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how is it possible to reconcile such expressions to a mere prosaic understanding ? -“Darkness" is, strictly speaking, “ absence of light;" how then shall we say that it is visible when we see only by the aid of light? And with respect to the “Name" of Demogorgon, which "stands” by Orcus and Ades, how can such a phrase be justified by the rules of reason ? Nevertheless, it is as magnificent as words can make it. It is clothed in a dark and spectral grandeur, and presses upon our apprehensions like a mighty dream. Who is there that would give up such things for the sake of logic? May not the truth be, that logic, which is the weapon of prose, touches not the airy nature of poetry? or that the laws of reason are at present too imperfect to make the divinity of poetry clear to human capacity? It is well known that our senses are perpetually deceived, and that our reasoning faculties are incompetent to the understanding of many of the phenomena of the external world. Is it not, then, fair to suppose, that the finer intuitive movements of the mind and feeling may also escape ? Assuredly, the sense which apprehends these grand expressions of Milton, is finer and loftier than the hard scepticism which denies them. Why then should the one give place to the other? In the same predicament with Milton is Shakspeare perpetually. When, by a strong effort of the imagination, he fuses two ideas into one, the cause, perhaps, and the consequence; or when he arrays a bare and solitary thought with all the pomp and circumstance which surround it-talking of the “dying deck"-we admire the prodigious boldness of the figure, and rest contented, without trying it by the rules of common language. It is like thousands of others, beyond the jurisdiction of prose.
The mind which cannot comprehend poetry may be said to be wanting in a sense. Yet such are precisely the minds which criticise poetry the most narrowly. They try it by the prosaic laws, which they do comprehend, and set up for judges on the ground of their own defects ! Nevertheless, we do not wish to claim for poetry the exemptions of the jus divinum. Poetry is subject to reason-not indeed as prose is subject, throughout all its images, but independently of its imagery and elevation of sentiment; and it must not therefore be tried by a standard to which it does not profess to assimilate itself, nor by rules with which it is in its nature at variance. It can never be made good, and demonstrated like a syllogism. But, as it springs from, and is addressed to, the imagination, so can it be subject to strict laws only when the laws of that faculty shall be discovered.
We have already quoted several instances of poetical phraseology; but it is not alone in such expressions that poetry consists. The idea of a character, a person, a place, may be poetically conceived, as well as the expression in which it is dressed. Thus the idea of Milton's “Satan” is purely imaginative and poetical, as are the conceptions of Titania and Oberon, Ariel and Caliban, and the cloudy Witches of Macbeth. Macbeth himself is poetical, on another ground, i.e. from the circumstances into which he is impelled, as are, in like manner, Hamlet, Juliet, and Lear. A chimera, a leviathan, a gorgon, the snake which was fabled to encircle the world, the sylphs and the giants, Echo, Polyphemus, shadowy Demogorgon, Death and the curling Sin, the ocean-born Venus, and Pallas, who sprang out armed from the brain of Jove—are all poetical. Milton's vision of hellSpenser's palaces and haunted woods--the Inferno of Dante—the faithful Shepherdess of Fletcher, and her home in Arcady-the Arabian fictions,
with their silent cities and blazing sights, in air and under ground; their gems and dreams of riches; their fairies, genii, and enchanters ; their men turned into marble; and in short, all that world of wonder which illuminated ancient Bagdad, or grew up like a garden of enchantment on the banks of the Tigris—are all fictions of the imagination, and, as such, have claims to be distinguished as the offspring of the great family of poetry. Again, the meeting of Gabriel and Satan, at the end of the fourth book of Paradise Lost, where the squadron of angels turn“ fiery red ”—and the stature of Satan, angry and dilated, "reached the sky”-the speed of Puck, who “puts a girdle round abouth the earth” in forty minutes—the ghost who revisits the “ glimpses of the moon”–Una, taming the forest lion by her beauty--the iron man—the frelted and wealthy cave of Mammonmust all have been poetical, in whatever diction the ideas had been clothed.
The staple of Poetry then is imagery: so that even where it deals with abstract ideas and indefinite objects, it generally moulds them into shape. It is thus that certain virtues and qualities of the mind are brought visibly before us. Unfortunately, Hope and CHARITY, Faith, and Love, and Pity, etc. have now become commonplaces; but they were, notwithstanding, amongst the first and simpler creations of the art. In another way, mere inanimate matter is raised to life, or its essence extracted for some poetical purpose. Thus the air, in its epithet “airy," is applied to motion, and the "supny” locks of beauty are extracted from the day. Thus the moon becomes a vestal, and the night is clothed in a starry train; the sea is a monster or a god; the winds and the streams are populous with spirits ; and the sun is a giant rejoicing in his strength. Again, as the essence of poetry, generally speaking for it is sometimes otherwise, in the case of sounds and perfumes), consists in its imagery, so its excellence varies in proportion as those images are appropriate and perfect. The imagination, which acts like an intuition, is seldom wrong; but when a thought is spread out into similes, by the aid of fancy, it not unfrequently becomes unnatural. Again, the figures or images may be repeated till they run into cold conceits, or they may not amalgamate and harmonise with the original idea. Petrarch, Doune, Cowley, and Crashaw, all men of genius, offended in these points. They trusted osten to their ingenuity instead of their feeling, and so erred. Excellence is not necessarily the property of imagination or of fancy, which may be lofty or tame, clear or obscure, in proportion to the mind of the poet. Nor must we forget that poetry, which depends at least as much upon the vivid sensibility of the writer as upon his intellect, depends also somewhat upon his discretion. When Crashaw, in his “Music's Duel," speaking of the nightingale, who is contending for the palm of music with a man, says,
“Her supple breast thrills out
of dallying sweetness,"we feel instantly that the idea is overloaded, and extended beyond our sympathy. There are four distinct epithets made use of to express a single idea. This argues poverty in the writer, at least as much as a superabundance of imagery. So Cowley maintains a metaphor throughout a whole poem; as in the one entitled “Coldness," where he begins by comparing huis love to water, and goes on to show how it is acted upon by kindness and rigour, the one causing it to flow, and the other to freeze. This is the Inmuerade of poetry. On the contrary, when Bolinbroke goes,
“ As confident as is the falcon's flight,” to do battle with Mowbray, and Eneas the Trojan, bearing a challenge to the idle Greeks, cries out,
“ Trumpet, blow loud!
Send thy brass voice through all these lazy tents" — we admit at once the fine keeping of the images. Again, when this same Eneas diffidently enquires for the leader Agamemnon (whose “topless deputation," on the other hand, the parasite of Achilles mimics), saying,
“ I ask that I miglit waken reverence,
And bid the cheek be ready with a blush,
we feel that the picture is perfect.
We have characterised certain things as poetry; but we must not be understood to say, that all which may fairly be called poetry is thus, word by word, impregnated with Imagination and Fancy. We have extracted the essence; whereas the cup of poetry, even at the strongest, is not all essence : but, as wine is not composed entirely of the grape, so is the rich Castalian mixed with the clear waters of the earth, and thereby rendered palatable to all. It requires, like durable gold, some portion of alloy in order to preserve itself through the currency. It is a Doric temple, where all is not exclusively divine, but partakes, in common with others, somewhat of the structure of ordinary buildings. So, in poetry, all is not of the “Dorian mood," or of the “order” of poetry, but is intermingled and made stable by a due addition of other materials. It is by these means that poetry acquires its popularity. The most imaginative writings are assuredly but little relished by the common or uninitiated reader: they require too much of the labour of thought—too much quickness of apprehension and power of combination, on the part of readers as well as authors), to be likely to please generally. A maxim or a sentiment conveyed in prose, especially if it be such as flatters our self-love, will produce twice the effect on the crowd that pure poety can ever hope to accomplish. Dr. Johnson's favourite lines,
“ I dare do all that may become a man:
Who dares do more, is none
act like electricity; yet they are neither poetry, nor, strictly speaking, truth. They involve a non sequitur, as Partridge would have termed it; and were probably flung out by Shakspeare from his boundless hoards as a plausible bait for the crowd. Even in him and Milton, our two most undisputed poets, there are many striking, and even beautiful passages interspersed, which can claim but little distinction from prose, in regard to mere phraseology, except that they are compressed within the limits of heroic verse. Thus, those two bulky lines in "Troilus and Cressida”.
“ The large Achilles, on his press'd bed lolling,
From his deep chest laughs out a loud applause"although they present a grand, bold picture, and seem actually burthened with the words which they bear, are not, with respect to phrase or expression, essentially poetical. Neither have those sad and beautiful words of Antony,
"Eros !- I come, my queen. Eros ! stay for me.
And all the haunt be ours” a decided claim to be considered as poetry, in point of expression only. Even the exquisite pathos of Lear, at the end of that mighty play, when his frenzy quits him, under the influence of Cordelia's care (“Pray do not mock me," etc.), cannot be called essentially poetical, though they are to us more louching than the grandest poetry. They are simple and unimaginative, and purely pathetic, as the situation of Lear then requires that they should be. His days of indignation and sorrow are over : his spirit is calm and sunk; and the winged words which became madness and the tempest, would have been out of place when his mind and body were relaxing gradually into the repose of death. In these cases, however, and in similar ones, it must be observed, that the picture presented, or the idea originated, may be poetical, although the mere words may have but little claim to that title. Thus, in that airy and exquisite account of “Mulciber,” in the Paradise Lost, where Music and Poetry run clasped together down a stream of divine verse, there is title of the strictly poetical phrase, except where it is told that he
« Dropt from the zenith like a falling star;" but the whole picture is nevertheless beautiful, and conceived in the spirit of poetry. These are a few cases, and there are thousands of others. Generally speaking, however,-in the works of true poets, the phrases are glowing with Imagination or bright with Fancy, as well as the pictures presented ; and we should have exceeding doubt as to the claims of a writer, whose characters or pictures only had some tinge of imagination, while his details remained couched in language which could not pretend to any other name than “ prose.”
There has of late been some discussion, amongst a few of our eminent writers, in regard to “objects which are or are not poetical.” We are not about to revive the subject at any length ; but we may observe, that the art of poetry originates in the faculty of its professors. If it existed in nature, and a writer had simply to transcribe her appearances, any body might become a poet as a matter of course. But the poetical faculty does not, as we apprehend, consist simply in describing what is splendid already, for that may be done by a prosaic mind; nor in selecting what is beautiful, for that is the employment of taste. Nevertheless, it is true that certain objects, inasmuch as they approach to that standard, to which it is the aim of poets to sublime the tamer and ordinary appearances of the world, and may therefore reasonably be considered as the models existing in the poet's mind, may so far be allowed to be the most“ poetical,” or the nearest allied to poetry. Poetry (we do not mean satire), it is to be remarked, deals with the grand, the terrible, the beautiful; but seldom or never with the mean. Ils principle is elevation, and not depression or degradation. It is true that, in tragedy and narrative, characters and images of the lowest cast are sometimes admilted; but for the purposes of contrast only, or to “ poinl a moral.” Poetry is not constituted of those base elements, nor does the true poet luxuriate in them : they are subject to his dominion, but do not rise to his favour.
The nearer then that an object approximates to what is evidently the standard or the result of poetic inspiration, the nearer it may be said li approach to poetry itself. For the principle which animates the creato must exist in the thing created. The grandeur which he aspires to fashion the beauty which he delights to mould, partake surely in some measure of or bear some resemblance to, the grandeur and beauty which exist independent of his creation. Under this view,-the stream, the valley, the time-wasted ruin and the mossy cell-the breathing Venus, and the marble Gods of Greece and Rome—the riotous waves and the golden sky—the stars, the storm, and the mad winds—ocean, and the mountain which kisses heaven-Love and Beauty, Despair, Ambition and Revenge-all objects or passions which lift our thoughts from the dust, and stir men inio madness-almost every thing which has in it a strong principle of impulse, or elevation, has a claim to be considered poetical. It is the meaner things of life, its tameness and mediocrity, ils selfishness and envy, and repining, which, though subdued occasionally to the use of poetry, are too base for an alliance with it; and which creep on from age to age, recorded indeed and made notorious, but branded with immortality for the sake of example only, and trampled under the feet of the Muse.
The object of poetry is not to diminish and make mean, but to magnify and aggrandise" to accommodate the shows of things to the desires of the mind; which, in its healthy state, all tend upwards. It does not seek to dwarf the great statures of nature, nor to reduce the spirit to the contemplation of humble objects : its standards are above mortality, and not below it. Surely then, if this be almost invariably the tendency of the poetic mind, those objects (be they in art or nature) which approach nearest to the ideas of the poet, must be fairly considered as being in themselves nearest to poetry. Whether art or nature is to be preferred to the highest station, is another question. For our own parts, we are inclined to preser art to science, and nature to art. A brilliant light may be thrown upon a pack of cards, and the fancy may play and flutter over a game of ombre; but this proves nothing but the skill of the poet in this particular instance. Is it to be supposed, that if he had beheld the dissolution of a world, or seen Uriel gliding on a sunbeam, arrayed in his celestial armour and majestic beauty, he could have done no more? We think otherwise. Occasionally it may have appeared, that the poorest things have been exalted and made level with the loftiest, by a republican spirit of poetry; but we shall find, on close investigation, that most of these instances (if not all) are unavailable; that the things spoken of have reference to matters of higher moment; and that it is from these that they derive their importance. It is not, for instance, the “ tapeg" only which throws a poetic lustre, but it is the flame which shines at " midnight," and burns in solitude and silence. It is not
night's candle” only, but it is when the candle is connected with the time-when jocund Day
“ Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops," that it rises into poetry.
With respect to the end or intention of poetry—its different kinds—and its origin,-a very few words must suffice at present, our business being more particularly with the art, as understood and practised by the loftiest English writers. It has often been asserted, that the object of poetry is -lo please; and assuredly this is one, though by no means the sole object