the play that its theme possessed him and he longed to
    transfer it to _Epic_, is credible enough. That he, with his classical
    bent, should choose to attempt in Drama an improvement upon the most
    "classical" of all Shakespeare's tragedies seems to me scarcely
    credible. But if the credibility of this be granted, then I can only
    conceive Milton's designing to improve the play by making it yet more
    "classical," _i.e._ by writing it (after the fashion he followed in
    _Samson Agonistes_) closely upon the model of Athenian Tragedy.

    For my part I always consider Milton's _Macbeth_ the most fascinating
    poem--certainly, if play it were, the most fascinating play--ever
    unwritten. But of this any man may be sure; that (since they were both
    great poets) one made, as the other would have made, a story of far more
    value to us than Shakespeare or Milton or any man before or after could
    have made by a strict biography of Macbeth, the man as he lived. For any
    such biography would clog the lesson for us with details which were more
    the less irrelevant because they really happened. Here I must quote
    Aristotle again, and for the last time in this little book: but no
    sentences in his treatise hold a deeper import than these:--

    "It is not the function of the Poet to relate what has happened, but
    what may happen of likelihood or must happen of necessity. The Poet and
    the Historian are not different because one writes in verse and the
    other in prose. Turn what Herodotus tells into verse, and none the less
    it will be a sort of history; the metre makes no difference. The real
    difference lies in the Historian's telling what has happened, the Poet's
    telling what may happen. _Thus Poetry is a more philosophical thing, and
    a more serious, than History: for Poetry tells of the Universal, History
    of the Particular_. Now the business of the Universal is to tell us how
    it will fall to such and such a person to speak or act in such or such
    circumstances according to likelihood or necessity: and it is at this
    that Poetry aims in giving characters names of its own: whereas the
    Particular narrates what Alcibiades did or what happened to him."

    * * * * *

    This may seem a hard saying, even after what has been said. So let us
    pause and digest it in Sir Philip Sidney's comment: "... Thus farre
    Aristotle, which reason of his (as all his) is most full of reason. For
    indeed, if the question were whether it were better to have a
    particular acte truly or falsely set down, there is no doubt which is to
    be chosen, no more than whether you had rather have _Vespasian's_
    picture right as hee was or at the Painter's pleasure nothing
    resembling. But if the question be for your owne use and learning,
    whether it be better to have it set downe as it should be, or as it was,
    then certainly is more doctrinable the fayned _Cyrus of Xenophon_ than
    the true _Cyrus in Justine_, and the fayned _Æneas in Virgil_ than the
    true _Æneas_ in _Dares Phrygius._"

    * * * * *

    But now, having drawn breath, let us follow our Poet from the lowest up
    to the highest of his claim. And be it observed, to start with, that in
    clearing and cleansing the Idea for us (in the manner described) he does
    but employ a process of Selection which all men are employing, all day
    long and every day of their lives, upon more trivial matters; a process
    indeed which every man is constantly obliged to employ. Life would be a
    night-mare for him, soon over, if he had to take account, for example,
    of every object flashed on the retina of his eye during a country walk.
    How many millions of leaves, stones, blades of grass, must he not see
    without seeing? Say it be the shortest of rambles on an afternoon in
    early November. The light fades early: but before he reaches home in the
    dark, how many of the myriad falling leaves has he counted?--a dozen at
    most. Of the myriad leaves changing colour does he preserve, unless by
    chance, the separate image of one? Rather from the mass over which his
    eyes have travelled he has abstracted an "idea" of autumnal
    colouring--yellow, red, brown--and with that he carries home a
    sentimental, perhaps even a profound, sense of the falling leaf, the
    falling close of the year. So--and just so, save more deftly--the Poet
    abstracts:--

    Where is the prime of Summer--the green prime--
    The many, many leaves all twinkling?--Three
    On the moss'd elm; three on the naked lime
    Trembling; and one upon the old oak tree!


    (As a matter of fact, oak leaves are singularly tenacious, and the
    autumnal oak will show a thousand for the elm's one. Hood, being a
    Cockney, took his seven leaves at random. But what does it matter? He
    was a poet, and seven leaves sufficed him to convey the idea.)

    * * * * *

    Nor does our Poet, unless he be a charlatan, pretend to bring home some
    hieratic message above the understanding of his fellows: for he is an
    interpreter, and the interpreter's success depends upon hitting his
    hearer's intelligence. Failing that, he misses everything and is null.
    To put it in another way--at the base of all Literature, of all Poetry,
    as of all Theology, stands one rock: _the very highest Universe Truth is
    something so absolutely simple that a child can understand it._ This is
    what Emerson means when he tells us that the great writers never _seem
    to condescend_; that yonder slip of a boy who has carried off
    Shakespeare to the window-seat, can feel with King Harry or Hamlet or
    Coriolanus, with Rosalind or Desdemona or Miranda. For the moment he
    _is_ any given one of these, because any human soul contains them all.
    And some such thought we must believe to have been in Our Lord's mind
    when He said, "I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that
    Thou hast hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and hast
    revealed them unto babes." For as the Universe is one, so the individual
    human souls that apprehend it have no varying values intrinsically, but
    one equal value. They differ only in power to apprehend, and this may be
    more easily hindered than helped by the conceit begotten of finite
    knowledge. I would even dare to quote of this Universal Truth the words
    I once hardily put into the mouth of John Wesley concerning divine Love:
    "I see now that if God's love reaches up to every star and down to every
    poor soul on Earth, it must be something vastly simple, so simple that
    all dwellers on earth may be assured of it--as all who have eyes may be
    assured of the planet shining yonder at the end of the street--and so
    vast that all bargaining is below it, and they may inherit it without
    considering their deserts." The message, then, which one Poet brings
    home, is no esoteric one: as Johnson said of Gray's _Elegy_, "it abounds
    with images which find a mirror in every mind, and with sentiments to
    which every bosom returns an echo." It exalts us through the best in us,
    by telling it, not as anything new or strange, _but so as we recognise
    it_.

    * * * * *

    And here let us dwell a moment on Johnson's phrase, "to which every
    bosom returns an echo": for it recalls us to a point, which we noted
    indeed on p. 22, but have left (I fear) somewhat under-emphasised--the
    emotion that enters into poetical truth, which only by the help of
    emotion is apprehended; as through emotion it is conveyed, and to an
    emotional understanding in the hearer addresses its appeal. For the
    desire of man's soul after the Universal, to be in harmony with it, is
    (as a matter of fact, and when all pulpit eloquence has been
    discounted) something more than a mere intellectual attraction: a
    [Greek: _storghê_] rather; a yearning felt in its veins to know its
    fatherhood. Saint Paul goes farther and assures us that "the earnest
    expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation," so that "the
    whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now." "And
    not only they," he goes on, "but ourselves also": while the pagan poet
    has tears that reach the heart of the transitory show: _Sunt lacrimæ
    rerum, et mentem mortalia tangunt_--"Tears are for Life, mortal things
    pierce the soul."

    And why not? For the complete man--totus homo--has feelings as well as
    reason, and should have both active, in fine training, to realise the
    best of him. Shelley obviously meant this when he defined Poetry as "the
    record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds."
    He did not mean that they are happy only in the sense of being
    "fortunate," _felices_, in such moments, but that they were happy in the
    sense of being "blessed," _beati_; and this feeling of blessedness they
    communicate. "We are aware," he goes on, "of evanescent visitations of
    thought and feeling sometimes associated with place or person, sometimes
    requiring our own mind alone, and always arising unforeseen and
    departing unbidden, but elevating _and delightful_ beyond all expression
    ... so that even in the desire and the regret they leave, _there cannot
    but be pleasure_, participating as it does in the nature of its object.
    It is as it were the interpenetration of a divine nature through our
    own, ... and the state of mind produced is at war with every base
    desire. The _enthusiasm_ of virtue, love, patriotism, and friendship is
    essentially linked with such emotions; and whilst they last, self
    appears as what it is--an atom in the universe." Every word italicised
    above by me carries Shelley's witness that Poetry and joyous emotion are
    inseparable. "Poetry," he winds up, "redeems from decay the visitations
    of the Divinity in Man." How can we dissociate from joy the news of such
    visitations either on the lips that carry or in the ears that receive?

    Yet, as has been hinted, the very simplicity of it puzzles the ordinary
    man, and not only puzzles the philosopher but exasperates him. It annoys
    the philosopher, first, that the poet apparently takes so little
    trouble. (As a fact he takes endless trouble; but, to be sure, he saves
    an immense deal by going the right way to work.) All knowledge is
    notoriously painful (that is to say, to philosophers). Moreover, the
    fellow mixes it up with emotion (an integral part of man which
    philosophy ignores, and stultifies itself, as a rule, by ignoring). He
    is one with the Oracles, a suspected tribe. He idles like an Oracle,
    attending on inspiration, and when he has received the alleged afflatus,
    the fellow--so different from us--is neither to hold nor to bind. The
    easiest way with him seems to be a pitying contempt. "For all good
    poets," says Socrates sagely in the Ion, "epic as well as lyric, compose
    their lovely strains, not by art, but because they are inspired and
    possessed. And as the Corybantian dances are not quite 'rational,' so
    the lyric poets are, so to speak, not quite '_all there_.' ... They tell
    us," he goes on condescendingly, "that they bring songs from honeyed
    fountains, culling them from the gardens and dells of the Muses; that,
    like the bees, they wing from one flower to another. Yes of a truth: the
    Poet is a light and a winged and a holy thing, without invention in him
    until he is inspired and out of his senses, and out of his own wit;
    until he has attained to this he is but a feeble thing, unable to utter
    his oracles." I can imagine all this reported to Homer in the Shades and
    Homer answering with a smile: "Well, and who in the world is denying it?
    I certainly did not, while I lived and sang upon earth. Nay, I never
    even sang, but invited the Muse to sing to me and through me. [Greek:
    _Mênin haeide theha ... Handra moi hennepe, Moysa_.]--Surely the dear
    fellow might remember the first line of my immortal works! And if he
    does remember, and is only bringing it up against me that in the
    intervals of doing my work in life I was a feeble fellow, go back and
    tell him that it is likely enough, yet I fail to see how it can be any
    business of his, since it was only my work that I ever asked for
    recognition. They say that I used to go about begging a dinner on the
    strength of it. Did I?... I cannot remember. Anyhow, that nuisance is
    over sometime ago, and _his_ kitchen is safe!"

    To you, who have followed the argument of this little book, the theory
    of poetic "inspiration" will be intelligible enough. It earned a living
    in its day and, if revived in ours, might happily supersede much modern
    chatter about art and technique. For it contains much truth:--

    When the flicker of London sun falls faint on the Club-room's green
    and gold,
    The sons of Adam sit them down and scratch with their pens in the mould--
    They scratch with their pens in the mould of their graves, and the ink
    and the anguish start,
    For the Devil mutters behind the leaves, "It's pretty, but is it Art?"


    The philosophers did poetry no great harm by being angry with it as an
    "inspired" thing: for that, in a measure, it happens to be. They did it
    far more harm when they took it seriously and made it out to be a form
    of _teaching_. For by the nature of things there happens to be something
    of the pedant in every philosopher and the incurable propensity of the
    pedant is to remove everything--but Literature especially--out of the
    category to which it belongs and consider it in another with which it
    has but a remote concern. (Thus a man will talk of Chaucer as though his
    inflexions were the most important thing about him.) Now to acclaim
    Homer as a great teacher, and use him in the schools, was right enough
    so long as the Athenians remembered (and is right enough for us, so long
    as we remember) _how_ he teaches us, or rather _educates_. What we have
    described the Poet as doing for men--drawing forth the inner harmonies
    of the soul and attuning them to the Universal--is _educative_ in the
    truest sense as in the highest degree. So long as we remember this, the
    old dispute whether the aim of Poetry be to teach or to delight is seen
    to be futile: for she does both, and she does the one by means of the
    other. On the other hand, you cannot leave a delicate instrument such as
    Poetry lying within reach of the professional teacher; he will
    certainly, at any risk of marring or mutilating, seize on it and use it
    as a hammer to knock things into heads; if rebuked for this, plaintively
    remonstrating, "But I thought you told me it was useful to teach with!"
    (So Gideon taught the men of Succoth.) And therefore, we need not be
    astonished: coming dawn to Strabo, to find him asserting that "the
    ancients held poetry to be a kind of elementary philosophy, introducing
    us from childhood to life and pleasureably instructing us in character,
    behaviour and action." The Greeks, he tells us, chose poetry for their
    children's first lessons. Surely (he argues) they never did that for the
    sake of sweetly influencing the soul, but rather for the correction of
    morals! Strabo's mental attitude is absurd, of course, and preposterous:
    for this same influencing of the soul--[Greek: _phychagôghia_] (a
    beautiful word)--is, as we have seen, Poetry's main business: but the
    mischief of the notion did not end with making the schooldays of
    children unhappy: it took hold of the poets themselves, and by turning
    them into prigs dried up the children's well of consolation. The Fathers
    of the Church lent a hand too, and a vigorous one; and for centuries the
    face of the Muse was sicklied o'er with a pale determination to combine
    amusement with instruction. Even our noble Sidney allowed his modesty to
    be overawed by the pedantic tradition, though as a man of the world he
    tactfully gave it the slip. "For suppose it be granted," he says, "(that
    which I suppose with great reason may be denied) that the Philosopher in
    respect of his methodical proceeding doth teach more perfectly than the
    Poet: yet do I thinke that no man is so much _Philosophus_ as to compare
    the Philosopher, in _mooving_, with the Poet. And that mooving is of a
    higher degree than teaching, it may by this appeare: that it is welnigh
    the cause and the effect of teaching. For who will be taught, if hee bee
    not mooved with desire to be taught?" Then, after a page devoted to
    showing "which constant desire whosoever hath in him hath already past
    halfe the hardness of the way," Sidney goes on: "Now therein of all
    Sciences (I speak still of human, and according to the human conceit) is
    our Poet the Monarch. For he dooth not only show the way, but giveth so
    sweete a prospect into the way, as will intice any man to enter into it.
    Nay he dooth as if your journey should lye through a fayre Vineyard, at
    the first give you a cluster of Grapes, that full of that taste you may
    long to passe further. He beginneth not with obscure definitions, which
    must blur the margent with interpretations and load the memory with
    doubtfulnesse: but hee commeth to you with words set in delightful
    proportion, either accompanied with, or prepared for, the
    well-inchaunting skill of Musicke; and with a tale forsooth he commeth
    unto you: with a tale which holdeth children from play and old men from
    the chimney-corner."

    * * * * *

    "And with a tale, forsooth, he commeth to you."--For having stripped
    the Idea bare, he has to reclothe it again and in such shape as will
    strike forcibly on his hearer's senses. A while back we broke off midway
    in a stanza of Sir John Davies. Let us here complete it. There are two
    versions. As first Davies wrote:--

    This doth She when from things particular,
    She doth abstract the Universal kinds,
    Which bodiless and immaterial are,
    And can be lodged but only in our minds.


    --the last two lines of which are weak and unnecessary. Revising the
    stanza, he wrote:--

    This does She, when from individual states
    She doth abstract the Universal kinds,
    Which then reclothed in divers names and fates
    Steal access through our senses to our minds,


    --which exactly describes the whole process. Having laid bare the Idea,
    our Poet, turning from analysis to synthesis, proceeds to reclothe it in
    new particulars of his own inventing, carefully chosen that they may
    strike home hardest upon the hearer's perceptions. Now that which
    strikes home hardest on a man is a tale which he can grasp by the
    concretest images conveyed in the concretest language. '_Labor improbus
    omnia vincit_' tells him not half so much as a tale of the labours of
    Hercules; so he will learn more of patience from Job or Griselda; more
    of chivalrous courage from Hector or Roland or Launcelot or the tale of
    Palamon and Arcite; more of patriotism from the figures in
    history--Leonidas, Horatius, Regulus, Joan of Arc, William Tell,
    Garibaldi, Gordon--that have translated the Idea back into their own
    lives with the noblest simplicity, so that we say of them that they are
    "epical figures" or "figures worthy of romance," thereby paying them the
    highest compliment in our power: yes and more of Christian simplicity
    from my Uncle Toby, Colonel Newcome, even Mr. Pickwick; than from a
    hundred copybook maxims concerning these virtues: all these figures
    indeed illustrating the tritest copybook maxim of all--that "Example
    is better than Precept." Thus Charles Lamb praises the Plays of
    Shakespeare as "enrichers of the fancy, strengtheners of virtue, a
    withdrawing from all selfish and mercenary thoughts, a lesson of all
    sweet and honourable thoughts and actions, to teach courtesy, benignity,
    generosity, humanity: for," say he, "of _examples_, teaching those
    virtues, his pages are full."

    * * * * *

    The Poet then, having seized on the Idea and purged it of what is
    trivial or accidental, reclothes it in a concrete dress and so
    represents it to us. And you will generally remark in the very greatest
    poets that not only are the images they represent to us extraordinarily
    definite and concrete and therefore vivid--as Dante, for example, will
    describe a Scene in Hell or in Paradise with as much particularity as
    though he were writing a newspaper report; but this concreteness of
    vision translates itself into a remarkable concreteness of speech. I
    suppose there was never a more concrete writer than Shakespeare, and his
    practice of translating all his idea into things which you can touch or
    see grew steadily stronger throughout his career, so that any competent
    critic can in a moment distinguish his later writing from his earlier by
    its compression of images in words, its forcible concretion of the
    various "parts of speech," its masterful _corvée_ of nouns substantive
    to do the work of verbs, and so on. Even in very early work such as
    _Venus and Adonis_ we cannot but note this gift of vision, how quick and
    particular it is....

    Upon this promise did he raise his chin,
    Like a dive-dipper, peering through a wave,
    Who, being look'd on, ducks as quickly in....

    But in his later plays--so fast the images teem--he has to reach out
    among nouns, verbs, adverbs, with both strong hands, grasping what comes
    and packing it ere it can protest. Take for example:--

    Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care.

    Or--

    The multitudinous sea incarnadine,
    Making the green one red.

    Or--

    In the dark backward and abysm of time.

    Or this from Lear:--

    My face I'll grime with filth,
    Blanket my loins, elf all my hair in knots
    And with presented nakedness outface
    The winds and persecutions of the sky.

    Or (for vividness) this, from _Antony and Cleopatra_, when Cleopatra
    cries out and faints over Antony's body:--

    O! withered is the garland of the war,
    The soldier's pole is fall'n: young boys and girls
    Are level now with men; the odds is gone,
    And there is nothing left remarkable
    Beneath the visiting moon ...


    "Madam! Madam!" "Royal Egypt!" "Empress!" cry the waiting-maids as she
    swoons. She revives and rebukes them:--

    No more, but e'en a woman, and commanded
    By such poor passion as the maid that milks
    And does the meanest chares. It were for me
    To throw my sceptre at the injurious gods;
    To tell them that this world did equal theirs
    Till they had stolen my jewel.


    When a poet can, as Shakespeare does here, seize upon a Universal truth
    and lay it bare; when, apprehending _passion_ in this instance, he can
    show it naked, the master of gods and levelling queens with
    milkmaids--_totus est in armis idem quando nudus est Amor;_ when he can
    reclothe it in the sensuous body of Cleopatra, "Royal Egypt," and,
    rending the robe over that bosom, reveal the Idea again in a wound so
    vividly that almost we see the nature of woman spirting, like brood,
    against the heaven it defies; then we who have followed the Poet's
    ascending claims arrive at his last and highest, yet at one which has
    lain implicit all along in his title. He is a Poet--a "Maker." By that
    name, "Maker," he used to be known in English, and he deserves no lesser
    one.

    * * * * *

    I have refrained in these pages, and purposely, from technical talk and
    from defining the differences between Epic, Dramatic, Lyric Poetry:
    between the Ode and the Sonnet, the Satire and the Epigram. To use the
    formula of a famous Headmaster of Winchester, "details can be arranged,"
    when once we have a clear notion of what Poetry is, and of what by
    nature it aims to do. My sole intent has been to clarify that notion,
    which (if the reader has been patient to follow me) reveals the Poet as
    a helper of man's most insistent spiritual need and therefore as a
    member most honourable in any commonwealth: since, as Ben Jonson says:
    "Every beggarly corporation affords the State a mayor or two bailiffs
    yearly; but _solus rex, aut poeta, non quotannis nascitur_"--these two
    only, a King and a Poet, are not born every year. The Poet "makes"--that
    is to say, creates--which is a part of the divine function; and he
    makes--using man's highest instruments, thought and speech--harmonious
    inventions that answer the harmony we humbly trace in the firmament
    fashioned, controlled, upheld, by divine wisdom. _"Non c'e' in mondo,_"
    said Torquato Tasso proudly, _"chi merita nome di creatore, se non Iddio
    ed il Poeta"_--"Two beings only deserve the name of Creator: God and the
    Poet."

    THE END
    If you're writing a Poetry essay and need some advice, post your Arthur Quiller-Couch essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Finished
    Want to read
    Abandoned

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?