The Literature of Ecstasy by Mordell, Albert
Transcriber's Notes: Variations in spelling and hyphenation have been left as in the original except in the Index where the spelling has been changed to match the spelling in the body of the text. A complete list of corrections follows the text. Other notes also follow the text.
Words in italics in the original are surrounded by _underscores_. Ellipses match the original. A row of asterisks represents a thought break.
THE LITERATURE OF ECSTASY
ALBERT MORDELL Author of: The Erotic Motive in Literature Dante and Other Waning Classics The Shifting of Literary Values
BONI AND LIVERIGHT Publishers New York
THE LITERATURE OF ECSTASY
COPYRIGHT, 1921, BY BONI & LIVERIGHT, INC.
_Printed in the United States of America_
PAGE CHAPTER I. INTRODUCTION 9
CHAPTER II. THE PSYCHOLOGY OF ECSTASY 18
CHAPTER III. ECSTASY, NOT RHYTHM, ESSENTIAL TO POETRY 42
CHAPTER IV. PROSE THE NATURAL LANGUAGE OF THE LITERATURE OF ECSTASY 77
CHAPTER V. PROSE PRECEDES VERSE HISTORICALLY 96
CHAPTER VI. BLANK VERSE AND FREE VERSE AS FORMS OF PROSE 111
CHAPTER VII. MORAL AND PHILOSOPHICAL IDEAS AS POETRY WHEN WRITTEN WITH ECSTASY 123
CHAPTER VIII. POETRY RISES ABOVE ART FOR ART'S SAKE AND INTUITION 138
CHAPTER IX. HIGH FORM OF POETRY ECSTATIC PRESENTATION OF ADVANCED SOCIAL IDEALS 152
CHAPTER X. LITERATURE OF ECSTASY EMANATES FROM THE UNCONSCIOUS 179
CHAPTER XI. LOVE ECSTASY IN ARABIAN POETRY 203
CHAPTER XII. CONCLUSION 226
THE LITERATURE OF ECSTASY
From time immemorial it has been assumed that poetry is something which is caviare to the general public. A "poem" even to-day is supposed to be a literary composition that is in artificial language arranged in a metrical pattern, often conveying a trite idea or enshrining an ineffective image. Thousands of volumes and essays have been written on poetry, and instead of fathoming a true conception of its nature, they have dealt with the trappings and garments which clothe it; these indeed have often been confused with poetry itself. As a result, there has grown around the pathway leading to poetry an endless maze of shrubbery. The reader who has no knowledge of rules and laws relating to verse, who is ignorant of technical requirements and established uses, labors under the delusion that he does not like poetry. Though he reads many works in prose that stir a deep emotional appeal within him, he does not regard himself as one of those lovers who haunt the foot of Parnassus Hill.
I wish in this volume to present a conception of poetry freed from academic and conventional standards. I wish to restore to the term poetry its primary and fundamental significance as a verbal composition in which the predominating feature is ecstasy. Poetry is an emotional atmosphere that pervades all literature in its finest parts; it characterizes any purely personal expression of the creative imagination. As the reader perceives, my definition of poetry includes prose literature in which ecstasy is present. I do not think of poetry as a branch of literature couched in a metrical form, following regular rules of rhythm, diction, figures of speech or rhyme. My conception of poetry then, is not that of a department of literature which is opposed to prose, but of an emotional spirit hovering over any kind of writing, whether in verse or prose, which conveys ecstasy.
I shall try to show especially that the prose literature of ecstasy fulfils all the intrinsic conditions which have been associated with poetry. I shall consider the question of how much, or rather how little, the element of rhythm or any other pattern is essential in determining the nature of poetry. In fact, I shall even maintain that prose irregularly rhythmical or even unrhythmical,[10:A] just as the exigencies of the emotion require, is the natural language of the emotions, that it was so at the very beginnings of literary history, and has in fact never ceased being used as such a vehicle. I shall further take the position that the set forms of verse which have grown up among all nations as a vesture for emotional writing, have been more or less pervaded with artificiality. The final judgment as to the nature of poetry resides in the appeal to the emotions. The test of poetry is not in the form which the writer uses, or in compliance with rules of prosody, but in the soul of the reader or hearer. If two emotional passages, one in a set pattern and one in prose have the same effect upon the responsive mechanism of the human soul, if they both arouse ecstasy, it matters not if you refuse to call the prose passage poetry; its effect is however that of poetry. It stirs and moves you to rapture, it is a product of the author's unconscious, it speaks from soul to soul, it is beautiful in its expressiveness, it has a rhythm of its own. I shall not be concerned if you refuse to call this emotional prose passage poetry, but it does belong to the literature of ecstasy, and ecstasy was and is the first condition of poetic composition. The poetry in verse is but part of the literature of ecstasy.
I shall hence deal in this volume largely with emotional or impassioned prose; for it belongs to the literature of ecstasy, although it is often termed poetic prose, or sometimes disparagingly, prose poetry. Under this term I shall include not only the so-called "fine writing" but emotional passages in the language of the average man, dialogues from prose dramas, novels and short stories, and I shall also regard criticism, essays and works on science and philosophy highly charged with feeling as part of the province of the literature of ecstasy.
This work becomes thus a treatise on poetics, and will present a new definition of poetry which will include all emotional prose writing.
A very important phase of the subject will take in the connection between poetry or the literature of ecstasy, and various spheres of human thought, such as ethical and social questions. The _idea_ will be shown to be an important factor in the literature of ecstasy, for ecstasy does not preclude the intellectual and moral activities. The notion of art for art's sake thus assumes a rather trivial aspect. Any idea whether scientific or philosophic, moral or social, if ecstatically presented, becomes itself literature of ecstasy, or poetry.
Should the reader conclude to accept the prose literature of ecstasy as poetry, he will find there was much poetry in the world's prose literature that he has never recognized as such. He will also be compelled to admit that much of what has been called poetry, because written in verse, does not properly belong to poetry, as not being of the literature of ecstasy. He will also see that the artificial classifications of the different kinds of poetry, such as epic, dramatic, pastoral, satirical, the ode, the sonnet, the ballad, the didactic poem, the idyl, the elegy, etc., were based on fallacies and were confusing and erroneous. There is only one species of poetry, the utterance of the ecstatic state, and this is always personal, whether in verse or prose, and hence, has a lyrical quality. If the poet gives the utterances of other people in ecstatic states, these also are lyrics. Hence every composition whether in verse or prose, that records ecstasy here and there, is lyrical in those parts where the ecstasy is depicted.
The distinction between prose and verse will be more clearly defined, if we refer to the poetry that is written in both these forms as poetry in verse, and poetry in prose.
Sidney, Shelley, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Whitman, all of whom, besides being great poets themselves, were probably the greatest critics of poetry in the English language, took cognizance of the fact that the great emotional prose writers of the world were poets. But most of the critics have resented this attitude and have gone on in the unjust classifications that recognize as a poet the petty rhymster, who is often barren of both emotions and ideas. They also deny the glorious epithet of poet to many great prose masters of the delineation of human passions.
The question of free verse, naturally will come in for consideration. I shall show that it is really rhythmical prose arranged so as to call attention to the rhythms. I believe, however, that the free verse writers have a right to make such linear arrangement. The bulk of the poetry of the future may very likely be written in free verse forms, or in prose. If much of the free verse of to-day fails in being poetry, it is not because of the form, but because there is no ecstasy in it, or in the poet's soul. Most of the poetry of the Bible is really in free verse; it is poetry, however, not because of the free verse, but because it presents universal phases of human ecstasy.
I have expressly ignored most of the great authors who wrote epics and dramas in verse, and also most of the great English verse poets, for I wish to arrive at a conception of poetry chiefly from prose examples. Most critics have assumed that they could never learn what poetry was unless they gave examples from men like Homer and Shakespeare, Sophocles and Dante, Spenser and Milton. I rarely quote from them, not because I do not recognize the greatest poetry in these authors, but because I wish to show that one may arrive at a true conception of the nature of poetry by illustrations from prose writers of ecstatic literature alone.
Although I feel that the artificial verse forms hamper instead of beautify the expression of the poet's emotions, I do not think that such forms ever will be, nor need be utterly abandoned. Man will always love a ringing, rhyming ballad or song.
I have devoted a chapter to the poetry of the most poetical nation, the Arabs; their poets produced the anomaly of utilizing the most artificial metres, and yet never lost sight of the fact that ecstasy was the very life of the poem. Probably no poets in the world have produced such exquisite love poetry as the Arabs; they have also had great influence on modern European poetry, for it is being recognized that modern romantic fiction, especially in its employment of the tenderness of the love sentiment as a frequent theme, was transplanted from them.
Poetry is the soul of literature, and we should cease limiting the term to rhythmical or patterned productions, and apply it to emotional writing in general. No term for the word poet in any language that I am acquainted with includes in its etymological significance the idea of rhythm or metrical pattern. The Hebrew word for poet is one who utters prophecies or parables; the Greek word signifies a "maker"; the Latin word "seer," the Arabian word "one who knows." Critics of the Bible have especially recognized that the chief characteristic of both the true and the false prophet (Nabi) was the ecstatic state; the Bible itself is of course authority for this fact. The inferior prophet was one, however, in whom the ecstatic state was hypnotically produced, in whom the rational and moral faculties were suspended; the great prophets were those in whom a powerful sense of social justice was illuminated by the ecstatic state; hence the prophecies of the Bible are not orations wherein rhetoric is a factor, but genuine literature of ecstasy, or poetry in rhythmical prose, using parallelism.
I need not continue to give analyses of the Greek "poetes," the Latin "vates," or the Arabian "shair," for it has been usually conceded that these words all refer in their primary significance to the imaginative work, or ecstatic state of the author, and not to the mere dabbler in verse forms.
With theories of poetry being a product of the unconscious, as developed by Freud and his disciples, or as being expression as advanced by Croce, my task does not become so utterly devoid of reason as may appear at first sight. One must not forget that the critics of poetry have formed their conceptions of poetry by deducing rules from the verse poems of the world's literature. Instead of looking ahead, they have always looked back. Whenever a new great poet appeared, like Wordsworth, Whitman or Ibsen for instance, they had to modify their theories, and to revise their books on poetics and rhetoric. If the productions of Homer and Æschylus had been entirely different, we no doubt would have had other conceptions of poetry prevailing. Yet it is only by mere accident that Homer dealt with gods, wars, mythical events and employed dactylic hexameter. It is again also by pure chance that Æschylus used various metres, made Prometheus and the Furies living beings, was sponsor for a philosophy of divine punishment and often indulged in artificial diction. Had these poets written novels instead, conveying just as much genius and ecstasy as they did in their verse works, the critics of poetry would have deduced an entirely different conception of it.
To Democritus belongs the honor of having first recognized among the Greeks that ecstasy is the condition of the poet. To Plato goes the distinction for having fully developed this theory. Aristotle accepted also the view that poetry is ecstasy. The author of the ancient treatise _On the Sublime_ perceived that the characteristic of poetic genius is in the arousing of the ecstatic state. He says, in a passage which deserves citation: "For it is not to persuasion (i. e., rhetoric) but to ecstasy that passages of extraordinary genius carry the hearer."
But the ultimate significance of my volume is not concerned with the prose form of poetry, but with poetry as a psychological process, as a social force and as a philosophical expression.
Ecstasy, imagination, and the unconscious are all convertible and synonymous terms for the primary source of poetry. They are the fruitage of the turmoil of the soul, due to the apparently forgotten memories in us of the emotional lives in all our ancestors. They represent also the impassioned activities of our logical and rational faculties, the sum of the views of life of the past. They emanate from the dream life of man, whether this occurs in the waking or sleeping state. They are the workings of the force we call inspiration.
My view of poetry as emotional prose literature enables me, I hope, to eliminate many of the so-called conflicts between poetry and philosophy and between poetry and morals. Philosophical and moral essays become poetry in those parts lit up by ecstasy or emotion. If philosophy deals with rare and profound truths in regard to the universe, if morals treat of the noblest relations between man and man, then I know of no higher form of poetry than a philosophical truth, or a moral or social conception, when ecstatically stated; I can think of no higher literature of ecstasy than the imaginative utterance of great intellectual conceptions or impassioned expression of the love of justice. Shakespeare's line, "We are but such stuff as dreams are made of," is but a metaphysical theory emotionally put; Isaiah's rebuke to the corrupt rich is but a didactic saw, ecstatically delivered. Poetry finds its best material in metaphysical and ethical truths emotionally presented. Lofty ideas, however, and not commonplace deductions or conclusions are the best material for poetry.
I recognize, then, as great poetry, all writings in which metaphysical or scientific truth and the spirit of social service are ecstatically formulated in prose, though I make no terms with dry didactic works that pretend to be poetry. I see the workings of the intellect in a product of the imagination and I try to show that logic and morality have not been so hostile to the poetic faculty as they have been usually deemed. At the same time I find that all poetry is a product or expression of the unconscious.
This is, then, not a book to teach the writing of poetry, but a study of the poetic faculty in literature, not in rhetorical terms, but by an appeal to the emotional life of the reader. It aims to point out the best examples of the literature of ecstasy (or poetry) whether in verse or prose. It shows that poetry is the very life of man's soul, that he has always loved it, that he has in lieu of gratification of a good and true poetic faculty often spent himself in cultivating substitutes for it. What a superficial assumption that because people do not like verse or read verse (especially trivial, lifeless, unhuman verse) they therefore do not care for poetry! Furthermore, I try to relate the poet's own literary revelation back to himself, just as the poet sought to reveal his soul to the reader.
[10:A] All prose has rhythm. I use the word "unrhythmical" merely to designate such prose where the rhythm is not marked. There is no sharp dividing line between rhythmical and unrhythmical prose.
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF ECSTASY
"The primal and danger-breeding gift of ecstasy," says Huneker in his essay "Anarchs and Ecstasy" in _Bedouins_, "is bestowed upon few. Keats had it, and Shelley; despite his passion, Byron missed it, as did the austere Wordsworth[18:A]--who had, perhaps, loftier compensations. Swinburne had it from the first. Not Tennyson and Browning, only in occasional exaltation. Like the cold devils of Felicien Rops, coiled in frozen ecstasy, the winds of hell booming about them, the poetry of Charles Baudelaire is ecstatic. Poe and Heine knew ecstasy. . . . William Blake and his figures, rushing down the secret pathway of the mystic, which zigzags from the Fourth Dimension to the bottomless pit of materialism, was a creator of the darker nuances of pain and ecstasy."
Ecstasy is derived from the Greek word which means _to make stand out_; the mind makes sensible things stand out because it is concentrated on particular emotions, and on the ideas associated with and springing from these emotions. We must not make the mistake of thinking that ecstasy has nothing to do with thought. On the contrary, it is too much occupied with thought. It in fact represents a form of monomania connected with a certain idea. It is a rapturous state in which the person is governed by preoccupation with a definite viewpoint. The poetic condition of ecstasy to which I refer is that mentioned by the poet Gray, in his famous _Elegy_, when he speaks of one of the dead who might have "waked to ecstasy the living lyre." He again uses the word in his _Progress of Poesie_, when he speaks of Milton, who rode "upon the seraph wings of ecstasy." Undoubtedly Gray understood by ecstasy the poetic emotion primarily. In fact, any emotion that grips a man strongly may be called ecstasy. Great grief or joy, pleasure or pain, passion or tragedy, enthusiasm for an idea or a cause, are all ecstatic conditions. The passion for social justice, an intense love for humanity, devotion to art, beauty, knowledge, the emotions of a happy or an unhappy lover, all constitute important subjects in the literature of ecstasy.
But the ecstasy must be a universal and secular ecstasy. There are two kinds of ecstasies which though universal may manifest themselves in such primitive forms as to appear only to limited circles. I refer to the ecstasy of chauvinism, or fanatical, local, unjust patriotism, and to the ecstasy of the pathologically religious victim whose views border on hallucination. For example, if a man goes into extreme rhapsodies about his particular race or country, and vituperates the people of other races or countries, and justifies tyrannical measures towards them; if, furthermore, he writes under the assumption that all the intellectual and moral virtues reside in his people,--in short, if he is purely clannish one can scarcely expect his literary product to appeal to other people than his own. Again, if we hear or read the outburst of a devotee of a particular religious sect, and we find that we can agree with him in none of the views or dogmas he entertains; if, moreover, we observe there is something also anti-human in the attitude that he takes towards life, we are revolted by his passionate outpourings.
Though every nation and every religion is and should be to some extent clannish and sectarian, still no literature that is purely so can have a universal appeal. Hence, morbidly mystical poems, celebrating union with an anthropomorphic God, poems chanting the praises of conquest and imperialism, poems seething with hatred for people of other races or religions, poems poisoned by hatred for humanity, are all examples of the literature of ecstasy of a low order.
On the contrary, however, the literature of ecstasy may be both religious and patriotic, and still appeal to the world at large. I suppose the best illustration of such kind of literature is the psalms in the Old Testament. They strike a universal note and move Christians, Mohammedans, Jews, free thinkers alike. The ecstasy here does not depend upon the author's attachment to a dogma, but springs most frequently from a love of righteousness and humanity; hence the emotional appeal of the poet touches even those who are not deists. There are also fine touches and poignant prayers here and there that move even the non-Christian in some of the works of St. Augustine, Thomas à Kempis, Pascal and Bunyan.
We are not concerned here with the idea of ecstasy as a state that is supposed to give us glimpses of the deity, nor with any attempt to purify us by divesting our soul from the imperfect body and liberating it from the frailties of the flesh. On the contrary, ecstasy is nothing more than accumulated ordinary emotions and it speaks not only with the body, but with all the memories of the body. It makes use in its communications to us of those very physical infirmities that mystics assume it shuns, those residing in the body as a medium. Ecstasy employs the mind, and thus depends on the brain, the nerves, the physical senses, which are unconsciously active even in a trance, and speak out of the past. Ecstasy is the voice of the body.[21:A]
Generally speaking the ecstasy we mean in speaking of poetry is not the same as that known to mysticism. However, the ecstasy in both springs from the unconscious and is the fruit of an emotional soul because of inherited memories of past emotions. In the ecstasy of the mystic, which is usually what is called "religious experience," there is really little application of the reason. It is even often pathological and is both the product and the cause of a belief in absurd dogmas. It is often merely a sublimated passion for morality, or the result, as Freudians have shown, of a hysterical attachment to parents, or the idealization of a father. It is often a sublimated sex love due to repression. Every one has been struck with the sensuous images in the conceptions of the mystics. Broadly speaking, mysticism seeks a condition of being united to a personal God who is supposed to exist outside of nature; it craves to partake of His holiness, and to cultivate purity and be rid of the earthy. He who rejects belief in an anthropomorphic God or to the mystics' particular religions can have little of the mystics' feelings. He does not enter into sympathy with their ideas, and this militates against the university of mystic poetry. The ecstasy does not "catch." Most of the mystic poetry of the world, especially that centering around asceticism and dogma, has importance only for the believer in the mystic's philosophy. Very little of it has literary value, although it often is presented in an emotional and effective manner.
But there is a form of ecstasy in a species of mysticism that is universal and modern, and will appeal to all in spite of their religious beliefs. When the poet recognizing God in nature seeks to identify himself with nature by love and admiration for her, by a passion for a life that is in accordance with her commands, his poetry embodying such ecstasy is universal and is lifted into a high plane. It becomes a sort of ecstatic statement of pantheistic philosophy that even the believer may accept. That is why the Persian poet, Jalalu 'l-Din Rumi, for example, appeals to us and why his works are of such high order.
Sufism or Persian mysticism began in asceticism and ended in pantheism. It became a desire of a union with nature. In fact, it was an ecstatic state of love for man, nature, God. It had its roots however in physical love, and a story is told of a man who, wanting to become a Sufi, was told first to love some woman. Some critics even declare that many of the Persian love poems are really mystical poems, and though this is only partly true, it is certain that the Persian mystical poems are really love poems.
The mystic poems of the later Mohammedan Sufis are in fact anti-Mohammedan, and yet by a curious paradox they become after much controversy acceptable to the Church.
There is also much that is modern in the Pre-buddhistic _Vedas_ and _Upanishads_, and in some Buddhistic works, because of the pantheistic character of the ideas and the universality of the emotions.
The ecstasy of the pantheistic mystic is a secular feeling that we all experience, and is the substance of literature in prose and verse. We have much modern mystical poetry that has a universal appeal; it is also pantheistic in character and shows the poet's desire for union not with an anthropomorphic God, but with nature whom he recognizes as his God. The best illustration of it is the famous passage in Wordsworth's lines composed above Tintern Abbey, in which he tells us he hears in nature "the still, sad music of humanity." The entire passage is great poetry, not because of the blank verse but because of the mystical pantheistic ecstasy.
Sane mystical poetry may then be of a very high order. You will find examples of it in Blake, Emerson, Tennyson, and Matthew Arnold. Shelley's _Hymn to Intellectual Beauty_, Browning's _Rabbi Ben Ezra_, Whitman's _Chanting the Square Deific_ and Swinburne's _Hertha_ are great mystical poems. These and others will be found in the _Oxford Book of Mystical Verse_, collected by D. H. S. Nicholson and A. H. E. Lee.
Some years ago Arthur Machen produced a curious and illogical book, _Hieroglyphics_, where he touched the borders of the truth of the distinction between the literature of ecstasy and general literature, but he introduced too many unbalanced views about literature being unrelated to life. He was also thinking too exclusively of that religious ecstasy that is found in the Catholic Church only. He also took as his model for an example of ecstasy, _Pickwick Papers_, where there is really little ecstasy, but he found none in _Vanity Fair_ where there is much. He also, strange to relate, found no ecstasy in Meredith or the later Hardy novels, and in no intellectual productions marked with liberal thought except those of Rabelais. He showed no insight into the real greatness of literature, because of his narrow conception of ecstasy.
Ecstasy in the broad sense is any excited condition of the emotions. Besides the meaning the word has in a narrow mystic and a medical sense, with neither of which significances are we here concerned, it is understood generally as referring to any condition where man is overpowered by his feelings. It is this condition which makes the poet write, and the reader is brought into a similar state with the poet by reading the poems. Hence when the prose writer describes his ecstatic state, or draws people into such a state, he is also a poet. The critical or philosophical essay, the novel and short story when ecstatical, are therefore poetry.
It is not necessary that a literary production should be a protracted piece of ecstatical writing.
Many people are under the impression that when we speak of ecstasy we mean a state where reason is utterly dethroned. Yet the Greeks, who make inspiration the source of art, never let the passions so rule that utter chaos resulted in the poet's creation. In Greek literature we have a blending of reason and ecstasy. Professor Butcher has pointed out in his excellent essay on "Art and Inspiration," in his _Harvard Lectures on Greek Subjects_, the potency of reason in Greek poetry. The ideas of the Greek writers were emotionalized, and there were ideas in their emotional products. Demosthenes was like Plato, a passionate thinker; Pindar, Æschylus and Sophocles were reasoning poets.
The Greeks used the word ecstasy in a modern secular sense rather than in a spiritual or pathological one. It was the unconscious memory of the poet coming to the fore and utilizing the intellect to pour light on the soul. It was not the mystic's ecstasy where irrational conclusions were arrived at because of some abnormality in the seer. The poet was always a critic and a philosopher who tamed his wildest thoughts. "Moderns are prone," says Butcher, "to believe that the action of poetic genius abdicates its rights and descends to the lower level of talent when it begins to reason. Greek literature decisively refutes such a notion. It exhibits the critical faculty as a great underlying element in the creative faculty."
Greek poetry then is the portrayal of reasoning passion, using at the same time a conscious technique. It was the outpouring of the personality of the poet made up of his intellect and passions. It represented the breaking forth of the unconscious into expression, controlled by a censorship on the part of the poet.
Plato's idea about poetry being a form of madness may, however, still be accepted, when we understand by madness the being imbued with one's emotions in a manner not depriving the poet of his intellectual powers. Poetry is only the result of inspiration, if by this term we mean that rationalized emotions have so accumulated as suddenly to seek expression. Every poet, in prose or verse, writes from the unconscious and he usually gets lost in his own characters or speaks directly in his own person. The writer, however, is not mad, nor is his art allied to madness. He is usually too sane, using his judgment at the same time that his emotions are aroused. So we can still subscribe to Plato's idea of unconscious art, put in the mouth of Socrates in the dialogue _Ion_:
All good poets, epic as well as lyric, compose their beautiful poems not by art, but because they are inspired and possessed; like the Corybantian revellers in their dances, who are not in their right mind when they are composing their beautiful strains, yet who, when falling under the power of music and metre are inspired and possessed; like Bacchic maidens who draw milk and honey from the rivers when they are under the influence of Dionysus, but not when they are in possession of their mind. And the soul of the lyric poets does the same, as they themselves say; for they tell us that they bring songs from the honeyed fountains, culling them out of the gardens and dells of the Muses; they are like bees, winging their way from flower to flower. And this is true. For the poet is a light winged and holy thing, and there is no invention in him until he has been inspired and is out of his senses, and the mind is no longer in him: when he has not attained to this state, he is powerless and is unable to utter his oracles.
* * * * *
The expressions referring to being out of the mind and senses must not be taken literally.
As long as we bear in mind that Plato's idea of madness is merely the concentration on one topic, his idea of poetry is true.
A remark of Socrates in the _Phaedrus_ should be well pondered by disciples of art for art's sake. "He who having no touch of the Muses' madness in his soul comes to the door and thinks that he will get into the temple by the help of art--he, I say, and his poetry are not admitted."
Plato himself was one of the finest of ancient poets, in spite of the fact that he wanted to exclude poets from his ideal commonwealth. Some of the finest prose poems and allegories of ancient literature are found in his _Republic_, the _Phaedrus_ and _Symposium_. Most of these are known to us, and need no mention. When Plato speaks of love, he does so as a poet, and the passages on the subject in the last two named dialogues are full of poetry.
I wish to give, besides the above passage, as an illustration of Plato's own prose poetry, part of a speech by Alcibiades. It is at the conclusion of the _Symposium_, and is part of Alcibiades's tribute to Socrates and his speeches. Socrates, himself, thinks the speech is delivered to create trouble between him and Agathon, of whom Alcibiades is jealous. The speech is ruined also by a reference at length to a phase of Greek life which is repulsive to us. After likening Socrates to Silenus and to Marsyas, Alcibiades continues in the following prose poem:
For my heart leaps within me fore than that of any Corybantian reveller, and my eyes rain tears when I hear them. And I observe that many others are affected in the same manner. I have heard Pericles and other great orators, and I thought that they spoke well, but I never had any similar feeling; my soul was not stirred by them, nor was I angry at the thought of my own slavish state. But this Marsyas has often brought me to such a pass that I have felt as if I could hardly endure the life which I am leading (this, Socrates, you will admit); and I am conscious that if I did not shut my ears against him and fly as from the voice of the siren my fate would be like that of others--he would transfix me, and I should grow old sitting at his feet. For he makes me confess that I ought not to live as I do, neglecting the wants of my own soul, and busying myself with the concerns of the Athenians; therefore I hold my ears and tear myself away from him. And he is the only person who ever made me ashamed, which you might think not to be in my nature, and there is no one else who does the same. For I know that I cannot answer him or say that I ought not to do as he bids, but when I leave his presence the love of popularity gets the better of me. And therefore I run away and fly from him, and when I see him I am ashamed of what I have confessed to him. Many a time have I wished that he were dead, and yet I know that I should be more sorry than glad, if he were to die; so that I am at my wit's end.
Symonds tells us that Æschylus was the great example of unconscious art among Greek playwrights, and that he exemplifies Plato's theory of poetry.
Æschylus's creation Cassandra is a good illustration of a character in an ecstatic state. Cassandra is both prophetess and poetess, and her cries move us to this day, when much of Æschylus's moral and religious philosophy bores and irritates us. She is the incarnation of woman suffering. She was ravished at Troy by Ajax and was given to Agamemnon as prisoner of war, she the princess, daughter of Priam and Hecuba. She had lost most of the members of her family and now anticipated great trouble for Agamemnon whose wife Claetemnestrae was unfaithful to him. She also foresaw her own death at the queen's hands, but it was her punishment that her prophecies would not be heeded. She is partly mad, but hers is the poetic frenzy, tempered by logic. Her most meaningless ravings are full of meaning. They are poetry not because of the metre in which they are rendered, but because of the rational ecstasy. This ecstasy remains intact even in the English prose translation.
Nietzsche divided art into Apollonian and Dionysian. He found that the Dionysian state depended on emotional or orgiastic intoxication. He perceived that the ecstasy in this state was largely of a sexual character. As he boldly put it, "The desire for art and beauty is an indirect longing for the ecstasy of sexual desire, which gets communicated to the brain." This is the thesis that Freud developed. Croce, who has, however, something of the metaphysician and mystic in him, is not in sympathy with this view, for he ridicules the idea that the genesis of aesthetism lies in the desire of the male for the female. Yet he agrees with Freud in the conception that art is a means of curing oneself of sexual neurosis. "By elaborating his impressions," says Croce, "man frees himself from them. By objectifying them, he removes them from him and makes himself their superior. The liberating and purifying function of art is another aspect and another formula of its character and activity. Activity is the deliverer, just because it drives away passivity."
Finely put, indeed, are the words of Nietzsche's views on ecstasy. "To the existence of art, to the existence of any aesthetic activity or perception whatsoever, a preliminary psychological condition is indispensable, namely ecstasy. Ecstasy must first have intensified the sensitiveness of the whole mechanism; until this takes place art is not realized.
"All kinds of ecstasy, however differently conditioned, possess this power; above all the ecstasy of sexual excitement, the oldest and most primitive form of ecstasy."
Plato, it will be recalled, compared the state of the poet to that of the reveller in the Bacchanalian rites. The favorable side of the worship of Dionysius or the Bacchic revels has been shown by Euripides in his play the _Bacchae_. He shows how King Pentheus was torn to pieces in mistake by his own mother for his hostility to the bacchic rites. Bacchus himself is the hero of the play. As the chorus says, Bacchus is innately modest and modest women will not be corrupted at the revels. Who is not moved by the song of the Chorus? "Would that I could go to Cyprus, the island of Venus, where the lovers dwell, soothing the minds of mortals, and to Paphos, which the waters of a foreign river flowing with an hundred mouths fertilize without rain--and to the land of Pieria, where is the beautiful seat of the Muses, the holy hill of Olympus. Lead me thither, O Bromius, Bromius, O master thou of Bacchanals. There are the Graces and there is Love and there is it lawful for the Bacchae to celebrate their orgies."
The ecstasy of the revellers at the rites was poetic ecstasy, for it was an unconscious or conscious erotic nature manifesting itself in the form of a religious rite. Bacchus, aside from being god of wine, was the symbol of productiveness and was accompanied by Priapus, and the phallus was carried about. He was youthful and his symbols were animals like the goat, ass, bull, tiger, lion, all of which had erotic significance. The ecstatic rites with which he was worshipped were introduced from Thrace.
Aristotle attributes the origin of tragedy to the use of the dithyramb of the revellers, and comedy to the phallic songs sung by them. The point is that love frenzy leads to poetry, and we have an illustration of it in the connection between the Bacchic rites and poetry, between love and art. The rites degenerated under the Romans and were soon suppressed by law.
Nietzsche gives us a profound interpretation of Euripides's play in the twelfth section of _The Birth of Tragedy_. It is the old story of the battle between the emotions and reason, the instinct and the intellect, problems which men as different as Hearn, Bergson, Nietzsche, Pater and Freud solved by seeking liberties for the instinct. Pentheus, who represents reason, is the enemy of Bacchus, but fascinated by him, loses his life; reason leads to death when it makes no concession to the instincts. The play was a protest by Euripides against his own moralizing tendencies. The lesson of the sages Cadmus and Tiresius is, in the words of Nietzsche, that we must display a diplomatically cautious concern in the presence of the emotional forces. Don't trifle with poetry and the ecstasies that produce it.
The older interpretation, which even Pater adopted in his _Greek Studies_, that Euripides wrote the play as a repentance for his liberal views and to signify his return to the conservatism of the Greek religion, is no longer held. Gilbert Murray and others have also shown the fallacy of this view, but Nietzsche anticipated them.
The most primitive and universal ecstasy is that which is concerned with the attraction of the sexes. Poetry after all deals chiefly with love, for in the relations of the sexes we have the source of most of the pleasurable and painful emotions of humanity. Sexual love even when most hidden is at the root of all love between the sexes. It is for this reason that we can still appreciate the oldest lyric poetry of different nations.
True, two of our greatest of modern poets, Wordsworth and Whitman, dealt hardly at all with romantic love, and other poets like Shelley and Swinburne have written besides love poetry, passionate defences of liberty and republicanism. But still it is the relations of the sexes which most interests people in a play, a novel or a poem.
And the love poetry of the world is naturally to be found in prose as well as in verse. Many of our modern poets in their love poetry have not given us any better poetry than some of Heloise's love letters in prose.
Love is the foundation of poetry and for this reason poetry always will be with us, and probably more so in prose than in verse. We want literature that deals with it, and we like love poetry whether in the prose letters of Keats, the Carlyles, the Brownings and Madame Lespinasse, or in the novels of Hardy, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Balzac, or in the verse of Hafiz, Burns, Shelley, Browning, Heine or Verlaine.
Professor Woodberry has made a special plea in his _Inspiration of Poetry_ for a return of poetry to poetic madness. Emotion is the chief and most important element of poetry. "Emotion" as Woodberry says, "is the condition of their (the poets') existence; passion is the element of their being." When we think of the great figures in fiction who are to us the most poetic, we think of Oedipus, Orestes, Hamlet, Lear, Macbeth, Goriot, Grandet, Arthur Dimmesdale, Jean Valjean, Anna Karenina, Oswald Alving. Passion is the element that makes a character poetic. But any emotion in which the poet steeps his poems, interests us. We read Heine, Byron, Burns, Verlaine, because we wish to find our own emotions expressed. But not every petty feeling, like the shades and nuances we find in much verse, is great poetry, nor is the record of every trivial event important poetry.
But emotions described by the poet affect people differently. I may find great emotion in reading about a man who sacrifices himself for a great and unpopular idea, but others may not be interested in that man or his idea and hence will not be moved by the work. Such a work is poetry to me and like minded readers. Further, differences of intellectual outlook on the part of the readers count in determining poetry. Socrates, Buddha, Bruno and Galileo are poetic figures to us to-day; they have been enshrined in poetry and history and we accept many of their ideas. But to their contemporaries who rejected them they were not poetic figures. Who knows but that there are figures to-day we scoff at who may have a halo of poetry in history?
A distinct but by no means essential quality of the literature of ecstasy is that of pain. There is more pain depicted in the world's literature than pleasure. In his _The Nature of Poetry_, Edmund Clarence Stedman speaks of a certain sadness or melancholy in the poetry of the nineteenth century but he might have said this was true of the poetry of any century. Most poetry is sad, for life often is, and the poet is naturally interested in and pays most attention to the painful emotions that trouble him. Tragedy and elegy (and the term elegy was used by the Romans not only to bemoan the dead, but to deplore sad love affairs) are predominant in all literature, prose and verse.
We always find a poet's outburst of sorrow interesting. The poems of the Hebrews, Persians, Arabians, Chinese and Japanese may be read by us because they voice the sorrows that are universal to man. Grief is the substance of poetry and in the public mind there has always been an association between poetry and sadness; as Shelley said--"our sweetest songs are those that told the saddest thought."
It is assumed that Christianity made poetry sad but this is not so, for there is sad poetry in the Old Testament and among the Romans and the Orientals who never embraced Christianity. Poetry is sad because it is intertwined with human nerves. The most frequent note in poetry is wailing and lamentation, self-pity and passionate rebuke.
In Professor William A. Neilson's _Essentials of Poetry_, there is an interesting chapter on sentimentalism in poetry, in which the author dwells on the sentimentalism in the poetry of the English Romantic School. He defines it as the cultivation of an emotion for the sake of the thrill. Most certainly there can be no great poetry where the sentimentalism is forced, where it becomes ridiculous, where it bubbles over and becomes monotonous. Sentimentalism often characterizes popular poetry and if the public is likely to err in judging poetry it is particularly likely to confuse sentimentalism with normal human emotions. Yet it is hard often to draw the line between sham emotions and genuine sentiment.
The poet is bound to be always sentimental to an extent because he must wear his heart on his sleeve. No one need be ashamed of unadulterated emotions, for life is made up of them.
Besides, nationalities differ. The Irish, the Jews and the Russians, for example, do not consider their own poems sentimental because these are genuine records of actual feelings characteristic of sentimental peoples; to be sure, such expressed emotions may appear as sentimental to the rest of the world. Many think that the emotion of pity, and also sympathy for the criminal that we find in Russian novels is rather sentimental and nauseating, but it is genuine Russian emotion.
We should be on our guard, however, in regarding sentimentalism as poetry. The public loves cheap popular songs and mushy lachrymose verses. The many poems, stories and plays about "mother," "baby," "the flag," "home," "our country," etc., are often drivelling sentimentalism and not poetry.
Ecstasy was the keynote of Oriental poetry. We are fortunate in having a translation in the _Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society_ for 1901 and 1902 by Duncan B. Macdonald, of a book on the laws of music and singing of ecstasy from Al Ghazzali's work on the _Re-vivifying of the Sciences of the Faith_. Ghazzali (1060-1111) was the greatest apologist for Islam and is known as "The Proof of Islam." He was held to be the only man who was worthy of being a prophet, next to Mohammed himself. He unfortunately dealt the death blow to Mohammedan philosophy and Averroes wrote against him. But no one among Arabs had as grand a conception of ecstasy in connection with poetry as he did. He was influenced by the Persian Sufis and defined ecstasy in a very modern manner. We may dispense with his mystic conception of it and pay attention only to his definition of it in its relation to poetry. Great admirer as he was of the _Koran_ he recognized that poetry is more in accord with human nature than that work, and he quotes an authority to the effect that our being constituted of fanciful desires makes us more moved by poets than by the word of God. He finds various reasons for the power of poetry over us, the principal one being its quality of ecstasy. He sees that poetry has a mission in conveying ecstasy; that one of its uses is to arouse us to lamentation, to joy, to love, to courage and to religion. He analyzes the tender longing caused by love poetry, though, good Moslem that he was, he is always discriminating between poetry that arouses a lawful love, and that which has mere lust as its object.
His main contribution, however, to the philosophy of ecstasy is his recognition of its identity with the unconscious. He quotes some one to the effect that music and singing do not produce in the heart what is not in it but stir up what exists there. Ecstasy to him is the result of hearing and of understanding what is heard and applying it to an idea which occurs to the hearer. It is a condition produced in the hearer's soul due to knowledge or emotion, and the condition is varied. The following passage is especially worthy of quotation: "As for the states, how many a man gets so far as to perceive in his heart, on some occasion which may appear in it, a contraction or an expansion, yet he does not know its cause! And a man sometimes thinks about a thing, and it makes an impression on his soul. Then he forgets the cause, but the impression remains upon his soul, and he feels it. And, sometimes, the condition which he feels is a joy which arose in his soul on his thinking about a cause which produces joy; or it may have been a sorrow; then he who was thinking about it forgets it, but feels in the impression its consequence. And sometimes that condition is a strong condition which a word expressing joy or sorrow does not indicate clearly and for which he cannot come upon a suitable expression for what was intended."
Al Ghazzali gives then, as the essence of ecstasy, its unconscious nature. Ecstasy is related to longing for something unknown. All people experience in their hearts states demanding things unknown to them. He compares the situation to that of the innocent and ignorant youth in puberty who is in a state unexplained to him. Al Ghazzali is one of the first of modern critics to formulate the theory of ecstasy as the end of poetry, and his argument explains the vogue of love and mystic poetry. He recurs, it is true, to the influence of metre in poetry in inducing ecstasy, but he is always thinking of the ecstasy of love of man and God as the element of poetry, and in this he is a predecessor of Tolstoy. He also gives rules as to one's behavior in the ecstatic state and does not sanction undue madness.
A much higher form of the literature of ecstasy than the product of the immoral rites of Dionysus or the mystic poetry of Persia is the prophecy as it was known and delivered among the ancient Hebrews. Indeed, prophecy is the ideal form of the literature of ecstasy and represents the zenith of its achievement. It is the emotional verbal utterance of the unconscious of the poet, who is usually in a state of ecstasy, and who, as passages in the Bible testify, receives his message in a vision or dream. The act of prophesying was even contagious. The early prophets were like dancing dervishes in their prophesying and influenced others to do as they did. We recall how Saul stripped himself naked. The Hebrew word prophecy means utterance and the idea of foretelling the future was incidental to it. If the idea of futurity emanated from prophets, it was such insight as any gifted person may experience when he notes certain facts from which he can predict inevitable results. But the ecstatic state was always associated with the idea of prophecy, the only person, according to the account of the Bible, exempt from this state being Moses. The prophetic state was not allied to divination but resulted from moral and aesthetic inspiration such as we find in modern poets. When the Bible says, God spoke to the prophet, or the hand of God touched him, it means that the prophet was in a state of ecstasy due to a highly developed moral and social viewpoint. The true prophet's ecstasy was not accompanied by immorality or superduced by drugs or physical abuse. Music, however, was at one time used to produce the prophetic state. The aesthetic mechanism of the ancient prophets was no different from that of any great poet with a message of modern times. Moses Maimonides in his _Guide to the Perplexed_ analyzes the ecstatic state of prophecy and his analysis may be applied to any high form of poetic inspiration.
Prophecy was, according to Maimonides, an emanation sent forth to man's rational faculty and then to his imaginative faculty; it consisted in the most perfect development of the imaginative faculty; the logical and imaginative faculties had to be balanced in the prophet; he overflowed with the frenzy of ecstasy to help his fellow-men and could not rest even at risk of personal suffering; he had courage and intuition; he reserved his message in a dream or a vision.
The psychology of the prophetic inspiration has been studied by many of the higher critics of the Bible. One of the best books on the subject is _The Psychology of Prophecy_ by Dr. Jacob H. Kaplan, Philadelphia 1908, (Julius H. Greenstone) who says:
The ecstasy of the wild and mad kind was seen only in the early days of Hebrew prophecy, when wine and dance and music and other external means were used for bringing about this state, but the subdued elevated ecstasy due to religious temperament and patriotic fervor, due to constant and profound contemplation, was certainly the characteristic of the later prophets. . . . Ecstasy is usually the spring whence all the other prophetic streams flow.
While the Greeks mingled reason with inspiration to produce poetry, the prophets went further, and interpenetrated their ecstasy with a high sense of social justice. An ecstatic state, with a keen intellect, a high moral outlook, and a noble social ideal characterized the prophet. His state of ecstasy was due to this highly developed social conscience. He was not so much concerned with religious rites as with the decline of the nation's ideals of justice. The prophet of that day fulminated against the economic evils of society. He was possessed of an exalted type of aesthetic soul, the ecstasy to social justice. No literature gives us such types of men who rebuke unjust kings as we find in the stories of Nathan and David, Elijah and Ahab, Jeremiah and Hezekiah. No literature shows us such courageous types as Amos and Isaiah. They were not flatterers, these men who risked their lives in shouting back to eastern autocratic monarchs their iniquities. They did not say what society or public opinion wanted them to say but what they felt was their duty. They overflowed not with the immoral and insane ecstasy of the rites of Dionysius, but the ecstasy of the man who loves his neighbor as himself, of the man who would not have the rich crush the poor, of the man who sought kindness for the stranger, the oppressed, the widow, the fatherless.
And the prophets, in spite of their virulency, produced the highest forms of artistic beauty. Not all the revolutions of opinions and changes in religious beliefs have made them obsolete. Shaw once said, substitute the word ideals for the word idols, in the Bible, and you have messages that are still true.
So the prophets instead of being miracle performers, foretellers of the future, preachers of theology, are really poets of ecstasy, with a social message revealed in a dream. The old word of God, in the form of a high social ideal, to-day is still making prophets. Shelley, Ibsen and Ruskin have done work that is akin to the prophets of old; they have given us works of art inspired by a state of ecstasy springing from the possession of social ideals. Santayana rightly regards the prophet, one who portrays the ideals of experience and destiny, as the greatest poet. (See _Poetry and Religion._)
Nor did the prophets of old sing their messages in artificial form. They did not count their syllables and give us metre, though they indulged in parallelisms. They wrote in rhythmical prose.[39:A]
The prophets had a true conception of what constituted a high form of poetry, an ecstatic production in prose with a social ideal behind it. Ecstasy was the first condition of their poetry but it was not pathological as with monks who tortured their bodies, or decadent poets who resorted to drugs.
If there is a high form of the literature of ecstasy it surely is that in which the ecstasy of humanitarianism is described. It is that which shows a man with a highly developed sense of social justice, who is making sacrifices because he observes the misery of many due to the privileged few. _Don Quixote_ is one of the greatest poems because the knight wants to help mankind, even though he is insane and never recks his own bruises, but persists and is laughed at by all.
In speaking of the literature of ecstasy, something should be said about De Quincey's famous distinction of the literature of knowledge and the literature of power. He defined the former as that which teaches and the latter as that which moves. In the literature of power he included also that which taught by means of passions, desires and emotions and that which had its field of action in relation to the great moral capacities of man. The literature of power, according to De Quincey, includes that which appeals to the reason and understanding through the affections. It restores "to man's mind the ideals of justice, of hope, of truth, of mercy, of retribution." De Quincey included under the literature of power, prose as well as verse, fairy tales and romances as well as tragedies and epic poems.
The question is, what relation is there between De Quincey's idea of the literature of power and that of the literature of ecstasy. Of course he included under the literature of power his masterly prose poems; also all his imaginative writings. Now, the _Confessions of an Opium Eater_, for instance, belongs only in parts to the literature of ecstasy, noticeably in the dream phantasies. By the literature of power De Quincey meant all literature except science. The only illustration of the literature of knowledge he gives is Newton's _Principia_, and the marked characteristics he finds in this as in all literature of knowledge is that it may be and usually is superseded by later discoveries. The literature of power in his opinion is permanent; this statement is not true when we think of the many imaginative works of the past that have no longer any message or appeal to us.
The point is that De Quincey's literature of power includes not only poetry in verse and prose, but the entire field of general literature which hovers on poetry, or in which the poetry is diffused so that we call it prose literature. The literature of ecstasy then is the more emotional literature of power, that section of it where the ecstasy is concentrated. It would include chiefly the impassioned prose and prose phantasies of De Quincey's own work.
De Quincey was no art-for-art's-sake man, and he recognized the importance of the rational and the moral element in the sphere of the literature of power.
There remains a distinction between power and ecstasy. De Quincey does not identify power with ecstasy (a term he does not even use) even though he demands a moving effect in the literature of power. He does not contend that the emotion should be concentrated and hold complete sway over the author. His literature of power would include, for example, all good novels or histories in their entirety. To us only those portions of such novels and histories where the passion is concentrated belong to the literature of ecstasy or poetry.
Literature of ecstasy is always poetry, literature of power is not, being rather the equivalent of _belles lettres_, reaching the heights of poetry only at times.
The literature of ecstasy is all writing, in verse or prose, wherever an emotional atmosphere hovers, where a feeling is concentrated, and hence it is really poetry. Poetry is the language of ecstasy and ecstasy is that possessive faculty of the imagination capable "of projecting itself into the very consciousness of its object, and again of being so wholly possessed by the emotion of its object that in expression it takes unconsciously the tone, the color and the temperature thereof." (James Russell Lowell: _The Function of the Poet._ "The Imagination." P. 70.)
[18:A] I do not agree with Huneker that Byron or Wordsworth missed ecstasy.
[21:A] This is the idea in Donne's poem, _The Ecstasy_. Professor William Lyon Phelps in the preface to his _The Advance of English Poetry in the Twentieth Century_ claims that the influence of Donne has never been greater than at present.
"Hebrew poetry is Prose with a sort of heightened consciousness. 'Ecstasy affords The occasion and expediency determines the form.'"
MARIANNE MOORE in _Others_ (1916).
ECSTASY, NOT RHYTHM, ESSENTIAL TO POETRY
Aristotle was the first critic who placed little stress on the importance of metre in poetry. If the critics had followed him, instead of merely referring to his _Poetics_ and trying to discover the "borderland between prose and poetry," there probably would have been little confusion as to what is poetry. He saw there was poetry in the prose mimes of Sophron and Xenarchus and in the dialogues of Socrates, though these were not classified as poetry. Incidentally he found little poetry in Empedocles, who in spite of his metre was primarily a physicist. The passage from the _Poetics_ is worth quoting entire for it contains the nucleus of all arguments for prose poetry. I quote from S. H. Butcher's translation:
For there is no common term we could apply to the mimes of Sophron and Xenarchus and the Socratic dialogues on the one hand; and, on the other, to poetic imitations in iambic, elegaic, or any similar metre. People, do, indeed, add the word "make" or "poet" to the name of the metre, and speak of elegaic poets, or epic (that is, hexameter) poets, _as if it were not the imitation that makes the poet, but the verse that entitles them all indiscriminately to the name_.[42:A] Even when a treatise on medicine or natural science is brought out in verse, the name of poet is by custom given to the author; and yet Homer and Empedocles have nothing in common but the metre, so that it would be right to call the one poet, the other physicist rather than poet. On the same principle, even if a writer in his poetic imitation were to combine all metres, as Chaeremon did in his _Centaur_, which is a medley composed of metres of all kinds, we should bring him too under the general term poet.
He also says: "The Poet or maker should be the maker of plots rather than of verse; since he is a poet because he imitates, and what he imitates is actions."
Aristotle's idea that metre is an unessential element in determining poetry has never really taken root in literary criticism. It was voiced by men like Erasmus and Savonarola, and was again restated by the Italian critic Castelvetro, who in his commentary on Aristotle's _Poetics_ (1570) said that verse is not the essence of poetry, that it does not distinguish it but clothes it, and that therefore matter and not metre is the test of poetry. He believes like Aristotle, that metre aids poetry, but that the imitation or creation itself determines it.
George Saintsbury in his scholarly and fascinating _History of Criticism in Europe_ cannot forgive Aristotle for this "pestilent heresy," as he calls it. He severely berates Wordsworth and Coleridge for having supported it. He attacks all the critics who countenance it. He adulates Dante's treatise _De Vulgari Eloquentia_ as an antidote to the heresy, because Dante wants the rhythm (as well as the diction) of poetry to be different from that of prose.
But we are learning to-day that metre is not only an unnecessary element in poetry, but often an artificial, hampering encumbrance, frequently vitiating the poetical quality of a poem.
Yet Professor Saintsbury has given us in his _History of English Prose Rhythm_ some of the finest emotional and rhythmical passages from English prose writers. He chose the selections primarily for their rhythm and not for their emotional qualities, yet most of the passages are poems. His book practically convinces one that nearly all the great English writers of prose wrote not only rhythmical prose, but emotional or ecstatic prose, or poetry. Professor Saintsbury finds the essence of prose rhythm, in variety and divergence, and he divides prose into three kinds, according to the rhythm. These are hybrid verse-prose, pure highly rhythmed prose, and prose in general. In the first class he includes much of the Bible, especially where the parallelisms are present, Anglo Saxon poetry, Ossian, Blake's _Prophetic Books_ and Walt Whitman. He no doubt would include free verse here. But this so-called "hybrid verse prose" is really highly rhythmed prose generally arranged in verse form. There is no real distinction between the two forms.
Poetry in prose, however, does not depend on the rhythm. The only effect on the reader of reading the chapter on "Rhythm as the Essential Fact of Poetry" in Professor Gummere's book _The Beginnings of Poetry_ is to convince him that the learning amassed there does not prove the professor's thesis. For example Gummere cites Bagehot's statement, "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_ and _Adam Bede_, we own we cannot draw with any confidence," and thus comments: "Adam Bede remains prose, and Enoch Arden is commonly set down as poetry and there an end." This impatient remark does not do away with the fact that the story of Hetty's troubles after she had met Arthur Dimmesdale, and the scene of the interview with her in prison by Dinah Morris are two examples that fulfill every definition of poetry, even to irregular rhythm. Some of the free verse poets have given us compositions made up of the outbursts of people in distress, with their story in simple language like Hetty Sorrel's tale.
My contention then is that what decides whether a composition is poetry is not the rhythm but the ecstasy. The academic critics have found an argument for rhythm in the fact that when a man is moved, the expression of his emotions tends towards rhythmical language. This is certainly very often true, but the rhythmical character of language in these cases is entirely different from that in verse, for in verse you have a patterned regular rhythm obeying an artificial law of accents, a continued series of rise and ebb of the voice that must not break down for hundreds and even thousands of monotonous lines. In the rhythm of the natural language of emotion you have no rules or fetters on how the accents should be distributed. You have rhythmical and unrhythmical lines, regular and irregular arrangements of accents, all thrown together. No pattern is present, and no uniformity or similarity of any kind is kept up. This is the language of poetic prose.
If I say that rhythm is not necessary in poetry, I merely mean that no patterned or strong rhythm is necessary, for all prose is more or less irregularly rhythmical. Often the prose rhythm is more marked than the rhythm of metre, as you may find out by comparing passages from Whitman or Pater with let us say some of the blank verse of Wordsworth. Professor Patterson claimed that all prose has rhythm, and he called prose "syncopated rhythm." He rightly pointed out that passages of prose have a rhythm which in nowise differs from the rhythm of free verse. He refuses to regard free verse, as some seek to do, as a third medium for poetic expression. He shows that the arrangement of free verse into irregular lines merely calls attention to the rhythms. All prose may be arranged as free verse and all free verse as prose. Since such is the case, all literature of ecstasy in prose has rhythm besides ecstasy and should certainly be called poetry. Dr. Patterson made one error, however, to which Dr. Cary F. Jacob calls attention in her _Foundations and Nature of Verse_. Prose may have rhythm but it has no continuity of progress in the rhythms, which must eventually break down; it has no intention of continuous rhythmic flow. But poetry, I urge, may exist in prose without a continuity of progress of rhythms or even without rhythm at all--(after all, in spite of Dr. Patterson, there is unrhythmical prose).
The view that rhythm is vital to poetry is fallacious. Accentuation at unequal intervals of time no more creates or heightens poetic fervor than, as was formerly supposed, measured stress on syllables did so. If the prime motive of an unrhythmical prose work, in whole or part, is the communication of an emotion or the ecstatic treatment of an idea, that production is emphatically a poem; or at least some portions of it are separately entitled to that name. If you deny it you will be compelled to maintain that the able unrhythmical prose translations we have of the Greek and Latin poets contain no poetry. In fact the best way to judge if a composition in verse is poetry is, as Goethe and Hearn said, to translate it into the prose of another language; if poetic emotions are not then revealed, rest assured that they were never present in the original work. When the rhyme, metre and rhythm have been abstracted and the poetic fire still glows almost undiminished, we have the best proof, first that its existence did not depend upon the use of verbal measures and sounds, and secondly, that the poetry is not lost even when transferred into the prose of another tongue.
The first question the reader will now ask is: "Well, what then constitutes the difference between prose and poetry if you take away the distinguishing feature of rhythm?" And some misguided critics assert that the term prose poetry is a hybrid and a contradiction in terms. The embarrassment of the former and the misconception of the latter will disappear if they remember that the opposite of prose is not poetry, but verse or metre. As Coleridge said, science is the proper antithesis of poetry. An unemotional presentation of dull facts is, however, the real antithesis.
Poetry is absolutely independent of any adornment it may be given, such as rhyme, metre, or, as I am especially trying to show, rhythm; even though it is true that emotional language may tend to become rhythmical. Verse is simply an ordering of words so that the modulation by the voice especially attracts the ear by the regularity of stress. We have stories, dramas and essays in different measures of verse just as we have them in prose. Description, narration, exposition, even argument and exclamation, appear in verse as well as in prose. There are, as it has always been recognized, innumerable products in verse that from the nature of their contents are destitute of the attributes of poetry. Humorous and didactic efforts, mere jokes or commonplace sermons, do not become poetical because they are put in metre or rhythm. Abstract philosophy, concrete science and barren theology remain arid and unemotional discourses even in the epics of Dante and Milton. A bare and not particularly interesting statement of facts or a procession of dull and platitudinous ideas is, even in verse, anything but poetry. In the range of the world's metrical writings the poems are few and far between.
On the other hand, it has always been recognized that there were prose compositions that partook of the nature of poetry or were replete with poetical parts. It was difficult to classify this literature, for the extreme beauty and emotion which pervaded it lifted it above ordinary prose and yet because of the absence of measure it was not classified as poetry. The first English critic who perceived that the authors of such work were really poets and should be designated by their appropriate name was Sir Philip Sidney. He showed that verse was but an ornament and did not make poetry, and that there were many poets, among whom he named Xenophon, who never versified. Shelley, however, has given the widest vogue to the feeling that the distinction between poets and prose writers was a vulgar error. He maintained that philosophers like Bacon and Plato, historians like Herodotus, Plutarch and Livy, authors of revolutions in opinion such as Jesus and Rousseau, were poets.
Coleridge held that the object of poetry was to communicate pleasure, and remarked: "But the communication of pleasure may be the immediate object of a work not metrically composed; and that object may have been in a high degree attained, as in novels and romance. Would then the mere superaddition of metre, with or without rhyme, entitle these to the name of poems? The answer is, that nothing can permanently please, which does not contain in itself the reason why it is so, and not otherwise. . . . The writings of Plato, and Bishop Taylor, and the _Theoria Sacra_ of Burnet, furnish undeniable proof that poetry of the highest kind may last without metre, and even without the contradistinguishing objects of a poem."
"There are also prose poets," said Emerson in his essay on "Poetry and Imagination" in _Letters and Social Aims_. "Thomas Taylor, the Platonist, for instance, is really a better man of imagination, a better poet, or perhaps I should say, a better feeder to a poet, than any man between Milton and Wordsworth. Thomas Moore had the magnanimity to say, 'If Burke and Bacon were not poets (measured lines not being necessary to constitute one), he did not know what poetry meant.' And every good reader will easily recall expressions or passages in works of pure science which have given him the same pleasure which he seeks in professed poets."
Emerson also said he heard the Germans considered the author of _Tristram Shandy_ a greater poet than Cowper, and that Goldsmith was a poet more because of the _Vicar of Wakefield_ than the _Deserted Village_.
Hazlitt stated that there were some prose works that approached poetry without absolutely being poetry, instancing _Robinson Crusoe_, _Pilgrim's Progress_, and the _Decameron_.
Heine spoke of _Don Quixote_ as a poem. Fredrick Schlegel called _Wilhelm Meister_ poetry. Brandes regards Lord Beaconsfield a poet. Matthew Arnold characterized Chateaubriand, Senancour and Guérin poets. Balzac considered himself a poet and Ibsen in mentioning his prose dramas often used the word "poems."
The habit of calling productions in metre or rhythm poetry has been so strongly ingrained in us that we denominate every lengthy performance in verse a poem _in toto_. Before Poe, Coleridge said that "a poem of any length neither can be nor ought to be all poetry." Poe gave us the reasons for this proposition and demonstrated to us that a long epic poem is but a series of short poems connected by uninspired passages in metre. The same thing may be said of literary verse performances of moderate length. To those who object to using the word "poem" in connection with any prose composition one may reply that these, like verse productions, are also often made up of poetical parts here and there; they simply lack regular rhythm and this is not a sufficient line of demarcation as to what constitutes poetry and what does not.
There are many short stories in verse which are known as poems while there are many poetical tales and sketches in prose which no one finds to be poetry, although they often contain more of it than many specimens in measure. I think Poe's _Eleonora_ with its description of the Valley of Many Colored Grass and Hawthorne's _Haunted Mind_ are greater poems, though in prose, than most of Holmes' and Bryant's verse poems are. I see no reason why we should not designate as poetry, prose tales where ecstasy and emotion predominate. Kipling's _Brushwood Boy_ or Bret Harte's _Outcasts of Poker Flat_ is as poetical, I believe, as any tale in Longfellow's _Tales of a Wayside Inn_. The same laws of emotional appeal are working in the one as in the other; a similar artistic stamp is printed on all these stories. In fact, Longfellow's tales are inferior in the quality and quantity of poetry to the stories specified. His compositions could easily be arranged in prose and the stories of Kipling or Harte could be transposed into metrical verse. The transfer would not affect the poetry in either of them.
It is a confused system of literary classification which does not permit calling these tales of Harte and Kipling poetry, but crowns the same writers' doggerel verses like _The Heathen Chinee_ and _Fuzzy Wuzzy_ with the title "poems."
To bring sharply before the reader's mind the idea that a piece in verse is often not poetry and that a prose passage frequently is a poem, I will quote at random two passages.
One is from a work that is rich with poetry and written by one of England's greatest poets and yet the particular section, though in metre, is but a dry statement of facts. I quote from Wordsworth's _Michael_, one of the finest things in English literature, yet unpoetical in the first part:
Upon the forest side in Grasmere Vale There dwelt a Shepherd, Michael was his name. An old man stout of heart, and strong of limb. His bodily frame had been from youth to age Of an unusual strength; his mind was keen, And in his Shepherd calling he was prompt And watchful more than ordinary men.
Here are unpoetical lines which might have been written in prose, but Wordsworth had to give us some preliminary information so that we could follow his story. Incidentally, he has the reputation for having much prosy material in the body of his work.
The other passage I quote is purposely a translation from a foreign novel and yet it has not lost any of its poetry. The paragraph, of which I give part, is a poem and part of a larger one in prose. It is from D'Annunzio's _Triumph of Death_ and describes the music in Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde":
And in the orchestra, spoke every eloquence, sang every joy, wept every misery, that the human voice had ever expressed. The melodies emerged from the symphonic depths, developing, interrupting, superposing, mingling, melting into one another, dissolving, disappearing to again appear. A more and more restless poignant anxiety passed over all the instruments and expressed a continual and ever vain effort to attain the inaccessible. In the impetuosity of the chromatic progressions there was the mad pursuit of a happiness that eluded every grasp, although it shone ever so near, etc.
I shall show more fully that our definitions of what is poetry and what is a poem have been faulty. The error is so perceptible that it is surprising that so few critics have detected it. Meanwhile I will give my definitions:
_Poetry is not a department of literature in the sense that the novel or the essay or the drama is, but is an atmosphere which bathes literature whenever ecstasy and emotion are present. It is not a distinct division of art as literature, music or painting is, for poetry is the very essence of all these arts whether it is transmitted by words, sounds or colors. It is the ecstatic emotional spirit which pervades all good literature (or any of the arts) whether in verse or prose, in their finest parts. It is an aesthetic quality which gives tone to a literary work or any portion or portions of it. It may exist without figures of speech, rhyme, metre or rhythm.[52:A] Its most natural language is prose or free verse._ Let us have no more such classification of literature as fiction, drama, essay, criticism, _poetry_, etc. There is fiction in verse and there is prose fiction; there are verse dramas and prose plays, etc., and any of these may be steeped in poetry. However, the customary lyric verse may be comprised under the heading of poetry not because of the measure, but on account of the poetic emotion that usually characterizes it. Let us also not speak of the arts like music, painting, sculpture and poetry when instead of the last we mean literature, for poetry is a quality of all the arts including literature. Poetry is the spirit of ecstasy and emotion which pervades the arts like music, painting, sculpture and literature, and hence it may be found in every branch of literature whether in verse or prose, like the drama, fiction and the essay.
We are now in a position to define what a poem is. Critics are agreed that it must consist of the artistic expression of words which arouse the reader's emotion, but they have insisted that these words be rhythmically arranged. I think if the latter limitation is withdrawn, all our confusion as to what is a poem will disappear. _A poem is any literary composition, whether in verse or prose, which as a whole is an imaginative creation, a vehicle of emotion, an expression of ecstasy; or that portion or every portion of such a composition where the emotion or ecstasy has been concentrated. It does not follow that the work as a whole is necessarily poetry. Its most natural language is prose or free verse._
Poems may therefore be found in imaginative philosophical works like Plato's _Symposium_, _Phaedrus_, _Republic_ and other dialogues, Bacon's _Essays_, Schopenhauer's _World as Will and Idea_, Nietzsche's _Thus Spake Zarathustra_, Emerson's _Essays_, in critical works like Pater's _Renaissance_, Ruskin's _Modern Painters_, Wilde's _Intentions_, in histories like Thucydides's _Peloponnesian War_ and Carlyle's _French Revolution_, in autobiographies like St. Augustine's _Confessions_ and Rousseau's _Confessions_, in letters like Madame Lespinasse's and Mrs. Browning's, in diaries like those of Amiel, in novels by Balzac, Dickens, Hawthorne, Hardy, Tolstoy, etc.
Some of the best poetry is found in the world's prose fiction. For example, _The Scarlet Letter_ has as good poetry in it as the _Aeneid_. Like the old epic, it is made up of great poems connected by extended portions that belongs to general literature, sections that have not enough emotion to be regarded as poetry nor are yet arid or passionless enough to be termed science. But the story of Hester Prynne is poetry as truly as the tale of Dido, and undoubtedly you cannot refuse the appellation poetry to the chapter in Hawthorne's novel which describes how Arthur Dimmesdale gets up in the pulpit and confesses to the congregation his part in Hester Prynne's guilt. The _Aeneid_ is really a novel in verse.
We are not often moved by metrical writing as we are by the last part of the chapter in _David Copperfield_ entitled, "A Greater Loss," where we see the agonizing grief of the elder Pegotty and of Ham over the elopement of Emily, Ham's betrothed. You recall the love scene telling of the meeting of Richard and Lucy in Meredith's novel _The Ordeal of Richard Feverel_, only as poetry. This is how the passage, which being rhythmical besides, begins:
Golden lie the meadows; golden run the streams; red gold is on the pine-stems. The sun is coming down to earth, and walks the fields and the waters.
The sun is coming down to earth, and the fields and the waters shout to him golden shouts. He comes and his heralds run before him, and touch the leaves of oaks and the planes and the beeches lucid green, and the pine stems redder gold; leaving the brightest footprints upon thickly-weeded barks, where the foxglove's last upper-bells incline, and the bramble shoots wander amid moist rich herbage, etc.
If the sphere of poetry has thus been widened to include many compositions in prose formerly excluded, it has, on the other hand, been narrowed by omitting much in verse that was formerly admitted into the domain of the Muses. I refer especially to the whole body of unecstatic philosophical, scientific and theological discourses in verse which usurp a name not belonging to them; I refer to much descriptive and narrative verse that lacks the poetic glow; I would exclude nearly all of the so-called "light," "occasional" and "humorous" verse. Winnow the voluminous verse writers and but a modicum of poetry remains.
Critics as a rule agree that neither rhythm nor metre makes a literary performance poetical if the author's soul does not enter into the work, but they refuse to countenance the corollary that when unrhythmical prose is used as a medium for the singer's poetical sentiments the result should also be called poetry. It is an easy matter to arrange any fine poetical prose in blank verse or irregular rhythmical lines. Just a few slight verbal changes are necessary. The new product then fulfills the conditions of the old theory which demands metre or rhythm. Does it become poetry because of these unimportant changes? No, these do not work so miraculous an effect upon the writing. It acquires no higher qualities than it had before in prose.
I hence fail to see why the _Idylls of the King_ should be alone called poems and not also parts of Malory's _Morte d'Arthur_, which Tennyson paraphrased in blank verse. Malory has, however, been deemed a poet by some critics and any one who will read the lament over the death of Sir Lancelot will not begrudge the author that title. One admits that the _Tales_ of La Fontaine and Chaucer's _Canterbury Tales_ are very rich in poetry, but why say that the original prose stories which these poets often re-tell in verse (undoubtedly improving them by their own genius) are not? And who will deny the statement that the best of Scott's novels, say _The Heart of Midlothian_, contains as much, if not more, poetry than some of his novels in verse like the _Lady of the Lake_? Even in his day the reviewers saw that there was no difference between Scott's verse and prose stories as far as the quality of the poetry was concerned; indeed they saw that there was more of the divine afflatus in the latter than there was in the former. In fact the _Quarterly Review_ referred to Scott's novels as poems.
One may even say that the great Shakespeare found in the dramas, tales and chronicles that were his sources some of the poetry we note in his plays. Especially is this true in regard to his use of Plutarch. Brandes has pointed out that _Julius Cæsar_ is found in every detail in Plutarch's Lives of Cæsar, Brutus and Mark Anthony. The dramatist followed the biographer point for point, repeating word for word passages of North's translation, accepting the characters as they stood there and repeating all the leading incidents. If _Julius Cæsar_ contains poetry, as it certainly does in abundance, then surely those lives of Plutarch which were followed by Shakespeare must also possess it.
Nor can I understand why the parts of Shakespeare's plays which are in prose and are often superior to many portions in blank verse should also not be called poetry. Take the first scene of the fifth act of _Macbeth_, where Lady Macbeth is walking in her sleep. The entire section, though prose, is one of the most poetic pieces in the entire drama. If the passage had been written in blank verse it could not have been improved. The poetry is there in the scene itself and not in any possible metre. Other lines might be cited, like Hamlet's remarks to Guildenstern, who tried to pry out his secret and play upon him as upon a pipe; or his reflections on what a wonderful piece of work was man; or his comments over Yorick's skull. All these selections are in impassioned prose and are as much entitled to the rank of poetry as are most of the blank verse of the drama. Hamlet's advice to the players though art criticism, and prose, is so lit up with poetic glamor that it deserves the name poetry more than the metrical version of some of the moral commonplaces in the play.
One may ask various questions of the critic who clings to the old definition that metre or rhythm must accompany poetry. Why should Conrad's supreme poetic description of a storm at sea in his _Nigger of the Narcissus_ not be called a poem, when you designate by this word Virgil's famous description in dactylic hexameters in the first book of the _Aeneid_? Powerful and deservedly renowned as the Virgil passage is, I venture to say that it does not as a poem rank higher than some of Conrad's descriptions. One would wish to be informed where the story of ingratitude in Balzac's novel _Père Goriot_ is any the less poetical than that of Shakespeare's verse play _King Lear_. Why is the succession of ideas in Browning's _Rabbi Ben Ezra_ called poetry and not, let us say, Emerson's essay on _Self-Reliance_? Why call the descriptions of battles by Homer poems, but not those of Stendhal or Tolstoy or Zola in _Le Chartreuse de Parme_ or _War and Peace_ or _Le Debâcle_? And how can you on any pretence refuse to include in the category of poetry De Quincey's famous prose poems _The Dream Fugue_ and _Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow_?
Since the critics would not admit that any unrhythmical prose is poetry, it is little wonder that Baudelaire founded as a distinct and conscious form the composition he called "poem in prose." We are told by his translator, Mr. Sturm, that he had dreamed in his days of ambition "of a miracle of poetical prose, musical without rhythm and without rhyme." He understood and proved that rhythm was not necessary to poetry. He derived the idea of this separate form from Poe and Bertrand. He has been followed by Turgenev, who left us some prose poems which he called _Senilia_. The reader may recall the love scene in _The House of Gentlefolk_ and the concluding chapters of _Rudin_ and _Fathers and Sons_, which are all prose poems. Gorki has written some exquisite prose poems. One of them, _The March of Man_, is one of the most beautiful poems ever written. (Translated in _The Cosmopolitan_ for July, 1905.)
Really, every great literary man is a poet, for he is constantly occupied with ecstasy and human emotions. Do you think Hugo was a poet only when he chanted in verse and ceased being one when he wrote _Les Misérables_ or _Notre Dame de Paris_? It is not necessary to use the old poetical machinery of rhythm, or metaphors or similes, or apostrophe or personification or any other figure of speech; one may dispense with allusions to mythology or the use of any but current expressions and idioms; one may write almost as one talks; and poetry may nevertheless be produced. When Macpherson in the eighteenth century and Chateaubriand in the early part of the nineteenth century gave us in imitation of the old epics the long prose poems _Fingal_ and _Les Martyrs_, respectively, they sinned artistically only because they were imitators and were stilted and rhetorical. These books contain excellent poetry in prose; we to-day can scarcely imagine the vogue they had. Had they been more natural they would still be read.
I believe the application of the theory of poetry I advocate would work many changes in literary values. Who can doubt that Ibsen and Balzac are greater poets than John Hay or Edmund Clarence Stedman, both of whom have respectable rank elsewhere, the former as a statesman and the latter as a critic? Yet our system of literary classification stamps these two as poets because of a few popular and able lyrics in verse, while Ibsen and Balzac, who wrote in prose, are not even considered poets, according to academic standards. It is true Ibsen also wrote some lyrics and a few plays in verse, but he is as much a poet in _The Wild Duck_ or _The Master Builder_ as he is in _Peer Gynt_ or _Brand_. The scenes of Oswald losing his mind at the end of _Ghosts_ or of Ella Rentheim rebuking _John Gabriel Borkman_ for his desertion of her are magnificent poems. As for the poems of Balzac they are too numerous to mention. The picture of the miser in _Eugénie Grandet_ is surely poetry. Balzac regarded his stories _Louis Lambert_, _Séraphita_ and _The Lily of the Valley_ as poems. Inflated as they occasionally are, they are suffused with poetical qualities. One could go on selecting poems from _Cousin Pons_, _The Wild Ass's Skin_, _Lost Illusions_, etc. Balzac and Ibsen are poets and any definition of poetry that would exclude them as such is faulty.
Under the new method of distinguishing poets that I seek to promulgate, many writers will be admitted as such whom the world never dreamt of as seers. It might astonish some people if I make a claim for Mark Twain as a poet. But who that has read _Huckleberry Finn_ and recalls the description of the sunrise on the Mississippi, given in the nineteenth chapter, will be prone to exclude our greatest imaginative and philosophical humorist from the ranks of Apollo's servants?
To convince the skeptical, I quote from the famous passage where Huck fearing he would go to hell if he freed a "nigger" slave, determines to disclose Jim's whereabouts and writes a note to that effect. We all recall his mental struggles, how he finally tore the letter, with the words "All right, I'll _go_ to hell." The few pages telling of the reflections and memories which led to this decision are certainly poetry.
I got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. . . . I'd see him standing my watch on top of his'n, 'stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; . . . and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was.
Our definition allows us to include the author of the few lines beginning "With malice towards none, with charity towards all" as a poet. Indeed, I have been anticipated in the claim that Lincoln was a poet, as the Gettysburg speech has been on several occasions called a poem.
It may be asserted that it is rather difficult to differentiate the poetical portions of a prose work from the rest. This same problem confronts us in verse. Who can point out exactly which lines in the _Iliad_ are poetry? The fact is that there are passages in both prose and metrical literature that we unhesitatingly call poems because they instantly transform us. Just as you never doubted that the speeches of Andromache are poetical and that the catalogue of the ships is not, so you will find it no problem to discard the tedious descriptions in Balzac as unpoetical while you accept the emotional sections as poems. Just as critics have selected the poems from lengthy metrical works, choosing the story of Margaret from Wordsworth's _Excursion_, for example, so they could glean the poems of prose literature.
One objection raised to the use of prose as a poetical vehicle is its tendency to diffusiveness. It is claimed that here there are always temptations to digress and become trivial; hence we get the interminable novels and stupendous treatises which as a rule we do not have in verse. But one may grow verbose and expatiate too much in metre as well: the matter rests entirely with the author. Note how ponderous are some of the old epics, the _Iliad_, the _Divine Comedy_ and _Orlando Furioso_. In modern times Byron's _Don Juan_, Browning's _Ring and the Book_ and Mrs. Browning's _Aurora Leigh_ are examples of lengthy stories in verse. All of these books are more voluminous than the prose plays, essays, short stories, and novelettes to which we are accustomed. The prose poet may weed out the trifling incidents and expunge the redundant from his composition as easily as the verse writer. Wordy insignificant passages in a literary product are the outcome, not of a particular rhythmical arrangement, such as prose or verse, but of a want of artistic feeling, to which even great geniuses are at times subject. It does not follow that a powerful description or an emotional idea or an impassioned state of mind need tend to diffusiveness if written in prose. The poet who has learned self-restraint in composing does not lose his sense of proportion even when writing in prose.
Nor need we prefer the verse form to prose, because, as it is alleged, a metrical poem gives us the maximum poetry in the fewest words. It is true we get an immediate thrill out of a rhymed lyric or sonnet, while we often have to read a few chapters in a novel to get a similar sensation. Nevertheless this is not because the lyric or sonnet is in verse and the novel in prose. It was the intention of the verse poet to captivate us instantly in these forms. Translate the sonnet or lyric into the prose of another language and the excitement seizes us just as quickly. Poe's _Raven_ is known to French readers chiefly in a literal prose translation. They respond to it as quickly as we do, though they have to forego the rhyme and the metre. The writer of unrhythmical prose may concentrate any emotions in a short space if he wishes to do so. Many brief prose poems in literature are dynamos of emotion. Ecstasy can be concentrated in a short prose poem as readily as in a verse, lyric or sonnet. The important thing is that the poet record the sentiments instantly, avoiding preliminaries.
Yet the bulk of the prose we have will not become poetry because of the new outlook I suggest. It is after all only at times that we can single out poems in them. Most prose works of merit fall short of being poetry as a whole or in parts. The ecstasy or emotion is often not concentrated in any particular part of the work. The facts, notions or ideas are not emotionally presented. Yet the volume is literature, and is more akin to poetry than to science. But it is no discredit to a book because it is just literature and not poetry.
Gurney in his _The Power of Sound_ calls attention to the fact that when Lessing defined the limits between the plastic arts and poetry, he made no distinction between verse and prose in his conception of poetry. Whatever Lessing says about poetry in the _Laocoon_ applies equally well to prose. True, he uses Homer as an illustration, but he could just as well have used a modern novel, for the question of metre is never raised in determining the province of poetry, which he differentiates from that of painting. The only place he mentions the prose writer is in the seventeenth section, where he says that the prose writer usually aims only after intelligibility and clarity, while the poet seeks also to be vivid. He does not say that the prose writer may not also be a poet if he is vivid. In fact this is the very inference. He states also that the verse writer who aims at producing no illusion but addresses the understanding is not a poet, instancing Virgil when in the _Georgics_ he describes a cow fit for breeding.
This is then the singular and most remarkable fact about the _Laocoon_ that the author includes all vivid emotional narrative prose under the term poetry, which he distinguishes from painting. It is easy to see that his famous distinction, that objects side by side in space or bodies with their visible properties are the fit subjects for painting, while actions or objects which succeed each other in time are the peculiar subjects of poetry, is really also a distinction between the plastic arts and the prose novel or short story. Painting, according to Lessing, was descriptive, poetry was narrative. Now narrative properly is the object of the novel. It is true Lessing defined poetry in a limited manner, as if it were only narrative literature; but we are grateful to him for implying that vivid prose narrative is poetry, and that poetry extends beyond metrical compositions.
It is commonly said that an emotional piece of prose writing is not poetry, but the raw material for poetry. Even Arthur Symons calls such warning only poetical substance. One critic has even designated it as a sort of bastard writing that is neither prose nor poetry. In fact rhythmical emotional prose has been a thorn in the academic critic's side. He has become more confused than ever since the vogue of free verse, some of which though really prose is beyond question poetry. He no longer refuses the title of poet to Whitman and he shrinks from denying that the best free verse is poetry. He feels vaguely that since prose is also often rhythmical, the old definition of poetry as an emotional piece of rhythmical writing is faulty, for it must include also emotional rhythmical prose, and he objects to this inclusion. Professor Lowes, who, in his _Convention and Revolt in Poetry_, recognizes the similarity between the rhythm of free verse and that of prose, unsuccessfully solves the problem by saying that poetry is used in a loose as well as in a more rigid sense and that free verse is an artistic medium of not fully developed possibilities. He, like most critics, falls into the error of saying that we cannot include prose whenever we speak of poetry. Still we must be grateful to Lowes for his liberal attitude towards new verse forms.
Critics who say that emotional prose should be metrical to be called poetry remind us of the paraphrasers of a few centuries ago who put the Psalms into rhyme. They did not make them poetry, they usually robbed them of it, and spoiled their effect. Even Milton succumbed to the vice. And Gosse, in his article on "Lyrical Poetry" in the _Encyclopedia Britannica_, tells us of one Azzi who in 1700 put the book of _Genesis_ into sonnets. Emotional prose, rhythmical or not, is poetry. No one to-day thinks of employing Matthew Arnold's touchstone theory of poetry whereby we are to have a few metrical lines of some great poets to apply as a test as to what is poetry.
It is really strange that with the English prose Bible before them, critics should have insisted on the metrical element in poetry. And one must add that parallelisms are not the fundamental features of poetry. The poetry of Isaiah and David would have been poetry without a single parallelism. But we need not go to the prophets or the Psalms, where we have parallelism, for poetry in the Bible: we have it in the narrative portions, in the stories of Ruth and Joseph. Who does not feel the poetical emotions surge through him as he comes to the forty-fifth chapter of _Genesis_, where Joseph reveals himself to his brothers? Fearing they will be dismayed because they sold him, he assures them that their criminal deed was just what has enabled him to become a ruler and save them from starvation. A poet was he who wrote this chapter beginning with the lines:
Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all that stood by him; and he cried, "Cause every man to go out from me." And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known to his brethren, etc.
We must always remember that the emotional appeal whether in prose or verse is the same to us. We do not get one kind of ecstasy by reading poetical prose and another kind by reading verse. Our inner soul is stirred, our aesthetic faculties are touched in the same way if we read a beautiful love letter like one in prose of Eloise's, or a love poem in verse. And it may be said here that no poet has improved upon those prose epistles by changing them into metrical form. An idea colored with emotion and a beautiful description give us the same effects in prose as they do in verse. The test of poetry is in our own souls.
We can find poetry in the most unexpected places, and the reader who wants to look for it will be able to see that poets like Wordsworth and Whitman were poets in their prose critical prefaces as well as in the _Lyrical Ballads_ and _Leaves of Grass_. As a matter of fact, Whitman used paragraphs from his critical essays, word for word, in _Leaves of Grass_, but arranged in free verse form.
It is true that at times the poetry cannot be distilled, as it were, from the body of a prose work; a particular passage cannot be lifted up and called poetry, though it be such (dependent, however, on what goes before and after). For example, every reader is thrilled with emotion when he comes to the conclusion of the chapter in _Vanity Fair_, where Amelia Sedley is praying for George Osborne, who was lying dead on his face with a bullet through his heart. This line is poetry, but only by reason of our taking it into consideration with earlier parts of the novel. It could not be published alone, for it would be meaningless. But the same is true of poetry in verse. When Horatio says of Hamlet "now cracks a noble heart," and hopes that flights of angels will sing him to his rest, the passage is effective only because we have lived with Hamlet and felt with him and admired him. Printed alone the words would mean little. The poetry of a great novel, like that of a verse play, is not always in isolated passages, but in the entire novel or play from which it cannot be extracted by quotation.
All lovers of poetry cannot help being indebted to Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, who showed he knew what constitutes poetry when he composed the famous _Oxford Book of English Verse_. But one is grieved that one must differ with him when it comes to literary criticism. In his book on the _Art of Writing_ there is a chapter called "On the Difference Between Verse and Prose" which justifies inversion of the natural order of words in verse and affirms that this inversion (of course along with metre and rhyme at will) is the difference between verse and prose. He uses the old illustration that rhyme, metre and inversion help the memory, and that since the first poets sang their poems to the harp, and music and emotion were introduced, everything is changed down to the natural order of the words.
Now, aside from the fact that not all of the earliest emotional compositions were sung to the harp, it is admitted on all sides that poetry is no longer written primarily to be sung to the harp. Hence there is no further necessity for this inversion of words. The natural order of prose should be retained in emotional writing, with occasional deviations. But most certainly this inversion does not constitute the difference between poetry and non-poetry even if it often does make verse different from prose.
Sir Arthur gives us a few lines of Milton in the inverse order in which they were written and says they are verse with the accent of poetry. He then rewrites them in prose order. The inference is that they no longer have that accent of poetry. They are not poetry in the prose version, however, because they were not poetry in the original verse order. He takes four lines from the second book of _Paradise Regained_, describing Christ's ascent up a hill, and gives us a prose paraphrase of them. Here are the lines as Milton wrote them:
Up to a hill anon his steps he reared From whose high top to ken the prospect round, If cottage were in view, sheep-cote or herd; But cottage, herd, or sheep-cote, none he saw.
Here is Quiller-Couch's prose rendering:
Thereupon he climbed a hill on the chance that the view from its summit might disclose some sign of human habitation--a herd, a sheep-cote, a cottage perhaps. But he could see nothing of the sort.
This prose paraphrase really proves that the original had no touch of poetry. Because the passage as written in metre uses poetic diction like "anon," and "ken," employs inversion like "steps he reared," "none he saw," it is assumed that the passage must be poetry, but it is not, for it lacks ecstasy. It is merely one of the prosaic passages in a composition that contains poems, and is needed to bridge over the poems.
A prose paraphrase or explanation of a verse poem is always interesting in helping us understand the nature of poetry. For example, Hearn, a poet himself, took up many English poems and paraphrased and explained them to his Japanese students. Some of his paraphrases are actually greater poems than the originals. Most of the great poems in literature have been analyzed or paraphrased by biographers and commentators. No one calls these paraphrases poetry. But are we sure that they are not? Are we certain that none of the original emotion or ideas are left intact in the paraphrase? On the contrary, I believe that the poetry still remains in the paraphrase. True, often the manner of expressing an idea or emotion is what counts in making it poetry, but expression alone does not make poetry. Even a metrical, emotional and beautiful utterance of a commonplace idea sometimes becomes poetry, but I cannot concede that the prose version of a great verse poem may not be poetry if still emotionally expressed.
Let me take a concrete instance. The following passage from _Paradise Lost_ is considered, no doubt justly, poetry, because of the idea, the emotion and the rhythm (academically speaking):
What though the field be lost? All is not lost; the unconquerable will, And study of revenge, immortal hate, And courage never to submit or yield, And what is else not to be overcome.
Let us paraphrase this passage and try to retain the idea, the emotion and a prose rhythm by just changing a few words.
And suppose we lost the battle? We have not lost everything. We still have our unconquerable will, our plans for revenge, our eternal hatred, and courage never to give in or surrender, and above all never to be defeated.
Is this passage poetry or not? I submit that it is, if the original is. It is rhythmical (though it doesn't have to be so), the original idea is there, and the passion of the speaker has not been rooted out. All this proves, then, that much of what we call poetry in verse is either not poetry at all or that there is more poetry in the prose of the world than we ever imagined.
Is there any poetry in Lamb's _Tales from Shakespeare_? Beyond doubt; just as there is poetry in the tales and histories from which Shakespeare drew his plays. Is there not poetry in the critical discourses about poets where the critic loses himself in the poet's emotions and becomes that poet and gives you his spirit, as, for example, Carlyle does in his study of Burns, or Symonds in his _Greek Poets_?
All this leads to one conclusion: that we should not be concerned as to whether a piece of literature is or is not something that may be included in a definition of poetry, but whether it is a humane, ecstatic, emotional, thoughtful piece of writing. Do not be worried where the poetry is. Rest assured it is there somewhere, for we should judge poetry by the effect on us and not by the compliance with rules of rhythm or any other rules of composition. And all great literature which has a similar emotional effect upon us, whether it is in verse or prose, has poetry in it. Walt Whitman did not insist that his _Leaves of Grass_ be called poetry; yet that is what it turns out to be.
The reader may reply that if poetry is to be found to a large extent in the prose of the world, all distinctions are broken down as to what poetry is and is not, and you might as well look for it in the stories in the newspapers. I gladly accept the challenge: there is poetry in the newspapers. When the _Spoon River Anthology_ appeared many critics said it was nothing more than a collection of newspaper obituaries, told in the first person, that differed from news items only in that the lines were printed as free verse, and that therefore it was no more poetry than a newspaper story. On the contrary, it would have been poetry had it appeared as prose in a newspaper.
I have no doubt many readers will recall newspaper stories that moved them like a poem. Those especially well written ones of love tragedies are often poetry; by virtue of their ecstatic nature they arouse our emotions.
The poetry of our day is not monopolized by dabblers in metre and is not shared exclusively by readers of verse. It is being written by our prose writers and occasionally by our journalists, and is being read by the general public. It is not the heritage of the professor or the critic. The verse poets and readers are not the only lovers of poetry, but the great public who reads _Uncle Tom's Cabin_ and _Lorna Doone_ is reading poetry, albeit not of the highest order.
I do not mean to imply that there is more poetry in the prose writings of a nation's literature than in its verse writings. The prose writer usually travels leisurely and waxes ecstatic occasionally. He does not concentrate his emotions nor seek to depict them immediately. The verse writer as a rule tries to depict emotions from the start. He is greater as a poet than many prose writers, because he poetizes, thinking he must do this naturally in verse, while the prose writer does not believe it is his duty to do so in prose, but he is often a poet because he cannot help it. There is more poetry in a volume of Burns or Shelley or Heine than in a volume of similar length by a prose writer, because these poets tried to put emotion into every separate portion, no matter how small. Yet a prose writer can do the same thing if he wants to do so.
Any one who is a great reader of books of travel is impressed by the fact that in these works there is occasionally literature of ecstasy of a high order. There are descriptions and narratives recorded with beauty, vividness, interest; there are reflections, insight into human nature that often surpass the works of prose fiction and verse poetry we read. Yet because these works are called "travels," they are not supposed to contain poems or creative literature. Had the authors given us as good description in verse, the critics would have called them poets.
Hearn's books on Japan are after all works of travel, but they contain poetry or the literature of ecstasy because Hearn was a poet. I am not claiming for many works of travel a place only as literature, for it is usually conceded that the best books of travel are literature, but I urge that many of these books are in parts poetry, and their authors are poets. It is recognized, however, that Pierre Loti is a poet in his books of travel. Doughty's _Arabia Deserta_ is full of poetry.
_Robinson Crusoe_ and _Gulliver's Travels_ are but works of travel, and are poetry because of the ecstatic presentation of ideas. You will find poems in prose not only in the travels of great writers, like Goethe, Taine, Heine, in the works of old writers who were chiefly travelers, like Hakluyt, Mandeville, Marco Polo, but in many volumes that have been published in our own day.
Anthologies of thousands of poems in prose could be compiled. The prose of every literature is full of poetry, even concentrated poetry, more or less rhythmical. You may cull poems out of the prose writings of men in England to-day, from Hardy, Moore, Yeats, Symons, Kipling, Hudson, Conrad, Galsworthy, Hewlett and D. H. Lawrence.
You can find poetry in various scenes of the great body of prose dramatists that have grown up in Europe since Ibsen, in Hauptmann, in Synge, in Chekhov, in Jacinto Benavente, in dialogues where an idea is fought for or an emotion displayed. It is manifestly absurd to crown with the name of poetry every petty emotion or description by some versifier, and deny it to the great dramatists who depict passions and color great ideas with emotion. No one thought of denying the title of poets to the dramatists when they formerly wrote in verse. Are you going to deny it to them because they give us the same, if not a greater effect in their prose than the old dramatist did in verse?
And I find much poetry, especially in letters, memoirs and biographies. I find poems in biographies like Bisland's _Hearn_, Meynell's _Francis Thompson_, Woodberry's _Poe_, Lawton's _Balzac_. I give these more or less recent books as examples. The works are full of emotional passages dealing with crucial events in the lives of the subjects. You will find poetry in famous biographies like Moore's _Byron_, Dowden's _Shelley_, Forster's _Dickens_, Cooke's _Ruskin_, Bielschowsky's _Goethe_, Froude's _Carlyle_, etc., to name just the lives of some literary men.
It is particularly pleasing to find poetry in literary prose criticism. For it was always held that criticism was but a secondary art, rarely creative in the same sense as poetry, supposed to be a product of the mind and not the soul, and merely a commentary on poetry. It is true, formerly poets were often inclined to write their criticism in verse, thinking that thus it became poetry. But it is only the ecstatic presentation of critical ideas that makes criticism poetry, whether in prose or verse. Poets have often described the mission of poetry in verse, and given us genuine poems. Horace and Verlaine have done this. But we have had great poetry in the critical work in prose of many critics. You will find poetry in Carlyle, Ruskin, Goethe, Pater, Brandes. You will find it in the prose essays of poets very often in spite of the popular tradition that poets are not good prose writers.
I give two examples. The first is from Swinburne's book on Blake:
To him the veil of outer things seemed always to tremble with some breath behind it; seemed at times to be rent in sunder with clamour and sudden lightning. All the void of earth and air seemed to quiver with the passage of sentient wings and palpitate under the pressure of conscious feet. Flowers and weeds, stars and stones, spoke with articulate lips and gazed with living eyes. Hands were stretched towards him from beyond the darkness of material nature, to tempt or to support, to guide or to restrain. His hardest facts were the vaguest allegories of other men. To him all symbolic things were literal, all literal things symbolic. About his path and about his bed, around his ears and under his eyes, an infinite play of spiritual life seethed and swarmed or shone and sang. Spirits imprisoned in the husk and shell of earth consoled or menaced him. Every leaf bore a growth of angels; the pulse of every minute sounded as the falling foot of God; under the rank raiment of weeds, in the drifting down of thistles, strange faces frowned and white hair fluttered; tempters and allies, wraiths of the living and phantoms of the dead, crowded and made populous the winds that blew about him, the fields and hills over which he gazed.
The second is from James Thomson's essay on Shelley:
The only true or inspired poetry is always from within, not from without. The experience contained in it has been spiritually transmuted from lead into gold. It is severely logical, the most trivial of its adornments being subservient to, and suggested by, the dominant idea; any departure from whose dictates would be the "falsifying of a revelation." It is unadulterated with worldly wisdom, deference to prevailing opinions, mere talent or cleverness. Its anguish is untainted by the gall of bitterness, its joy is never selfish, its grossness is never obscene. It perceives always the profound identity underlying all surface differences. It is a living organism, not a dead aggregate, and its music is the expression of the law of its growth; so that it could no more be set to a different melody than could a rose-tree be consummated with lilies or violets. It is most philosophic when most enthusiastic, the clearest light of its wisdom being shed from the keenest fire of its love. It is a synthesis not arithmetical, but algebraical; that is to say, its particular subjects are universal symbols, its predicates, universal laws: hence it is infinitely suggestive. It is ever-fresh wonder at the infinite mystery, ever-young faith in the eternal soul. Whatever be its mood, we feel that it is not self-possessed but God-possessed; whether the God came down serene and stately as Jove, when, a swan, he wooed Leda; or with overwhelming might insupportably burning, as when he consumed Semele.
Criticism deals with ideas that relate to life, and when written with ecstasy on human topics and not on technique it is poetry. The passage in Shelley's _Defense of Poetry_, beginning with the words "Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments, etc.," as well as the conclusion of Poe's essay on _The Poetic Principle_ are poetry. The critics here were poets in their prose criticism, no less than in their rhymed lyrics.
As the reader will fathom by this time, my aim is to free poetry from its bondage to requirements that were thought essential to it. I object most emphatically to demands for rhyme, metre, rhythm, alliteration, assonance, parallelism, repetition of word or phrase or line, tropes or figures of speech, poetical diction, and any form of pattern. The poet has the right to use any of the above instruments as he sees fit, whenever he thinks they enhance the ecstasy in his work. But no critic has a right to lay down a definition of poetry and insist that metre or rhythm must be employed by a poet. Professor Mackail in his _Oxford Lectures on Poetry_ defines poetry as patterned language, formally and technically, adding that the technical essence of the pattern is the repeat, and that when there is no repeat there is technically no poetry. If this definition were true, then passages in the Bible full of poetry, which use no parallelism, would not be poetry. The pattern does not make the poem, it often ruins it. While it is true that when excited we repeat expressions and become rhythmical, we do not do so with regularity and uniformity. How puerile many poems by savages, and even by the early civilized Babylonians and Egyptians, sound because the first impediment of art, the repeat, is employed, and a phrase is repeated _ad nauseam_ like the words of a child learning how to talk. (!)
When we shake off our subservience to the pattern in poetry we shall have little use for the numerous works on the art of writing poetry. We shall find that many of the old books on poetry written with much learning by scholars and poets, like Aristotle, Horace, Vida, Scaliger, Vossius, Fabricius, Boileau, Pope, Opitz, Gottsched, Dante, are in part obsolete. I do not mean that these worthy works have all to be thrown on the scrap heap. But they laid down absurd rules as to how to write poetry and how to determine it; they sought to confine it by rules gleaned from older poets and insisted future poets obey these rules. Yet great poets, who never even read them, disregarded all their rules and created great poetry.
The chief thing that can be said for these critics is that they excel the moderns in scholarship. These learned men represent an almost extinct class, men who knew all the classics and all the books of Europe. They make us regret that the day of the man of learning is over, especially at a time when so many ignorant poets and critics and reviewers discuss and decide emphatically on many matters wherein a little learning is not a dangerous thing.
[42:A] The italics are mine.
[52:A] "Poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge." Wordsworth. "The atmosphere wherein all the arts exist is poetry." Wilhelm A. Ambros: _The Boundaries of Music and Poetry_.
PROSE THE NATURAL LANGUAGE OF THE LITERATURE OF ECSTASY
Wordsworth believed that the language used by people in poetry should be that of the natural language of men under the influence of their feelings and that the diction of metrical poetry should differ in no wise from that of prose. Yet the only writers who use the natural diction of men are novelists, prose dramatists and short story writers, and, curiously enough, because they did not write verse, it has not often been suspected that these men were poets. Wordsworth's views are really proofs that poetry is found in prose, for the prose writers comply with his requirements of using in their compositions the natural conversation of men under the influence of natural feelings. They also comply with Wordsworth's definition of poetry, recording "emotions recollected in tranquillity."
Hazlitt has ably summed up the influence of the French Revolution on Wordsworth. Our poet did away with mythological references, with tales about legendary characters. He wrote about the emotions of the common people and introduced no far-fetched metaphors, nor made pedantic allusions.
Wordsworth, however, did not claim, as Coleridge thought he did, that the language of verse poetry must be that of ignorant people. Wordsworth never asserted that he wanted the poets to use the language of peasants, except when peasants were portrayed and represented as speaking. He simply protested against stilted, artificial language in verse poetry. He held the use of such language in verse poetry to be ridiculous, as it was in prose. He was not an exponent of prose poetry, even though he laid little stress on the importance of metre. As the authors of the article on Wordsworth in the _Encyclopedia Britannica_ state, the farthest he went in defense of prose structure in poetry was to say that if the words in verse happened to be in the order of prose, they were not necessarily prosaic in the sense of unpoetic. He did not (unfortunately) try to eliminate metre in poetry. He no doubt agreed with Coleridge's own defense of meter in the _Biographia Literaria_. He did not write against his own theory, for he always employed metre and--except in some ballads--a diction that was even literary.
Though both Wordsworth and Coleridge were not overawed by the necessity of metre in poetry, they believed in its use, and were opposed to prose poetry. Coleridge, however, wrote a prose poem _The Wanderings of Cain_ and some of his essays are prose poetry. Coleridge also devoted an entire chapter in his _Biographia Literaria_ to the defense of metre as a vehicle for poetry. He attributes the origin of metre to the fact that the mind makes a conscious effort to hold passion in check by fettering it with regular numbers. On the contrary, this conscious check is due to imitation of old examples, to fear in defying the critics, for the natural language of passion is irregular rhythm, and it is impatient of being confined in regular, artificial numbers. Coleridge thinks the effect of metre is "to increase the vivacity and susceptibility both of the general feelings and the attention" by the continued excitement of surprise. I submit that metre often distracts the attention from the poem's real object, which is to depict ecstasy. Metre often diverts our ear to the singsong tone in which the emotions are couched. Instead of adding to the vivacity and susceptibility of the feelings it really makes us suspect that the poet is not sincere, for the man of emotions expresses them spontaneously and does not trick them out in pattern. Next, Coleridge assumes that because of custom, metre must have some property in common with poetry. This argument cannot stand when we take into consideration the innumerable emotional passages that have been written in prose. A custom is only a passing practice, and free verse writers have abandoned the custom of writing in metre and in many cases have produced good poetry. Lastly, our critic thinks that every poet is impelled "to seek unity by harmonious adjustment, and thus establishing the principle, that all the parts of an organized whole must be assimilated to the more important and essential parts." But why assume that there is no unity of harmonious adjustment in an emotional passage in prose? Or why identify such unity with a metrical pattern? Isn't a Psalm in the Bible a unity of harmonious adjustment? Even if the essential part of a poetic piece tends to assume a certain pattern it does not mean that the whole piece should be given a patterned form. Some day it will be recognized that a long composition recording different emotions is really unaesthetic in a uniform pattern.
"As to the accents of words," says Bacon, in his _Advancement of Learning_, Book VI, Ch. I, "there is no necessity for taking notice of so trivial a thing; only it may be proper to intimate that these are observed with great exactness, whilst the accents of sentences are neglected; though it is nearly common to all mankind to sink the voice at the end of a period, to raise it in interrogation, and the like."
This passage is the first attack in English on metre.
It was Whitman who gave the death blow to metre. He brought poetry back to rhythmical prose, and is the greatest liberator poetry has ever had. He demonstrated that an entire volume might be written in rhythmical prose (with the lines broken up), and that the product could be the highest poetry. His _Leaves of Grass_ ignored all the rules laid down in various books on poetics. Whitman has done more than most critics to convey to the world what poetry really is.
"In my opinion," says Whitman, "the time has arrived to essentially break down the barriers of form between prose and poetry. I say the latter is henceforth to win and maintain its character regardless of rhyme, and the measurement-rules of iambic, spondee, dactyl, &c., and that even if rhyme and those measurements continue to furnish the medium for inferior writers and themes (especially for persiflage and the comic, as there seems henceforward, to the perfect taste, something inevitably comic in rhyme, merely in itself, and anyhow), the truest and greatest _Poetry_ (while subtly and necessarily always rhythmic, and distinguishable enough) can never again, in the English language, be express'd in arbitrary and rhyming metre, any more than the greatest eloquence, or the truest power and passion."
We have long been laboring under the mischievous Aristotelian division of poetry into Epic, Dramatic and Lyric, and critics have exhausted themselves trying to determine which of these was the highest form of poetry.
As a matter of fact, the epic poem was only the primitive author's method of writing a poetical novel centering around wars; or a later poet's imitation of that form. The dramatic poem was another way of telling a story without introducing much narration or description. Poetry does not inhere in an epic of Homer or a play of Sophocles by virtue of the form, but because of the emotions described, and similar descriptions of emotions are to be found in our fiction and prose plays.
Again we have followed the ancients in subdividing lyric poetry into elegy, pastoral, ode, satire, idyll. The moderns introduced the sonnet, the ballade, the ballad and other forms. These divisions have perverted our knowledge as to the nature of poetry. Any one can make a similar classification of the poetry in prose, but it is useless to do so. Poetry is recorded emotion and depicts various characteristics. The Song of Deborah is a war song, a hymn and a satire, all in one.
Professor Posnett in his _Comparative Literature_ protested long before Croce against these artificial divisions in poetry.
Poetry is the voice of excited man; it is as Baumgarten said--"perfect sensitive speech," a definition that Croce regards as probably the best ever given of poetry, while Saintsbury scoffs at it. It is immaterial whether the rhythm is there or not. Prose is always poetry when it is sensitized. Nietzsche, himself a great poet, also saw this. "Let it be observed," said Nietzsche, "that the great masters of prose have almost always been poets as well, whether openly, or only in secret and for the closet; and in truth one only writes good prose _in view of poetry_." He names Leopardi, Landor, Emerson and Merimée among the great prose writers who were poets. We can add many other writers of essays, dialogues, and criticisms to complement his list.
"The distinction between poetry and prose cannot be justified," said Croce. "Poetry is the language of sentiment; prose of intellect; but since the intellect is also sentiment, in its concretion and reality, so all prose has a poetical side." "There exists poetry without prose, but not prose without poetry." Poetical material permeates the souls of all; any expression of it in verse or prose, in painting or music, is poetry. Since all poetry is expression and all expression lyric, the divisions of different kinds of poetry into epic, dramatic, etc., or different divisions of one poem into scenes, books, chapters, acts, stanzas, paragraphs, are of little importance, and are matters of convenience.
Poetry is essentially lyrical. There is no such thing as dramatic or epic poetry. All poetry is the emotional outcry of the poet or his characters. We may have an emotion recorded in a separate poem called a lyric, or in a speech in a composition divided into acts, following certain rules and known as a drama. Similarly the speeches in epic poems are lyrics. The poetry of Homer or Shakespeare is not epic or dramatic, for poetry is just an emotional outburst. Andromache's speeches and Hamlet's soliloquies could have appeared alone and they would have been considered lyrics; they remain lyrics even in the body of a long composition. The emotional passages in all prose works are also lyrical poetry. There is really only one kind of poetry, lyrical poetry, for all poems are emotional outbursts of an individual. Every imaginative literary composition, whether in verse or prose, is made up of lyrical poems, more or less.
One should no more look for a chapter on the drama in a book like this dealing with poetry than for a treatise on the novel. A drama, considered merely as a series of scenes bound together by a plot in a fit manner to be presented on the stage to move people, and based on rules that relate to economy of words, concentration of facts and strikingness of action, is a performance that has a technique of its own; the dramatist is a poet only by virtue of the ecstasy he puts in the work. Considered in its primary significance as a performance where action is the chief feature, the drama becomes poetry in those parts where the action and emotion are concentrated.
It is, however, often difficult to extract scenes from the play, as they lose in effectiveness by being thus separated. But the fact remains that there is no such thing as dramatic poetry, for the essence of all poetry is its lyricism. Dramatic scenes contain the lyric cries of the _dramatis personæ_. Action is but the emotional disturbances of the characters and no longer merely means violent conduct, surprises, battles, duels, suicides, murders. All great novels have dramatic scenes and they are often as exuberant in poetry as are similar scenes in plays. We no longer regard as tragedies only those plays in verse where a virtuous person of high degree is in a frightful predicament because of unjust and unlooked-for defeat with fate. No, in spite of Aristotle, the suffering of even a wicked person of low station, depicted as due to his own fault as of Hurstwood in _Sister Carrie_, and described in prose narrative, is also tragedy. There is incidentally no such thing as a comic dramatic poem, but a comic scene may be poetic if it moves to ecstasy (not merely to farcic laughter), and if it is essentially lyrical. Comedy also appears in works of fiction in prose, and may be poetical. Moreover, most performances in prose dialogue or fiction present an admixture of tragic and comic.
Tragedy often presents lyric poems greater than any other work of literature; hence Aristotle and his imitators concluded that a verse tragedy was the highest form of poetry. This is not so. If Shakespeare and Sophocles lived in our day they might have written novels or essays, and I daresay with their genius those novels or essays would have been as good as their plays and would have contained as great poetry.
Our great poets do not owe their greatness to the use of the stereotyped literary metrical forms. A man may have a great gift for the use of these forms and not be a great poet, just as he may be a great poet and fall flat when they encumber him. Ruskin and Dickens were great poets, but when we say that their metrical compositions were not great poetry we merely mean that they were not adept in choosing rhymes and complying with metrical rules. To do this requires a distinct gift. An amateur selects forced rhymes and has no ear. Swinburne, besides being a great poet, had a distinct gift of creating melodious verse; but many parodists have shown that they also had this gift without being able to write poetry.
Mrs. Browning was a good poet both in verse and in prose. She wrote her love poems in prose in her letters to her husband, and in verse in the Portuguese sonnets which are nothing more than some of the letters put into metre and rhyme; there are some who think that the letters are the better poetry of the two. Her sentiments did not become poetry because they were put in sonnet form.
The following letter is poetry:
I pour out my thoughts to you, dearest, dearest, as if it were right rather to think of doing myself that good and relief, than of you who have to read all. But you spoil me into an excess of liberty by your tenderness. Best in the world! Oh--you help me to live--I am better and lighter since I have drawn near to you even on this paper--already I am better and lighter. And now I am going to dream of you . . . to meet you on some mystical landing place . . . in order to be quite well to-morrow. Oh--we are so selfish on this earth, that nothing grieves us very long, let it be ever so grievous, unless we are touched in _ourselves_ . . . in the apple of our eye . . . in the quick of our heart . . . in _what_ you are and _where_ you are . . . my own dearest beloved! So you need not be afraid for _me_. We all look to our own, as I to _you_; the thunderbolts may strike the tops of the cedars, and, except in the first part, none of us be moved. True it is of me--not of you perhaps, certainly you are better than I in all things. Best in the world you are--no one is like you. Can you read what I have written? Do not love me less! Do you think that I cannot feel you love me, through all this distance? If you loved me less, I should know, without a word or sign. Because I live by your loving me! (June 24, 1846.)
It took the Greeks and Romans some time to learn that prose was the best medium for philosophy and history. Plato had the good sense to write in prose instead of following the ridiculous method of versifying of the early Greek philosophers, like Parmenides and Empedocles.
In the first century A.D. various Roman historians wrote of historical events in the form of epic poems. These are really histories with a little occasional glimmer of poetry. Thus we had Silius's _Pontica_, Valerius Flaccus's _Argonautica_, Statius's _Thebais_, and Lucan's _Pharsalia_. The last two works were especially admired in the medieval ages when rhymed or metrical historical chronicles were the fashion, and they were favorites of Dante. Very few people to-day read these metrical histories. English literature also is full of metrical and rhymed histories, geographies, criticisms, scientific works, essays, etc. But no one reads Warner's _Albion's England_, Drayton's _Poly Olbion_, or Daniel's _First Four Books of the Civil War_. And Darwin's versified _Botanical Garden_ has been a standing joke.
It is remarkable how past usages in literature influence us. The examples of Lucretius versifying philosophy in his _Nature of Things_, and that of Horace writing literary criticism in verse in his _Art of Poetry_, have been fruitful of mischief. Even much of the lengthy works of Shelley, Byron and Browning would have been better had they been written in prose, and they would have lost none of their poetic qualities. The greatness of the _Ring and the Book_, _Don Juan_ and the _Revolt of Islam_ remains when these works are translated into the prose of another language.
The French have perfected the art of poetical prose,[86:A] or prose poetry, probably more than any other nation. The reason may be that they have not been prolific of good poetry in verse, and have instead reserved their poetry for prose, a more natural medium than Alexandrine lines.
Fénelon was one of the first moderns who attacked verse. In two critical works, _Dialogues on Eloquence_ and _Letters to the French Academy_ (there is an English translation of both, out of print), he emphasized the insignificant part played by versification in poetry. He held that there was no true eloquence without a due mixture of poetry, that poetry was the very soul of eloquence. He said that there were many poets who were poetical without making verses, and he considered versification distinct from poetry. In his definition of poetry he excluded a consideration of versification. He thought the perfection of French verse impossible, that versification loses more than it gains by rhyme, and that French poets were cramped by versification. He wanted superfluous ornaments removed and the necessary parts turned into natural ornaments. Still he did not insist on a complete abandonment of rhyme, but wanted greater freedom. His biographer, St. Cyr, says that Fénelon wanted to abolish verse altogether in French poetry. Fénelon also wrote a novel in prose poetry in 1699, _Télémaque_. But prose poetry existed in France before him, in old romances like the story of _Aucassin and Nicolette_ and in Bossuet's funeral orations. His example was followed by Sainte Pierre, in _Paul and Virginia_, by Prévost in _Manon Lescaut_, by Rousseau and especially by Chateaubriand in _Atala_, _The Genius of Christianity_ and _The Martyrs_. Unfortunately, Fénelon insisted in introducing the clichés of verse into prose; artificial and unnatural language hence ruined some of his work and assisted in bringing the term prose poetry into contempt.
The French have always regarded the poet in a broader sense than have the English. The article on poetry in the French Encyclopedia deals with prose poems as well as with verse poems. Victor Hugo in his _Shakespeare_, when he calls the lists of poets, mentions prose writers like Diderot, Rousseau, Balzac, Chateaubriand, George Sand, Le Sage and Cervantes. He who was himself a great poet knew that poetry did not depend on metre.
Eugene Véron, the great French critic, author of a valuable work on _Æsthetics_ (fortunately translated into English), also takes a broad conception of the term poetry. He says that it would be absurd to deny Molière's _L'Avare_ is poetry because it is in prose, for poetical, creative imagination and personal emotions are at work here. He states that there was poetry in the story of Don Juan before Corneille put it in verse. Versification, he urges, does not constitute poetry. He sees that verse would not have improved such prose poems as _Paul and Virginia_, _La Mare au Diable_, or _L'Oiseau_ (Michelet), and he places in the front rank of poetry passages from Demosthenes, Cicero, Bossuet (no doubt referring to some of the famous funeral orations) and Mirabeau. He also says it is impossible to refuse to see poetic character in the novel, for this deals with the creation of character and the portrayal of passions.
I do not wish to go into the prose poetry written by other nations, for every literature is full of it.
There is a growing tendency in England to encourage prose poetry.[88:A] De Quincey having made a special plea for impassioned prose is looked upon as the father of it, though there was prose poetry in English literature from the earliest times; Malory, Sidney, Sir Thomas Browne, Raleigh, Drummond, Milton, Bunyan, Taylor and Fuller were great prose poets.
John Stuart Mill and Lord Beaconsfield both recognized the utterly negligible rôle of metre in determining the nature of poetry. In an early essay, originally published before he was thirty and collected with another under the title _Poetry and Its Varieties_, Mill gives us his definition of poetry. Guided by a statement of the author of the _Corn Law Rhymes_, Ebenezer Elliot, that poetry is impassioned truth, and by another definition from Blackwood's, that poetry is "man's thought tinged by his feelings," he says, "Every truth which a human being can enunciate, every thought, even every outward impression, which can enter into his consciousness, may become poetry when shown through any impassioned medium, when invested with the coloring of joy, or grief, or pity, or affection, or admiration, or reverence, or awe, or even hatred, or terror: and, unless so colored, nothing, be it as interesting as it may, is poetry." There is nothing said in this definition about rhythm or metre, and indeed Mill regarded as the vulgarest of all any definition of poetry which confounds it with metrical composition.
An idea emotionally treated becomes poetry whether in prose or verse, whether rhythmical or not. Mill understood that, yet he erred when he assigned a minor rôle to the emotions excited by the incidents in prose fiction, though it is true that the emotions of excitement wakened by the mere novel of adventure are indicative of a lower order of poetry. It is to be regretted, however, that about five years later he somewhat modified his main views.
Prose poetry was consciously written by Lord Beaconsfield, who tells us in the early preface to his novel, _Alroy_, that he was trying to write rhythmical prose poetry in that novel. He did not always succeed, but throughout all his novels are found many excellent prose poems. He was writing prose poetry in the early eighteen thirties before Baudelaire, and in some of his tales, like _Pompanilla_, we have prose poems. He often became bombastic, but he was a poet, nevertheless.
Later English critics have returned to the subject of prose poetry.
In his _Aspects of Poetry_ Professor John C. Shairp says that he grants "that the old limits between prose and poetry tend to disappear." He concludes his book with two chapters on prose poets, on Carlyle and Newman. And Courthope, worshipper of metre that he is, concludes his _History of English Poetry_ with a chapter on the poetry in the Waverly Novels. We also recall that Bagehot could see little difference between Tennyson's novels in verse and George Eliot's novels in prose.
A great critic like Pater maintained the rights of the poet in prose. In his essay on Style he said "Prose will exert in due measure all the varied charms of poetry down to the rhythm which, as in Cicero, Michelet, or Newman, gives its musical value to every syllable."
The first lengthy and systematic plea for prose poetry I know of in English, outside of Disraeli's and De Quincey's modest apologies for writing in this manner, was made by David Masson in an essay on _Prose and Verse: De Quincey_, published as a review of De Quincey in 1854. De Quincey's preface, pleading for impassioned prose, suggested Masson's essay. Masson had, however, dwelt on the poetic side of prose the year before in an article on Dallas's _Poetics_, called _Theories of Poetry_. Both of Masson's essays are to be found in his _Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats and Other Essays_. Masson very ingeniously asks why we are not allowed to write prose in the manner that Milton writes in verse, or in the manner of Æschylus in prose translation. He concludes that poetry and prose are not two entirely separate spheres, but intersecting and penetrating. To-day we go even farther than Masson and urge that prose, except in short lyrics when verse may be used, should be the sole language of passion and the imagination. He vindicates De Quincey's right to use impassioned prose; he quotes as an example of prose poetry a beautiful passage from the conclusion of Milton's pamphlet, _Causes That Have Hindered the Reformation in England_, and mentions especially Jean Paul Richter, the prose poet who was responsible for the prose poetry of two disciples, De Quincey and Carlyle. Richter's _Christ and the Universe_ is highly regarded by him as prose poetry.
Masson's prediction that the time was coming when the best prose should more resemble verse than it had done in the past, and that the best verse should not disdain a certain resemblance to prose, is being fulfilled. Remember Masson wrote before the _Leaves of Grass_ appeared, and before the vogue of free verse.
Yet his viewpoint was severely criticized by a scholar like John Earle, whose _English Prose_ contains an attack on prose poetry. Earle says that prose poetry is found chiefly in ages of literary decadence like the Latin Silver Age in writers from Tacitus to Boethius. On the contrary, it is found as well in the golden ages of literature, as, for example, in Sidney's _Arcadia_, which he himself quotes from, in Plato, in Pascal, in Dante's prose. It is strange that this view of Earle's should still largely prevail. Poetry and prose are still regarded by academic scholars like Earle, Saintsbury, Courthope, Bosanquet Watts-Dunton and Gummere as two distinct branches of literature. Earle is right only when he objects to the clichés of verse in prose, but to-day we object to all clichés.
Poetic prose, however, should not be used on every occasion, but only when an ecstasy is to be expressed. And, above all, it should be avoided--and this is how prose poetry got into disrepute--in expressing sentimental emotions, commonplace ideas, and the merely popular. When we read in eloquent prose, the grand eulogies on the flag, on the purity and redeeming virtues of mother-love, on the dignity of toil, on the glory of dying for one's country, on the goodness of God, etc., themes which have been celebrated so often that they are nauseous to us because nothing new is said, then we see how ridiculous prose poetry may become.
But as Pater says--impassioned prose has become the special and opportune art of the modern world, and it can exert all the varied charms of poetry down to the rhythm.
"The muse of prose-literature," says Masson, "has been hardly dealt with. We see not why, in prose, there should not be much of that license in the fantastic, that measured riot, the right of whimsy, that unbalanced dalliance with the extreme and the beautiful, which the world allows, by prescription, to verse. Why may not prose chase forest-nymphs and see little green-eyed elves, and delight in peonies and musk-roses, and invoke the stars, and roll mists about the hills, and watch the sea thundering through caverns and dashing against the promontories? Why, in prose, quail from the grand or ghastly in the one hand, or blush with shame at too much of the exquisite on the other? Is Prose made of iron? Must it never weep, never laugh, never linger to look at a butterfly, never ride at a gallop over the downs?"
Yet George Moore, a great poet in prose himself, tells us in his _Avowals_ that the greatness of English genius does not appear in its prose, but in its poetry, i. e., in verse. The greatness of English genius _is_ in its poetry, but in the poetry of its prose as well as in the poetry of its verse. It appears in the ordinary dialect of its novels and prose plays.
As a matter of fact, poetic prose has always been used. It is found in the earliest as well as the later literature of every nation. The Bible, Oriental Literature, the medieval romances, early Saxon prose are full of it. It made a reappearance with renewed force in the romantic movement that spread over England, Germany and France in the latter part of the eighteenth and early part of the nineteenth centuries. In an age like the romantic, when the right to live and express emotions was pleaded, poetic prose, seeking restraint from metre, was especially appropriate. George Brandes has studied this movement in his _Main Currents_. Many of the leading writers of the romantic period used impassioned prose. Saintsbury has found much poetry even in the prose of John Wilson, who is not much read, one who was to some extent an enemy of the romantic movement, and Saintsbury reprints in his _Specimens of English Prose Style_, Wilson's _The Fairy's Funeral_.
America has contributed greatly to the development of prose poetry. Hawthorne, Poe and Emerson were the first great masters in prose poetry we have had, and I doubt if as poets they have been surpassed by any of our metrical verse writers. One of the finest poems in American literature is undoubtedly Hawthorne's reflections of his lonely life in the Ivory Tower, when he revisited his old chamber in Salem where he spent so many years. The famous passage from his diary, quoted in all big biographies, is as great a poem, though in prose.
Emerson's essays are studied with prose poems. I shall mention only one, the address to the poet, at the conclusion of the essay on "The Poet."
The Hawthorne passage is as follows:
Salem, Oct. 4th. Union Street (Family Mansion).--. . . . Here I sit in my old accustomed chamber, where I used to sit in days gone by. . . . Here I have written many tales,--many that have been burned to ashes, many that doubtless deserved the same fate. This claims to be called a haunted chamber, for thousands upon thousands of visions have appeared to me in it; and some few of them have become visible to the world. If ever I should have a biographer, he ought to make great mention of this chamber in my memoirs, because so much of my lonely youth was wasted here, and here my mind and character were formed; and here I have been glad and hopeful, and here I have been despondent. And here I sat a long, long time, waiting patiently for the world to know me, and sometimes wondering why it did not know me sooner, or whether it would ever know me at all,--at least, till I were in my grave. And sometimes it seemed as if I were already in the grave, with only life enough to be chilled and benumbed. But oftener I was happy,--at least, as happy as I then knew how to be, or was aware of the possibility of being. By and by, the world found me out in my lonely chamber, and called me forth,--not, indeed, with a loud roar of acclamation, but rather with a still, small voice,--and forth I went, but found nothing in the world that I thought preferable to my old solitude till now. . . . And now I begin to understand why I was imprisoned so many years in this lonely chamber, and why I could never break through the viewless bolts and bars; for if I had sooner made my escape into the world, I should have grown hard and rough, and been covered with earthly dust, and my heart might have become callous by rude encounters with the multitude. . . . But living in solitude till the fulness of time was come, I still kept the dew of my youth and the freshness of my heart. . . . I used to think I could imagine all passions, all feelings, and states of the heart and mind; but how little did I know! . . . Indeed, we are but shadows; we are not endowed with real life, and all that seems most real about us is but the thinnest substance of a dream,--till the heart be touched. That touch creates us,--then we begin to be,--thereby we are beings of reality and inheritors of eternity. . . .
And the Emerson poem in prose is given herewith:
O poet! a new nobility is conferred in groves and pastures, and not in castles or by the sword-blade any longer. The conditions are hard, but equal. Thou shalt leave the world, and know the muse only. Thou shalt not know any longer the times, customs, graces, politics, or opinions of men, but shalt take all from the muse. For the time of towns is tolled from the world by funereal chimes, but in nature the universal hours are counted by succeeding tribes of animals and plants, and by growth of joy on joy. God wills also that thou abdicate a manifold and duplex life, and that thou be content that others speak for thee. Others shall be thy gentlemen, and shall represent all courtesy and worldly life for thee; others shall do the great and resounding actions also. Thou shalt lie close hid with nature, and canst not be afforded to the Capitol or the Exchange. The world is full of renunciations and apprenticeships, and this is thine; thou must pass for a fool and a churl for a long season. This is the screen and sheath in which Pan has protected his well-beloved flower, and thou shalt be known only to thine own, and they shall console thee with tenderest love. And thou shalt not be able to rehearse the names of thy friends in thy verse, for an old shame before the holy ideal. And this is the reward; that the ideal shall be real to thee, and the impressions of the actual world shall fall like summer rain, copious, but not troublesome to thy invulnerable essence. Thou shalt have the sole land for thy park and manor, the sea for thy bath and navigation, without tax and without envy; the woods and the rivers thou shalt own, and thou shalt possess that wherein others are only tenants and boarders. Thou true land-lord! sea-lord! air-lord! Wherever snow falls or water flows or birds fly, wherever day and night meet in twilight, wherever the blue heaven is hung by clouds or sown with stars, wherever are forms with transparent boundaries, wherever are outlets into celestial space, wherever is danger, and awe, and love,--there is Beauty, plenteous as rain, shed for thee, and though thou shouldst walk the world over, thou shalt not be able to find a condition inopportune or ignoble.
[86:A] See the selections in _Pastels in Prose_ (1890), and the sympathetic introduction by William Dean Howells.
[88:A] See _The Chapbook_, April, 1921, London. _Poetry in Prose_, Three Essays by T. S. Eliot, Frederic Manning, Richard Aldington.
PROSE PRECEDES VERSE HISTORICALLY
One of the frequent sayings in the text books of literary history is that the literature of a nation always begins with poetry in verse, and that good prose is a later development. England and Greece are especially cited as examples, since Homer lived before Herodotus and the author of _Beowulf_ before King Alfred.
Scholars follow one another often like sheep. When a man of prominence utters an idea, it is taken up by a disciple and soon becomes a convention. The academic critics and professors usually enshrine the idea and it becomes a heresy to question it. The best illustration of this is the almost universal adherence given to the idea that verse poetry came before prose, a view first set forth by the geographer Strabo in speaking of Homer in the beginning of his _Geography_. His views were not entertained, I believe, by Plato or Aristotle. The passage is worth quoting as I know of no other in literature that has raised so much confusion and misapprehension as to the nature of poetry:
Prose discourse--I mean artistic prose--is, I may say, an imitation of poetic discourse; for poetry as an art first came upon the scene and was first to win approval. Then came Cadmus, Pherecydes, Hecataeus and their followers, with prose writing in which they imitated the poetic art, abandoning the use of metre, but in other respects preserving the qualities of poetry. Then subsequent writers took away, each in his turn, something of these qualities, and brought prose down to its present form, as from a sublime height. In the same way we might say that comedy took its structure from tragedy, but that it also has been degraded from the sublime height of tragedy to its present "prose-like" style, as it is called. _Geography_, 1. 2. 6.
Most critics have accepted this view. Scaliger, however, in the middle of the sixteenth century repudiated it. He asked whether the first so-called poems, the metrical records in temples, antedated everyday speech.
Strabo was led to his error by the fact that the _Iliad_ and _Odyssey_ were among the very few survivals of the end of an epoch of verse poetry, and also because some of the pre-Socratic philosophers like Parmenides and Empedocles wrote in verse. Now scholars are all agreed that the authors of the Homeric poems had many predecessors in the art of composing poetry for many ages back down into legendary times. The perfected poems in a pattern as regular as the dactylic hexameter were a stage of evolution and did not spring up out of the darkness of an age which had no literature. The Delphians claim that their first priestess invented the dactylic hexameter; the Delians said that Olen, a mythical singer from Asia Minor, first used it, but it was, of course, a development. Prose was not a development from verse, as Strabo thought. On the contrary, all verse, including Greek verse, was a development from rhythmical prose. The stories about Troy were first told in prose; next they were sung in ballads; then they were combined into epics.
Musæus, one of the earliest legendary poets, antedating Homer, was said to have composed prose.
As the earliest literatures of most nations have not been preserved to us, we can examine various literatures in their earliest stages only; we shall in almost every case find that these are written in rhythmical prose or possess the beginning of a pattern hardly differing from rhythmic prose. It is against all human experience to conclude that an elaborate work of art following laws of measure could precede the production in prose that represents the transcription of the natural language of people which is in prose. We shall discover, however, that in some cases, like the _Sagas_ of Iceland, we have in prose, the very first poetical compositions, while other poetical compositions, like the epics of Ireland, show us the prose along with the metrical development in the body of the compositions.
First let us briefly note the characteristics of the poetry of natural savages. This is always in rhythmical prose, or free verse, and this may be seen in the anthology of Indian poems collected by Cronyn in _The Path of the Rainbow_. The writer of the preface, Mary Austin, ventures the opinion that the writers of free verse poems in America are merely returning to the primitive form of poetry written by the native Americans. Similarly the emotional outbursts of native African tribes are in rhythmical prose. The only form of pattern in the poems of savages as well as of people in an early stage of civilization is a tendency to repeat the same phrase. But in their most emotional stories, fables and legends, in their proverbs and crude moral and religious philosophizing they use plain prose. This prose, especially that of the legends, contains their first poetry, and of course there is no pattern here. The pattern, assuming the form of irregular rhythm and repetition of phrase, appears chiefly in hymns and chants, and these are only two aspects of poetry.
The first change that occurs in a later stage of the hymn is that the phrase or clause, instead of being repeated exactly, is varied by a change of words, having a similar import. In short, we have the beginning of parallelism. There is parallelism in the poems of all early civilizations. It reaches its fullest development in an age of civilization, as we observe in the poems of the Bible.
Probably the oldest poetry we have is that of the Egyptians and the Babylonians, and there is no regular metre of any kind in these except parallelism. The works are all irregularly rhythmical and in many cases the lines are arranged like modern free verse, to call attention to this irregular rhythm.
Dr. James H. Breasted, speaking of the Pyramid Texts, in his _Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt_, says: "Among the oldest literary fragments in the collection are the religious hymns and these exhibit an early poetic form, that of couplets displaying parallelism in arrangement of word, and thought--the form which is familiar to all in the Hebrew Psalms as 'parallelism of members.' It is carried back by its employment in the Pyramid Texts in the fourth millennium B.C., by far earlier than its appearance anywhere else. It is indeed the oldest of all literary forms known to us. Its use is not confined to the hymns mentioned, but appears also in other portions of the Pyramid Texts, where it is, however, not usually so highly developed."
All the poems of the Egyptians were written simply in rough, irregular lines of rhythmical prose. Read the famous _Song of the Harper_ where an epicurean life is praised; it is impassioned rhythmical prose. Take up the love poems, elegies, fairy tales and prayers of the ancient Egyptians. They have no device of metre, rhythm or rhyme. The only pattern is the parallelism. A few hymns are arranged in stanzas of ten lines with a break in the middle of each line, but no definite metrical laws existed for the lengths of lines or number of feet, so as to make a uniform rhythmical pattern of the composition.
The Egyptians wrote much of their poetry in parallelistic prose. If we do not know how they pronounced their vowels, we know enough of their literature to see that regularity of accents and equal numbers of syllables were not characteristic of their poetry.
The epic of _Gilgash_, the chief poem of the Babylonians, and the various hymns translated by Professor Langdon, are all in irregular rhythmical prose. These may be older than the poetry of the Egyptians, but in form they are a great deal alike--simply prose with a rough rhythm, frequent parallelism, but no uniform device. The lines are arranged often like free verse. "It is difficult to draw the line between their poetry and the higher style of prose," says Francis Brown.[100:A] "There is a primitive freedom and lack of artificiality in the poetic movement, much greater than in the Hebrew Psalms. Metre is felt and observed at times, but then abandoned--the thought carrying itself along beyond the strict boundaries of metrical division."
We have seen that critics find in the hymns of the Egyptians and Babylonians the irregular rhythm and parallelisms of the Psalms, in short, impassioned rhythmical prose.
Let us now examine the form of the poetry of the Bible.
W. Robertson Smith in an able article, "The Poetry of the Old Testament," posthumously collected in _Lectures and Essays_, showed that Hebrew poetry was rhythmic without possessing laws of metre, for the rhythm of thought created a naturally rhythmic prose. Rhythm is the measured rise and fall of feeling and utterance, to which the rhythm of sound is subordinate. Prosodic rules are not necessary, "for the words employed naturally group themselves in balanced members, in which the undulations of the thought are represented to the ear." When poetry becomes more artificial people do not trust to the rhythm of thought but attribute importance to metre and finally "we are apt to forget its essential subordination to rhythmic flow of thought."
There has been no more amusing game than the ever-renewed attempt to find metres in the Bible. One of the most ridiculous claims, at one time widely in vogue, was that the Greek metres were to be found in the Bible. Vossius and the younger Scaliger denounced these views, first advanced by Josephus and Philo.
We are beginning to see to-day that the chief characteristic of the form of the poetry in the Bible is parallelism in irregular rhythm.
Dr. König and other scholars agree that it is this irregular rhythm based on accent of syllable that distinguishes Hebrew poetry. Each line had a number of accented syllables ranging from two to five, but the lines did not regularly or alternately have the same number of accented syllables. The unaccented syllables were also not counted. The poem became nothing more than rhythmical prose. Sir George A. Smith says, in his _The Early Poetry of Israel_, that the Hebrew poets indulged deliberately in the metrical irregularities of verse. They deviated more than Shakespeare, who did not always confine himself to the iambic foot and pentameter line in his blank verse. "In every form of Oriental art we trace the influence of what may be called Symmetrophobia, an instinctive aversion to absolute symmetry, which if it knows no better, will express itself in arbitrary and even violent disturbances of the style or pattern of the work." The more correct view, however, is that this symmetry was never intended by the Hebrew poets; that the irregular arrangement of accents with occasional symmetry was the rule.
Both Smith and König cite G. Dalman, who says that this irregular rhythm is found in the songs of Arabia to-day sung in Palestine. These songs are made up of lines of from two to five syllables, of which one to four are unaccented, the poet being bound by no definite numbers. This is the irregular rhythm of Hebrew poetry, and also, by the way, of the _Nibelungen Lied_. It is the rhythm of all early poetry, the Egyptian and Babylonian.
But even those who have given up the hope of finding metres in Hebrew poetry insist that a regular metrical form was used for the Kinoth or lamentations. Professor Budde held that the Kinoth had a regular metre. But the discovery merely amounted to this: that a long line was followed regularly by a short line. There was no uniformity of accented syllables in successive or alternate lines. There are two, three and four syllables in them almost at the will of the poet.
We may then conclude that rhythm is never regular in the poetry of the Bible.
All ancient Hebrew poetry was in rhythmical prose; prophecies, elegies, songs, hymns, parables, and dialogues. The irregular rhythmical form was a natural outflow of the ecstatic element.
But what about the parallelism? Does this make the Bible verse? Bishop Lowth, in his _Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews_, delivered at Oxford in the middle of the eighteenth century, no doubt performed great service in calling attention to the parallelisms of Hebrew poetry. The importance of these in ancient Hebrew poetry has, however, been overestimated. Parallelism did not create poetry, but was often its garment. There are passages employing parallelisms that are not poetry, while many poems exist in which these are not used. Dr. Edward König, in his article on Hebrew Poetry in the _Jewish Encyclopedia_, concludes that the poets of the Bible were not bound by parallelism, often setting it aside and not using it.
In his account of _The Literary Study of the Bible_, Professor Richard G. Moulton has given an excellent study of the parallelism of the Bible, but he admits that parallelisms of clause are also prose devices. If parallelism, then, is also a property of prose, we cannot say that parallelism alone is sufficient to distinguish poetry from prose, or even Hebrew poetry from Hebrew prose. Moulton finds that prose and poetry overlap each other in the Bible. All this merely proves that parallelisms were no doubt anciently used to differentiate prose literature conveying emotions from prose literature barren of feeling. But parallelism was not indispensable to the literature of ecstasy.
Yet we cannot deny the fact that parallelisms occur in the Bible with such frequency as almost to have become a pattern of Hebrew poetry. Bishop Lowth thought the origin of the parallelism was due to the system of chanting hymns where there was a response by the congregation, and that the practice of the parallelism soon extended to all poetry. But, for example, proverbs from their very epigrammatic nature tend towards parallelism. The origin was most likely due to the variations of phrase introduced by individuals who tired of the incessant, silly repetition of similar words such as are indulged in by savages.
There is parallelism in all poetry, in _Beowulf_ and the _Kalevala_, and even in prose. For it must be admitted that under emotion a man tends to repeat an idea, in the same or in a synonymous language.
There can be no doubt that parallelism was consciously and deliberately indulged in by the Hebrew poets, but it is as absurd to confuse it with Hebrew poetry as to confuse metre with English poetry. There are poetical passages in the Bible containing no parallelisms. It should also be borne in mind that parallelism developed as a perfect pattern when poetry was at a high stage. Like all patterns it was a product of a type of civilization. No rude state of society can develop a pattern, which is the result of evolution.
Parallelism is not used frequently to-day as a pattern of verse, though it can be found in all modern literature. Yet it is a more natural means of expressing one's emotions than rhyme or metre.
The only pattern of importance, then, that appears extensively in the Bible is that of parallelism. There is no pattern of rhythm at all, for this is free. The result is that the poetry of the Bible is in what may be called prose, for the repetition of the idea and language in the parallelism is natural even in prose. Parallelism in the Bible did not create a distinct branch of literature called verse, as metre did. Those Psalms that have parallelism are very little different from those Psalms where it is absent. They are both really prose.
It was unfortunate that Hebrew poetry later eschewed the rhythmic prose used in the Bible and adopted first rhymed prose and then rhymed metre. There were several circumstances that led to this.
It has been usually recognized that rhymed prose was first used among the Hebrews in the Liturgy by Jannai, who flourished in the seventh century. Metre was introduced in the tenth century by Dunash ben Labrat. Both these poets followed Arabic models. Saadyah, the Hebrew philosopher, blamed Dunash for having ruined the beauty and naturalness of the Hebrew language for poetry. Even Jehudah HaLevi, the great national poet who used Arabic meters, regretted, in his philosophical work, _Hacuzari_,[105:A] that these foreign Arabian influences should prevail among the Hebrew poets.
The oldest Arab poetry was also in prose. The earliest pattern for poetry among the Arabians was the Saj (cooing), or rhymed but unmetrical prose. Goldziher calls the Saj the oldest form of poetic speech; it continued to exist even after the regular metres were established, the Koran, for instance, being in Saj. At first it was unrhymed, as Goldziher says; the earliest Arabic poetry was in unmetrical prose.
From Saj arose Rajaz (trembling), which is partly metrical, and forms the transition to the artificial Arabic meters.
The earliest surviving Arabic poetry, the seven poems of the _Muallaqat_, composed before Mohammed, are so perfect in form that all Arabic scholars assume they were produced after a long period extending through many years of poetic practice. They were not rude products, but had an historical background, as did the _Iliad_. They are written in perfected and complicated metres, but the Saj is older than these.
We have two other proofs that poetry was in early times written in rhythmical prose, or at least in a rhythm that makes only a slight approach to metre. These are to be found in two of the oldest Aryan literary monuments extant, the _Rigveda_ of India and the _Avesta_ of Iran.
Two-fifths of the hymns of the _Rigveda_ are composed in a metre called trishtubh, the most frequent measure in the _Veda_. It is made up of stanzas of four lines, each of eleven syllables, the last four of which only have to follow a pattern, this consisting of two iambuses or an iambus and a spondee. This requirement left a good deal of liberty to the poet. Here is an example of it, in the _Hymn to Dawn_, in MacDonnels' _Sanskrit Literature_ (P. 83):
Arise! the breath, the life again has reached us: Darkness has gone away and light is coming. She leaves a pathway for the sun to travel: We have arrived where men prolong existence.
Max Müller in his translation in prose has adhered in many cases to the original metre, and the reader feels he is reading prose. The Hindus, like the free verse writers, merely arranged their lines to call attention to the rhythm, but it was really prose employing metrical rules only at the end of the line. It has none of the hampering qualities of classic or English metres, or of the metres in the later Indian epics when the quantity of every syllable was determined.
The _Rigvedas_ are fixed by some scholars at 1500 B.C.
When we come to the _Avesta_ of the Iranians who left India and wrote their work in a language that is almost Sanskrit, we find more liberty as regards the metres. The _Gathas_, which are said to be the oldest portions of the work, the work of Zoroaster himself, have the same or nearly the same kind of metre as the Vedic hymns, but there is greater liberty. The syllables need not be of a uniform quantity at the end of the line, but each line, as in the _Rigvedas_, also has the same number of syllables. The third of the five _Gathas_ uses the trishtubh or most frequent metre of the _Veda_, four lines of eleven syllables, but without restrictions as to quantity of final vowels.
Of course the reader can see that such verse is really prose, for there are no limitations as to when accent or quantity should uniformly be used. L. H. Mills in his translation of the _Gathas_ keeps close, as he tells us, to the original metres. He wisely breaks up the metrical line, based merely on the counting of syllables, and the result reads like prose, which it really is in the original.
A study of the five "metres" of the five _Gathas_ appears in Martin Haug's _Essays in the Sacred Language, Writings and Religion of the Parsis_.
The _Gathas_ were written about the fourteenth century B.C. by Zoroaster and hence are not much later than the _Rigvedas_.
In the _Rigvedas_ and _Gathas_ we have the first stage of metre used by Aryan nations; these are the basis of all later metres. They were written, it must be recalled, not in ages of barbarism, and represent the transition from prose to regular metre. They are so near prose that only an arrangement into lines makes us call them metrical. After all, they do not differ much from the rhythmical prose in which the poetry of Ancient Egyptians, Babylonians and Hebrews was written. We see thus that rhythmical prose was the first language wherein poetry was written, and that hampering metre is always late in the literary development of a nation. We learn how great is the delusion of literary historians that metrical poetry is the first literature of all nations and that prose is a later growth.
The earliest poetry of a country is expressed first in prose by word of mouth. It is then put down first in writing in prose, and later versions sometimes change the prose into meter. Often the earlier prose version is lost and it is then concluded that a literature of a nation begins in verse.
Let us examine the form of the earliest Irish literature. The oldest stories in Irish literature center around the exploits of Cuchulinn, who is reputed to have died at the beginning of the Christian era. This means that the tale about him was told by word of mouth up till the time they were written down in the seventh or eighth century. The versions of a few centuries later are the copies we now have in the epic _Táin Bó Cualnge_. According to Edmund C. Quiggin's article on Irish Literature in the _Britannica_, the original Tain consisted of prose interspersed with rhythmical prose called rhetoric. Later metrical poems were largely substituted for the rhetoric. As Mr. Quiggin says, the Tain is of interest as showing the preliminary stage through which the epics of all other nations had gone. No doubt even the _Iliad_ was originally told in prose (and probably written in prose) while the verse versions are the latest we have of the story.
Eleanor Hull, in _A Text Book of Irish Literature_, also says in Vol. 1, p. 95, that there are few verse poems in the earlier _Táin Bó Cualnge_, most of the poetry being usually in declamatory prose style known as rosg, while in the later version long verse poems are frequent.
The earliest Teutonic verse was rather rhythmical prose, with some alliteration. It is often hard to distinguish Anglo-Saxon prose from Anglo-Saxon verse. Ælfric, who is regarded by many as one of the fathers of English prose, wrote his _Lives of the Saints_ in rhythmical prose, arranged in irregular lines just like our modern free verse. The reader may consult Professor Skeat's edition. This arrangement, needless to say, did not make poetry of it. But free verse, as we see, was written in England in 1000 A.D.
Dr. Edwin Guest, in his _History of English Rhythms_, says that the Anglo-Saxon writers sometimes gave a very definite rhythm to their prose, and he cites a few passages characterizing King William, from the Chronicle attributed to Wulfstan in the latter part of the eleventh century. Dr. Guest adds that in his opinion this rhythmical prose was one of the instruments in breaking up the alliterative system of the Anglo-Saxons. The passage he cites, however, is no more rhythmical than many passages in modern English prose. Anglo-Saxon prose, then, often was rhythmical, and even arranged like free verse, but it became genuine poetry only when the element of ecstasy was present. Even the middle-English impassioned alliterative prose poem, _The Wooing of Our Lord_, of the thirteenth century, does not differ much from Anglo-Saxon verse.
The earliest Teutonic poetry was emotional prose, and only later did definite rules bind it. The author of _Beowulf_, though the first English verse poet, is not the oldest Teutonic poet; he had predecessors in rhythmic prose. "When we consider primitive Teutonic verse closely," says Gosse in his article in the _Britannica_ on Verse, "we see that it did not begin with any conscious art, but as Vigfussen had said, 'was simply excited and emphatic prose' uttered with the repetition of catch words and letters. The use of these was presently regulated." English poetry, then, began in the use of excited and emphatic prose. One of the best pieces of Anglo-Saxon prose poetry is the _Sermon to the English_ on the ravages of the Dane by Archbishop Wulfstan of York in the early part of the eleventh century. It reads like Anglo-Saxon verse. One sees the unconscious influence of Anglo-Saxon prose poetry as late as Drummond's _The Cypress Grove_ (1623), an ecstatic prose poem against death.
The fact that the _Sagas_, the earliest literature of Iceland, were written in perfect prose has puzzled those who claim that the early literature of all nations is verse poetry, and that prose is a later development. The events which the _Sagas_ celebrate took place in the tenth century, and the following century was the period of their narration. They were written down in the present form chiefly in the thirteenth century. Ari Frodi (1067-1148) is considered by many the first inventor of classic Norse prose. The most famous of the _Greater Sagas_ is the _Njala_ written about the middle of the thirteenth century and celebrating events of the beginning of the eleventh century.
Earlier Icelandic verse poetry did exist, but it does not belong to Iceland proper. The great strength of real Iceland poetry was in the _Sagas_, which Morris calls "unversified poetry." Some of these existed as early as the first part of the tenth century. It seems anomalous to the literary historian that a nation should at the very beginning of its literary history have developed prose before verse, that it should have celebrated its heroes in prose instead of verse song. All stories among ancient people were, however, originally told in prose; the first expression was always in rhythmical poetical prose.
It is not true, then, that verse is the first form in which a nation's poetry is written, or that prose developed from verse. Prose was the original language of poetry, and to prose it should return. The pattern was a gradual development.
[100:A] "The Religious Poetry of Babylonia." _Presbyterian Review_, 1888, p. 76.
[105:A] There is an English translation of this work.
BLANK VERSE AND FREE VERSE AS FORMS OF PROSE
The unrhymed iambic pentameter known as blank verse is really a form of free verse; it is a modified form of the unrhymed classical measure. It made its appearance in Italy in the early part of the sixteenth century, and was used by Ariosto in his comedies, except that he employed a final additional unaccented syllable, making eleven syllables in each line. Surrey, who used it in his translation of two books of the _Æneid_, imported it from the Italians. It was called by the Italians _versi sciolti_, "untied or free verse." It was, then, the old classical measure with more freedom.
In his essay, _Blank Verse_, John Addington Symonds dwells especially on the plasticity and variety of blank verse, which he says it has more than any other national metre. It may be used for the commonplace and the sublime, the tragic and the comic, etc. It does not have to consist of five iambuses only, but other feet may be substituted almost at the caprice of the poet. This, however, practically amounts to saying that blank verse is after all a great deal like prose; indeed, it may be arranged like modern free verse with great ease. Its plasticity and variety are due to the fact that its artificial requirements are less than those of most other metres. It was a fortunate day for English drama and poetry when Marlowe, Shakespeare and Milton, following in the footsteps of Surrey's translation of two books of the _Æneid_, and Sackville's and Norton's play, _Gorboduc_, made blank verse fashionable. The writers really brought poetry back into prose. For blank verse is but a restricted prose, because there is as often as not no natural pause at the end of the line, and because other feet may be substituted for the iambus.
One of the reasons why English verse poetry excels French is because blank verse, a more natural medium than the rhymed Alexandrines, became the chief vehicle for poetry.
In fact, the blank verse of the later Elizabethan dramatists is really prose, for it is less rhythmical than that of Shakespeare. Blank verse was said to have degenerated with them. It is also said to be prosaic as used by Wordsworth. These poets, however, are merely less rhythmical than the alleged masters of blank verse. All blank verse is as near prose as any metrical medium that has been hitherto introduced. Bernard Shaw said he found it easier than prose. It appears very often in prose without the writer being aware of it. Dickens had a tendency, as also did Ruskin, to drop unconsciously into blank verse in his prose.
The great English blank verse poets and nearly all the poets of England in the nineteenth century used this medium, and are really our supreme prose poets.
The experiment of arranging blank verse in the form of prose and of putting prose in the metre of blank verse has been often tried with success. I have no intention of using this means of showing that blank verse is really a more modulated prose. Any passage of blank verse can naturally also be put into modern free verse, into the free rhythms of Whitman, for example.
The lovers of blank verse imagine, however, that its beauty is partly derived from the existence of a pause at the end of the fifth foot and because the next line begins with a capital letter. As a matter of fact, there is no particular virtue in having that pause, and the next line need not begin with a capital letter, and should be continued as of the same line. For the real pauses are, after all, not in these artificial places but where our natural speech and punctuation marks dictate them.
The virtues of blank verse are the virtues of rhythmic prose, which is still freer and more natural than blank verse, just as blank verse is preferable to the heroic couplet.
Our English poets who write in blank verse would have done even better to use prose, rhythmical or unrhythmical. To us moderns there is something of a distortion in chopping up good prose into lines of five feet, each beginning with a capital letter. The more beautiful and natural medium is prose, for blank verse is but a confined prose. It is not fair or right to make characters speak in this fettered prose. It is absurd to state that their speeches become poetry only because of this fettered prose. Every great passage in Shakespeare in blank verse would have continued to be poetry in regular prose. We observe that the great prose passages of Shakespeare are poetry even though not in blank verse. English poetry should free itself from the bondage of blank verse, and use prose. However, next to free verse blank verse is the best medium that English poetry has yet found.
Blank verse was in disfavor in the eighteenth century and was regarded as prose. We may smile at Samuel Johnson's remark upon it in his _Life of Roscommon_, but on reflection we find that he was, after all, right. "Blank verse, left merely to its numbers, has little operation either on ear or mind; it can hardly support itself without bold figures and striking images. A poem frigidly didactic, without rhyme, is so near prose that the reader only scorns it for pretending to be verse." He argues, either write prose or rhyme, but choose no intermediate measure.
The free verse of modern times, the revival of which is due to Walt Whitman, is really the oldest form in which poetry was expressed. It existed along with parallelism among the Egyptians, Babylonians, and Hebrews, among the Hindoos and the Anglo-Saxons. It is rhythmical prose, arranged so as to call attention to the rhythm. It is not a third medium for expression, next to prose and the regular verse-forms. The lines do not return upon themselves, that is, there is no repeat any more than in rhythmical prose.
In its present form in English it dates from Aelfric's _Lives of the Saints_, about 1000 A.D.
Free verse has come to stay, and numbers many able poets among its devotees. It is more natural than rhymed or metrical verse, which, however, it will not wholly displace. The manuscripts of many poets who used conventional metres show that the original form of composition was free verse. The detractors of free verse need not think they bring a valid argument against it when they arrange free verse in prose form, and, vice versa, chop up prose sentences into brief lines beginning with a capital, and ask what is the difference between the two. It is admitted there is none. It matters not if the poet wishes to arrange his composition in free verse forms to call attention to the rhythm, or to print it as prose. It is immaterial if you call _vers libre_ rhythmical prose or a distinct verse form. The poetry is independent of any ordering of the lines. Neither of the resulting products loses or gains in poetical attributes by the objector's turning prose into free verse, or free verse into prose. The question is, how much ecstasy or emotion, what impassioned ideas there are in the work.
Free verse may or may not have a cadence all its own, but one feels that those who advocate free verse need not try to prove that it does and must possess a cadence peculiar to itself. Free verse may have great poetic value even though it lacks a unique cadence. Free verse rose into prominence lately because poets wanted to be freed from the bonds of metre. They should not encumber themselves with the shackles of a new prosody.
Let us illustrate our point: we shall take a few lines from a great prose poem by Lafcadio Hearn and arrange them in free verse. It is from the essay called "The Eternal Haunter" in the volume _Exotics and Retrospectives_. The haunter is evidently ancestral memory or the spirit of life in the past.
Ancient her beauty As the heart of man, Yet ever waxing fairer, Forever remaining young. Mortals wither in time As leaves in the frost of autumn; But time only brightens the glow And the bloom of her endless youth. All men have loved her But none shall touch with his lips Even the hem of her garment.
It is seen that this prose passage in the free verse transformance has the cadences which were present before. It is still poetical, as it was in the original version as well. It really matters little if Hearn had written it as it now stands. It is a question of personal preference with the poet, in what form he wishes to write.
Walter P. Eaton, in an article in the _Atlantic Monthly_ for October, 1919, considers the free verse form different from prose. He took a passage from Pater's _Renaissance_ and arranged it in free verse form, and then a passage from Sandburg's free verse and arranged it in prose, and tried unsuccessfully to show that the Pater passage did not become free verse, and that the Sandburg passage did not become good prose. His mistake was in trying to take a passage from Sandburg that had a patterned form, and in arranging the Pater passage into lines that were too brief. But Professor Lowes has taken passages from Pater, Hewlett, Fiona Macleod, Conrad and George Meredith and printed them as free verse, and they truly read like free verse poems.
The votaries of free verse demand a special cadence, but there is hardly any of it in Masters's poems in the _Spoon River Anthology_ which could have been printed as prose passages. They would have been just as good and poetical as they are in free verse, but Masters has the right to make any arrangement he wanted. Ecstasy is more important than cadence, and he has ecstasy.
The following passage from Roosevelt's essay on _History as Literature_ is poetry by virtue of its ecstasy and visualizing effect, though printed in prose form. Roosevelt might have arranged it in the long lines of irregular lengths like those of Whitman into which it fits better than it would into lines of brief, irregular length. But its poetry does not depend upon the rhythms which are in the original prose. It is only one of the few cases where Roosevelt succeeds in being a poet, for he was rather the orator who swayed by rhetoric many of the worst of popular prejudices.
The true historian will bring the past before our eyes as if it were the present . . . Gorgeous in our sight will rise the splendor of dead cities, And the might of the elder empires of which the very ruins crumbled to dust ages ago; Along ancient trade-routes, across the world's waste spaces, its caravans shall move; And the admirals of uncharted seas shall furrow the ocean with their lonely prows, Beyond the dim centuries we shall see the banners float above armed hosts. We shall see conquerors riding forward to victories that have changed the course of time. We shall listen to prophecies of forgotten seers. Ours shall be the dreams of dreamers who dreamed greatly, Who saw in their vision peaks so lofty That never have they been reached By the sons and daughters of men. Dead poets shall sing to us the deeds of men of might And the love and the beauty of women.
Dr. Andrews in his _Writing and Reading of Verse_ has also given us illustrations of rhythmic prose that he has resolved into free verse. Like Professor Patterson, he rightly refuses to recognize free verse as a distinct species of verse, holding it to have an affinity at least to prose.[117:A] He notes that the free verse advocates have not really defined special laws of free verse. He also recommends the would-be practitioners of free verse to study the prose rhythms of men like Pater and De Quincey.
Professor Corson, the Browning scholar, wrote to Walt Whitman that be believed that impassioned prose would be the medium in which the poetry of the future would be written, and that he considered the _Leaves of Grass_ one of the harbingers. The vogue of free verse, which is but impassioned prose, shows that his prophecy is coming true. In England Matthew Arnold and Walter Henley used it. Edward Carpenter had been writing it as a result of Whitman's influence, in _Towards Democracy_ in 1883. In America Horace Traubel, long before the free verse vogue started, had been writing in his _The Conservator_ free verse poems. No one paid attention to these even when some of them were collected in _Optimos_ in 1910, except a few disciples. Richard Hovey, Ernest Crosby, and Stephen Crane had also been writing free verse after Whitman before the year 1900. About 1912 an impetus was given to free verse by the poets of the new poetic era which set in and which Untermeyer calls the _New Era in American Poetry_. Most of the contemporary free verse poets began writing simultaneously.
Nearly all of our modern free verse poets are admittedly indebted to Whitman; Louis Untermeyer names Whitman as the leading influence on modern American poetry. Let us also be thankful that Whitman did not write about the "technique of free verse," about "cadence," "strophe" and "return."
Whitman is without a doubt the father of free verse in America and England to-day. He did not claim to have originated it, since he found a form of it in the prose poetry of the Bible and Ossian. It was also used by Milton and Blake and in German by Goethe and Heine. As Bliss Perry also shows, _The Lily and the Bee_ by Warren, the author of _Ten Thousand a Year_, was written in free verse, before Whitman. Tupper also used it. Free verse was adopted in France and Belgium as a result of Whitman's influence. America owes nothing to French free verse which was usually rhymed and corresponds to the Pindaric Ode founded by Cowley in the middle of the seventeenth century.[119:A]
Dionysius of Halicarnassus was one of the few ancient critics who brought the boundaries of prose and poetry close. His work _On Literary Composition_ contains two chapters on the importance of rhythm, which he considers an important element in prose as well as in verse, and he is especially impressed by the rhythms of Thucydides, Plato and Demosthenes. At the conclusion of this work, which has been translated by W. Rhys Roberts, are two chapters entitled "How Prose Can Resemble Verse," and "How Verse Can Resemble Prose." He wants prose not to be cast in metre or rhythm but simply to appear rhythmical and metrical; the metres and rhythms must be unobstrusively introduced. In this he follows Aristotle's _Rhetoric_ which says prose should have rhythm but of not too marked a character. Dionysius especially shows Demosthenes's great care in the matter of rhythm, and instances as examples of artistic finish among the Greeks the fact that Isocrates worked ten years on his _Panegyrics_. After having shown how prose may resemble verse he points out how verse resembles prose. When the clauses and sense do not coincide with the metrical line but are carried over for completion in another line, the result is prosaic. That is what makes our English blank verse so much like prose.
Dionysius erred however in not emphasizing the importance of the ecstatic element in making prose and verse resemble each other. He over-valued the use of rhythm in prose, but he was after all swayed by the ecstasy of the writer. He tells of the influence upon him of reading one of Demosthenes's speeches. If Sidney said that he could not take up the ballad of Percy and Douglas without feeling his heart moved as by a trumpet, Dionysius says even more beautifully, "When I take up one of his speeches, I am entranced and am carried hither and thither, stirred now by one emotion, now by another. I feel distrust, anxiety, fear, disdain, hatred, pity, good-will, anger, jealousy. I am agitated by every passion in turn that can sway the human heart, and am like those who are being initiated into wild mystic rites."
However, regularity of feet or metre in prose carried on to a great extent makes the prose artificial. The Romans occasionally indulged in it, but they generally used rhythmical prose, as the reader of Cicero and Livy will observe. Quintilian, who recognized that prose has often metrical feet that read like verse, thought it ugly and inelegant that an entire verse should appear in a prose composition. He says that he does not entertain "the idea that prose, which ought to have sweeping and fluent motion, should dawdle itself into dotage in measuring feet and weighing syllables. For this would be the part of a wretched creature, occupied on the infinitely little. Nor could one who exhausted himself in this care, have time for better things."
Probably we need not better reply than this to the high claims made for the French form known as polyphonic verse. Prose that is interspersed with metrical patterns is not natural.
The truth of the matter is that all the metrical features that are demanded of poetry belong to the ornamental requirements like metaphors, myths, rhetorical flourishes and all other gewgaws. There are always stages in civilization when man wants adornment for his speech. Something of that mental state exists in us to-day. We bedeck and bedrape our poetry with trappings without which it is better off. Artificialities appear even in comparatively modern prose. The prose of Milton is full of rhetoric and the great Burke had rhetorical characteristics that we call Asiatic. We are familiar with the euphuistic qualities of the Elizabethan prose, especially pervading John Lyly's novel _Euphues_ and Sidney's _Arcadia_.
In an excellent essay Plutarch shows that he understood that verse was largely natural to man in a certain stage of civilization, because all ornament was natural to him. In his essay on "Wherefore the Pythian Priestess now Ceases to Deliver Her Oracle in Verse," he gives the love of ornament as the real reason for the growth of metre as a form of literary expression.
Often the topic is broached whether men like Hardy and Meredith are greater as poets than as novelists. The question is not put properly. It should be, Do these writers cease being poets when they use the fetters of rhyme and metre, or are they with those fetters greater poets than they were in their novels. I have no intention of trying to answer these questions, though it is usually agreed that these writers are greater in their novels than in their verse, but the point is that they are poets whether they use prose or verse as their medium.
Some authors get more ecstasy into their work when they write in prose than in verse, as readers of the novels and verse poems of Dickens, George Eliot and Thackeray are aware. Other authors are successful in crystallizing their ecstasy whether they write in prose or verse. Goldsmith, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Scott, Emerson, Poe, James Thomson, B. V., Hardy, Meredith, Symons, Hugo, De Musset, Goethe and Heine, are examples of masters of the literature of ecstasy in both prose and verse. Other verse poets have not at all succeeded nor tried to succeed in writing ecstasy in ordinary prose. The authors who have given us ecstasy only in prose but have not tried to do so at all in verse are too numerous to mention.
I believe that poetry will again return to the natural language of prose. Critics are taking an entirely different stand toward rhythm, admitting that the poets have the right to vary their measures, create new rhythm and not be held in bondage to old verse forms. The day is disappearing when a man like Hegel could say that a production not in metre is not poetry. A sane attitude towards the free use of rhythms by poets has been given us in a _New Study of English Poetry_ by Henry Newbolt. Liberal critics are helping the poets break their shackles; the following passage from a review of Newbolt's book, by J. Middleton Murry is worth quoting:
Great Poets have always been those who believed that poetry was by nature the worthiest vessel of the highest arguments of which the soul of man is capable. Yet a poetic theory such as this seems bound to include great prose, and not merely the prose which can most easily be assimilated to the conditions of poetry, such as Plato's _Republic_, or Milton's _Areopagitica_, but the prose of the great novelists. Surely the colloquial prose of Tchekov's _Cherry Orchard_ has as good claim to be called poetry as _The Essay on Man_, _Tess of the D'Urbervilles_ as _The Ring and the Book_, _The Possessed_ as _Phedre_. Where are we to call a halt in the inevitable progress by which the kinds of literary art merge into one? If we insist that rhythm is essential to poetry, we are in danger of confusing the accident with the essence, and of fastening upon what will have to be in the last analysis a merely formal difference. The difference in such must be substantial and essential _aspects of Literature_.[122:A]
[117:A] Spingarn's _Creative Criticism_ and Erskine's _The Kinds of Poetry_, two excellent brochures in æsthetic criticism, take a similar view point.
[119:A] For a history of French free verse see _Mercure De France_, March 15, 1921. Premiers Poètés Du Vers Libre by Édouard Dujardin.
[122:A] Passages of a similar import will be found by Professor George M. Harper in the preface to his _John Morley and Other Essays_, in Richard Aldington's "The Art of Poetry," _The Dial_, August, 1920, and the preface to F. S. Flint's _Otherworld_.
MORAL AND PHILOSOPHICAL IDEAS AS POETRY WHEN WRITTEN WITH ECSTASY
Our views of poetry, or the literature of ecstasy, illuminate many dark crannies in one of the most unfathomable caverns of aesthetic speculation; speculation of the connection between poetry and morals, form and matter, art for art's sake and didacticism. It has been often asked whether poetry should deal with moral subjects, sociological questions, and philosophical ideas. The question disappears when we regard literature of ecstasy in prose as poetry, for all ideas are dealt with in prose and some may be ecstatically treated. If poetry is an atmosphere that suffuses literature, it may bathe most various ideas. Emotional treatment of the ideas gives us literature of ecstasy or poetry. If the natural language of ecstasy is prose, we certainly do not wish to see a train of philosophical, moral or sociological views treated in verse. To this extent the old critic was right who did not want poetry (a long composition in verse, as he understood it) to deal with ethics or science.
The question is then not really whether poetry should be concerned with moral, sociological or psychological themes, for these themes always have poetry in them, and an emotional treatment of them brings the poetry into prominence. Ideas are the substance of poetry and nearly all ideas are moral, sociological or psychological. Even scientific facts and metaphysical utterances may be so stated by a writer as to show the latent poetry. The two famous passages in _Leaves of Grass_ beginning "I open my scuttle at night" and "I am an acme of things accomplished and an encloser of things to be" are emotional statements of the facts of the infinity of the universe and of the evolution of man, respectively; Whitman brought out the poetry in a philosophical and in a scientific idea.
Moral views may be imaginatively treated and be poetry. The theme of _Great Expectations_ is a sermon against pride and snobbery, and the emotional treatment, especially by force of example, makes part of the book poetry. Portrayals of hypocrites, for instance, so truthfully and movingly artistic as to arouse an ecstatic state in the reader, become poetry. Hence Tartuffe and Pecksniff are poetical portraits, even when drawn in prose.
Poetry was supposed to appeal to the imagination, prose to the intellect; poetry was presumed to be dictated by the heart, prose by the mind; fancy was thought to hold sway in poetry, logic in prose. But nevertheless, the great English poets like Shakespeare, Browning, Shelley, Wordsworth, Whitman, gave us much poetry that was produced by the intellect, weighed by the mind, and governed by logic. Any intellectual and even moral performance may be elevated into poetry, when emotionally and ecstatically presented. And philosophers like Plato, Pascal, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche have demonstrated this.
Our definition of poetry throws much light on the subject of the relations of politics and morals, of social and philosophical problems to poetry. Poets should instruct, while delighting, is the contention of one group. They ought merely to express beauty and emotions, is the emphatic demand of another class. I doubt if there has ever been a great poet who hasn't done both of these things. If a poet is to teach he must teach something; he must express ideas, and ideas mean thoughts about life, and these in turn refer to the relations of man to himself, to one another, to the opposite sex, to society, to the universe, to nature. But it is while doing this that he must give us beauty and emotion.
When a prose writer is purely didactic without any emotional or aesthetic appeal he is no poet. It is manifestly absurd also for an author to give in metre didactic works which could be better written in prose. To this extent the disciples of art for art's sake are right, that the poet should not give us unecstatic political, philosophical or moral lessons in metre. If, as I believe, our emotions may be expressed in prose or free verse probably more poetically than even in metre, it is surely inadvisable to drive home a prosaic idea in verse, and especially at great length. Yet this has often been done. Browning gave us an effective harangue against spiritualism in _Mr. Sludge, "The Medium,"_ in blank verse, Byron proved a good critic of society in _Don Juan_, in Ottava Rima metre, Shelley preached moral reforms in the _Revolt of Islam_, in the Spenserian stanza. Two of the best poems of the nineteenth century, among the masterpieces of their authors, are Swinburne's _Hertha_, and Browning's _Rabbi Ben Ezra_, and they are both ecstatically didactic.
But the future poets will not spin out their ideas in metre at great length. The short verse poem embodying an idea will always be with us, but I doubt if we will have, or at least ought to have, philosophical or moral works, extending into hundreds or thousands of lines of regular verse.
John Addington Symonds has in his _Essays Speculative and Suggestive_ taken two of the most famous dicta in English literature regarding the function of poetry in relation to form and matter, and given us a sane viewpoint. He analyzes Arnold's statement that poetry is a criticism of life, and Pater's assumption that all art, including poetry, aspires towards the condition of music which thus in his opinion becomes the true type or measure of consummate art. Symonds shuns both the didacticism which Arnold's view encourages, and the worship of form implied in Pater's statement; though it should be said that Pater in his essay on "Style" urges that, after all, subject matter is the deciding factor in determining great art. As Symonds says, the poet gives us rather a revelation than a criticism of life, a presentment according to his faculty for observing and displaying it; he is more a reporter and a seer than a judge. Poets take their final rank by matter and not by form. Though Symonds mentions slurringly a great poet like Baudelaire, still the following lines should be carefully pondered by many of our versifiers: "The carving of cherry-stones in verse, the turning of triolets and rondeaux, the seeking after sound and color without heed for sense, is all foredoomed to final failure." Poetry appeals to the imaginative reason, and must embody thought and emotion. As Symonds remarks, Pater's discrimination between these two is fanciful.
Poetry then must not be timid about dealing with ideas in an emotional or imaginative manner. It may even take up moral problems provided it does not sink into the commonplace ethical purposes that we have in the _Psalm of Life_ and _Excelsior_, two of Longfellow's most inferior and popular poems. An idea that is the result of reason may be uttered with ecstasy, and hence there may be logic in poetry.
In his _Oxford Lectures on Poetry_ in the essay on "Poetry for Poetry's Sake," Professor A. C. Bradley takes issue with those who claim that it is no consequence what a poet says but how he says it, and he rightly regards as of small aesthetic value that formalist heresy which encourages men to taste poetry as though it were wine. Poetry inheres in ideas. To insist, as the poetry for poetry's sake school does, that a poem has no more lesson for us than a tree is to institute a false comparison, for the tree has a lesson for any one who finds it.
When one finishes a volume of poetry by some of the purely aesthetic poets, one is amazed at the kind of life they embody in art. It is often such a petty life, a talk to a cat, or an imitation of an image of an old poet, or a superabundant reference to flowers. It is not of the substance of which noble lives are made. We are pained to find that trite utterances or references are tricked out in gaudy images and given forth to the world in large quantities.
Verses of trivial facts and ideas set forth with artifice are not poetry. Indeed, it is a petty employment for poets to be giving vent to labored conceits about gold fish, and vases, about dandelions and kittens and lollypops, investing none of these themes with imagination or intellect. Man is stirred by thousands of emotions arising from his inability to adjust himself to surroundings, by his thwarted will and suppressed desires. He is often wrapped in gloom for want of real truthful consoling poetry. He experiences tragedies due to conflicts with relatives, friends, to lack of harmony in matrimonial or amorous affairs. His life is often being gradually snuffed out by the prevailing of stupid and deplorable customs; he is often starving or being insufficiently fed, and frequently sees his children in unhappy circumstances. He is the victim of tyrants and unjust social systems, and is engaged in soul-killing occupations. He faces the great mysteries of existence, the riddle of the Sphinx. He witnesses cruelties of all kinds, persecution of races and individuals, mismanagement of affairs, lynchings, massacres, wars and imprisonments. Hypocrisy and vindictiveness are rife and man suffers thereby. He thirsts for beauty, he pants for happiness.
Yet poets who may find numerous and important subjects for the literature of ecstasy, are busy writing sugared verses about mosaics, candles, and puppies, and arranging vowel sounds and rhythms. Men's souls are starving to be fed with poetry and the versifiers polish and file and chisel verses on themes that interest no one. As Horace says, the mountains are in labor and the issue is but a ridiculous mouse.
Indeed it is not the subject the poet chooses that one objects to, but to the absence of ideas, or the shallowness or triviality of the idea. Burns took a daisy and made it the symbol of the racked poet, and could write about a mouse or a louse and deduce some universal idea. Shelley and Keats could endure emotions and thoughts by singing of a skylark or a nightingale. But the petty poet cannot deduce anything but a trifling idea, no matter what theme he selects.
Another feature which distinguishes the minor poet in prose or verse is his investing a trite idea with an emotion out of all proportion. He hales with enthusiasm a commonplace, he gets into ecstasy about that toward which an intelligent man displays little or no emotion. It is the distinction of the unknown author of the ancient Greek fragment _On the Sublime_ that he deprecates the tendency to wax emotional about the unemotional. The silly ideas and emotions about which versifiers get excited are often an index to their own moral and intellectual failing, as well as their aesthetic deficiency. From Sainte-Beuve Matthew Arnold appropriately quotes a saying to the effect that, in judging a work, the French question not only whether they are moved by it, but whether also they have the right to be moved by it.
So when we look through much of the so-called popular poetry, we see why we cannot often admit it to the high realm of the literature of ecstasy. It contains the childish sentimental excitement about facts that every thinking man takes for granted. When we read the eloquent sermon on the advantage of practicing justice, we wonder at the folly of making a comment about so obvious a truism. It is for this reason that moral axioms lack the elements of poetry, because they do not admit of exposition with appreciable ecstasy. Verse is full of stale themes sung over so often that we almost rebel when the new poet comes along and sings over the same old story.
It requires a great intellect to know when to judge rightly about the propriety of one's emotions for the subject of literature. We do not think that it is the subject matter of emotion to go into ecstatic praises, for example, over a man who supports his child. We find that animals provide food for their young; hence it is not fit to grow eloquent because a man does what even the lowest animal has the instinct to do.
Conventional morality only becomes poetry when colored by the imagination or illustrated by an unusually pleasing ecstatic presentment. When Fuller, for instance, says that we should not mock at the defects of people who are physically or mentally disabled, he utters a stale truism that is not poetry but ethics. When he adds that it is pitiable to beat a cripple with his own crutches, the little prose passage is lifted up into poetry, for we are brought into a state of ecstasy by the imaginative illustration. Similarly take some of the instances of self-sacrifice by the common people which Bret Harte and O. Henry delighted in depicting. Some of their stories become poetry by emotional presentation of a trite idea.
There must also be more or less sympathy with the poet's viewpoint. "All right human song," says Ruskin in his _Lectures on Art_, "is the finished expression by art, of the joy or grief of noble persons, for right causes. And accurately in proportion to the rightness of the cause, and purity of the emotion, is the possibility of the fine art. A maiden may sing of her lost love, but a miser cannot sing of his lost money."
Ruskin may have corrupted our artistic outlook somewhat by insisting on an ethical aim. Yet we should remember that our aesthetic feelings are influenced by our moral outlook. While we should not seek an ethical aim in literature as an end in itself, while we should shun the preacher of commonplaces who poses as a poet, we cannot respond to the sympathetic depicting of an emotion which we ourselves could never feel because of repugnance to it.
To appreciate a poem truly, we must feel as the poet does and sympathize with the motives that inspired his feelings. The reasons that urge him to express his emotions must appear to us just ones. If our intellect is far greater than that of the poet, we shall find that many of the causes that inspire him to sing as he does would not at all arouse in us the emotions experienced by him; his poem is not the greatest art to us. If his intellect is superior to ours, we shall not like his work; but then it will be because he is more advanced than we are.
If a poet were to sing of an incestuous love; or decry sympathy for the distressed; or to laud a cruel action; or to gloat over the schemes of the fraudulent; or sing favorably of any action which we think a base one, his poem would not be art for it does not evoke emotional response from anybody.
Poe laid down the principle of art for art's sake that poetry deals with beauty alone and that the only faculty for appreciating it is that of taste. He held that poetry had nothing to do with truth or duty; that the intellect and the moral sense were concerned with these and hence had no field for exercising themselves either in writing or judging poetry.
As a matter of fact all three faculties, taste, intellect and moral sense, are called into use in creating and appreciating the highest kind of poetry or any other form of literature. There is no reason why a poet should not make use of all three faculties if he has them all developed. Goethe and Ibsen possessed them. The highest form of taste can scarcely be attained unless the poet's intellect and moral sense are fine. For falsehood and sin are repugnant to our taste for beauty. A book that is absolutely tainted with moral perversities or shows a foolish and inconceivable conception of intellectual values will be certainly deficient in some phases of beauty. Our consciences and our minds are unconsciously consulted in our conception of the beautiful. Not only truth, but duty is beauty. Even Poe maintained that Taste held intimate relations with Intellect and Truth and he therefore placed it between them.
The greatest classics are those that appeal to all three faculties in us and those works which offend both our intellect and moral sense do not completely satisfy our sense of beauty. The best critics from Hazlitt to Brandes understood that. Fortunately many of the classics have lost only in parts their moral and intellectual value, and hence still hold sway over us. And sometimes the beauty is so intensely striking that we charitably overlook faults of morality and intellect.
As Professor Woodberry says in his _A New Defense of Poetry_ in _The Heart of Man_: "Can there by any surprise when I say that the method of idealism is that of all thought? that in its intellectual process the art of the poet, so far from being a sort of incantation, is the same as belongs to the logician, the chemist, the statesman? It is no more than to say that in creating literature the mind acts; the action of the mind is thought; and there are no more two ways of thinking than there are two kinds of gravitation."
The connection between art and ethics is closer than some critics imagine. Spingarn was mistaken when he said that we have done with all moral judgment of literature. A book is often artistically great chiefly because its ethical viewpoint is right. The rightness of it is often what creates the ecstasy. Let us take Ibsen's _Ghosts_. The real greatness of this play is not chiefly in its picture of heredity or of a man becoming an idiot. Its real value lies in its attitude towards the marriage problem and its contrast of the two characters, Mrs. Alving, the representative of the new order, and of Pastor Manders, representing society. The leading question there is, should Mrs. Alving have gone back to her husband, knowing that he was possessed of a loathsome disease which might be inherited by any possible progeny? Was she justified in leaving him? That these are the important questions is evident from the motive which prompted Ibsen to write the play, namely, to answer the critics of the _Doll's House_. The conclusion reached by Ibsen from the terrible picture is that Mrs. Alving was wrong in going back to her husband, that there are times when it is justifiable to leave one's husband. This is the moral lesson of the play, and is conveyed with great ecstasy; in fact, the moral intensifies the ecstasy. A conventional playwright would have concluded that Mrs. Alving should have remained with her husband in obedience to duty, that the simple-minded Pastor was in the right. The play even if handled as well as by Ibsen could not have been the great work of literature that it is, if written in defense of the conventional moral code. A great author attacks conventional morality to battle for a higher morality.
The moral ideas of an author have much to do with the literary excellence of his work.[133:A] But this does not mean that we must go back to the old Greek idea that poetry be a vehicle for the inculcation of the commonplace ethics. Nor does it imply that we cannot appreciate a poet because we disapprove of the religion or political party with which he is affiliated.
In the conclusion of his essay on "How a Young Man Should Study Poetry," Plutarch shows that the philosopher and the poet are engaged in the same mission. He takes passages from the poets and shows us that they are similar to those he selects from the philosophers. The doctrines of Plato and Pythagoras agree with the ideas by the dramatists spoken on the stage, and with those that lyricists sang to the harp. We may accept Plutarch's views except in so far as he urges that poetry should preach dogmatic and conventional ethics.
We also see that parts of Dante, Pope, and Shelley may be placed parallel respectively to passages from thinkers who influenced them, Aquinas, Bolingbroke, and Godwin, to learn that the poetry resided in the original philosophic prose passage. It was enhanced not by the verse form but by the process of ecstatic re-statement.
Should we say that Cowper and Wordsworth are poets, and that Rousseau, from whom they got many ideas, is not? Is Browning only a poet and no philosopher, and is Carlyle only a philosopher and not a poet? Is the verse of Goethe where pantheism is taught, poetry, and do you find no poetry at all in Spinoza's _Ethics_?
Among the most famous philosophical passages of Shakespeare is the one in _The Tempest_ describing the transitoriness of this world and ending with the famous line about our life being rounded with sleep. If there is anything in Shakespeare that is poetry of a high order, this famous passage is, and yet it is really philosophy. It is poetry not because it is in blank verse or has rhythm, but because the ideas are stated in an emotional and ecstatic manner. There is poetry in ideas and those critics who shrink from applying the word poetry to intellectual performances are urged to honeycomb their Shakespeare for numerous ideas that are beyond question poetry.
A great idea is poetry; a profound and farseeing idea is poetry, whether written with rhythm or not. If a commonplace thought, rhythmically adorned, may sometimes be poetry, most certainly a profound idea ecstatically but unrhythmically expressed is poetry.
What is the difference between poetry and philosophy? If we examine into the nature of each we will find that there is a line at which they meet and where it is hard to distinguish one from the other. As a rule, the principles of metaphysics, epistemology and logic as written down in the average philosophical work seldom are poetry. Only occasionally have the philosophers waxed ecstatic. Yet many novelists, essayists and verse writers have made many of these philosophical principles poetry by stating them in an ecstatic manner. Any philosophical principle arousing our emotions is poetry.
The general truths of sociology, ethics and psychology form the subject matter of the literature of ecstasy, but they are poetry only when ecstatically treated. The psychological novel and the problem play deal with these truths. Go to some original treatises on sociological, moral or psychological subjects and omit the statistics, the laboratory work and the cold hard reasoning and you will often find great ideas emotionally stated that belong to the literature of ecstasy. We have parted with the idea that an author must be tearing a passion to tatters, or telling a story, or uttering a complaint, in order to produce poetry. When Herbert Spencer analyzes love for a page and a half and tells us how it is composed, we exclaim, this is the literature of ecstasy even though we find it in a treatise on psychology. He describes to us how we feel when we love by enumerating to us the different sensations we experience. (_Principles of Psychology_ Vol. 1, Part IV, Ch. 8, Par. 215.) The passage may not be passionate poetry, but it would not have been out of place in a novel by Stendhal, George Eliot or Meredith.
When Freud reveals our souls to ourselves, when Fabre writes a book on the doings of insects, we often are reading poetry or the literature of ecstasy, when we think we are reading science.
We might select many passages from philosophical works that belong to the literature of ecstasy, passages from Bacon, Descartes, Spinoza, and Hume, but more especially from Plato, Pascal, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. There are isolated paragraphs in their works wherein we find the imagination and the intellect fused; we cannot distinguish that which belongs to the realm of logic and that which is the result of pure emotion. Of philosophers of our own time, Bergson and Bertrand Russel have occasional passages where a profound idea is emotionalized. Hence these belong to the literature of ecstasy, or poetry.
We must no longer conclude that only that is poetry which sings a song in verse. It is just because the verse lyric, epic, and tragedy are among the oldest forms of literature that the theories of poetry have been built up by examining chiefly these forms. Aristotle's _Poetics_, except for a few vital passages, has done more mischief in literary criticism than his _Logic_ has done in philosophy.
What a queer definition of poetry is that which includes a metrical insipid utterance or a versified fact of microscopic importance, and excludes the sublime reflections of philosophers who contemplate the nature of the entire cosmos, who fathom the mysteries of the universe, and who state for us our relation to it and give us profound conceptions of it. If one finds poetry only in the saccharine sonnets of our magazine writers and none at all in the great philosophers, he does not understand what poetry is. If you, however, call a philosophical principle poetry when you find it in verse, you must admit that the poetry was there before it was put in verse, in the prose version. For poetry, not being a branch of literature but an emotional spirit bathing all literature, also holds philosophical ideas, intellectual conceptions in solution, whenever these are in prose and move to ecstasy.
Aristotle and many others were also absorbed as to the difference between poetry and history, as they had been between poetry and philosophy. He stated truly enough that Homer as a poet did not differ from Herodotus as a historian simply because of their difference in metre. He found that the difference between poetry and history lay in this, that poetry dealt with the universal and history with the particular. This definition means very little to us to-day even though commentators try to explain that Aristotle includes under poetry any treatment also of the particular which presents universal situations and depicts universal traits. History, however, also treats of the universal, for it records universal traits in the particular events which it describes. Aristotle's distinction falls, for history and poetry deal with both the particular and universal. We cannot say with Aristotle that history tells what Alcibiades actually did, while poetry would tell what any man would do. An actual emotional account of the deeds and character of Alcibiades is poetry, as you will observe by reading Plutarch.
For all historical writing may be poetical and contain poems, if the ecstasy is there. What distinguishes the poetry in history is the emotion, and all history that is a dry narrative is history and not poetry. Thucydides's _Peloponnesian War_ and Carlyle's _French Revolution_ contain much poetry though they deal with the particular, but they are made poetry by the ecstasy. Some of Herodotus is poetry, and much of Homer is history.
Again Aristotle's distinction is obsolete in these days of prose fiction which deals with the particular, and often with the actual, and merely changes the names. And these novels often contain poems. We recall Fielding's distinction between novels and histories, the former being true in everything but the names, and the latter being false in everything but the names.
There is poetry in Livy, Tacitus, in Gibbon, Froude, and all great historians.
[133:A] "Moral nihilism inevitably involves an aesthetic nihilism. . . . The values of literature are in the last resort moral. . . . Literature should be a kingdom where a sterner morality, a more strenuous liberty prevails."--J. Middleton Murry.
POETRY RISES ABOVE ART FOR ART'S SAKE AND INTUITION
The first lengthy formulation of the theory of art for art's sake was made, I believe, by Gautier in the preface to his _Mademoiselle de Maupin_, in 1833. The theory itself had previously also been advanced and put into practice by Keats, and a little later by Poe. Hugo claims to have been the first one to have used the term. He was also one of the most bitter opponents of the idea, as the readers of his _Shakespeare_ will note. The view was supported in France by Baudelaire and Flaubert, and by later schools like the Symbolists. In England Swinburne made an excellent defense of it in his book on _William Blake_. The poets of "The Nineties" like Wilde and Symons wrote in favor of it. Mention should also be made of an exceedingly good chapter on the _Dignity of Technique_ in R. A. M. Stevenson's _Velasquez_, and especially Whistler's _Ten o'Clock Lecture_.
Needless to say, most of these writers had their own conception of what art for art's sake was. They agreed on several phases of it--that the subject matter and ideas of a work of art did not count, that the important thing was the execution, that art was not to be judged by any standard of morality, that it had its own morality, and that it did not matter if from a conventional point of view it was immoral, provided it was well executed. The theory was antagonistic to the introduction of ideas, of humanitarian motives, of tendencies to the portrayal of life and the analysis of emotions. Its use was certainly an undemocratic phase of art.
In many respects the theory awakens sympathy in all lovers of literature; it was a reaction to the moralist view which wanted art to teach the commonplace ethical notions we all know. Art has always had an enemy in the bourgeois moralist. He always looked for a sermon, and stamped the artist as immoral who arrived at conclusions different from those countenanced by the church or the state. He was not satisfied to read of a wonderful portrayal of a passion, done as a lesson in psychology without any moral comments by the author. He wanted the artist to act like a preacher and condemn at all times, instead of portray. The Puritan opposed the truthful description of natural emotions; he looked askance upon references to the body; he wanted people drawn in obedience to laws, instead of as breaking through them. He tried to thrust subjects upon the artist and limit him. He had no ear for sound, no eye for color, no appreciation of beauty.
Little wonder that the artist lost patience and sent morality to the devil, and deified technique and deliberately chose unseemly subjects. The disciples of art for art's sake did much good to the cause of art. They broadened its field. They gave the artist the right to write about a corpse or delirium tremens, to describe a murder or a crime without pointing out lessons. They permitted him to use his imagination to the full extent, and to invent any forms he chose.
But the theory overrode itself. It became an apology for abuses of art. Writers began to create meaningless jargon, to waste words on trite ideas, to avoid all contact with life, to eliminate man as a subject of art. Art lacked soul, and if it showed a personality behind it, it was a petty, sterile and inane one. Art fought against intellect as well as against morals. Even those who advocated it were writing in direct violation of it. Flaubert's realistic novel _Madame Bovary_ and Swinburne's _Songs Before Sunrise_ were not art for art's sake. _The Ballad of Reading Gaol_ was not art for art's sake; imprisonment had changed Wilde's views. Men like Gautier and Swinburne, who were the most ardent champions of the theory of art for art's sake, found themselves in a peculiarly inconsistent predicament by being the greatest admirers of Victor Hugo, much of whose work was written with humanitarian motives. Hearn in America started out as a believer in the theory and ended by attacking it.
Tolstoy wrote most bitterly against the idea, and we may say that from the time of the appearance of his _What is Art?_ in 1897, the theory fell into disrepute. Not that people accepted Tolstoy's views that art should teach the love of God and man, but his idea did much to humanize art. Before Tolstoy, Nietzsche had also taken a fling at the theory.
Critics to-day recognize that life forms the substance of art, that art gets all its material from life and that man is properly the subject of art, thinking man as well as emotional man. They further perceive that literature is so human in its origins that even unconscious human emotions are present where they were not suspected. The more we humanize literature the greater art does it become. It is true, however, that after the art work is completed, it has influence on life. Our lives may be devoted to art, we may have life for art's sake, but not art for art's sake.
Still, art for art's sake is a good theory to be invoked against the extreme didactic-minded one who thinks nothing should be written unless it illustrates a lesson in our commonplace and bourgeois morality, a morality very often false and outworn. They would ask writers to show us men conforming to this morality, instead of revolting from it. They would make literature exalt self-sacrifice in all circumstances and would stamp out any tendencies to liberal speculation. They demand that poetry uphold society in all its institutions, teach obedience, and prevail on us to bow down before the mandates of priests and capitalists. But literary men are often at variance with the moral views entertained by the clergy and the ruling classes, and they have the right to illustrate the views of morality that they consider much higher than the customs of society. An author should not be bound by the views of his age. He should in fact expose them and show their evil influence. He does not, however, then write in conformity with the theory of art for art's sake, for he expresses another morality than that of society's, and thus has a higher moral purport in view. Ibsen's greatness lies in the fact that he did not subscribe to conventional morality: he attacked it and thus he really was an artist with a moral aim.
Brandes has shown in his essay on Björnson how the attack upon art with a purpose is really often a disguised means of objecting to liberal thought in literature. Art for art's sake occasionally thus becomes an apology for conventional morals too. Most of the great works were written with a purpose. Dante and Milton have left records in their prose works of the purpose of their poems. But no one objected to the purpose of these poets, because they defend conventional morality. Yet as soon as literature tries to advance new ideas we hear the cry against its moralizing and didactic tendency. Art for art's sake is then the shout of even the conventional moralist. Those who declare themselves against the tendency of the intellectual element in literature are often those who fear new ideas; they would want only romance, homely morals, happy endings and impossible adventures, constant triumph of good, etc. They do not understand what literature has to do with problems of marriage and divorce, the state and the individual. They want it to be separated from real life. Nevertheless, they cannot ignore the great books of our day which deal with these questions. They have been driven to the theory of "art for art's sake" by their hatred of liberal ideas.
"The formula, 'written with a purpose,'" says Brandes, "has been far too long employed as an effective scarecrow to drive authors away from the fruit that beckons to them from the modern tree of knowledge."
When Whitman, Ibsen, Tolstoy and Zola brought us messages in ecstatic prose, the enemies of intellect in art called them preachers of filthy ideas, misguided moralists, and would not consider them as artists and poets. The moralist and aesthete joined forces in attacking Balzac and Stendhal when these novelists gave us unpopular ideas emotionally expressed. The critic who hates advanced thought exclaims that he wants no ideas in art at all; he does not wish it to become the vehicle of views he personally dislikes. Hence at times even the Philistine critic who opposed the introduction of intellect in art found himself in harmony with members of the art for art's sake school.
Nothing better illustrates the harm which may result from the theory that shuns a purpose in art, than the neglect it brings about for books with an unpopular message. England, for example, has neglected the best work of one of the poets of the nineties, who intellectually ranks with her best poets. Who reads the later work of Robert Buchanan? Attention is riveted to his early lyrics, and good as these are, his more thoughtful poetry has been forgotten. A. Stoddart-Walker wrote after Buchanan's death _Robert Buchanan, the Poet of Modern Revolt_, and Harriet Jay wrote a biography. Attention was called in these volumes to the later works of Buchanan, where he stood for liberty of thought. Nor was he didactic in his pleas, in such poems as _The City of Dreams_, _The Wandering Jew_, _The Ballad of Mary the Mother_, _The Outcast_, _The Devil's Case_, and _The New Rome_. Lecky called _The City of Dreams_ the modern _Pilgrim's Progress_, and said that it would take a prominent position in the literature of the time. But no one knows these poems, and of Buchanan's work only a few ballads are known. Buchanan is not any more didactic than Browning, but since he represents bold speculation (and also made too many personal enemies) he was throttled by Philistinism.
The opponents of utilitarianism in art have been the calumniators of poets with ideas unacceptable to the majority. They have hindered the popularity of pessimistic poets like Leopardi and Thomson. They are shocked by the morbidities of Dostoievsky and Strindberg. But every author has the right to describe emotions without being compelled to draw a moral from them. In such case the writer becomes a great psychologist, and his work is by no means devoid of intellectual content. Thus the stories of Poe which have no moral outlook are really stories with a purpose for they are profound documents in psychology. To them psychologists like Mosso have gone for studies of the emotion of fear. One finds ideas in them that throw light on the nature of our emotions. Hence Brownell in his well written essay on Poe which attacked him because of his indifference to moral problems (a view in which Howells and James concur) is wrong in denying to Poe a high place in art. Poe did what all artists do: he drew on his emotions and if he could portray fear and grief for death, it was because he had known them. Graham describes the timid nature of Poe, who was afraid to be himself alone. That feeling accounts for the _Fall of the House of Usher_. Poe's stories are rich in ideas, in valuable psychological data. None of them, except _William Wilson_, has an ethical aim, but they all have an intellectual, utilitarian purport, in giving us profound knowledge of man's hidden emotions. They are the result of Poe's keen intellect as well as of his emotions. They have anticipated many researches by psychologists; they have set circulating profound views of the psychic constitution of man. They thus became art with a purpose, not however to spread ethical truisms, but broad liberating ideas.
Those art for art's sake critics who take their inspiration from Poe's essay on the _Poetic Principle_, sadly misunderstand their critic. Except in two poems written as metrical and musical experiments, _The Bells_ and _Ulalume_, Poe's intellect adorned all the poetry he wrote in verse as well as prose. Read his prose poems, _Shadow_, _Silence_, _The Colloquy of Monos and Una_, _The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion_, _The Power of Words_, and _Eureka_. He was justified in his pleading that poetry should not become the mere vehicle of moral commonplaces, for these are not beautiful, and the vogue of the New England school was beginning to make the moral aims of poetry too paramount.
The poet should be free and if he wants to emotionalize a social message he should be allowed to do so, risking aesthetic value if he becomes didactic, or is false in his views. And he should also be allowed to describe beauty and emotions, without being compelled to draw a moral conclusion therefrom.
Croce, who defined poetry as intuition, has helped to keep on its last legs the idea of art for art's sake. He falsely teaches that poetry deals with pure emotions, and that emotions and ideas are two separate functions, one of the feeling man, the other of the thinking man.
Though Croce admits that the intellectual has its aesthetic side, that art deals with the philosophic and moral, yet this definition of literature in terms of intuition is not a true account of the nature of literature, for he regards the intuitive faculty as totally opposed to the logical faculty, a Kantian relic. Intuition, however, is the combined product of all the logical faculties exercised by man in the past, just as the action of an involuntary muscle is the continued action of a muscle once voluntary, but which by force of habit for ages became involuntary.
Intuition is not merely the knowledge of our hearts but of our brain as well. The great novels and plays of the world's literature are the artistic results of the intellect collaborating with the emotions. Croce presents an ingenious explanation to enable him to call works of art which are full of intellectuality, works of intuition. He says that the effect of the work as a whole is that of an intuition. He holds that when intellectual concepts are mingled with intuition they are not then intellectual concepts but part of the intuition. If this be so, the rule works the other way around. If intuition is mingled with intellectual concepts appearing in a philosophical or scientific work, why not then say that the intuitive quality disappears and becomes part of the intellectual concept and that the scientific or philosophic work becomes a work of intuition or a work of art as a whole? There is intellectual working in Hamlet and intuitive expression in a dialogue of Plato. The former is not wholly intuitive nor the latter wholly intellectual.
This is Croce's great fault--that he tries to rid poetry of what he calls any suggestion of intellectualism.[146:A] He identifies the first rudimentary form of knowledge with intuition, he distinguishes the so-called first degree of the activity of the mind, the unreflecting, unreasoning emotion, from intellectual and perceptual knowledge, which involves concepts, so that his view of poetry is that of the art for art's sake school,--that poetry deals not with ideas but with intuitive feeling.
Now, feeling and thought are not separable. Feeling involves knowledge and instant reflection. The bereaved poet knows and reflects on many things at the very instant he is suffering the shock of his loss. His intellectual and perceptual faculties cannot be set apart from the psychical activity of his emotions. The authors of the greatest English elegies philosophized while bemoaning their loss. The moral, intellectual and logical faculties are at work along with the intuitive faculty, or immediate knowledge of feeling, in all great poets.
It is in his views on intuition that Croce reduces art to presentation of childish impressions or views, divested of judgment and reflection. He discourages reasoning and thinking on the part of the artist. He seeks only the first instant of the poet's emotions, though he admits that in real life sensations are followed by reflections and mental solutions. He thinks the purest artists are those who persist longest in that first moment of intuition, and are innocent and childish in their outlook.
Art is not, as Croce thinks, devoid of the character of conceptual knowledge. No, discrimination and judgment, distinction between reality and unreality, is an important part of the poet's work, and to say that it matters little what the poet thinks or says or concludes, that correct ideas, judgments, statements, are not to be sought from him, is to reduce him to the level of a babbling child. The ideality of poetry does not, as Croce thinks, disappear as soon as reflection and judgment enter, for these may be bathed in ecstasy. Croce's definition of imaginative literature excludes ideas, except as casually introduced, or as the utterances in accordance with the truth of the character portrayed. He levels literature to a primitive degree.
Croce seems to think that art is expression of only intuition, but is not expression of intellectual concepts which he claims belong to philosophy. He who did so much to clear away the artificial divisions reigning in the various arts, commits a greater error. He assigns one kind of expression--intuition--to one branch of human endeavor--art; and another kind of expression--true concepts--to another branch of human endeavor,--logic. Yet he admits that intuition and concepts are two moments in a single process. As a matter of fact, expressed concepts are also literature when emotionalized, and logic is poetry when combined with ecstasy.
Man cannot separate the two faculties, and we seldom have what Croce calls pure intuition, that is, knowledge free of concepts. Hence poetry scarcely deals with intuition in Croce's understanding of the term. Croce takes care to distinguish intuition from mere physical sensation, and from association. For him intuition is not unconscious memory but the first degree of the mind's activity which is expression. One fails to see why even sensation may not be intuition and hence art; some of the world's best literature describes hunger. And to deny that intuition includes unconscious memory is to deprive it of its essential quality.
Croce lost sight of the importance of that phase of art which deals with the thinking man who feels, and he tried to bridge over the gap by asserting that what determined the difference of the intellectual and intuitive fact lay in the result, in the effects aimed at by their authors. Yet Virgil thought he was a poet in his _Georgics_ but he gave us a book in farming instead. Plato sought to be a philosopher in his _Banquet_ but he wrote a poem also.
Croce's conclusions lead to strange anomalies. His view that philosophical passages, that is, intellectual concepts occurring in a novel or play, become part of the intuition of the author, would mean that the most unecstatic concept transposed from, say Hegel, to a Shakespearean play, becomes intuition. The converse would also follow that a passage of Shakespeare incorporated in Hegel is no longer poetry.
One of the results of Croce's aesthetic views on intuition is to drive out of literary criticism the exercise of the intellect. He would have us judge a book by its own standards and merely seek to find if the author succeeded in doing what he intended. This view has been wrongly attributed also to Goethe and Carlyle. It is, however, Maupassant's view about the novel as he expounded it in his preface to _Pierre and Jean_. We cannot accept this view. We must ask why does the author intend what he does, and is he justified in his intentions? We must go back of his intentions and show him that his intellect and outlook are due to certain causes and we must state whether or not we agree with him, and why. An author may record his ecstasy in expounding absurd ideas. I want to know why he believes in these ideas and I want to see if he can make me believe them. If he does not, I cannot satisfy myself with studying his intentions, even when they are in the form of verse or in a novel. I also am concerned with the question whether he is right in accepting these ideas, though I admit his sincerity.
Again I take up a Puritanical poem. I cannot judge the author by merely studying the writer's intentions and contenting myself with the knowledge that he has faithfully and beautifully recorded them. No, I want to know why he is a Puritan; I seek to show the folly of his expression; I must register my protest that I have not been moved by him, that I consider him intellectually and morally deficient.
The great fault of Croce's views, however, is that in looking upon art as expression he takes no interest in the question whether it meets with sympathy. It is true he recognizes that the poet often expresses our own intuitions for us, when he expresses his own. But he is not concerned with the question whether the poet has a right to feel that way and whether he has a sympathetic audience no matter how small. Yet the artist who expresses his intuitions is always bound to have some audience. It is because "every atom that belongs to me as good belongs to you." He is bound to have sympathizers. If Croce had said that the artist should not be concerned because the majority does not agree with him, we could follow him, but only because we think the artist is right and the majority is wrong. But to cast aside the question of sympathy altogether, to refuse to take into consideration the emotions of any readers, is to demoralize art and cast intelligence out of it.
It cannot be repeated then too often that poetry is not a matter of emotions only, but of intellectual perception and moral outlook as well. The poet who has described a painful episode in his life does not always just merely record the pain, he goes further than his intuition. He thinks and judges and condemns and plans. He is also a philosopher and a moralist, excited to such states by his intuition. It wasn't intuition that created the plays of Shakespeare and Ibsen, it was a moral and intellectual vision working with the poet's intuition. Logic, science, metaphysics, ethics, are part of the poetic material. All ideas are philosophic or scientific, and emotionally and beautifully expressed may become poetry or literature.
However, Croce did good service in calling for the independence of art, since reformers and moralists often seek to force upon art a practical end outside and beside it. He also admits that the practical and aesthetic are often found united, and that it would be erroneous to maintain that the artist's independence of vision should be extended to the communication. "If art be understood as the externalization of art, then utility and morality have a perfect right to deal with it; that is to say, the right one possesses to deal with one's own household." Since the artist selects from his intuitions when he writes, his selection is governed by the economic conditions of life and of its moral direction. Hence Croce finds the artist's use of the concepts of morality to some extent justified.
But where the ideas dealt with by an author are such as all accept, the beauty of the work depends on the manner in which it is written. Here he does not write for the purpose of the underlying idea, which he uses merely as a pretext for artistic work. He seeks to portray an emotion and to make the reader feel it. Drawing a picture may be the object of the author. He may merely try to reproduce with vividness what we all see; or narrate what we all know. The importance of his work lies then in its technique. There is no question that technique is always to be considered in determining one's greatness as a writer.
What distinguishes the layman from the artist is that the former has no power of craftsmanship; he does not understand the secrets of any of the forms of literature; he does not know how to set down his thoughts or sentiments in a pleasing or beautiful manner. There are many laymen who have better views on morality and who possess a greater intellect than many successful authors, but they are not artists. If by knowing how to tell a story or sing a poem they could move the world,--if they had craftsmanship,--then we would call them artists.
It does not follow, however, that because an author has certain technical genius, but is destitute of any intellect, and dallies with trite ideas, that he is a great artist. To rank among the great artists perfection of form should be welded with great and important ideas of life.
[146:A] Wordsworth was on better ground when he said, "Our continued influxes of feeling are modified and directed by our thoughts." _Preface to Lyrical Ballads_ (1800).
HIGH FORM OF POETRY ECSTATIC PRESENTATION OF ADVANCED SOCIAL IDEALS
We are always fascinated by the poet who comes to the aid of the people, and is even rejected by them for his advanced ideas. We like to think of the poet as one who belongs to the minority, as a non-conformist, as a champion of liberty, as a sponsor for advanced views. We want him not to be uttering and singing the commonplaces of to-day but the truths of the morrow. In the long run it is the Shelleys and Whitmans and Ibsens that count. Even though the poets be mad like Don Quixote or Brand, and do evil with good intentions, we admire them.
What sad figures the versifiers of unimportant conceits make when confronted with the great poets who use their intellect. These petty minstrels are the same types whom Milton attacked; they are the gossips of literature who like housewives think every trivial fancy must be voiced. And when we are bored by their nuances, their play with words, their records of unprofitable incidents, they tell us we cannot appreciate poetry, that we have not "taste." Man will always listen even though disapprovingly and hostilely, if the poet reveals a soul. But the minor versifier has no soul, or if he has he keeps it out of his verses. He is ready to talk to you about his spectacles, his bath, or his dinner, but he cannot refer to his inner thoughts and feelings. Even if he does experience an emotion he often conveys it through the images of books.
Poetry which champions human liberty and shows characters battling for truth amidst persecution is always great poetry. We like to think of the poet as Baudelaire characterized him, one whose own mother does not understand him, one in whose food the public puts ashes, one with whom his own wife is not in sympathy. We like to think of him as an Ishmaelite, as one who is against his age, since the majority is often incapable of welcoming a new and great idea even emotionally treated. If he is merely a patriotic or a religious or conventionally moral poet, he will appeal to most people, but these represent the audience that is not of an elevated intellectual order. He is not universal, for people of other countries and religions, and the people of the future who will break away from the old morality will not find that he reaches their sentiments.
We want the progressive poet, and not the eternal harper on the commonplace.
Nor are these views inconsistent with the assertion that poetry should not be the handmaid of religion and morality. If it must be a handmaid, then let it be the handmaid of a universal religion, which finds its roots in thought and sane feeling; of a morality of love and justice that is still too ideal to be grasped by the age. No worthy poet to-day would write a poem merely to teach us simple precepts of morality. In a rude age, an emotional treatment of the most commonplace ethical maxims was great poetry because these were in advance of the age. To us such a production is stale. Hence the "great" poem of one age may become nauseating to a later epoch.
Poetry is a progressive art. The emotion playing about the old ballads and legends is not as compelling as that found in the great modern novels and plays. Our great later poets and thinkers are more advanced and do not worship superstition and defend false beliefs, or celebrate revenge and war, as the old primeval poets do. When we think of the ideal poet, it is not the champion of the middle class like Longfellow and Tennyson, or one full of the early martial spirit and drawing fighting heroes like the author of _Beowulf_, or the _Nibelungen Lied_. Nor do we think of the poet who incorporates the religious errors and legends of his time and imitates ancient epics, nor of one who portrays a preceding and bygone age. We, or at least a few of us, like to think of him as a man drawing people in the grip of passions and battling for advanced ideas. We like to think of men like Shakespeare and Ibsen, Isaiah and Job, Balzac and Cervantes, Molière and Goethe, Byron and Shelley, Burns and Heine, Whitman and Swinburne, Carducci and Nietzsche, Carlyle and Ruskin, Dostoievsky and Dickens, Hugo and Rolland. We like to think chiefly of men who were largely personal in their appeal, and depicted their own sufferings, and described grief brought about by the social construction of society which they criticized. Such poets are no dalliers with anaemic feelings. They felt what they sang and were not afraid to give sway to their emotions and ideas. They are not didacticists nor moralists, but emotional thinkers. They do not think that they ought to deny the claims of the intellect and the moral vision. I do not say that other kinds of emotional writers are not great poets. I merely cite what I think is a high order of poetry. I do not deny that poets may avoid any moral mission and just sing private emotions, whether in prose or verse. The Troubadours, and the Roman Elegists, De Musset and Verlaine, Hafiz and Keats, are among the very greatest poets, even though they are not prophets.
Much of our so-called democratic poetry is not democratic at all. Poetry does not become democratic because some poets dwell on the privileges the working people of to-day have in contrast with those working people had generations ago, or because writers have discovered that even common people experience most of the emotions of the upper class. Literature cannot be democratic, while poets write for the few who use them as tools for their own interests, to defend a system which is courteously called competition instead of exploitation. Much of our democratic literature is either capitalistic or bourgeois literature that gives a slight condescending nod to the proletariat. Many wealthy and cultured authors have taken up the cause of the laborer just as they would that of caged animals. They have suggested improvements in the treatment of captives, but not complete freedom. Fortunately we have had works like Galsworthy's _Strife_, Hauptmann's _Weavers_, Verhaeren's _Dawn_, Sinclair's _Jungle_, Zola's _Germinal_, Gissing's _Nether World_.
Poetry will tend to become international, and instead of seeking to encourage national prejudices, will seek to eradicate them. Race prejudice is one of the deepest rooted prejudices which inferior poets often encourage. The old idea that the man of another country is a barbarian and that the alien is an enemy within our gates, a tolerated, unwelcome guest, must be eradicated. Can any one contemplate without disgust plays and photoplays that depict Chinese, Japanese, Negroes and Jews as criminals, simply because of their creed or color? Is it true that virtue resides in the breast of the Aryan race only? The eighteenth century idea of the brotherhood of man is not extinct and the future will use poetry to spread this idea. Poetry should not foster hatred of people because they are followers of different customs.
It can hardly be doubted that the poetry of the future will deal more with the emotions as experienced by the proletariat class. The feelings to which many of our greatest poets have given vent in recent years have been those of the middle and capitalistic class, just as bards in the past voiced the emotions of the feudalist lords, and religious and military leaders. The connection between economics and literature or poetry is not as remote as it seems. Bernard Shaw has made use of his knowledge of the subject in constructing his plays. The work of Gorki, Hauptmann and Zola has taken into consideration the feelings that the average working people go through in their struggle for existence. Yet the works of these writers are art or poetry, and not tracts. Literature written to encourage the working men in their abject and ill-paid condition will not be countenanced by the future. The songs of the poet with lily white hands who writes about the dignity of toil and subservience to the employer will disappear. The emotions connected with the struggle for a living and with a desire for a more equitable distribution of wealth, will be the subject of our poetry.
Much of the old poetry should be discouraged for it is debased and undemocratic. Take the themes of the epics of India, Persia, Ireland, England, Greece, Finland, Rome, Italy, Spain, Germany and Iceland, all of which are lauded as among the greatest literary productions of the world. Wars are the subjects, fighters are the heroes. The lust for fighting is encouraged instead of being decried. While all of these epics contain beautiful passages and poems of glowing and even unsurpassed beauty, they keep man back in the primitive stage, and countenance a state of barbarism that he should outgrow.
It may after all be fortunate that the earliest poetry of nations is seldom read, for most of it is of very little intellectual value, celebrating the wars and religions of the writers. Occasionally there are secular poems of modern and universal interest among them. But for the most part, fighting absorbs the writers and all their interests are in bloodshed, revenge, cruelty. There are many causes fostering the hatreds and errors of our day, without our using these old works to spread them. We find there silly codes of honor, idiotic conceptions of justice, amazing viewpoints of morality. We want the emotions celebrated in these old works to die out and not to be perpetuated.
The world of democracy belongs to poetry, not merely the democracy of the realistic novel which was willing to concede that even the poor man like the old kings and the nobility had love tragedies. Poetry will deal not with that philanthropy, which often means the master throwing crumbs to quiet the growling servant. No, it will be based on feelings that emanate from a sincere desire to promote human justice. There is no doubt that some day our system of society which permits a man to roll up billions which he squanders, while it does not allow another enough to keep himself and his family in comfort, will disappear, and poetry will express the emotions prevalent under the new order.
Much of the poetry of the past has sung the praises of wage slavery. The poetry of the future will sing as Amos did of old the beauty of social and economic equality. To-day the hero of the poem is the successful business man, or the submissive contented working man, just as in the past the soldier and the monk were the heroes. To-morrow it will be the man who fights for economic justice for himself or the masses. Our standards of economic justice are changing and this change will effect poetry. The poet who sings in defense of the capitalist or our economic system has little in common with him who is the spokesman of the common people.
Poetry springs from the people and must take into consideration their emotions in connection with their economic problems. Very little of the poetry of the past has done this. Consider the literature of the middle ages and note how seldom the troubles of the serfs and villains were expressed by the poets. There were slight efforts made in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, in the _Romance of the Rose_ and in Langland's _Piers Plowman_, respectively, to give some expression to the feelings of the masses.
Modern poetry tends to deal emotionally with social problems. The poet who calls attention to the suffering of the poor, or the persecutions of reformers, or shows the ills in family life brought about by our marriage system, or announces a social message, is not a propagandist when he writes something that evokes our emotions. When Untermeyer published his book on poetry he was much criticized for the prominence he gave to James Oppenheim and Arthur Giovanitti, who are excellent poets. It is to be regretted that Untermeyer did not include also a chapter on Horace Traubel. Untermeyer may insist too much on the social mission of poetry, but he is nearer to an exalted conception of poetry than those who weld words to metre and have neither ideas nor substance in their writing.
Emerson said, "There is no subject that does not belong to him (the poet),--politics, economics, manufactures and stock brokerage; as much as sunsets and souls; only these things, placed in their order, are poetry; displaced, or put in kitchen order, they are unpoetic."
An English clergyman, F. W. Robertson, in his two lectures on the "Influence of Poetry on the Working Classes," delivered in 1852, and posthumously collected in _Lectures and Essays_, gave vent to many remarkable ideas on the subject of poetry. The following passage was written three years before the _Leaves of Grass_, and sums up Whitman's ideas, and is worthy of quotation to-day for its timeliness:
The Poetry of the coming age must come from the Working Classes. In the upper ranks, Poetry, so far at least as it represents their life, has long been worn out, sickly and sentimental. Its manhood is effete. Feudal aristocracy with its associations, the castle and the tournament, has passed away. Its last healthy tones came from the harp of Scott. Byron sang its funeral dirge. But tenderness, and heroism, and endurance still want their voice, and it must come from the classes whose observation is at first hand, and who speak fresh from nature's heart. What has poetry to do with our Working Classes? Men of work! We want our poetry from you--from men who will dare to live a brave and true life;----
It does not follow that individualism in poetry will die out and that ignorant laborers are to be the sole heroes and subjects of poetry. The intellectual reader will still find in poetry his intellectual heroes. There will never be equality of intellect, and hence there will also be something of an intellectual aristocracy in connection with the literature and poetry of democracy.
The note of ecstasy as a passion for righteousness and social justice is of a high order usually. It was this note in which Greek and Roman poetry, however, was deficient. It is this ecstasy that raises the prophetic portions of the Bible to the high plane they occupy.
Professor Butcher, surely one in sympathy with Greek art, pointed out the weakness of Greek criticism, in that it failed to consider the social state in connection with the work of art. This state of criticism was due to the fact that the poetry of the Greeks showed no deep interest in social justice. Pindar, the greatest lyricist of the Greeks, wrote about athletic contests; athletes were his heroes. The Greeks glorified healthy bodies in their poetry, an exalted feature undoubtedly. Homer wrote about wars, and Achilles remained the type of Greek hero. Æschylus dwelt on the laws of divine retribution for indulgence in crime. Sophocles contemplated the irony of fate. Sappho recorded her love troubles.
The only exception of a work treating of poetry in connection with social justice is Plato's _Republic_, and he concluded that the poet was unnecessary. Yet he himself is one of the few Greek poets who showed deep interest in social justice.
The first critic who pointed out the connection between poetry and social conditions was the author of _On the Sublime_, who ends his treatise with a beautiful attack on the love of money which hinders the development of good art. This is the first passage in pagan antiquity to point out the evils of commercialism in connection with art.
None of the Greek poets (except perhaps Aristophanes) thought it worthy of their art to cry out against the social abuses of the time, and to lament the existence of wrong. The Roman satires alone in pagan literature approached, though weakly, the ecstasy for social justice in the prophecies of the Bible. The prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah rank higher than most of the Greek poems because they show a social consciousness steeped in emotion. Passages like these are Hebraic and not Greek. "Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth." _Isaiah_ (Ch. 5, v. 8). "They are waxen fat, they shine: yea, they overpass the deeds of the wicked: they judge not the cause, the cause of the fatherless, yet they prosper; and the right of the needy do they not judge." _Jeremiah_ (Ch. 5, v. 28). "Take away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols. But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream." _Amos_ (Ch. 5, v. 23-24).
Fénelon in a famous passage eloquently proclaimed the superiority of Hebrew poetry to Greek poetry. Heine, a pronounced Hellenist, came to the final conclusion that the Greeks were children and the Hebrews men.
The Hebrew idea of righteousness was a different one from the later Christian notion of consciousness of sin. The latter was really a perversion of the former, and ended rather in social injustices as the history of the medieval ages shows.
The discussion in regard to the merits of poetry with a mission, or poetry that is purely aesthetic, was revived on the occasion of the publication of Untermeyer's book _The New Era in American Poetry_. His critics made the mistake of thinking that those who want poetry to deal with social ideas are not ready to recognize poems that are beautiful, or convey an emotion, even if there is little intellectual content behind the work. There is no social message in Poe's _Raven_, for example, but I could not imagine Untermeyer not being moved by that poem, for it digs down into the emotions; it was written out of Poe's tragic life and finds a response in us all. Untermeyer has not been tardy in his appreciation of poets without a message like Frost and Robinson. In fact Untermeyer ignores quite a number of Revolutionary poets.
The reader may say that a new social idea in poetry is just as bad as an old moral saw, in that they are both didactic. It all depends on the ecstatic presentation, but I think that an idea that is advanced and unrecognized is by virtue of its novelty and truth more capable of swaying the emotion that we call poetic than the repetition of a hackneyed ethical maxim which every child knows and hears usually without emotion. Ibsen's plays are poetry not only because of the treatment, but because of the ideas there, while many of the English eighteenth century moralists in verse are poets neither in treatment nor ideas.
The only country where critics have had almost no use for the theory of art for art's sake has been Russia. Here they have also had no such compromising views that seek to know only whether the poet has done his work well, and whether he has delivered his message irrespective of its value, importance or truth. The Russian critics were men who were interested in the connection between life and poetry, and never failed to have their eye on the former while considering the latter. They did more, they had their eye on the future, and hence were usually liberal. We know very little about these Russian critics, and only recently has the nature of their work been outlined by Thomas G. Masaryk, who before the war published _The Spirit of Russia_ just translated into English. Previously Kropotkin and a few historians of Russian literature had touched on their work. Some day perhaps we may be so fortunate as to have translations into English of the works of Bielinski, Tchernishevski, Dobrolubov, Pisarev and Mihailovsky. To these men art was a serious thing, and they would not have its value lost in metaphysical theories of aesthetics about beauty, in endless discussions about the niceties and importance of metrical forms. Poetry dealt with social problems and suggested changes in society. Its mission was to deal with the unbared human soul and above all not to lie and affect.
Every one has conceived the function of poetry as being something different, usually as something to spread his own views. Thus the theologian looks upon it as a handmaid of religion, to show the beauty of a dogma and a peculiar view of life in accordance with his religion. The voluptuary thinks it merely a means of arousing sexual morality. Some philosophers think it a vehicle to promulgate their own systems. Thus Nietzsche believed poetry should spread the gospel of the will to power, while Schopenhauer thought it reached its highest point when it glorified the denial of the will to live.
The world can never be fully agreed as to what poetry is any more than it can agree as to what beauty, truth, or duty is. A passage may appeal to one person and not to another. It all depends on the beliefs, tastes, experiences and education of the reader. Patriotic and religious poetry, whether in verse or prose, falls flat on the internationalist and free thinker respectively, because they do not adore the sentiments therein, though they might admit the beauty of the writing and recognize the appeal it makes to those who are in accord with the writer. They cannot be responsive to the soul of the singer because they are differently constituted in their beliefs and because the ideas that aroused in the poet one train of emotions, move them to a contrary passion.
Let us take a hypothetical case. A man a few centuries ago was sentenced to be burned at the stake for his religious beliefs. A poet who approved of this course wrote a poem where his emotions are crystallized. He was sorry for the victim and hoped God would pardon him and make him see the error of his ways. He praised the executioner who himself was grieved that he had to take this course to save the infidel's soul. He was certain that God was pleased with the sentence. He deplored the evil effects that might follow if this man were allowed to live to spread his infamous doctrines, he rebuked the man for the trouble he brought on his family. On the whole he gave us a metrical and emotional composition actually describing his sensations, not even omitting sympathetic reference to the sufferings of the victim. This was poetry to those thousands that day who approved of this act. But most of us cannot to-day enter into the ecstasy of the writer; it is not poetry to us. But while people to-day are not burned at the stake, they are persecuted for advancing ideas that are beyond the public. The poets, who are on a low level of thought with the public, in writing poems against such individuals or the ideas or cause represented by them, are not poets to those who support the persecuted individual or his ideas. Most poets still write in defense of burning at the stake of great humanitarians, but they advocate other measures than burning by real fire.
When Ibsen said in reply to the critic who would not allow _Peer Gynt_ to be called poetry, that the definition of poetry would have to be changed to take in his poem, he was stating a condition that always takes place when a new poetic masterpiece appears. The conception as to what is poetry always changes, for what moves man in one age does not move him in another. The poets often have to do what Whitman and Wordsworth did, create the tastes by which they are to be enjoyed. We are all aware that in the eighteenth century poetry meant something entirely different from what we believe it to be to-day. Many men were considered poets then whom we do not regard as such. The same is true of poetry in prose. There was hostility to the poetry in the novels of Balzac, Flaubert and Zola, because the public did not want to accept their artistic innovations, their frankness and their views.
Yeats in his essay "What is Popular Poetry" in the _Ideas of Good and Evil_, said that poetry of a very high order, like the _Epipsychidion_, is not popular for it presupposes more than it says. All good poetry, whether springing from a written or an unwritten tradition, is always "strange and obscure, and unreal to all who have not understanding," and suggests remembrance of impossible things, and glimmers with thoughts and images dating back to unknown history.
There is a great deal of literature or poetry which presupposes some culture, and a sensitiveness to beauty, and especially a highly developed intellect. The man with the commonplace mind, even though he be educated and well read, is often unable to appreciate the beauty of poetry in which new and advanced and unpopular ideas are held in solution. The poetry in the work of Whitman and Nietzsche and Ibsen was not felt by people who could not enter into the spirit of their revolt from contemporary morality. The public cannot appreciate the prose poetry of Hearn because of his rich language and aesthetic sensitiveness.
The public can take an interest in the beauty and poetry of ideas it understands, and written in language that it speaks and in images that it uses; but the poet is often at his best an aristocrat in thought and language, and then it takes a well trained individual reader to like him. Poetry is no longer mere folklore or ballads or musical numbers, all of which the public may enjoy.
There is no such thing as absolute truth. Truth is only a relative term. When a man speaks of the truth he means those doctrines which he himself embraces. Every man believes that the views that he entertains are true, otherwise he would not hold them. Many people have in the past died for the "truth," when we know that they upheld falsehood.
A writer who is liberally inclined will hold liberal ideas to be the truth; a conservative regards only conservative views as true. An author who embraces ideas from both the conventional and radical spheres, considers only those books as true whose authors do the same thing.
In a sane essay on De Vigny, Mill makes a remarkable distinction between the conservative and radical poet, concluding that the greatest poet will always partake of the nature of both, mentioning as example Balzac and De Vigny. Had he written on the subject a half-century later he might have named Ibsen, whose _Brond_ and _Wild Duck_ are good conservative poems. Mill, who was no disciple of art for art's sake, said that the radical poet will paint passionate love, "will show it at war with the forms and customs of society, nay even with its laws and religion, if the laws and tenets which regulate that branch of human relations are among those which have begun to be murmured against." "To him, whatever exists will appear from that alone fit to be represented: to probe the wounds of society and humanity is part of his business, and he will neither shrink from exhibiting what is in nature, because it is morally culpable, nor because it is physically revolting." Here Mill anticipates Zola, Ibsen and Freud. No wonder that so radical a critic as Brandes was attracted to him. It is a pity he did not continue literary criticism.
It is probably vain to try to define different types of poetic or literary excellence, but we may state some of these. Formerly a first-class poet was one who successfully imitated a model and followed certain rules. Or he was one who successfully voiced the current accepted views of the age. It is these reasons that still make many people consider Dante and Milton among the first-class poets. Again there is a tendency to regard as poets of the first class those who perfected their art technically. Hence Æschylus and Sophocles are ranked among the greatest poets. Sometimes he is regarded among the greatest poets because he is among the earliest, like Homer. The position of poets like Shakespeare, Molière, Cervantes and Goethe as first-class world poets and writers, cannot be contested, because they are so universal.
Under the influence of Ibsen, Shaw in his preface to a new edition of his novel _The Irrational Knot_ laid down an interesting distinction between literature of the first and of the second order. The distinction applies to poetry as well. Shaw considered as literature of the first order work which makes a distinct original contribution to morality, even if such writing is literary criticism. He regards the writers who accept ready-made morality as of the second order. Shaw admits that writers of the first order are often less readable and less constructive than writers of the second order. He mentions among writers of the first order, Ibsen, Euripides, Byron, Wilde and La Rochefoucauld, and Shakespeare in _Hamlet_. From prefaces in other books of his we know he would include men like Blake, Shelley, Nietzsche, and Butler. As writers of the second order he mentions Shakespeare, Scott, Dumas, Dickens, Ruskin, Carlyle, and he would no doubt include writers like Macaulay and Holmes. He does not mean that a writer of the first order is always greater than one of the second order, but he does insist as follows: "No man who shuts his eyes and opens his mouth when religion and morality are offered to him on a long spoon, can share the same Parnassian bench with those who make an original contribution to religion and morality, were it only a criticism." In spite of the contention of the art for art's sake school that poetry has nothing to do with morality or religion, the greatest poets are those authors of the literature of ecstasy who championed new ideas, fought for liberty in their works, expressed the advanced ideas of the age, and gave us a new and more liberal outlook on life. While it is true that often poets of the second order have expressed strongly and movingly just the common sentiments of everybody, on the whole the original poets rank higher. It is this which puts Whitman above Longfellow, Nietzsche above Macaulay, Byron and Shelley above Tennyson and Rossetti, Ibsen above Scott. Yet there are many poets who made no distinct original contribution to a new morality, but expressed common emotions so humanely, and powerfully, that we think of them as poets of a very high order. The Dickens of the _Christmas Carol_ and the Burns of the love songs were not original but they are great nevertheless by the infectious depicting of universal emotion, which is always of highest importance in literature. Though there is nothing new in a novel like _Eugénie Grandet_ but a wonderful description of a miser, it is poetry of a very high order, for an account of a passion in an intense manner is great poetry. Most of Hafiz's poems record his loves, but though he was a liberal and against the asceticism of his day, he was in the main not an exponent of anything new; nevertheless, he is a poet of a high order.
The world usually does not recognize the original poet and accepts a poet of the second order as one of the first order, but posterity adjusts the matter. Shelley and Ibsen finally won their places and I think to-day the growing coldness to Scott and Tennyson is due to their lacking in great original ideas.
We need not agree with Shaw when he says that Dickens, Ruskin and Carlyle made no contributions to the morality of their day. The humanitarian reforms suggested by Dickens' novels, the conceptions about sincerity in history, and the importance of individualism and the heroic Carlyle and Ruskin's views in art criticism and economics, were all original. They all had in addition the great power of expression, and though they were not always very profound in their views, they are poets of a high order.
A poet, then, is of the first order if he expresses in prose the ecstasy connected with a great original idea of social justice far in advance of his age.
There is an opinion ruling among academic circles, also derived from Aristotle, that poetry is the highest form of literature, and that a verse epic, drama or lyric is, when at its best, always better than any work in prose. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Who would say that great novels like _Don Quixote_, great plays like Ibsen's, great essays like Montaigne's are not superior as literature to many of the best known verse productions. Nor must we assume that the literature of emotion or ecstasy, whether in prose or verse, is always the highest form of literature. The literature that shows great insight into character, that brims most with intellectual ideas, that is universal and human in interest even if not emotional, ranks higher than poetry which voices no ideas. You will find greater literature in books like Taine's _History of English Literature_, or Hazlitt's essays, even in those passages which do not belong to the literature of ecstasy, than in many poems of James Whitcomb Riley or Longfellow. The two latter produced many poems that belong to the literature of emotion, but while they are genuine poets, they are intellectually deficient.
Aesthetics and criticism have tended to place little aesthetic value on the literature of ideas. A passage from Hume's _Essays_ is greater as literature than many verses in our magazines. Much literature consists of a succession of ideas or facts, no particular one of which moves us to ecstasy, but the work as a whole does have aesthetic value and yet is not poetry, but has greater literary value than some poetry.
Neither verse poetry, nor the prose literature of ecstasy, then, is the highest literature necessarily. Shakespeare was one of the greatest poets, not only because he depicted emotions, but because his intellect, his psychological insight, his universality, his personality, all combine to make him the great figure he is. He would have continued to be as great a figure even if he had written nothing more than a diary. It is genius that counts and not the form one uses. To say that the drama or epic is the highest literary form is absurd; it may be the essay, if a genius is using that form.
When we have a description of emotions, we have poetry or the literature of ecstasy. But profound thought may give a work more enduring qualities than ecstasy. A love song by Burns is wonderfully sweet, but I can see no reason why, because it is poetry, we must say that it is a greater piece of literature than even an emotional prose passage out of Nietzsche or Carlyle at their best. Goethe's prose essays are profound and are often greater as literature than his lyrics. There are intellectual passages in _Wilhelm Meister_ that are superior as literature to emotional scenes in _Faust_ as literature.
Critics like Henry Newbolt are supporting the view that poetry must be in touch with life. Though he clings to the idea that poetry and rhythm go together he thinks that the natural tendency of poetic rhythm will be towards perpetual change; the value of his book, however, consists especially in a chapter on "Poetry and Politics." He recognizes that both reason and intuition play a part in poetry; men are not divided into men of thought and men of feeling, the one speaking the language of science, the other that of poetry. If man is a reasoning animal, he also is a creature of instinct as well as of thought. Hence poetry depends on science, the facts of which become part of our imagination. The poet builds a more livable world; he may write great political poetry if he does not become a partisan. Poetry seeks to change human feeling; that is what the Prophets did, and they were in a sense political poets. "Great poetry," says Newbolt, "is the poetry which has the power to stir many men and stir them deeply," but is especially great when it "is the expression of our consciousness of this world, tinged with man's universal longing for a world more perfect, nearer to the heart's desire."
Newbolt finds that the reason so much religious poetry is futile is because it is remote from earth. But he finds in the _Psalms_ a fervor of patriotism and moral enthusiasm that he compares to the common liturgical poetry "as a great and sonorous bell to the vague whistle of the wind." They preach no dogma, they are remote from practical politics, they are rooted in human emotions, and are the product of no particular church. That is why they always move.
Incidentally one may add that is why the great medieval Hebrew poets like Solomon Ibn Gebirol, Jehudah Ha Levi and Moses Ibn Ezra, are great poets.[172:A]
Heine in his poem on _Jehuda Ben Halevi_ deplores the fact that these three poets are not well known to Aryan peoples. In fact the liturgical poetry of the medieval Hebrew poets is non-sectarian and can be appreciated by any lover of the literature of ecstasy. Any reader of poetry may be moved by Jehudah Ha Levi's _Ode to Zion_, or Bachya Ibn Pakuda's _My Soul_. There are able prose translations of these in B. Halper's _Post-Biblical Hebrew Literature. An Anthology_, Vol. II.
Any one who reads the history of the poetry of a country, that is, of the poetry in verse, will find much to amuse him in the alleged progress made in the conventions of poetry. One poet dethrones another and the reader gets the impression that the later poet is always superior to the earlier one because he has destroyed convention, and introduced what is often a minor change. The eighteenth century rated Chaucer and Spenser rather low, the nineteenth century killed off Dryden and Pope, Tennyson and Browning were assumed to have advanced upon Byron and Shelley, and the mid-Victorians in turn were deemed to have been supplanted by the poets of "the nineties." Though a later age may make some technical improvements in the art of writing poetry, it is genius that counts. Many problems about poetry have disturbed critics since Byron died, but none of the succeeding generations have been able to detract from the quality of poets like Burns, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley and Keats. For a poet is such by virtue of his ability to convey great emotion and thought, and he does not become obsolete solely by the technical innovations of a later age.
Many poets are praised for the "note of revolt" in their poetry, because they have brought about some changes in the technical art of writing poetry, or have written their poetry in a manner different from the ancients only in form. But let us never lose sight of the fact that these changes which are considered tokens of great courage on the part of the innovators, amount to very little when these so-called audacious poets remain on an intellectual and moral level with the masses and do not rise as high as the older poet whose vision soared ahead of his time.
A poet may be great even though he uses the old machinery of the supernatural, even though he indulges in artificial diction, clichés and stereotyped metres, for what counts in poetry is the greatness and power of a human soul and personality, the ecstatic presentation of an advanced point of view, his share as a battler for truth, freedom and justice, the intensity and importance of his emotion. People are under the impression that all the martyrs for human liberty perished in the medieval ages; that the world has been set free by those who gave up their lives to liberate humanity from kings and priests, and that there is no more work to be done by poets to-day in championing human liberty. Critics who admire Milton and Shelley as champions of liberty attack to-day's unpopular champions of it. It amuses one to read of the epithets, revolutionary and radical, applied to versifiers because they have arranged a system of vowel-sounds combination in their poems, or imported a metre, or broken with an old conventional metre, while the substance of their poetry remains far below the intellectual and aesthetic level of poets who lived many centuries ago.
But what greater poetry has been produced in the last two generations, than many of the novels and prose dramas written in Russia, Germany, France, Italy, England and Scandinavia? Why is there greatness in the poetry in these works? Is it not because of the character drawing, the delineation of great emotional conflicts, of the ecstasy bathing the ideas? Would these poets have been any the less great, had they continued to use the same ideas, emotions and situations, tricked out even in the old conventional forms of rhyme, metre, tropes, allegories, high personages, supernatural agencies? In fact plays like _Peer Gynt_ and _The Sunken Bell_ are rather technically conventional as verse plays, but could any one compare with them the vapid, senseless and trite lyrics created by some of our so-called modern "revolutionary" poets? The great poet who deals with the capabilities of man in experiencing emotion, and fears not to track the human soul, even into morbid feelings, who has the courage to challenge society with ideas, even though these arouse the most bitter antagonism of some of the leaders of society, is the man whom posterity will most enjoy, for he is most human and bold and he never loses sight of the fact that he deals with real ecstasy, and not with the cultivated nuances of some cliques of versifiers.
If the reader will make a close study of many of the revolutions in writing poetry, he will find that the great change often amounted to nothing more than the substitution or creation of a new rhythm or trope for the one used by the old poet; such changes are of minor importance. No doubt our contemporary poets have done away with many conventions. They no longer employ inversions of words and phrases, nor cultivate the stock poetical terms and words allowed formerly as a matter of poetic license. They no longer tolerate clichés such as whenas, o'er, whatime, dost, 'mongst, anon, ere, morn, even, o'er, main, taen, athwart, e'en, forsooth, alack, oh thou, didst, hath, perchance, methinks, steed, gleeds, prithee, trow, 'neath, 'gainst, ween, wist, espy, twixt. But it took them a long time to discover what the prose writers always knew; namely, that distorted speech should be avoided in literature. But the avoidance of clichés does not make a poet.
Some of our so-called modern free verse poets like Amy Lowell are artificial in substance and manner, labored and uninspired, dull and bookish, and lacking in human interest, ecstasy and ideas. Their technique may be different from that of the old poets, but these new writers often have no ideas, reveal no poetic personality, and convey no emotion. Many of them are afraid of being personal, and as a result they fall below even the old New England poets whom they despise. A poet like Longfellow may be deficient in intellectual power and sympathy with liberal and democratic ideas, but when he tells a tale of such human interest as _Evangeline_, presents an idea against war as in _The Arsenal at Springfield_, or draws on his personal life in such fine lyrics as _My Lost Youth_, _The Bridge_, _The Day is Done_, he moves us and we know we are reading poetry, though it has not the emancipating and stimulating effect of some of the work of Walt Whitman. Lafcadio Hearn, by the way, condemned the tendency to depreciate Longfellow.
Many of our free verse writers produce no great poetry, even though they write in a medium that is the proper language of poetry. The opponents of the free verse writers, who see no merit in many of the latter's productions, are often right; these productions are not poetry because they lack ecstasy and ideas. Much of the work in the old forms produced to-day has more ecstasy, and hence it is poetry.
Determination of the merits of the poets of eminence to-day is outside the scope of this volume.
There has been much comment about the fact that we need and indeed are getting an American or national poetry. Now one of the things that Whitman has overdone was this demand for poetry that is distinctly American. Poetry appeals to the universal element in man first. A great idea like a passage in the _Song of Myself_ could have been written by and can be appreciated by the people of another nation. A cry of sympathy for the sufferings of animals and man such as you find in _Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking_ is not an American but a human note.
You can translate a love poem from the Greek, Latin, German, French or Italian into English prose, and if you remove the proper names or other unessential adjuncts, no expert or scholar will be able to tell what nationality the poem represents. No one has better shown the hollowness of the claimants for nationalism than James Russell Lowell in two essays on nationality in literature, one written in sympathetic review of Longfellow's _Kavanagh_ and collected in _The Round Table_, and another in review of Piatt's poems, collected in _The Function of the Poet_.
Goethe, before Lowell, ridiculed the idea of purely national poetry. True, there are national traits and characteristics, modes of thought and feeling peculiar to different peoples, that enter into and distinguish every literature, but these do not usually make one literature so national as to be incomprehensible to other nations. When this does happen, the product has no universal appeal and hence is not great poetry. Again poetry may have local color; it may be steeped in national traditions, it may express a racial philosophy but it is then of value only in so far as it represents the mode of thinking and feeling of the rest of mankind. Poetry may be rooted in the soil, be an indigenous product, depict native customs or a provincial life; it may depict certain types of heroes, and glory in the country of its birth, and describe its richness, but all these features are incidentals. Human nature is much the same the world over. Feeling is universal, though it may be colored by national traits, though one nation may feel more keenly, or indulge a certain emotion more frequently than others. The heart and the head, the emotions and the mind, rule in writing. The _Old Testament_ and Shakespeare are no longer national products for they speak to the whole world. They have the local color and the ideas of their time and depict a certain phase of life, but we all feel in reading these books that they are written about ourselves and to ourselves. "We have spoken too much about nationalist art, forgetting that though the roots may lie in nationality and personality, the results, independent of school and nation, should overleap boundaries and enter the universal heart." (Isaac Goldberg, _Studies in Spanish-American Literature_.)
Poetry then grows out of the soil, but like imported fruit tastes as well to the man a thousand miles away as to the native.
The literature of a country however should be individualistic, not imitative. Whitman is an American poet in the sense of recording his own individuality, while Lowell is a transplanted Englishman. It is only a Whitman rather than a Lowell who could have written the following passages, which appear in the famous Preface to the first edition of _Leaves of Grass_.
In the make of the great masters the idea of political liberty is indispensable. Liberty takes the adherence of heroes wherever man and woman exist--but never takes any adherence or welcome from the rest more than from poets. They are the voice and exposition of liberty. They out of the ages are worthy the grand idea--to them it is confided, and they must sustain it. Nothing has precedence of it, and nothing can warp or degrade it.
I do not mean that the author of that bold poem in the first Bigelow Paper, against the recruiting sergeant, and of the lecture on _Democracy_, was not, in spite of his dislike of Whitman, in accord with the above quoted passage. Nor do I mean that he could not have learned to write a passage like that from the nation which gave us such fine prose poems in defence of liberty as Milton's _Areopagitica_, Locke's _Letters on Toleration_, Jeremy Taylor's _Discourse of the Liberty of Prophesying_, Mill's _Liberty_ and Morley's _Compromise_. But Whitman was the first American poet who taking his cue from American political documents embodied in his poetry views of political and individual liberty, as the fruit of democracy. Even Whitman stopped short of championing economic liberty. Some of his present-day disciples do champion it. But Whitman's plea for liberty does not make him a national poet, for European poets have also sung of liberty.
[172:A] The greatest authority in America on medieval Hebrew poetry is Prof. Israel Davidson of the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York City.
LITERATURE OF ECSTASY EMANATES FROM THE UNCONSCIOUS
Aristotle's best known contribution to literary criticism is his statement that tragedy has the effect of a catharsis upon the reader and helps him to discharge emotions of pity and fear that overburden him. We have considerably amplified Aristotle's views, as we include under tragedy the recording of any very painful event in prose or verse, in dialogue or narrative. We believe that perusing literature in general relieves the reader of all nerve-racking emotions and produces a homeopathic effect upon him by the aesthetic voicing of his unconscious feelings.
Professor J. E. Spingarn's book, _Literary Criticism in the Renaissance_, gives us a good survey of several Italian commentators who correctly interpreted Aristotle's view of the purgation of the emotions of fear and pity as aesthetic, and not ethical. The first of these critics was Robortelli (1548); Vettori and Castelvetro followed him, while Maggi and Varchi applied the purgation to all emotions similar to pity and fear, a more Freudian conception. Minturno likened the purgation to the physician's method, while Speroni pointed out that pity and fear, holding men in bondage, were properly to be expurgated. These men anticipated the great work of Bernays in the nineteenth century, who destroyed the centuries-old fallacy that Aristotle had in mind the moral purification and reformation of the reader. Even Lessing erroneously thought that this was Aristotle's meaning.
Moreover, Milton, who had traveled in Italy, must have read these Italians when he gave us his correct interpretation of the passage in the preface to _Samson Agonistes_. Milton properly understood Aristotle's meaning of the function of tragedy. It was to "temper and reduce them (the passions) to just measure with a kind of delight, stirred up by reading or seeing those passions well imitated."
We know now the true interpretation of Aristotle's view of the function of tragedy from a passage in his _Politics_. He was thinking of the relief the spectators' surcharged emotions obtained by witnessing similar emotions expressed. His real meaning was perceived by Henri Weil and Jacob Bernays, two great Jewish classical scholars of Germany. Bernays states moreover in his work,[180:A] first published in 1857, that any literary work telling of unhappy events has a homeopathic effect on the reader. This is true, for even if we do not actually suffer, the capacity and possibility of suffering are latent within us. Though Bosanquet, commenting on Bernays in his _History of Aesthetics_, believes tragedy or poetry must be written in verse, he is forced to admit that even _Vanity Fair_ and _Cousin Bette_ would come within the definition of tragedy developed by Bernays; for the reader finds his own emotions expressed in these works no less than in Sophocles and obtains relief when he reads them. Bosanquet further admits that any serious and even formless portrayal of life may be placed within Bernays's theory adding, "It may indeed be admitted to be a development inherent in Aristotle's theory."
Aristotle perceived that the spectator of tragedy was putting himself in the place of the characters, living their lives emotionally and sympathizing with them. Since the novel or lyric poem depicts human sorrow, and the reader is purged by reading these literary forms, just like the spectator of tragedy, all literature has the effect of an aesthetic catharsis upon the reader.
The novels of Thackeray and Balzac are poetry in parts and the emotional influence in reading them is the same as in seeing a tragic verse-play acted. Bosanquet, however, does not fully accept Aristotle's theory as applied to tragic stories in prose because he regards poetical prose rhetoric and not poetry. Would he exclude from the domain of tragedy the entire episode in Hardy's _Return of the Native_, of the death of Eustace's mother? Hardy's tragedy is as real as the tragedies of the Greek playwrights. The novel fulfills all the requirements of poetic tragedy in that the reader is purged and relieved of pity and fear and kindred emotions. For tragedy is not to be found only in dialogues in verse, but in narration and dialogue in prose, and its function is to relieve us of any choking emotion, besides fear and pity.
Aristotle is the founder then of psychoanalytic interpretation of literature and is a forerunner of Freud. He however refers only to the catharsis upon the spectator, but not to that of the author's work upon himself.
Every creator of tragedy in prose or verse, in fiction, essay or lyric was first subject to repression and then ecstasy. We may say as Nietzsche did, that tragic art is the reconciliation of Apollo and Dionysius, of dreaming and emotional intoxication, and both these conditions are, in Freud's words, due to repression.
But we have travelled far beyond Aristotle in our views of tragedy. Freud has revolutionized the art of criticism and a disciple of his, F. Wittels, in the _Tragische Motiv_, gave us an interpretation from the psychoanalytic point of view of the nature and sufferings of tragic characters. There is an abstract of the book by Dr. J. S. Van Teslaar in the _American Journal of Psychology_ for April, 1912. Wittels shows that the unconscious unethical desires break into consciousness and cause tragedy. He points out that the Greeks were purified of pent up emotions in the theater, and that they identified the demons of their inner self in the actors. He also says that the Greek drama cannot any longer talk as clearly to us as of old, for with our civilization we have wandered away from the naïve Greek mind. The author emphasizes the fact that unconscious causes make the writer compose his work, as well as the fact that characters in history and literature acted from unconscious causes. Thus suppressed erotic impulses influenced the patriotism of Joan of Arc.
At all times, again, it was vaguely understood that dreams reveal the unconscious, that poetry emanates from the dream state, that in fact poems are even composed in dreams. Thus, the Bible itself is authority for the fact that all the prophets received their messages in a dream or vision. The Hebrew sages said that the dream was a fraction of prophecy, the unripe fruit of prophecy.
One of the first critics who treated at length the question whether poetry may actually be composed in dreams is the Hebrew poet and critic Moses Ibn Ezra, who lived in Spain in the early part of the twelfth century. The seventh chapter of his _Conversations and Recollections_[182:A] deals with the subject. He was influenced by Arabs who were absorbingly concerned with the interpretation of dreams. Ibn Ezra thought that it was just in the sleeping state that the use of thought and imagination was greatest, for then the soul loses consciousness of things, the body and senses are at rest and only the common sense, which the critic uses really as synonymous with the unconscious, is active. He quotes a Hebrew philosopher to the effect that the soul, when detached from the body, has finer perceptions than when awake. This is in accordance with Aristotle who said that the soul can discover hidden things when detached from the senses, when it is pure. Ibn Ezra asserts that his Hebrew authority maintains that one may compose verses in sleep, and he gives examples of his own.
Ibn Ezra believed that nightmares have some idea behind them, that an interpreter of dreams whose reason is superior to that of the dreamer can discover the idea, for dream interpretation is the science of hidden things communicated by God. The poet also composes verses in dreams, often because he does this in waking life, for many people carry on in their dreams the occupations of their daily life. We all recall that we read in our dreams, especially if we are lovers of reading. We do in our dreams what we would like to do.
The Aristotelian medieval Hebrew philosophers, Isaac Israeli, Abraham Ibn Daud, Moses Maimomides, and Levi ben Gerson also developed the idea of the connection of prophecy with dreams.[183:A]
We know to-day that the poet creates a congenial surrounding for himself out of his imagination. He is repelled by the sordidness of his environment or the suffering he has had in life. He writes a poem like _Epipsychidion_, to build himself a home where he has ideal love, because he is not satisfied with his married life. He writes a prose poem like _Dream Children_ where he sees himself wedded to his lost love, with their children about him, because he is a bachelor who has neither love nor children.
Poetry, like dreams, creates a state where unfulfilled unconscious wishes are gratified. Poetry is the voice then of the unconscious. The poem is usually a product of the day-dream, which is related to the dream of sleep, for both species of dreams reveal the unconscious. Poetry shows conflicts and makes adjustments to reality. Poetry is aesthetic therapeutics.[184:A]
The dream poems of literature are so numerous that one is amazed that the theory of poetry as a dream has not been more prominently discussed by literary critics. In the middle ages many poems were cast in the form of dreams. The allegory was generally a dream. Who can doubt that the _Divine Comedy_ and _Pilgrim's Progress_, both in the form of dreams, were attempts by the poets to adjust themselves to reality, to purge themselves and relieve their unconscious?
Even those poets who are always hiding their souls and making inlays of verbal mosaic reveal themselves. Their dabbling with trifles is indicative of an inability or lack of courage to think and feel. They thus make a disclosure more marked than if they had sung their private thoughts openly.
Poetry is a psychological art rather than a plastic one. It deals with the soul. Horace's statement that if the poet would make the reader weep he must weep himself, is true. Yet we have often failed to recognize that poetry is a genuine personal cry of a man who dreams. We have confused poetry with prosody, instead of identifying it with the unconscious.
The poem with the social message, the problem play for example, or the novel with a purpose, also belongs to the literature of dreams. The poet sees foul infections infiltrating society; he has often himself been a victim of social abuses. He voices complaints about the unjust system and its tyrannical sway. He shows himself and others suffering in its coils. He dreams a vision of a more beautiful and just system of society where neither he nor others are consumed in vexation. He states ecstatically the ideas that come to him as he condemns; he entertains and expresses views whose adoption would enable man to reconstruct society on a better plan.
His intellect is colored by his inability to adjust himself socially. His dreams give him ideas. He does not have to become a reformer, but he recognizes social wrongs resulting from custom or stupidity or downright wickedness. Personal repression and dreaming produce not only love poems, but poems containing utopias of society, plans for improvement.
I have fully stated in my _The Erotic Motive in Literature_ the psychoanalytical view of poetry which regards it as the poet's creation of a world in accordance with his fancy to compensate himself for his repressions. Thus the poet relieves himself of emotions that were bursting within him and cures himself of incipient neurosis. I have shown that the view was not wholly originated by Freud, but stated by various English critics like Samuel Johnson, Hazlitt, Lamb and Kingsley. There are several other Englishmen who held the view, namely Shakespeare and Bacon. Havelock Ellis, however, was the first writer in England to develop the idea that artistic creation is a sublimation of sex repression. (See his essay on Casanova in _Affirmations_, published before Freud's book on dreams.)
Poets like Burns, Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Goethe and Ibsen have told us that they wrote to relieve themselves of their pent up passions. Further, Coleridge, Shelley, Emerson, Daudet, Holmes, Lowell, Poe and Hearn have left us written evidence of their belief that poetry emanates from the unconscious. It remained, however, for Freud to have the courage to identify the unconscious chiefly with sex repression and symbolic speech.
The first English poet who claimed to allow his unconscious self deliberately to dictate his poems, was James John Garth Wilkinson. Havelock Ellis has recently called attention to him. In his _Improvisations from the Spirit_ (1857) Wilkinson wrote down in rhymed verse the first impressions of a chosen theme. He depended chiefly on inspiration. His book was praised by Dante G. Rossetti, and forms the subject of an essay by the poet James Thomson, called "A Strange Book" in _Biographical and Critical Studies_. Emerson had also praised this physician, who was an authority on Blake and Swedenborg. Wilkinson claims to have written in what we would call the Freudian method of drawing on his unconscious. He considers reason and will secondary powers in the process. The poems resemble Blake's (even in their obscurity). Thomson rightly distinguishes Wilkinson from fraudulent spiritualists.
Wilkinson's poems, however, do not make good the claim to be absolutely unconscious art. If he had not told us that he improvised we would never have doubted that these poems were composed like all other poems, with some labor. We cannot believe that Wilkinson did not have to seek rhymes. He may have taken the first rhyme that came to his head but he had also to consider his metre. Again, no art dispenses altogether with the poet's use of artistic judgment, no matter how much an improvisation that art is. I do not believe that even Coleridge's famous _Kubla Khan_ was actually composed in a dream, but that it was merely suggested by a dream.[187:A] He fashioned the form consciously, that is the rhyme and metre. The substance of the poem is, however, always from the unconscious. Thomson considers Wilkinson's belief in the divine inspiration of his poem a delusion. Wilkinson's art is not utterly unconscious, for there is no uncensored idea therein, which is bound to be occasionally, in some dreams out of many, of the most virtuous man. This commendable feature shows Wilkinson exercised judgment, and this was a conscious artistic process.
Improvisation is one of the features that characterized Persian and Arabic poetry. It is easier there than in English because of the facility for rhyme in these languages, and because the improvisers usually composed in rhymed prose and were not hampered by metre. The test of the great poet often was his ability to compose a poem on the spur of the moment. Seemingly fabulous, yet apparently true stories of improvisation feats by Arabic poets are numerous. When they improvised in different metres, the Arabic poets in competition would compose alternately verse by verse as a rule. Sometimes the poet would improvise a short poem on the basis of any opening verse given to him. We remember the story of Harun al Rashid who recited a line to Abu Nuwas who composed a poem for him. The _Arabian Nights_ is full of improvised poems. Arabic critics always dealt with improvisation as a feature of verse making, and this is an argument to those who maintain that Arabic poetry was conscious art and artificial. It was the ecstasy that unconsciously incited the poet to utter his inner thought.
I would like, however, to make special reference to two Englishmen, John Keble and E. S. Dallas, both now very little read, who left critical works expounding poetry from a psychoanalytic point of view. Keble was Professor of Poetry at Oxford, and the author of a most widely read Christian poem. He delivered lectures on poetry in the eighteen-thirties, in Latin. These were published in 1844 under the title of _De Poeticae vi Medica_. They were translated into English for the first time a few years ago. They have been praised by Cardinal Newman, Justice Coleridge, Gladstone and Saintsbury. Dean Church called them the most original and memorable lectures on poetry that had ever been delivered at Oxford.
Keble defined poetry as "a kind of medicine divinely bestowed upon man, which gives healing relief to secret mental emotions, and yet without detriment to modest reserve, and yet, while giving scope to enthusiasm, rules it with order and due control." He traces the origin of poetry to the desire for personal relief of pent up emotions in the individual and argues that this is the natural conclusion from his definition. He divided poets into two classes--primary and secondary. In the first class he put those who, moved by impulse, resort to composition for relief and solace of a hindered or overwrought mind. In the second class he put imitators of the first and all others. He had been meditating over these views for some time, and they also appear in some of the essays which were collected after his death under the title of _Occasional Papers and Reviews_. In fact, in one of these essays he used the Freudian word "repression," in referring to the creation of poetry.
Keble's views are so sound and clear that one marvels they were not taken up before Freud. It is true one will find much that is obsolete in his lectures; one will be amused by his Toryism, his over-emphasis on the religious side of poetry, his academic and classic standards. He however recognized that poetry was a sublimation of the poet's surcharged emotions and that the poet healed himself, therapeutically treating himself by writing. He was really developing at length Aristotle's famous definition of tragedy as purging the audience of pity and fear. Aristotle was referring however to the aesthetic purgation of the feelings of the audience; Keble, like Freud later, had in mind the poet's relief to himself. Poetry ministers however to the overburdened mind both of the poet and the reader. Both are relieved in finding expression for ideas and emotions that are troubling them.
It was no doubt Keble's religious nature that made him perceive this important fact. He noted that the psalmists in the Bible sang to relieve themselves of their griefs and he saw that prayer had a psychoanalytic effect on people. Poetry is then the emotional expression of an overcharged heart. But this does not necessarily mean overcharged with grief. For it expresses people who are overflowing with joy or any emotion. It covers what Nietzsche called ecstasy, and especially the ecstasy of love or sexual excitement. It covers the desire for beauty which, as Nietzsche again saw, possessed a sexual contagion in it. The happy poet in love desires to give vent to his emotions by some form of expression, whether his love is satisfied or not. And those who seek the origin of poetry in religion must remember the close affiliations that anthropologists have found between love and religion.
Keble perceived that the greatness of poetry lay in its genuineness and seriousness, and that it was not merely a metrical plaything. He perceived that it revealed the poet himself and that its mission was high.
One must also admire his broadmindedness in treating Lucretius, whom, in spite of his atheistic views, Keble places among the primary poets. The modern reader might resent the placing of Sophocles and Theocritus among the secondary poets; nor does every personal poet belong to the primary class, for minor poets are often personal. Poets must, to be in the first class, voice a very compelling emotion based on a very profound idea. Burns and Heine, Shelley and Byron, Goethe and Ibsen, Balzac and Tolstoy are primary poets, not only because they are personal but because they are intellectual.
Keble anticipated the greatest of modern theories about the nature of art, poetry and literature. He saw that art was not play, as Schiller and Spenser believed, but an expression necessary to relieve both poet and reader. Its origin is not in play but in the desire to heal oneself and create a reality out of a dream. Poetry is an attempt to unburden oneself and adjust oneself to reality, which it does by complaint or by building a dream castle.
But its sources are always repressions of emotions, which in many cases have become unconscious. The best exposition of the imagination from this point of view is by E. S. Dallas, who published _The Gay Science_, in two volumes, in 1866. He was a successful book reviewer and had also written a book on _Poetics_, which David Masson reviewed. In chapters in his greater book, on "The Imagination," "The Hidden Soul," "The Play of Thought" and "The Secrecy of Art," he anticipated many of the modern discoveries of art in connection with the unconscious. He saw that man leads a hidden inner life of which he is unaware and that this life appears in his art. You will find more on the nature of imagination and poetry in Dallas's book than in many of the works on taste that have survived. He carried Keble's ideas to much further conclusions and saw that man unburdens not only his conscious emotions, but even those of which he is unconscious.
Dallas's four chapters at the end of his first volume form one of the most striking contributions to the nature of poetry and imagination that have ever been penned in English. He finds imagination but another name for the automatic action of the mind or any of its faculties. It is unconscious memory, its logic is the logic of the hidden soul, it is passion that works out of sight. Imagination is the unconscious. It suggests not only the power of figuring to ourselves the shows of sense, but also that of imagery or the comparison of shows. It does not differ from reason, but shows the process of reason working automatically. It is play of thought, it is hidden soul. It combines sensibility to images, wandering of the mind, and finding of comparisons. Its function is not different from reason, memory or feeling, but its peculiarity is that its work is done in secret automatically or unconsciously. Imagination not only builds images, but it creates types, it utters ideas, it speaks a natural language, it voices emotions.
Even the old critic who separated verse poetry from prose literature as a distinct branch of writing was always suspicious that he was in error, for he knew both were the products of creative imagination. Of the ancients, it was only Aristotle who, defining poetry as imitation, saw that he must include prose that "imitated" in his definition of poetry. The thing that counted was the imitation or imagination in determining poetry and not metre.
As imagination creates the literature of ecstasy, the real subject of this book has been the function of the imagination, but as the term, like poetry, has been so much abused and misunderstood, the nature of them both is studied by using other terms, like "ecstasy" and the "unconscious."
I suppose that no word has been more used in connection with poetry than the word imagination. And probably no word has been more vaguely and diversely employed. Every one agrees that literature in general must be the function of the imagination. Many people when they speak of imagination really mean nothing more than the introduction of numerous figures of speech; others confuse it with the sportive play of the author with supernatural machinery in his work. To others imagination suggests something that is opposed to the convictions of the intellect and to the moral faculty. Even to-day many people do not know that Aristotle used the term "imitation" and Bacon the word "feigning" where we use the word "imagination." These older terms, in the course of evolution in meaning which words undergo, are used by us no longer to represent poetic creation, or imaginative work.
Every one quotes the famous lines of Shakespeare in the fifth act of the _Midsummer Night's Dream_, and many fail to see the exact meaning of the master who had a true conception of the function of his art. First he recognizes that the poet is "imagination all compact," and compares him to the lunatic and the lover. Next he uses the word frenzy in speaking of the poet's eye which rolls about and glances over the universe, showing that he had the conception of the ecstatic element in the poet's make-up and work. The poet gives shape to the forms of unknown things bodied forth by imagination, he gives a local habitation and a name to airy nothing. Shakespeare recognizes the fact that imagination is related to the dream when he says that one of the tricks of imagination is that if it apprehends a joy, it comprehends the bringer of that joy, that is, it builds a dream castle where that joy is realized. His use of the words "unknown things" in addition, as the substance of imagination, shows that he understood that the realm of the unconscious was the province of the imagination. Hazlitt and Lowell among modern critics correctly understood Shakespeare's meaning of imagination as identical with ecstasy.[193:A]
People to-day give vent to their emotions in prose conversation or in writing prose letters to friends or relatives. Here we have the process that led to the creation of poetry in earliest times. Poetry is the result of ecstasy, the outpouring of the imagination, the expression of the unconscious. If instead of having confused it with song and dancing the critics would have taken it in its real significance as excited speech, we would have had less misunderstanding about its nature. The lover of to-day who tells his emotions to his love, or confides them to a friend, the bereaved person who relates his grief at the death of a loved one and tells of the virtues of the departed, are rude poets expressing themselves in conversation in prose. When they take the pen in hand and write a letter or keep a diary, they become poets no less than the versifier who puts his feelings down in patterned speech.
The greatness of the letter or diary as a poem depends not only on the craftsmanship, but on the substance, on the vividness or beauty or power with which the emotion is depicted, on the degree of its capability of moving others, and on the depth of the ideas therein. Similarly, the person who is moved to prayer spontaneously by some religious experience or private passion and utters his words in a natural manner or reduces them to writing, is creating poetry. The writers to-day of letters and diaries in prose are going through the same mechanism as all the earliest poets. When they use patterns they are already becoming artificial and are imitating other verse writers and obeying rules that they studied.
We have long been familiar with the saying that every man is a poet, though he does not write what is known as poetry. There is no psychical difference between the average man and the great poet. They both are subject to emotions, have imagination, and both express their emotions in some manner. The only difference between the average man and the poet is that the poet takes the average man's speech, elaborates it, and puts it into shape so that it moves others.
Poetry is born in man's soul when his emotions are aroused, and no emotions are aroused unless they are expressed in some way. Hence Croce's view is correct that poetry is expression, if he means by expression emotional and imaginative expression. People have too long been under the impression that the poet was a different creature from the rest of mankind, subject to a livelier imagination, or intenser emotions. He is no different; on the contrary, there are many people who never wrote a line who are more emotional and imaginative than many poets. The process of the lover writing a letter involves the same imaginative function as of the poet penning a love poem. The prose expression of emotion is also poetry, but we have hitherto given the name "poetry" only to the verse literary composition.
There is great unanimity of opinion as to the connection of literary poetry in its origin with dance, music and song, an opinion that is wrong nevertheless. In fact, most phases of poetry neither have nor ever had anything in common with dancing or music or song.
Poetry such as we find in the great English verse or prose poets of the nineteenth century has little relation to dancing, music or singing. Take the Shakespearean plays, the tragedies of _Hamlet_ or _King Lear_, where we have philosophizing and descriptions of painful crises which are great poetry. A poet does not have to sing a great idea, nor dance to it, nor put it to music. Ibsen and Balzac are poets and yet they are far away from dancing, singing or music. Though most good singers are poets, one does not have to be a singer to be a poet. Then take great impassioned oratory or beautiful emotional word painting in prose or verse, or any idea bathed in feeling. They may all be poetry and need not be--in fact, by their nature, are not--related to dance, music and song.
An autobiographical verse poem like Wordsworth's _Prelude_, or a series of impassioned ideas like Lucretius's _Nature of Things_, or a novel in verse like _Aurora Leigh_ is not related to song, yet it is poetry in parts. (This does not mean that poetry is not the soul of music or dancing.)
There is nothing more amusing than to read the innumerable and contradictory theories about the origin of poetry. Many believe that the first poetry was pastoral poetry, since the shepherd's life was, after hunting, the first occupation appropriate and conducive to composing poetry. Scaliger, Fontenelle and Pope endorsed this view. Others believe that the original poetry was written to express man's religious emotions; his prayers and hymns to his gods are considered by many the first poetry. Again the communistic needs of the clans are supposed to have invited the poet to write. Celebration of tribal victories, praise of heroes, incitement to martial courage and revenge, the virtues of the clan, were supposed to be the first function of the poets. Epics and ballads are cited in proof of this. Again, satires and invectives are thought to be the first forms as they were used by the bards, who were also magicians and hurled them as potent forces against the enemy. Thomas Peacock believed eulogies constituted the first poetry of the human race. Then the proverb and parable have their devotees, as the first imaginative representation of the common thinking of the earliest people, and as the readiest to lend themselves to the use of verse patterns. One could go on naming various theories that have been advanced as to what kind of poetry is earliest; there is the poem which designates the awakening of a moral conscience; there is the mythical tale reciting the dream desires of the tribe; the song chanted at various labors and toilings of the common people; the chorus which served as an accompaniment to holiday celebrations and nature worship; the chanting of the first cantors or priests and the responses of the congregation; there are the ecstatic utterances of the earliest prophets, soothsayers and magicians; the admonitions of counselors and legislators; the personal grievances and complaints recited by those seeking redress before the assembly or chief; marriage hymns, love poems and elegies; all of these are separately cited as the original springs from which later poetry developed.
The critics assume that man was originally possessed of one emotion only, which he celebrated, or that only one feeling predominated to which he gave vent. Now, as a matter of fact, early man was subject to multifarious emotions just as we are to-day, and he voiced them all, in speech, later writing them down in prose and finally in some verse pattern. Some of these emotions were originally written down with rhythm and repetition. There really was no state when poetry first began, for the first spoken poetry is as early as human speech which has always been used to express emotions.
Written poetry is merely the mechanical transmission of spoken poetry. We cannot ignore the poetry of nations which has been handed down by tradition and never been reduced to writing.
The mental process of composing poetry to-day is no different from what it ever was. Different people express verbally the ranges of all the emotions and several individuals give us the written expression of these moods in good form, so as to evoke sympathy in the hearer or reader. It is true, in early times the religious and martial emotions were much expressed, but this does not prove that religious or warlike feelings alone gave rise to the art of poetry. Every emotion man felt gave rise to the art of poetry. Poetry is the expression of all the emotions and is born with speech and hence is universal expression and the most ancient art we possess.
Poetry is, however, so often the expression of a personal complaint, the expression of a repression, that we may say that its real origin to-day, and at all times, is the prose elegy. The person who pours out his griefs is psychologically the poet in action. Attempts have been made by Greek scholars to show that both the epic and the drama had their origin at public funerals where elegies were recited instead of at the Dionysian rites. This is very plausible. The pang of death was one of the causes that led to the creation of poetry, especially since early man was carried off too frequently by wars, plagues and wild animals. One should add that the pangs of the loss of one's mate, the grief resulting from being worsted in the battle for the female, were other contributing causes of the creation of poetry. In short, the origin of poetry was personal, and much ancient poetry dealt with a lament of some kind. This has been the characteristic of poetry ever since. Grief is the source of poetry. Note the number of wailing poems in Irish and Scotch literature where the death of a husband in war, or the loss of love, plays a part. Much Anglo-Saxon poetry is elegiac. The earliest poems from Egypt, China, Japan contain laments. Savage literature is full of them. The hymn is really a lament in the form of a plea. The dirge, the threnody, the elegy, these constitute the bulk of much poetry, ancient and modern. Burns's poems are chiefly dirges of some kind. The dirge is most human and appealing to us. Some of the most effective poetry in the Bible are the cries of David in the _Psalms_ and the dirges in _Lamentations_.
The modern elegy whether in prose or verse, whether it laments death or lost love, is the direct offspring of the earliest savage cry of grief. The savage wailed in public as the poet does. Our novelists still do unavoidably the same thing, often covertly. When Tolstoy wrote of the death of Levin's brother in _Anna Karenina_ or _Ivan Ilyitch_, he was actually bemoaning his own brother, whose death made a lasting impression upon him.
Gummere thinks that the early poetry of man was communal and that modern personal lyric poetry is a development from communal poetry. Surely Professor Gummere was aware that among the religious and communal poetry of the Anglo-Saxons, for instance, we have such a fine elegy as _The Wanderer_ and such a beautiful dream poem as _The Phœnix_. It is a great mistake to think that personal poetry is of modern growth, dating from Villon. It has been more developed in modern times. And then there is much of the personal element in this so-called communal poetry. The man who sang for his tribe in ancient times felt with his tribe, and hence was both communal and personal.
The research into the origins of poetry can be made in the soul of any writer to-day. The same psychological mechanisms that are at work in the composition of his poem were at work in the production of the most crude savage verbal outpourings. It is a personal repression leading to the utterance of a complaint or the building of a dream-world. Keble was one of the few critics who considered the personal complaint the chief origin of poetry.
Schopenhauer defined poetry as one of the arts whose mission was to reveal an idea in the Platonic sense, that is, the permanent essential forms of the world and all its phenomena; art to him was a way of looking at things independent of the principle of sufficient reason. In accordance with his philosophy he regards ideas as the objectivity of the thing in itself, the will. He looks upon the different grades of the objectivation of the will as fixed. The result is that he considers the peculiar end of all the fine arts "to elucidate the objectivation of will at the lowest grades of its visibility, in which it shows itself as the dumb unconscious tendency of the mass in accordance with laws, and yet already reveals a breach of the unity of will with itself in a conflict between gravity and rigidity," while tragedy "presents to us at the highest grades of the objectivation of will this very conflict with itself in terrible magnitude and distinctness." (_World as Will and Idea_, V. 1, p. 330.)
All this is saying in philosophical terms what we know has been the mission of art, the portrayal of man defeated in his blind and impotent desires. No one denies that poetry must and always will portray man in such circumstances. Freud has restated the problem when he showed that poets deal with their own repressions.
One cannot accept Schopenhauer's views that the aim of art is to annihilate the will to live. He failed to see that much of this tragic literature acts as a relief to us and makes us want to live all the more.
Dr. Arthur H. Fairchild deserves credit for assigning high importance to poetry when he says that it is a means of self-realization and is a biological necessity. In his _The Making of Poetry_ he expresses what is really the psychoanalytical theory which sees in poetry a means of freeing oneself of complexes, a way of restoring oneself to a better state of mind, a cure for incipient neurosis. When we are sad, the reading of sad poetry relieves us. As Emerson said, "Poetry is the effort of man to indemnify himself for the wrongs of his condition." The toiler reads of other toilers in literature, say in Zola's _Germinal_ or Hauptmann's _Weavers_, or Sinclair's _Jungle_, and his emotions are discharged. It is true he may be driven to action, but the poet has nothing to do with that. The lover, unhappy in his love, finds help in hearing a poet express his own surcharged feelings resulting from love troubles. The reader may by reading be prevented from going mad. The great public which does not read good literature finds relief in plays, moving pictures, magazine stories or newspapers, all of which, while it is not generally good poetry, may have the effect of a catharsis on the public's rudely developed aesthetic sense.
Mankind hungers for poetry. Those who are unable to appreciate it in higher form, resort to imitations and substitutes, which express their emotions and relieve them. He who can read and enjoy the great masters of prose and verse, or appreciate good music and painting, does not have to resort to the political meeting or religious revivals to have his emotions played on. Athletic contests like baseball, football and prize fights usually help people to express and relieve surcharged emotions. The love for cheap forms of movies and card games has its origin in a desire for emotional discharge. Man resorts to every measure to give his emotions play. He reads newspapers and trashy magazines, he likes to hear melodramas and ranting orators, often because he has a love for emotional excitement which he cannot satisfy by literature of the best kind. He cannot concentrate, he cannot think clearly, he is ignorant of the simplest principles of literary art; he cannot read poetry, yet he hungers for it. His dormant instincts will even seek satisfaction in condemnation and persecution to satisfy such emotions which he cannot express by reading.
The creation and reading of poetry in prose or verse is an achievement common to man alone of the animals. He is not separated from them by moral or intellectual faculties, for animals have these, but by his faculty to create art and make others share enjoyment of them. It may be that the spider and the bee derive aesthetic satisfaction from contemplating the web or the hive they build, or the bird gets artistic pleasure from the song it sings or hears, or any animal may win sympathy from another by some mute act, but man alone puts his emotions and ideas in words in an endurable work of art so as to relieve himself and move others. What separates man from animals is not then religion--is not the religion of a dog centered in his master as Anatole France has so quaintly shown--but the ability to create and enjoy poetry, by which I mean literature in its highest prose or verse form, music, painting and sculpture.
And a life devoted to poetry is the best life we can seek. Let a man have his necessities satisfied, and there is no higher form of life than to enjoy and if possible to create poetry. Poetry makes us want to live and gives us zest in life. Life exists for sensations and we get our sensations out of poetry. Life exists for the enjoyment and creation of poetry. The unlettered savage has his craving for poetry satisfied in his dancing, and war cries, in religion and tribal customs. The child has it satisfied in his toys and games. Adult man appeases his hunger for poetry in diverse ways. Literature, art and music are so far the highest forms of poetry we know, and in literature I include philosophy or thought, in prose as well as verse.
Poetry acts as a necessary relief to us for emotions and ideas that seek expression, and is hence more real than any other form of life.
Our views of poetry from a psychoanalytic point of view finds confirmation even in the Bible. One of the leading prophets and the leading psalmists has each told us in scorching words how he felt before he created. Jeremiah says of God, "His word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay," Ch. 20, v. 9. David also said, "My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue," Psalms, Ch. 39, v. 3. Both of these poets had made resolutions to keep silent, but could not; their choked emotions burned like fire. Their disturbed souls sought relief by expression. Thus the great prophecies and psalms had a subjective origin and a homeopathic effect upon their authors, and they have this effect on us to-day.
[180:A] _Zwei Abhandlungen uber d. Aristotleische Theorie d. Drama._
[182:A] This work has never been completely published. Dr. B. Halper, of Dropsie College, Philadelphia, has promised us a complete translation from the Arabic manuscript. There is a synopsis of it by Schreiner in the _Revue des Etudes, Juives XXI, XXII_.
[183:A] See Isaac Husik's _Medieval Jewish Philosophy_.
[184:A] F. C. Prescott's _Dreams and Poetry_ is a magnificent essay on the subject.
[187:A] I do not however agree with Bergson, who does not believe poetry can be composed in dreams at all.
[193:A] "Poetry is the most emphatical language that can be found for those creations of the mind 'which ecstasy is very cunning in.'" Hazlitt _On Poetry_. "The imaginative faculty (has) the capabilities of ecstasy and possession." Lowell, "The Imagination." _The Function of the Poet._
LOVE ECSTASY IN ARABIAN POETRY
Oriental poetry, especially that of the Arabs and the Persians, is notable for its interpenetration with ecstasy couched in intricate conventional forms. The Oriental poems abound numerously in far-fetched figures of speech, and are written in metres following definite laws and are subject to difficult and uniform rhymes continued in every line in poems of great length. In fact the greatest historian of the Mohammedans, Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), defined poetry as effective discourse based on metaphor and descriptions, divided into verses agreeing with one another in metre and rhyme, each verse having a separate idea, and the whole conforming to old Arab models. A poet was supposed to get many thousands of verses by heart before practicing his art. One of the chapters in Ibn Khaldun's famous _Prolegomena_[203:A] or introduction to his history, _Book of Examples_, has a title stating that the art of composing is concerned with words and not ideas.
But in spite of slavish adherence to technique it was taken for granted that ecstasy was the main object of poetry. There is probably more ecstasy in the poetry of the Arabs and Persians than in that of most other nations, and it is an ecstasy that breaks through the molds of form. It is a matter of astonishment that the artificial forms did not utterly choke out the ecstasy. Professor Edgar G. Browne in his scholarly _Literary History of Persia_ has devoted the first chapter of the second volume to Persian metres and he calls attention to the conventional metaphors, bombast and inflation of the Arabic poets who were not without influence upon the Persians.
We today may accept the definition of poetry given in the _Four Discourses_[204:A] (1162) of Nidhami I Arudi, for though he also believed in the importance of the trappings of verse, he had ecstasy primarily in mind. He defined poetry thus:
Poetry is that art whereby the poet arranges imaginary propositions, and adopts the deductions, with the result that he can make a little thing appear great and a great thing small, or cause good to appear in the garb of evil and evil in the garb of good. By acting on the imagination, he excites the faculties of anger and concupiscence in such a way that by his suggestion men's temperaments become affected with exaltation or depression; whereby he conduces to the accomplishment of great things in the order of the world.
What more effective definition could there be of the utilitarian power of art to take man out of himself and exalt him into a state of beneficial ecstasy?
Ibn Khaldun said:
Poetry is, of all the forms of discourses, that which the Arabs regarded as the noblest; they also made it the depository of their knowledge and their history, the testimony which would attest their virtues and faults, the store-house in which were found the greater part of their scientific views and their maxims of wisdom. The poetic faculty was as much deeply rooted in them as in all the other faculties they possessed.
He continues, that they have handled poetry so well, that one could deceive oneself and believe that this gift, which is really an acquired art, was with them an innate one.
These remarkable words of Ibn Khaldun will help us to understand the famous saying that poetry was the register of the Arabs. Never before nor since has poetry been so interwoven with a nation's life. The stories of the competitions for prizes for composing poetry, of the happiness when a poet was born, of the importance assumed by the discussion and recitation of poetry among all classes, read to us like myths. Yet the fact that poetry should be part of the life of a passionate people who lived in the desert, free and untrammeled, is not strange. The Arabs themselves attribute also their great superiority in poetry to the beauty of their language, especially as spoken by the Bedouins in the desert. The great Arabian poet Abu Nuwas completed his education by sojourning a year among the Bedouins.
Another factor enhancing their poetry and one not to be ignored is that after 622 A.D. in post-Islamic times, poetry was rewarded by gifts. Hence the eulogy grew into prominence and the poets were fabulously rewarded for their poems. This, of course, led to fulsome and cringing eulogies. The caliph was the patron. When Mohammed appeared it seemed that poetry would die out, but it flourished more than ever. It was only after the Abbasid caliphate was exterminated by the Mongol invasion (1258 A.D.) that poetry declined in Arabia to such an extent that, as Ibn Khaldun says, no prominent man would deign to devote himself to it.
Although the Arabs excelled in various kinds of poetry, we think of them primarily as love poets.
The Arabs, as we gather from _The Arabian Nights_, were a people especially devoted to tenderness in love. When the Arab was smitten with love he was a helpless weeping child. There was one tribe, that of Azra, wherein the victims were said to die of love. One poet said he knew of thirty young men whom love sickness carried off. In answer to a reproach for this weakness, one of the tribe replied: "You would not talk like that if you had seen the great black eyes of our women darting fire from beneath the veil of their long lashes, if you had seen them smile and their death gleaming between their brown lips." (Stendhal: _On Love_, p. 218.)
Arabic poetry in the period before Islam between 500 A.D. and 622 A.D. did not consist of pure eroticism. Satire, eulogy, elegy, revenge, martial feeling, chiefly characterized it. Many poems were also devoted to the praise of animals and the description of nature. The odes or Qasidas, however, began with a love prelude, called nasib, in which the poet dwelt on his love sorrows merely to win the hearts of his hearers to his chief theme. One of the best of these is that in the ode of Imru'ul Qays the first and greatest of the seven poets of the _Muallaqat_.
Pure erotic poetry appeared after Islam with the luxury that spread with the growth of wealth, but the nasib continued to be used, especially in eulogies. The poets still wrote like the Pre-islamic poets instead of celebrating Islam. The Umayyad Dynasty, which extended from 661 to 749 A.D., saw the birth of pure love poetry celebrated not as introductory or episodic but purely for itself. The love story of one of the Arabian erotic poets of the period, Majnun, was celebrated by the great Persian poet, Nidhami, who flourished in the twelfth century. His _Laila_ and _Majnun_ has been translated into English by Mr. Atkinson. The story was retold by many Persian and Ottoman poets. Then there was Jamil, who was the lover of Buthaina. These love poems by Majnun and Jamil were of popular origin, and represented the spirit of the people. There were many other love poets, while some did not devote themselves exclusively to love.
The most celebrated, however, of the love poets was the handsome wealthy Omar ibn Abi Rabia (643-719 A.D.). He was of the tribe of Koraish, the same tribe to which Mohammed himself belonged. This tribe was famous for many things, but not for poetry until Omar took away the reproach. His poems were called a crime against God, yet a cousin of the prophet memorized some of them. The fullest account of him in English and of his love affairs, with translations from a few of his poems, appears in an essay by William G. Palgrave in _Essays on Eastern Questions_. Omar was united in marriage to his love Zeynab after a stormy courtship, opposed by her people, but he had several love affairs. The best idea of the sweetness and pathos of his love poetry is conveyed without further comment by giving two translations made by Mr. Palgrave.
Ah for the throes of a heart sorely wounded! Ah for the eyes that have smit me with madness! Gently she moved in the calmness of beauty, Moved as the bough to the light breeze of morning. Dazzled my eyes as they gazed, till before me All was a mist and confusion of figures. Ne'er had I sought her, and ne'er had she sought me; Fated the love, and the hour, and the meeting. There I beheld her as she and her damsels Paced 'twixt the temple and outer enclosure; Damsels the fairest, the loveliest, the gentlest, Passing like slow-wending heifers at evening; Ever surrounding with courtly observance Her whom they honor, the peerless of women. Then to a handmaid, the youngest, she whispered, "Omar is near: let us mar his devotions. Cross on his path that he needs may observe us; Give him a signal, my sister, demurely." "Signals I gave, but he marked not or heeded," Answered the damsel, and hasted to meet me. Ah for that night by the vale of the sand-hills! Ah for the dawn when in silence we parted! He who the morn may awake to her kisses Drinks from the cup of the blessed in heaven.
Ah! where have they made my dwelling? Far, how far, from her, the loved one, Since they drove me lone and parted to the sad sea-shore of Aden. Thou art mid the distant mountains; and to each, the loved and lover, Nought is left but sad remembrance, and a share of aching sorrow. Hadst thou seen thy lover weeping by the sand-hills of the ocean, Thou hadst deemed him struck by madness: was it madness? was it love? I may forget all else, but never shall I forget her as she stood, As I stood, that hour of parting; heart to heart in speechless anguish; Then she turned her to Thoreyya, to her sister, sadly weeping; Coursed the tears down cheek and bosom, till her passion found an utterance; "Tell him, sister, tell him; yet be not as one that chides or murmurs, Why so long thy distant tarrying on the unlovely shores of Yemen? Is it sated ease detains thee, or the quest of wealth that lures thee? Tell me what the price they paid thee, that from Mecca bought thy absence?"
I give three other examples of Arabic love poetry by different translators, prose renderings by McGuckin de Slane in Ibn Khallikan's _Biographical Dictionary_ and by Terrick Hamilton in the _Romance of Antar_, respectively, and a verse translation by Lyall.
The following poem (Ibn Khallikan, V. 2, p. 330) is attributed to Ibn Alaamidi of the eleventh century:
Admire that passionate lover! he recalls to mind the well protected park and sighs aloud; he hears the call of love and stops bewildered. The nightingales awaken the trouble of his heart, and his pains, now redoubled, drive all prudence from his mind. An ardent passion excites his complaints; sadness moves him to tears; his old affections awake, but these were never dormant. His friends say that his fortitude has failed; but the very mountain of Yalamlan would groan, or sink oppressed, under such a weight of love. Think not that compulsion will lead him to forget her; willingly he accepted the burden of love; how then could he cast it off against his will?
--O Otba, faultless in thy charms! be indulgent, be kind, for thy lover's sickness has reached its height. By thee the willow of the hill was taught to wave its branches with grace, when thy form, robed in beauty, first appeared before it. Thou hast lent thy tender glances to the gazelles of the desert, and therefore the fairest object to be seen is the eye of the antelope. Sick with the pains of love, bereft of sleep and confounded, I should never have outlived my nights, unless revived by the appearance of thy favor, deceitful as it was. These four shall witness the sincerity of my attachment: tears, melancholy, a mind deranged, and care, my constant visitor; could Yazbul feel this last; it would become like as--Suha. Some reproach me for loving thee, but I am not to be reclaimed; others bid me forbear, but I heed them not. They tell thee that I desire thee for thy beauty; how very strange! and where is the beauty which is not an object of desire? For thee I am the most loving of lovers; none, I know, are like me (_in sincerity_) or like thee in beauty.
The next poem represents one of the many outbursts of Antar:
O bird of the tamarisk! thou hast rendered my sorrows more poignant, thou hast redoubled my griefs. O bird of the tamarisk! if thou invokest an absent friend for whom thou art mourning, even then, O bird, is thy affliction like the distress I also feel? Augment my sorrows and my lamentations; aid me to weep till thou seest wonders from the discharge of my eyelids. Weep, too, from the excesses that I endure. Fear not--only guard the trees from the breath of my burning sighs. Quit me not till I die of love, the victim of passion of absence, and separation. Fly, perhaps in the Hijaz thou mayest see some one riding from Aalij to Nomani, wandering with a damsel, she traversing wilds, and drowned in tears, anxious for her native land. May God inspire thee, O dove! when thou truly sees her loaded camels. Announce my death. Say, thou hast left him stretched on the earth, and that his tears are exhausted, but that he weeps in blood. Should the breeze ask thee whence thou art, say, he is deprived of his heart and stupefied; he is in a strange land, weeping for our departure, for the God of heaven has struck him with affliction on account of his beloved; he is lying down like a tender bird, that vultures and eagles have bereft of its young, that grieves in unceasing plaints whilst its offspring are scattered over the plain and the desert!
This poem by an unknown author is tenderness unexcelled:
Nay, ask on the sandy hill the ben-tree with spreading boughs that stands mid her sisters, if I greeted thy dwelling-place; And whether their shade looked down upon me at eventide as there in my grief I stood, and that for my portion chose: And whether, at dawn still there, mine eyelids a burthen bore of tears falling one by one, as pearls from a broken string. Yea, men long and yearn for Spring, the gladsome: but as for me--my longing and Spring art thou, my yearning to gain thy grace; And men dread the deadly Drought that slays them: but as for me--my Drought is to know thee gone, my life but a barren land! And sooth, if I suffer when thou greet'st me with words unkind, yet somewhat of joy it brings thou thinkest on me at all. So take thy delight that I stand serving with aching heart and eyes bathed in tears lest thou shouldst sunder thyself from me.
Arabic poetry may lack the light of intellectual outlook that we find in our greatest English poets; it may be deficient in the intensity of religious fervor characteristic of the medieval Hebrew poets; it may fall short of the high mystic strain attained by the Persians, but in the fervor depicting love of passion they have not been surpassed. The greatest Persian lyric love poet, Hafiz, and the greatest Turkish lyric love poet, Baqui, clearly were under their influence.
Arabic poetry then is probably richer in love ecstasy than that of any nation. This is due to the fact that they are both a sensuous and at the same time deeply religious people. They were strongly emotional, extremely vindictive and extremely hospitable. They recorded their emotions unabashed. They had the naïveté of the child and cried out their slightest pain; they weep and bemoan constantly. Antar, one of the poets of the _Muallaqat_ and the hero of the romance bearing his name, is more of a child than Achilles. He is always sobbing and weeping copiously; he is the prototype of the medieval knight who wept and declaimed because of absence of his mistress, a feature of romance which Cervantes ably ridiculed in _Don Quixote_.
Thomas Warton, the historian of English poetry, was one of the first to point out the Arabic influence on chivalry and romanticism. The battle as to the extent of Arabic influence has been waged ever since, with, I believe, the victory to the Arabs. FitzMaurice Kelly, the historian of Spanish Literature, emphasizing the Hebrew influence, has resented the statement of the great Arabic influence, but Robert Briffault in _The Making of Humanity_ has proved that this influence has been underestimated rather than exaggerated.
The fact that there existed in Pre-islamic times equal morality for both sexes--women also were freer than in Post-islamic times--gave rise to romantic love.
Arabic literature made the love or erotic note in its tender or chivalrous phase, fashionable. True, this note existed very sparingly among the Greeks and Romans in Sappho and Catullus, but the romantic note was singularly absent from European literature in the early medieval ages. Men loved then as they did before and after, but the personal romantic love note was not considered a proper theme for poetry. The religious and martial emotions held sway. Critics now admit that intense love poetry of the Troubadours appearing like an oasis in the barren literature of the medieval ages was influenced by the Arabs, the rhymes as well as the themes being taken from the east. The troubadours influence the German Minnesingers, and these two groups remain among the best composers of love poetry Europe has had.
The troubadours also entered England, influencing its poetry for nearly two centuries.[214:A]
The love element in the books of chivalry is due to Arabic influence. Cervantes attributed his _Don Quixote_ to a Moorish author because the Moors wrote so many romances. Early Italian poetry owed much to the love poetry of Sicily which was impregnated with the Arabic spirit. Wyatt and Surrey, who traveled in Italy, greatly influenced English literature. Thus Arabic poetry somewhat influenced English poetry. Similarly the Spanish _Cid_ shows traces in marked degree of the Arabic invasion of Spain. No one has more enthusiastically and effectively pointed out the Arabic influences in European poetry than Sismondi in his history of the literature of the South of Europe. He begins the work with, after the introduction, a chapter on Arabic literature, and he especially recognizes that the tenderness of the love sentiment and the chivalric attitude towards women came from the Arabs. The most sympathetic and exhaustive account of the great influence of Mohammedan influence upon Europe is in Samuel P. Scott's _History of the Moorish Empire in Spain_.
It is said that even the French poem, the _Chanson de Roland_, shows Arabic traces since the Arab invasion had reached into France.
We recognize that there is an invisible thread that binds together love poems so remotely separated by time and place as those of the medieval Persians, Arabs and Troubadours, and the modern English poets.
The Arabic note of ecstasy is found even in the poems of Goethe, especially in a few in his _West Eastern Divan_, influenced by his studies of Oriental literature during the Napoleonic wars. He used his own experiences with eastern names, but he never failed to produce literature of ecstasy. The Oriental romance also exerted an influence on Beckford, Landor, Southey, Byron and Moore. Even Tennyson got the idea of _Locksley Hall_ from reading Sir William Jones's prose translation of the _Muallaqat_; Browning adopted an Arabian metre in his _Abt Vogler_; George Meredith's _The Shaving of Shagpat_ was written to emulate the _Arabian Nights_.
The Arabs excelled also in the elegy. Among the most famous elegies in Arabic poetry are those of Khansa, a Pre-islamic poetess, on the murder of her two brothers. There is an account of her by Thomas C. Chenery, in the notes to his translation of Hariri's _Assemblies_ V. 1, pp. 387-391. In fact the elegy is more common among early Pre-islamic poetry than the love poem. The Orientals, particularly the medieval Hebrews, were always distinguished in this kind of poetry. One of the best, certainly the best in Turkish poetry, is the elegy by Baqui on the great Sultan Suleiman I, translated by E. J. W. Gibb in _Ottoman Poetry_.
The Arabian love poems and elegies are proofs that poetry was originally, as to-day, a personal cry, an outburst of emotion due to repression. The cry of grief for the dead in battle; that is the note in all early literature, Occidental and Oriental.
The poem among the Arabs and Hebrews had also a definite utilitarian purpose. In early times satire was one of the chief forms under which lyric poetry appeared. The poet was employed to combat the enemy and his curses against them were supposed to be effective. He was a soothsayer, a prophet, a magician. He voiced not only the communistic feeling of the tribes, but his personal emotions. Even down to our day the public demands that the poet write poems against the enemy in time of war. Goethe was criticized for refusing to write against the French, for example, but he explained later to Eckermann that he had no hatred towards the French. In all wars there have been poets who have written against the enemy, but usually this kind of poetry has been of an inferior order. It finds its own tomb in a poem like the famous _Hymn of Hate_ by Lissauer in the late world war.
Nothing in literature illustrates more the belief in the magical power of poetry than the chapters in the _Book of Numbers_ dealing with the effort of the Moabite King Balak to get Balaam to curse the children of Israel. Balak believed that these curses would help him defeat the Hebrews. But instead Balaam blessed them, unwillingly, saying that he could but utter the words God put in his mouth, for the inspiration of the poet came to him always from hidden forces. He reached to ecstasy every time he spoke.
Arabic poetry then deals in intricate forms conveying ecstasy, with all the stock themes of poetry, but especially with love.
The similarities between Biblical Hebrew poetry and Pre-islamic Arabic poetry have been touched upon by Dr. George A. Smith in his _The Early Poetry of Israel_ and by Thomas Chenery in his excellent introduction to his translation of Hariri's _Assemblies_. Participators in various military events themselves composed the poems in which they told of their exploits, as you may note by comparing the _Muallaqat_ with the songs of Miriam and Deborah. There was the same interest in nature as you may see by comparing descriptions from the _Psalms_ and _Job_ to that of the thunderstorm by Imru'ul Qays in the _Muallaqat_. The poetry of both nations was often nomadic, the product of the influences of the desert. Both nations recorded personal emotions, springing from tribal events.
There was also the same tendency in both nations to utter ecstatically sententious and moral sayings. Though only one poem in the _Muallaqat_, that by Zuhayr, really moralizes, the later Arabic poets always loved to give vent to reflections, proverbs, words of wisdom. Two of the best Arabic poems of the kind are the improvisations of the vagabond Abu Zayd in the 11th and 50th Assembly of Hariri's _Assemblies_. Two finer poems which moralize without losing their poetic quality can scarcely be found in Arabic literature. Most of the reflective poetry of those two pessimistic, skeptic poets Abu l'Atahiya and Abu 'l Ala al Maarri are of this kind. The ecstatic potentiality in reflection is seen in _Job_, _Proverbs_ and _Ecclesiastes_.
The chief phase of Pre-islamic poetry that will not appeal to us is in the great body of martial verse where love of robbery and bloodshed, cruelty, revenge and hatred are fostered. The Bedouins gave us a transcript of their life. They dwelt in their vices with frankness, but they tried to make virtues out of them. We cannot blame them for not having our ideals of peace and it is also doubtful if cruelties in their warfare were greater than those in our own day.
The poets before Islam sang about revenge and fighting in a way that even nauseates us. The martial spirit in the _Romance of Antar_ has made it less popular with us than _The Arabian Nights_, for the former work is an account of the fighting Arabs of the desert, and the latter deals largely with the merchant Arabs of the city. Even the great and beautiful _Song of Vengeance_ by the Arab Robin Hood, Ta abbata Sharran, of which we have a second hand translation by Goethe, and fine verse versions by R. A. Nicholson, _Literary History of the Arabs_ (pp. 98-100), and by Charles J. Lyall on pages 48-49 of _Arabic Poetry_, is very cruel.
Pre-islamic poetry reeks too much with the ecstasy of delight to shed blood, in which tendency it of course differs little from the early poetry of other nations. However, the remarkable thing is that the hearts of these warriors possessed so many fine feelings. One of the noblest descriptions of woman is by a companion of the brigand Sharran, from the _Mufaddaliyyat_, a translation of which appears on pages 81-82 of Lyall's volume.
The Arabian poetry which has been most frequently translated and written about in English is Pre-islamic poetry. In especial, the _Muallaqat_, or the seven so-called suspended poems, has been translated several times. Sir William Jones made the first translation in prose in the eighteenth century. In modern times we have had several translations, one by Wilfrid Blunt and his wife. There has been considerable support for the critical view that these poems represent the highest achievement of Arabic poetry, both among Arabs themselves and Aryan critics. Imru'ul Qays, who flourished in the sixth century A.D., is the most famous of the poets in the collection, and is regarded by many as the greatest Arabian poet. R. A. Nicholson and Clement Huart have given accounts of the _Muallaqat_ in their histories of Arabic Literature. Professor Mackail has published in his Oxford Lectures an essay on these odes and D. Nöldeke has given us a full study of them in the _Encyclopedia Britannica_. I shall not therefore dwell on them except to say that they were collected in the eighth century by Hammad, and that most of these poems deal with warriors rather than lovers, though they contain love laments.
Nicholson and others regard the Abbasid period as the great era of Arabic poets. This period extended from the accession of Saffah in 749 to the destruction of Bagdad by the Mongols in 1258. Abu Nuwas, Abu 'l Atahiya, Mutanabbi and Abu 'l Ala al Maarri are recognized by Nicholson as the Gods of Arabian poetry, and we in our smug inordinate satisfaction with Aryan poetry, have not even translated or paid attention to them. Abu Nuwas, who flourished in the early part of the ninth century, sang of love and wine and led a riotous and immoral life, and is familiar to the reader of the _Arabian Nights_ as the jester of Harun al Rashid. His _Divan_ is to be found in German but not in English. Many consider him the greatest of the Arabian poets. Abu 'l Atahiya is a pessimist and philosophical poet thinker. He was imprisoned by Harun for having ceased writing love poetry because he was hopelessly in love with a slave girl. He described common emotions and used simple language instead of far-fetched conceits. Mutanabbi in the tenth century was the most famous of all the Arabian poets, but he is criticized by many for his rhetoric and ornament. He is the master of the grand style. Then we have in the next century the great Abu 'l Ala al Maarri, who has been called the predecessor of Omar Khayyam. Bauerlein and Rihani have translated some of his verses into English, and Bauerlein has also devoted a little volume to him in _The Wisdom of the East_ series. Abu 'l Ala is the most modern of the Arabian poets. He was a freethinker and a pessimist and his _Luzumiyyat_ reads like a work of one of our rational poets. It attacks all religion including Islam. His letters have been translated into English by Professor Margoliouth.[218:A]
I have already several times mentioned the most famous Arabic work next to the Koran, the _Maqamat_ or _Assemblies_, by Hariri (1054-1122). The tales have been called immoral, but Abu Zayd interests us as Gil Blas does. The work written in rhymed prose is most fascinating reading. There is a complete translation of this by T. Chenery and F. Steingass, 1867-1898.
The _Arabian Nights_ is the best known Arabic production to English speaking people and is full of poetry, not only in the interspersed verses, but in the stories themselves.
The _Romance of Antar_, from which I quoted a poem, is said to have been written by a poet and philologist in the reign of Harun al Rashid. The work is long and a few abridged volumes were translated into English by Terrick Hamilton in 1819 and 1820.
Then there is the great poet of Cordova, Ibn Zaydun of the eleventh century, whose love for the princess Wallada has made him celebrated. Here is a beautiful love poem translated by Nicholson, _Literary History of the Arabs_, pp. 425-426:
To-day my longing thoughts recall thee here; The landscape glitters, and the sky is clear. So feebly breathes the gentle zephyr's gale, In pity of my grief it seems to fail. The silvery fountains laugh, as from a girl's Fair throat a broken necklace sheds its pearls. Oh, 'tis a day like those of our sweet prime, When, stealing pleasure from indulgent Time, We played midst flowers of eye-bewitching hue, That bent their heads beneath the drops of dew. Alas, they see me now bereaved of sleep; They share my passion and with me they weep. Here in her sunny haunt the rose blooms bright, Adding new lustre to Aurora's light; And waked by morning beams, yet languid still, The rival lotus doth his perfume spill. All stirs in me the memory of that fire Which in my tortured breast will ne'er expire. Had death come ere we parted, it had been The best of all days in the world, I ween; And this poor heart, where thou art every thing, Would not be fluttering now on passion's wing. Ah, might the zephyr waft me tenderly, Worn out with anguish as I am, to thee! O treasure mine, if lover e'er possessed A treasure! O thou dearest, queenliest! Once, once, we paid the debt of love complete And ran an equal race with eager feet. How true, how blameless was the love I bore, Thou hast forgotten; but I still adore!
Nor have I sounded the depth of Arabian poetry. Their greatest mystic poet was Umar Ibn ul Farid, who flourished between 1181 and 1235, and whose work is full of fervid and inspired poetry.
There is also Baha ad Din Zuhayr (d. 1258 A.D.), the love poet of Egypt, whose complete poems have been translated into English by Edward H. Palmer.
One of the great products of Arabic culture was its work in literary criticism. While it is the fashion to-day to lay much stress on the Italian and English studies of Aristotle's _Poetics_ in the Renaissance and Elizabethan periods respectively, the Arabs were writing learnedly on poetry centuries before they read the _Poetics_. They made a specialty of the literature called the Adab, or belles lettres made up of criticism, quotation and rhetoric.
The criticism of poetry flourished among the Arabs in the ninth and tenth centuries A.D. as a higher art than it did in the sixteenth century among the Italians and English. Unfortunately none of these works have been translated; there is not even a reference to their influence in Saintsbury's _History of Criticism in Europe_. The Arabs had so many poets even in Pre-islamic times in the sixth century that interest in preserving this poetry gave rise later to anthologists who made collections. These anthologists commented on the poetical work and compared it with that of later periods, and with that of their contemporaries.
Ibn Yunus in the early part of the tenth century translated Aristotle's _Poetics_ into Arabic and the Europeans learned of Aristotle's work from the Arabs several centuries later. But the best Arabic works on the art of poetry had, however, already been produced, presenting original ideas gleaned from the study of the great Arabian poets, and illustrated by examples from them. The Arabic critics did not go to the Greek and Roman poems (which they considered cold besides their own) as did the Italians and English to study the nature of poetry. The Arabs studied Greek science, medicine, and philosophy, but not Greek poetry. Books on prosody and poetry appeared after the founding of the system of Arabic meters by Khalil b. Ahmad in the eighth century. There were also the two celebrated schools of grammarians at Basra and Kufa, soon to merge in the school of Bagdad. Never before had the art of poetry and criticism flourished so thrivingly and displayed a so generally high order as among the Arabs in the ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth centuries. A faint idea of the great number of Arabian grammarians, critics and poets may be gleaned by perusing the biographical dictionary of Ibn Khallikan, who flourished in the thirteenth century. This work, which contains only a partial list, has been compared to the _Life of Johnson_, by Boswell (Lucas called him a Bagdad Boswell), and to _Plutarch's Lives_.
While Europe was plunged in ignorance and barbarism, the great Arab poets and critics were achieving work that belongs to the best; but alas, the very names which rank so high among them are unknown to most people. We let them slumber in the difficult Arabic. We translate the Chinese and Japanese poems probably more out of faddish reasons than of a true love of their poetry, but we ignore the Arabians.
The Arab example contradicts the famous platitude that great epochs of creative literary work are not ages of literary criticism. It is just the reverse. Good criticism is never so conspicuous as in ages of poetry, for there is such interest in poetry as to provoke literary discussion, then more so than ever. The best criticism of poetry appeared in England in the great age of Wordsworth and Byron. The Arabic grammarians and anthologists began their work about the middle of the eighth century. Incredible stories are told of their feats of memory for verse, in the art of improvisation, in skill in manipulating the language. They regarded the letters of their alphabet as human beings, just as the Hebrew Cabbalists treated their alphabetical letters as angels.
To name even the most important of grammarians, anthologists, philologists, critics of Arabia, is to call a long list. Even historians, philosophers, scientists and theologians entered the field of poetic criticism. Every one quoted the poets, consequently poetry was bound up not only with criticism but with Arabic thought. One of the most quoted Arabic critics is Ibn Rashiq, of the eleventh century, whose _Umda_ or _Pillar of the Art of Poetry_ is mentioned often by Ibn Khaldun, the historian. The latter also names four great Arabic writers of Adab, Ibn Qutayba's _Accomplishments of the Secretary_ (Ibn Qutayba's _Book of Poetry and Poets_ is more often cited by other writers than the _Accomplishments of the Secretary_), Jahiz's _Book of Eloquence and Exposition_, al Mubarrad's _Perfect_, all of the ninth century, and in Spain Abu Ali al Qali's _Curious Notions_, of the tenth century, whose _Book of Dictations_, however, is better known.
Among the writers on poetry in the manner of the Arabs was the Hebrew poet and critic, Moses Ibn Ezra, author of the _Conversations and Recollections_, which was the first study of the kind in Hebrew and the first criticism of the poetry of the Bible from an aesthetic point of view. Among Arab critics to whom he is indebted, besides the aforementioned Ibn Qutayba and Ibn Rashiq, are the first book in Arabian _Poetics_ proper, by the Caliph, Ibn ul Mutazz, of the latter part of the ninth century, a work by Qudama, and _Ornaments of Conversation_, by Al Hatimi, both of the tenth century.
There are many other works that were well known and often cited in Arabic literary circles. I shall name only Tha'alibi (died 1037), whose _Solitaire of Time_ had many continuations by later critics, and the famous _Fihrist_ or _Index_ by the Bookseller, Ibn Ishaq (tenth century), one of the sections of which deal with poetry.
Ibn Khaldun, the historian, and a contemporary of Chaucer in the thirteenth century, devoted a number of chapters to poetry in the introduction to his famous history.
As a specimen of poetic criticism among the Arabs and as a corrective to the general impression that ornament and not ecstasy counted in Arabic poetry, I give the following English rendering from De Slane's French translation of Khaldun's _Prolegomena_:
One of the conditions imposed in the use of this art (of ornament) is that the embellishments appear in the piece quite naturally, without the author's labor in searching for them and without his being anxious about the effect that they should produce. If they present themselves naturally, there is nothing to object to them, for not being purposely introduced, they save the subject the fault of lapsing into barbarism; but when one imposes upon himself the task of painfully seeking these embellishments, he is led to neglect the principles which rule the combination of words, which are the foundation of the discourse; this injures the principles of clearness of expression and causes the distinctness and precision which ought to characterize the discourse, to disappear; nothing then remains but the embellishments. . . . Another condition which should be observed in regard to the science of ornaments is to make a rare use of it; that the poet apply it to two or three verses of a poem; that will suffice to give elegance and luster to the entire piece. The too frequent use of embellishments is a fault, as Ibn Rashiq and others have said. . . . All that we pointed out shows that the artificial discourse (or style), when one writes it laboriously and as a task, is inferior in merit to the natural discourse, for one neglects thereby too many fundamental principles of the art of speaking well. I leave it to good taste to judge thereof.
The Arabs then regarded poetry as ecstatic utterances emanating from the unconscious, embodying an idea, and produced with little ornament. This despite their belief that poetry must use the established forms of metre and figures. It is unfortunate that even to the present day these old forms are used, while Turkish literature has only very recently been emancipated from them. Even Arabian political articles are to-day written in rhymed prose. But as Chenery said, the history of rhymed prose is the history of Arabic literature. Rhyme is natural to the Arabic language, whereas it is really foreign to the English language.
If European civilization could free itself from the prejudices against Semitic and Asiatic culture, and if the universities, instead of studying minutely the barren medieval literature of Europe before the Renaissance, would give fuller courses in the poetry of the Arabs, Hebrews, Persians and Turks, the exchange would be salutary. The only Asiatic literature that Europe made an attempt to study was that of the Hindus, and, as has been suspected by many, this may have been done chiefly out of Aryan vanity, to show that the earliest culture was not Semitic but Aryan, and thus related to European culture. But the fact remains that the poetry of these four nations mentioned is far superior to that of medieval Europe. The two nations who were not Semitic, the Persians and the Ottoman Turks, are almost wholly imbued with the Semitic spirit. Persian poetry grew out of Arabic poetry, just as Ottoman poetry developed from Persian poetry. There is nothing of the Tartar spirit at all in Ottoman poetry, as Gibb has pointed out.
That poetry is subjective, lyric, ecstatic, is best seen in Oriental poetry. It will repay the lover of literature to read such works as Browne's _Literary History of Persia_, Gibb's _History of Ottoman Poetry_, and Nicholson's _Literary History of the Arabs_. As for Post-biblical poetry of the Hebrews, so rich in patriotic and moral fervor, and in hymns and elegies, there are articles in the _Jewish Encyclopedia_, chapters in Graetz's _History of the Jews_ and works on various phases of it by numerous writers.
To the Oriental, poetry is ecstasy first and last, and this is all the more remarkable since their poetry is so much more ornate, artificial, figurative, and patterned than European poetry. It is sensuous, passionate but not "simple." Its chief inferiority to European poetry, however, springs from its lack in intellectual profundity, and its severance (except in the Prophets of the Bible) from problems of social justice.
[203:A] There is a French translation of the _Prolegomena_ by Mac Guckin de Slane.
[204:A] Translated by Prof. Browne in the _Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society_, 1899.
[214:A] See W. H. Schofield's _English Literature from the Roman Conquest to Chaucer_, pp. 67-71.
[218:A] The best account and translations of Abu 'l Ala are in Nicholson's _Studies in Islamic Poetry_, recently published.
I have not tried to present a theory of poetry, so much as to point out certain features of a particular kind of writing which I have called the literature of ecstasy. It has developed that I really used the word ecstasy in the same sense that the other critics have employed the terms unconscious, imagination, poetry. I think I have shown that the literature of ecstasy even when in prose is synonymous with poetry as understood by Shakespeare when he used "frenzy" and "things unknown" in reference to the poet. I have also, I hope, pointed out that an ecstatic presentation of intellectual and moral ideas results often in a great poetic product.
I do not purpose to teach any one how to write poetry or the literature of ecstasy. If my views have any value, it lies in helping us recognize the literature of ecstasy. It is in aiding us to eliminate much trivial, flimsy, unecstatic free verse and regular verse from the sphere of poetry. It lies in inducing us to include much emotional prose as poetry. Since men, however, entertain so many diverse views on life, morals, and social justice, it can never be possible for critics to agree as to which literature of ecstasy is the best, for its value is affected by the question as to the truth of the ideals therein maintained. Every one thinks that he can determine what are the merits of a book. Those who have mastered the rules of prosody are certain that they can judge the qualities of poetry. But only those critics can recognize great poetry whose moral, intellectual and aesthetic faculties are well balanced. It is true that the master of rules of prosody can tell whether a verse poem follows the rules, he can perceive whether the rhymes are false, whether the rhythm is regular, even whether the figures are not far fetched and whether the diction is good; and a commonplace mind may recognize the ordinary literature of ecstasy. But the chief obstacle to recognizing poetry is that most people derive their views as to what poetry is from rules formulated from the writings of older poets. If the great poets of the world had never used a patterned form, there would have been no text books welding poetry and versification together. A great poet not only creates his own forms but displays individuality in the choice of views and ideas. When he becomes recognized, new rules are formulated from his work, and are even used as a fetter to bind later poets and critics.
Anthologists have often been of great value in choosing for us the literature of ecstasy as written by so-called minor and popular poets who have taken no position in the history of the world's literature. A poet, however, is not great because he has succeeded in producing a few pieces that belong truly to the literature of ecstasy. Nor does a poet who once held a high place in the list of poets and has subsequently lost it by the vicissitudes of taste or circumstances or by the change in ideas, cease being a poet to us if he has written poems that belong to the literature of ecstasy. No one, for example, to-day regards Jean Ingelow as a great poet, but the anthologists who select her _When Sparrows Build_ or _High Tide on the Coast of Lincolnshire_, justly accept these poems as poetry. It will astonish many people who will take the trouble to go through the work of some so-called minor poets, say Philip Bourke Marston, to find gems here and there that properly are part of the literature of ecstasy.
My theory, I hope, also helps us to determine when certain branches of literature are poetry and when they are not. For example, there has always been a dispute as to whether oratory, comedy and satire are really poetry. There have been critics who would not admit that these species of writing are properly poetry, even in verse; on the other hand, other critics have asserted that they are poetry.
When, if ever, is oratory poetry? Whenever ecstasy and not rhetoric characterizes it, when universal themes of permanent interest and not arguments on a temporal political or economic question are its substance, then oratory is poetry. A plea for adherence to the principles of a political party, a speech about an economic problem, is not as a rule poetry. But why are some of Moses's speeches and the orations of the prophets poetry? Why is Mark Antony's verse funeral oration on Cæsar, poetry? Surely not because of the verse? Why are some of Bossuet's funeral orations, or Thucydides's speech in prose, poetry? All of these orations belong to the domain of the literature of ecstasy, and hence are poetry.
Nevertheless, oratory is usually hollow and bombastic. The orator makes his appeal to men chiefly by rhetorical expression of commonplaces. Eloquence and artifice count here more than thought or art. The less intellect the audience has the better does the orator succeed. Hazlitt saw the limitations of oratory. It is the unthinking man who is appealed to by theatrical effects. The orator must be commonplace, he cannot deliver profound views. Some of the great orations of the world's literature that are poetry are those that were never really delivered but composed by the historians, like the emotional speeches in Thucydides and Tacitus. You can find poems in orations by Demosthenes and Cicero also, but Fourth of July orations are seldom poetry. Nor is the _Congressional Record_ an anthology of poetic masterpieces. In a footnote in his book in aesthetics, _The Critique of Judgment_, Kant has ably elucidated the situation.
I must admit that a beautiful poem has always given me a pure gratification; whilst the reading of the best discourse, whether of a Roman orator or of a modern parliamentary speaker or of a preacher, has always been mingled with an unpleasant feeling of disapprobation, of a treacherous art, which means to move me in important matters like machines to a judgment that must lose all weight for them on quiet reflection. Readiness and accuracy in speaking (which taken together constitute rhetoric) belong to beautiful art; but the art of the orator, the art of availing one's self of the weaknesses of men for one's own design (whether these be well meant or even actually good, does not matter) is worthy of no respect.
We must not confuse eloquence with poetry, though there are numerous prose pieces which though eloquent are yet poetry. Mere wordiness and grandiloquence may sound like ecstasy yet lack that quality.
What can be said for famous passages like Burke's sympathetic outburst for Marie Antoinette? I see no reason why we should not call this poetry, though it is not poetry of a high order. The objection to it is that the orator's emotion is misdirected; he wastes sympathy on a dead queen who was at the head of a pernicious system, and ignores the miseries of the thousands of poor Frenchmen. To that extent our appreciation of it is limited. For even though Burke was right when he lamented that the age of chivalry was gone, he did not state that the time of exploitation of man was over, and the question of exploitation is probably more important than that of chivalry.
There is affinity of oratory then to poetry, as it is calculated to arouse the emotions of the audience. But the political oration is usually not poetry, as it has a tendency to the ephemeral. No one will deny, however, that there is genuine prose poetry in orations by Demosthenes, Cicero, Burke, Webster and Sumner.
What is true of the oration, is also true of the sermon. Sermons like those of Jeremy Taylor and Sterne contain poetry; they have ecstasy.
There has also been considerable confusion as to how much poetry exists in witty and humorous writings and in comedy. In other words, the connection between poetry and tears is well established, but that between poetry and laughter is vague. We may say that most of the so-called humorous verse is not poetry at all, for the merely funny does not merit the term poetry. Yet there is poetry in the humorous writings of men like Mark Twain and O. Henry, on account of the ecstatic effect upon the reader. In reading them one occasionally feels impelled to tears, while moved to laughter. A mere witticism is not poetry, but it may have certain qualities, such as a bit of wisdom conveying ecstasy, which makes it poetry. The wit of Heine and Voltaire often belongs to this class. When laughter is bound up with a profound idea or emotion, the work expressing the laugh becomes poetry. However, laughter that springs from seeing horse-play or the mere ludicrous, is not poetry. But the portrayals of Sancho Panza, Falstaff and Parson Adams are poems.
Meredith has presented the case of the comic spirit better than any one else. He says: "The comic spirit is not hostile to the sweetest song fully poetic," and he shows how this spirit enters the work of Menander, Aristophanes, Chaucer, Terence, Rabelais, Shakespeare, Cervantes, the Restoration Comedians, Pope, Molière, Fielding, Smollett. These men were all poets; that is, they gave us poems here and there in their work. Meredith might have added Dickens's and his own work among comic works that contain poetry. The writers of comedy deal with feelings and emotions; most of them were men of intellect and deep feeling.
In a passage that is itself a poem, Meredith describes the Comic spirit, which he recognized as allied to poetry. And this in part is his delineation of it:
It has the sage's brows, and the sunny malice of the faun lurks at the corners of the half-closed lips drawn in an idle wariness of half tension. That slim feasting smile, shaped like the long-bow, was once a big round satyr's laugh, that flung up the brows like a fortress lifted by gunpowder. The laugh will come again, but it will be of the order of the smile, finely tempered, showing sunlight of the mind, mental richness rather than noisy enormity. Its common aspect is one of unsolicitous observation, as if surveying a full field and having leisure to dart on its chosen morsels, without any fluttering eagerness. Men's future upon earth does not attract it; their honesty and shapeliness in the present does; and wherever they wax out of proportion, overblown, affected, pretentious, bombastical, hypocritical, pedantic, fantastically delicate; whenever it sees them self-deceived or hoodwinked, given to run riot in idolatries, drifting into vanities, congregating in absurdities, planning shortsightedly, plotting dementedly; whenever they are at variance with their professions, and violate the unwritten but perceptible laws binding them in consideration one to another; whenever they offend sound reason, fair justice; are false in humility or mined with conceit, individually or in the bulk--the Spirit overhead will look humanely malign and cast an oblique light on them, followed by volleys of silvery laughter. That is the Comic Spirit.
Closely akin to the comic genius is that of satire. Again satire is not poetry, except when presenting ideas and evoking ecstasy. There used to be a distinct form of verse poetry called the satire, but there is often more or less satire in the works of novelists, prose dramatists and essayists. We have as remnants of great ancient satire, poems by Horace and Juvenal, tales by Apuleius and Petronius and the prose dialogues of Lucian.
The great masters of satire in modern times have done their work in prose and much of this is poetry. We think of Rabelais, Swift, Voltaire, Anatole France and Samuel Butler. There is plenty of poetry in the _Penguin Island_ and _Erewhon_, for example. Modern satire is prone to be more poetical than the ancient verse satire, being free from coarseness and insult, and abounding in ideas. Satire is not mere ranting and cursing, but a keen and amusing way of showing forth human follies. You find it in writers as different as Thackeray and Bernard Shaw. Some of the satire in Sinclair Lewis's novel _Main Street_ is excellent poetry.
The highest form of satire in all the prose writers is poetry, as much so as if put in the heroic couplets of Pope or the ottava rima of Byron's _Vision of Last Judgment_.
Satire is poetry when it is universal. Much of the old Arabic poetry was satire and yet genuine poetry. Pope's satires are poetry. Lafcadio Hearn has said a few words on the subject that deserve quoting:
It is not because the satires (of Pope) were true pictures or caricatures of any living person in particular, but because they were true pictures of general types of human weakness which have always existed, which exist to-day and which will exist to-morrow. (_Life and Literature_, p. 286.)
My theory of poetry as ecstasy also seeks to do away with the tendency of criticism to identify poetry with the figure of speech or trope. Even when it has lacked the quality which fills the reader with ecstasy, the trope has been called poetry just because it was a trope. Imagery has been confused with imagination, and many critics regard that as poetry which makes the most frequent use of unusual figures of speech. As a result, some of the figures of speech in poetry to-day are more artificial even than those found in Oriental poetry. But no one can take issue with the beautiful figures such as appear in the _Bible_ and in Dante, in Shelley and Keats, of which the essence is a beautiful flight of the imagination that fills us with ecstasy. But when freakish tropes take the place of poetry then we ought to rebel. We like the figure of speech introduced occasionally and naturally, and we don't want the figure substituted for ideas and emotions.
One critic even, Hudson Maxim, has written a book on _The Science of Poetry_, to identify poetry with the figure of speech. In spite of its eccentricities, and its attempt at creation of new terms like tro-tempotentry, the author recognizes that the critics confuse poetry with metre, and that a prose writer like Robert Ingersoll was a poet. Any one who had read Ingersoll's prose poems, and some of his orations like the one on _Liberty in Literature_, will recognize this. The mistake that Maxim makes is to call poetry defiantly a science, and then to define it as an art in which figures of speech count most. To create figures of speech is an art. Maxim's definition of poetry is "The expression of insensuous thought in sensuous terms by artistic trope." This definition covers much of ancient poetry, when man constantly used tropes or figures of speech. It is also true that a vast body of the world's poetry is full of tropes like metaphors and similes. In fact even our free verse is full of them. But the figure of speech is only one of the features that are often present in poetry, and we may and do have the best poetry without it. Its frequent use has become a nuisance; it often atones for lack of ideas, it is often a sign of insincerity in the poet, and it occasionally bespeaks a raving imagination. The day of tropes in poetry is, in spite of the Imagists, on the decline. You find none of them in prose plays and very few in prose fiction. The trope was an early adornment of poetry as rhythm was. It is not the essence of poetry, though it often beautifies poetry.
The critics do not accept the book of Maxim's as a true statement of the aims of poetry, but curiously enough they have always followed the views in his book. They have confused tropes, or figures of speech, or imagery with imagination. In the past the older critics fell into this error and when they spoke of imagination they were really expatiating on imagery.
One of the best English critics on poetry, Leigh Hunt, sinned in this direction. Like Wordsworth and Coleridge he made much of the distinction between imagination and fancy. Wordsworth arranged his poems in an edition of his works according to this distinction. Leigh Hunt got up an anthology called _Imagination and Fancy_, in which he italicized the imaginative and the fanciful passages, and to which he prefixed his famous essay on "What is Poetry?" Here he gave his definitions of and distinctions between imagination and fancy. Half the essay is devoted really to identifying them with figures of speech. The only difference between the two faculties was that fancy was a lighter play of the imagination, a distinction really utterly trivial. His work was needed at a time when the influence of Pope still ruled, and people could not appreciate the rich figures in Shelley and Keats. Pater called attention to the real distinction between imagination and fancy which is "between higher and lower degrees of intensity in the poet's perception of his work, and in his concentration of himself upon his work." For all purposes, however, fancy may be included under imagination. Imagery is not always imaginative, for many figures of speech have no ecstatic quality.
The English poets who were regarded as most gifted with the faculty of imagination under the old definition were Milton and Spenser, chiefly for their bold use of supernatural imagery. Homer and Dante were always noted for their beautiful and effective similes, and they were also the poets of the imagination _par excellence_. The confusion of imagery with imagination resulted in giving figures of speech a significance in determining the nature of poetry that it did not merit. Puttenham's book in the Elizabethan Age, _The Arte of English Poesie_, was half employed with ornament or various figures. Oriental poetry was especially figurative; all Oriental books on rhetoric deal extensively with figures of speech. In short it was taken for granted by all critics that poetry was imagery or figures of speech, because poetry was a product of the imagination, and imagination was confused with imagery. It is true that it is the function of the imagination to compare, but that does not mean that it is nothing more than metaphor or simile. The tropes were more natural to early man who personified inanimate things and always saw resemblances to draw from in nature. To-day the novelist or dramatist introduces his metaphor or simile occasionally or naturally, as an ornamental touch to convey his meaning better. Many modern versifiers identify poetry with ornament and figures, and it is impossible for them to write a poem without a succession of figures. The trope, like the rhythm, is supposed to be poetry. Hunt's essay defines poetry as imaginative passion in versification. He can conceive of no passion being poetry unless presented in metre with figures of speech. His essay is divided into two parts, the one dealing with imagination, or rather imagery, the other with versification. Great critic that he was, he gave us one of the weakest definitions of poetry we have.
Any one who has read _Tom Jones_ receives the impression that the long similes Fielding introduced in the Homeric manner were written half in jest of Homer, his master.
Yet the similes of the epic poets are poetry because they belong to the literature of ecstasy. If the trope arouses our emotions it is poetry not because it is an ornament but because it touches our unconscious souls. How many tropes do you find in the prose plays of Ibsen or the novels of Balzac? The ecstasy manages to get conveyed without their use. It was the writers of the Romantic School who made the figure of speech so prominent. These writers who sought that poetry become natural, did much to make it artificial. The reason that such great poets as Keats and Shelley are caviare to the public is that they are rich in tropes. The eighteenth century poets were said to be destitute of imagination chiefly because they did not make frequent use of the metaphor. The sport of critics was to make fun of the peculiar figures of earlier poets. We recall Johnson's dissecting (often with justice) of Cowley's poems. The eighteenth century was right in one respect; in their extreme unimaginativeness, they also avoided distorted imagery. Many nineteenth century poets made it a rule never to call a thing by its proper name, but by some epithet containing a metaphor. The practice is still persisted in by many of our poets, and epithet-making is one of the functions of many poets. Even prose writers like Carlyle were especially noted for it, but his epithets were often truly poetry.
I do not think that poetry then should be exclusively identified with tropes. Take a much-praised, in my opinion over-praised sonnet of Keats, _On Reading Chapman's Homer_. The whole idea of this poem is in the comparing his first discovery of Homer to the feelings of the man who discovers a new planet, and to those of the discoverer of the Pacific Ocean. (He confused Cortes with Balboa, but that is no matter.) Keats conveys to us his idea by two similes. But can this poem compare with such other sonnets of his where he lays bare his inmost emotions, where the figures of speech are not the poems as here, but merely come in incidentally; where he has a profound idea, emerging as the result of a great passion?
A trope then is poetry only when arousing ecstasy; such poetry is not of the highest order.
For many centuries also, that alone was considered imaginative literature which introduced the supernatural or the allegory. Every student is aware how much these two elements figure in medieval poetry. All recipes for writing poems in those days contained provisions about the use of the supernatural and allegory. It did not dawn on critics that these could be dispensed with in a great poetical work. Cervantes laughed away the use of the supernatural, while the eighteenth century realistic novel did away with the use of allegory as a means of telling a story. Nothing better than Poe's remarks has been said against the allegory as a form of literary expression. Yet the artificial supernatural agents of Ariosto and the bloodless types in the _Faerie Queene_ were held to be the truest creations of imagination. The vicious practices of great geniuses, often due to the examples of their age, are instrumental in creating misunderstanding as to what poetry is, on account of the inability of critics to praise them for their real beauties. Often the passages that have been praised in Homer, Dante, Virgil, Milton, Spenser, Ariosto, are not the ones where the ecstasy was finest, but those where the "imaginative" powers of the poet were thought to be the best seen, in the supernatural and allegorical portions. Yet who can doubt that the greatness of Milton is more apparent when he talks of his blindness than when he gives us the description of Lucifer with the many artificial figures? Who prefers the absurd descriptions of the monsters in Dante's _Inferno_ to the passages where he touches on his own sorrows?
Another misapprehension about the nature of poetry lies in identifying poetry with beauty. Poetry does not necessarily deal with the conception of beauty as understood by the public or by the aestheticians, though the describing of beautiful objects and scenes is often one of its most important themes. Poetry is very little connected with the science of aesthetics, for you may know all about the nature and laws of beauty, the effect of beauty upon the nature of man, the cause of his love for beauty, and yet you may not be able to make a great poem. Croce is as much mistaken as the old aestheticians when he assumes one must study the science of aesthetics to appreciate poetry.
Pater dealt a death blow to the theory that aesthetic, or the science of abstract beauty, helps us to appreciate poetry. The critic who judges a poem need know nothing about abstract beauty, or theories of aesthetic emotion. There is little of value to be given us by the aesthetic treatises to appreciate a play of Shakespeare or Ibsen or a novel of Balzac or Dickens. Even poets like Goethe, Schiller and Lessing became absorbed in aesthetical problems, but their novels, poems and plays were written by putting out of mind metaphysical disquisitions. How are you enabled to appreciate a poem by knowing Kant's erroneous theory that the appreciation of beauty is impersonal and disinterested?
Pater in his _Renaissance_ took the position that poetry has a personal message for us, an effect on us individually. We cannot learn this effect by following metaphysical discourses on the relation of beauty to truth or experience. In his _Appreciations_ in the essay on "Style" Pater identifies beauty with expression, just as Croce did after him, and Lessing and Winckelmann before him. "All beauty," wrote Pater, "is in the long run only _fullness_ of truth, or what we call expression, the finer accommodation of speech to that vision within." Here we have Croce's conception of beauty, the word defined as it is being understood to-day. It is in this sense only, the sense of the most adequate expression of emotion, that the word beauty is the same as poetry, or literature of ecstasy.
Formerly treatises were written about curved lines, elegant diction, etc., on the theory that beauty was the subject of art. But a peasant's description in slang of his emotions, an author's description of a corpse that is rotting, or of a woman giving birth to a child, or of a man going mad, or of a hideous degenerate crime, are also beautiful, for since expression is beauty, the narration or description of the ugly is a work of art. The word beauty in its popular sense no longer has aesthetic significance. Even when it was really believed that art dealt with beautiful objects and deeds, the aesthetician had to admit that there was nothing beautiful in tragedies. Nor does beauty mean elegant expression. Many stories and poems in slang and dialect belong to the literature of beauty. The expression of emotions, the delineation of ideas, the drawing of characters is beauty, if effectively done. The reader need not have what the old aestheticians called "taste"; he must only respond sympathetically to the ecstasy of the author.
I have made no attempt to set confines to poetry, for no two people will ever agree as to whether a literary performance has sufficient ecstasy or whether the ecstasy is of a high strain to entitle it to be called poetry, but I believe all will agree that ecstasy is necessary.
I believe, however, that many authoritative works and essays on Poetry, from Aristotle to our own day, are obsolete. I shall mention only Watts-Dunton's article on Poetry in the _Encyclopedia Britannica_ which has furnished modern critics with many of their ideas. The article is beyond question one of the most interesting produced in England in many years. Watts-Dunton has a true conception of poetry when he calls it the product of inspiration or concrete and artistic expression of the human mind in emotional language. He believes, however, versification is necessary to all poetry. He also makes too much of the divisions of poetry into the various orders, like epic, lyric, drama, an artificial division adopted by all critics from Aristotle. Watts-Dunton's divisions of poets into those with an absolute or personal vision and those with a relative vision, is arbitrary and confused. All poets are personal, and even when they depict other people's emotions objectively, the product is personal because touched with the creator's personality. He is also too much under the influence of Hegel's _Aesthetics_.
Watts-Dunton could not understand the value of impassioned prose or its right to be called poetry. He once said to William Michael Rossetti that the latter's reputation as a critic would soon vanish because of his admiration for Whitman, whom he himself detested. He is blamed with having done much to quench the poetic fire of Swinburne's muse, for whose changed attitude towards Whitman he also was responsible. He had no sympathy with the poetry that had a social message and he did not understand its effect as a catharsis. Watts-Dunton cannot remain our leading authority on poetry. His essay belongs to the extinct class of _Ars Poetica_, with Boileau and Opitz.
Ecstasy is then the substance of poetry, and there are all kinds of ecstasy, from a very exalted to a primitive order. It includes the scientist's or philosopher's passion for knowledge, the idealist's devotion to a cause. It comprehends the warrior's madness for battle, the patriot's ardor to die for his country, and man's submission to his God. Ecstasy holds in its sway the man who is moved by reading a great work of art. It sweeps every one who is in the throes of ambition. Those who enjoy nature, athletics, and games are in the throes of ecstasy. Those who are bemoaning the death of one they love, or rejoicing in the emergence of dear ones from illness or danger, those who take pride in watching their children grow up, those who exult in the pleasure of friendship, are all in ecstasy.
Every one who builds dreams and sees visions of better things, every one who fulminates against ugliness and wrong, is possessed by ecstasy. Are you in a state of rapture because your love is returned, or in one of despair, because it is denied?--you are in ecstasy. Are you brooding over a sense of wrong or injustice, are you moved by the spectacle of grief?--you are in ecstasy. Ecstasy is intoxication, in a good and in a bad sense. The origin of the drinking-song was due to the pleasant emotions and dreams which the indulgence in alcohol aroused.
The mystic who thinks he is in personal communion with God, the lunatic who thinks demons are prodding him, the spiritualist who imagines he talks to his dead son, the child who is in communication with animals and supernatural creatures, are all victims of some form of ecstasy.
It is the great poet who knows which is a high order of ecstasy to choose, what attitude to take towards it and in what words and form to convey it.
The people do like poetry and read it, but are unaware of the fact. For the great bulk of the poetry read by the people is the prose fiction that they find exciting and stimulating. This fiction is usually of a very low order. Nevertheless good poetry is to be found in the simple and emotional prose of the world, in the dramatic situations in novels, in the best passages of short stories. Prose poetry is the most democratic and natural poetry, at least in form, and you can rely on the public to appreciate some of it.
The poetry in Dickens is democratic poetry. The drawing of such characters as the elder Pegotty and Joe Gargery, wherein he shows the noble virtues residing in common people, is poetry that the public can appreciate.
Poetry cannot, however, always be democratic, for when it deals with ideas beyond the people, such as you find in Nietzsche and Ibsen, it does not succeed in evoking the intended response and sympathy from the public, which rejects such ideas.
So when we hear people say that they do not care for poetry we see that they mean they have an aversion to verse in metre or rhyme or rhythm. But they will weep as they read of the death of Little Nell and be moved by the sorrows of Anna Karenina, and be stirred by the tragedy of _Tess of the D'Urbervilles_. Like the gentleman in Molière's play who spoke prose all his life without knowing it, these readers are fond of poetry without being aware of the fact. Every lover of good literature appreciates poetry though he reads no verse. He is touched by the ecstasy which tinctures all emotional or beautiful prose literature. Here the poetic is divested of metaphors and rhythm and trappings and verbal tricks; here it is not hidden by obscurity or spoiled by affectation.
You love poetry if you are touched by the lines in Burke's _Letter to a Noble Lord_, where the great orator, desolate because of the loss of his son and embittered by criticism for accepting a pension, bares the state of his soul.
The storm has gone over me, and I lie like one of those old oaks which the late hurricane has scattered upon me. I am stripped of all my honors, I am torn up by the roots, and lie prostrate on the earth. . . . I am alone. I have none to meet my enemies in the gate. Indeed, my Lord, I greatly deceive myself if in this hard season I would give a peck of refuse wheat for all that is called fame and honor in the world. . . . I live in an inverted order. They who ought to have succeeded me are gone before me. They who should have been to me as posterity are in the place of ancestors.
You are hearing Heine the poet when he describes in his _Confessions_ his feelings as he lay on his mattress grave, no less than when you peruse his love woes in verse.
What does it avail me that at banquets my health is pledged in the choicest wines and drunk from golden goblets, when I, myself, severed from all that makes life pleasant may only wet my lips with an insipid emotion? What does it avail me that enthusiastic youths and maidens crown my marble bust with laurel wreaths, if meanwhile the shriveled fingers of an aged nurse press a blister of Spanish flies behind the ears of my actual body. What does it avail me that all the roses of Shiraz so tenderly glow and bloom for me? Alas! Shiraz is two thousand miles away from the Rue d'Amsterdam, where, in the dreary solitude of my sick-room, I have nothing to smell, unless it be the perfume of warmed napkins.
When you read Hardy's _Return of the Native_ and reach the part where Yeobright reproaches his wife Eustacia for causing the death of his mother by closing the door on her so as not to be detected with a lover, you are in the midst of poetry.
Call her to mind--think of her--what goodness there was in her: it showed in every line of her face! . . . O! couldn't you see what was best for you, but you must bring a curse upon me, and agony and death upon her, by doing that cruel deed! . . . Eustacia, didn't any tender thought of your own mother lead you to think of being gentle to mine at such a time of weariness? Did not one grain of pity _enter_ your heart as she turned away?
If you are awakened by the beauty and profundity of the following passage from Lafcadio Hearn's "Of Moon-Desire," from the volume _Exotics and Retrospectives_, you delight in poetry.
And meantime those old savage sympathies with savage nature that spring from the deepest sources of our being . . . would seem destined to sublime at last into forms of cosmical emotion expanding and responding to infinitude.
Have you never thought about those immemorial feelings? Have you never, when looking at some great burning, found yourself exulting without remorse in the triumph and glory of fire?--never unconsciously coveted the crumbling, splitting, iron-wrenching, granite-cracking force of its imponderable touch?--never delighted in the furious and terrible splendor of its phantasmagories,--the ravening and bickering of its dragons,--the monstrosity of its archings,--the ghostly soaring and flapping of its spires? Have you never, with a hill-wind pealing in your ears, longed to ride that wind like a ghost,--to scream around the peaks with it,--to sweep the face of the world with it? Or, watching the lifting, the gathering, the muttering rush and thunder-burst of breakers, have you felt no impulse kindered to the giant motion,--no longing to leap with that wild tossing, and to join in that mighty shout?
I should like to go on quoting passages from other books to show the reader that if he likes them he is emphatically a lover of poetry. I might have given one of the great prose poems in Nietzsche's _Thus Spake Zarathustra_ or a grand descriptive passage from Flaubert's novel _Salammbo_. I might have presented for the edification of the "hater" of poetry the renowned description of the Mona Lisa by Pater in his essay on Leonardo da Vinci in _The Renaissance_. I could have added Carlyle's reflections of Teufelsdroch in his tower, from _Sartor Resartus_, Heine's portrayal of Paginini at the violin in _The Florentine Nights_, George Brandes's apostrophe to Hamlet as a symbol of ourselves in his book on _Shakespeare_, Dickens' description of the tower in _Chimes_, or Balzac's eulogy on the scientist as a poet in the _Wild Ass's Skin_.
That is poetry whether in verse or prose, where any profound idea is ecstatically or passionately stated. That is poetry where man gives utterance to any sorrow or desolation, or where he shouts out his gladness because he finds life good and nature beautiful; when he talks of the pains or thrills of love; when he shows compassion for the miseries of his fellow-men. You find poetry wherever man is depicted in a spirit of self-sacrifice for an idea or a person he loves; or where he is shown pursuing an ideal or ambition. Heroism is poetry; philanthropy is poetry; self-development is poetry. Pictures of striking scenes; portrayals of interesting events; conflicts between duties; delineations of tragic situations; tolerance for human frailties; anger at injustice, admonition for follies, chidings or outbursts against stupidity; cries of helplessness; all of these in artistic form become poems. Accounts of cruelty, barbarism, madness, horror, wicked deeds or abnormal or supernormal conduct, if well described become poetical, for poetry need not point a conventional moral. Hence villainy, immorality, crime, may be so artistically pictured that our emotions are worked upon and though our moral sense is shocked we are held spellbound in witnessing these malign forces in nature.
I plead then that ecstasy, and not rhythm, should characterize much of our literature; and I seek to show that poetry is not a department of literature but a spirit that permeates the best writing even in prose. Our entire attitude in estimating what is poetry will be changed, for the world's emotional prose literature will be taken into its domain. And the importance of rhythm in making verse will be a thing of the past and genuine emotion will receive its right name.
I also hope that a higher valuation will be given to literature which shows an interest in the working classes and seeks social justice. I do not, however, assert that the literature of pure rational propaganda would become poetry, or that the writings of men who attach themselves to certain political or economical theories would be great by virtue of the adherence to a particular theory. But there is a tendency to decry a writer when he shows an interest in social problems and tells the world that something is rotten in Denmark.
There are occasionally great literary products that are to be found often in radical and obscure papers that belong to the literature of the ecstasy of social justice. These would have never been accepted by the academic or capitalistic bourgeois press, any more than would some of the older prophecies have been accepted had they been submitted as unrequested contributions to our magazine editors. Many of those compositions depend for literary value on universal feeling, and make no appeal to party feeling or economical theory, and they can be appreciated by people who seek poetry.
The reader will observe then that not all species of ecstasy belong to the high order of literature. But the skill of the artist may elevate the lower order of ecstasy to that of a higher plane, and the amateurishness of the author may deflect what might be poetry of a higher degree to that of a commonplace order. Stories of adventure, abounding in false sentiment, misleading examples and unreal situations, are hardly poetry or good literature of ecstasy. But Stevenson transmutes such a tale into excellent poetry in _Treasure Island_. Those who have read the pathological outbursts of religio-maniacs, rife in outworn dogma, and seething with morbid emotions, will not maintain that such productions are poetry of a high order, though the ecstatic element is present in marked degree. Yet a St. Augustine occasionally makes good poetry out of such material.
In general, that is not great poetry or literature of ecstasy which appeals to the rude primitive emotions. When the purpose of a literary work is to wean us from finer feelings, to make us sympathize with cruelty, to paralyze the sympathetic emotions within us, and to kill all feelings rooted in love, pity, service, justice and kindness, it is not of a great order of poetry. Those works in whole or part that fan the martial spirit within us, and take hold of us as with an hypnotic sway of the hand, and make us seek to murder our fellow men, and to arouse the lust for blood in us, cannot be great works. No literature that is heartless or brutal, or confuses an appeal to the murderous instincts with real love of country, or love of liberty, with self-sacrifice for justice or loved ones, can be valuable to us either practically or aesthetically. No literature that reeks with blood, and fosters unreasonable revenge, or depicts sympathetically shameful victories, or crowns with the garland of a hero the mere warrior who is a warrior for the pure delight of killing, is really of the higher type of literature of ecstasy. It is this martial phase that makes most of the early literature of all nations valuable only in parts; in those parts where the more beautiful and human phases of life are dealt with, and where the more genial emotions are crystallized. So many theories of poetry are futile, because they are based on studies primarily of the epic poems of the nations, and it is these epic poems that mingle the most impoverished and base poetry with that of a fine quality.
Nor is that great poetry or literature of ecstasy of a high order which is purely tribal or clannish in feeling; nor when chauvinistic and full of hatred for all other peoples. This does not mean that poetry must not smack of the soil, and that it cannot preserve a sane patriotic and national feeling, and worship a culture inherent in a people. But when the ecstasy descends to the kind which kills individualism under the pretense of encouraging it, when it is hostile to the stranger and the original thinker, when it fosters the primitive anti-social instincts as regards all outside of a clan, it becomes inhuman and pernicious.
Nor is that great poetry or literature of ecstasy of a high order which in its mystic quality eludes all compromises with reason, and borders on absurdity or is pathological. When poetry seeks salvation in apparent madness, and attaches itself to faith in the impossible, and sees distorted visions, and creates a maniac's world of unquestionably inverted order of hell-fire and brimstone, and makes outrageous and unjust demands on human nature it is of a low order. Nor is an unwarranted asceticism in poetry calculated to raise its tone.
It is vain to enumerate the various ecstasies of a low order, that of the literature which upholds different forms of wrong, as well as that which is too much attached to the commonplace, nor is it necessary to show that that poetry is not of a high order whose author goes into ecstasies about nuances, indulges in inappropriate imagery, piles up trite ideas in flowery diction, or gives continual iteration to the least important of commonplace emotions.
What then is literature of a high order? What is this great form of art that takes us out of ourselves because it has in it so much of ourselves? What is this magical arrangement of words enshrining what ideas and emotions that gives us a zest for life, that makes us drunk with aesthetic pleasure? It includes many species, all, as Milton would say, in a "strain of a higher mood." One of its greatest manifestations is that in which the ecstasy for social justice and a high form of idealism control the poet. We become carried away with his frenzy, for it evokes the highest emotions in us; an undeviating and never swerving enthusiasm for spreading right and happiness is an elevated form of ecstasy. The grief of the oppressed and the poor goes to our own hearts, and the calamities of the woe-begone become our own. We submerge our personality in that of the human race, and the griefs of strangers lure us to cry out for them.
But it should be remembered that literature never thus becomes a weapon for reform or a piece of didacticism or propaganda. The emotion is the thing. The practical work of relief of suffering is the function of the reformer and not the poet. It is the poet's duty only to make a certain form of ecstasy contagious. Practical results will follow as a matter of course.
And then there is the ecstasy that revolves around a profound philosophic insight, when the poet rids himself of prejudiced and barren thinking and looks at the universe with awe and goes into rhapsodies about its workings. And it takes a high order of intellect to sympathize with the literature of ecstasy of this kind, that pierces into the soul of the universe. The advanced ideas of the greatest poets are, however, often such as only a few people have intellect enough to perceive, or are such as can be grasped only when man throws aside all his prejudices. And here the great philosopher, mathematician and scientist come to the aid of the poet, who emotionalizes their greatest discoveries. For reason must go hand in hand with ecstasy.
There is the ecstasy where men are shown in the helpless grasp of great passions, and are in despair because of events beyond their control. Such passions include grief of all kinds, whether brought about by death or wrong or one's own folly. The depicting of great passion belongs to the grand order of the literature of ecstasy even when the poet makes no attempt to moralize from or sympathize with it. Crime and wickedness may be masterfully described with no ethical intent, for we are interested in the grand spectacle of a man whom the Gods have made mad, for madness is potential in all of us.
There is the ecstasy of the lover in his rapture for his mistress, and in his transformed nature. We are moved by the delicacy of his sentiment, his chivalry, his sacrifice, we are overcome by his sorrows and his misfortunes. There is the ecstasy of the love of nature where the majesty of this universe is set out in its glory. There is the ecstasy of the lover of beauty for its own sake, and of the artist in the pursuit of his work, and of the reader and of him who listens to music, of him who sees artistic pictures. There is the ecstasy of the scientist in his pursuit of truth, and of the inventor in transforming the face of the globe.
We cry out for ecstasy; it is the substance of our lives; even though, often in our pursuit of pleasant ecstasy, we are launched into tragedy. We are hungry for a happy life of the emotions. It is this which makes lovers and friends and parents of us. It is this which makes us poets, and it is the poet in ourselves that we always hunt out.
I hope our study has helped us to distinguish the higher from the lower forms of ecstasy, to find poetry in prose, and to differentiate poetry from verse, wherein there is no ecstasy but various conventions, like inversion, poetic diction, rhyme, metre, figures of speech, parallelisms, technique, and all forms of rhythm and repeats. That much of the best of the world's poetry has made abundant use of these mechanisms has led the critics to confuse poetry with its conventions. But the ecstasy was forgotten, and the emotional and intellectual value of the poem was overlooked. It was thought because the masters subscribed slavishly to the conventions that they became poets because of them, whereas they were poets first and last because of the ecstasy, sometimes with the aid of the conventions and sometimes despite them. That these mechanisms will always be used in some degree is certain, but the most natural poetry will be that which uses them moderately, irregularly and only when the emotions and the ideas naturally clothe themselves in them.
Poetry and prose then are not contradictory, but prose becomes poetry when the element of ecstasy is present. We use the word prosaic in a sense, it is true, which means destitute of imagination or emotion; we even call verse of this kind prosaic. But a work in prose may be poetical, and one in verse be prosaic, and science, philosophy and morality become poetry, though in the form of prose, when bathed in the spirit of ecstasy. And the highest form of poetry is that wherein the ecstasy springs from our nature's most human and most admirable side.
After having learned that poetry is more natural without metre or a pattern, that it may be in prose with or without rhythm, that it may have a social message, that it is the product of the unconscious, that it is related to dreams in being an imaginary fulfilled wish of the poet, that it acts as a relief to the writer and the reader, that it is always personal and lyric, that it is synonymous with expression in the poet's mind, that its chief characteristic is passion, imagination or ecstasy, that its qualities are often enhanced rather than destroyed by the presence of intellect or morality, that it is an emotional spirit holding literature in suffusion instead of being a branch of literature, we shall find that most of the old definitions of poetry exclude a great deal of the world's best poetry, and include much that is not poetry.
INDEX OF AUTHORS
Abu Ali al Qali, 222
Abu 'l Ala al Maarri, 216, 217
Abu 'l Atahiya, 216, 218
Abu Nuwas, 205
Abu Zayd, 215
Ælfric, 108, 114
Æschylus, 15, 27, 160
Al Ghazzali, 34, 35
Al Hatimi, 223
Aldington, Richard, 122
Ambros, Wilhelm A., 52
Antar, 209, 211, 219
Ari Frodi, 110
Ariosto, 111, 238
Aristotle, 15, 29, 42, 96, 136, 169, 179, 180, 191, 220
Arnold, Matthew, 23, 49, 64, 118, 126, 129
Bacon, Francis, 48, 53, 79, 135
Baha Ad Din Zuhayr, 220
Balzac, 49, 53, 57, 58, 59, 72, 87, 154, 165, 181, 190, 236, 245
Baqui, 211, 214
Baudelaire, Charles, 18, 89, 126, 138, 153
Beaconsfield, Lord, 49, 88, 89
Benavente, Jacinto, 71
Bergson, 30, 136
Bernays, Jacob, 180
Blake, William, 18, 44, 73, 118, 167, 186
Bosanquet, 180, 181
Bossuet, 87, 228
Bradley, A. C., 126
Brandes, George, 72, 92, 131, 141, 142, 167, 245
Breasted, James H., 99
Briffault, Robert, 212
Browne, Edgar G., 203, 204, 225
Browne, Sir Thomas, 88
Browning, Elizabeth B., 53, 61
Browning, Robert, 18, 61, 86, 124, 134, 213
Bryant, W. C., 50
Buchanan, Robert, 143
Bunyan, John, 20, 88
Burke, Edmund, 49, 121, 229, 230
Burns, Robert, 31, 69, 128, 154, 173, 185, 190, 198
Butcher, S. H., 24, 42, 160
Byron Lord, 18, 31, 61, 72, 86, 125, 154, 167, 173, 185, 190, 213, 222
Carlyle, Thomas, 53, 72, 134, 137, 148, 168, 169, 171
Carpenter, Edward, 118
Castelvetro, 43, 179
Cervantes, 87, 154, 167, 211
Chateaubriand, 49, 58, 87
Chaucer, Geoffrey, 172
Chekhov, Anton, 71, 122
Cicero, 87, 89, 120, 229, 230
Coleridge, S. T., 12, 47, 48, 49, 77, 78, 121, 173, 186, 234
Conrad, 57, 71, 116
Cowper, William, 134
Crane, Stephen, 118
Croce, 15, 28, 81, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150, 239
Crosby, Ernest, 118
Dallas, E. S., 187, 191
Dalman, G., 102
Dante, 13, 47, 133, 141, 167, 233, 238
Daudet, Alphonse, 186
Davidson, Israel, 172
De Musset, Alfred, 121, 154
De Quincey, Thomas, 40, 88, 90, 117
De Slane, MacGuckin, 203, 209, 223
De Vigny, 166
Demosthenes, 24, 119, 229
Dickens, Charles, 53, 72, 84, 121, 154, 168, 169, 242
Dionysius of Halicarnassus, 28, 119, 181
Dostoievsky, 143, 154
Drummond, Henry, 88
Dryden, John, 172
Dumas, Alexander, 168
Dunash ben Labrat, 104
Eaton, Walter P., 116
Eliot, George, 89, 121, 135
Elliott, Ebenezer, 88
Ellis, Havelock, 185, 186
Emerson, R. W., 23, 53, 81, 92, 93, 94, 121, 186, 200
Erskine, John, 117
Fairchild, A. H., 200
Fénelon, 86, 161
Fielding, 231, 236
Flaubert, 138, 140, 165
Flint, F. S., 122
France, Anatole, 201, 232
Freud, 15, 28, 135, 167, 181, 185, 189, 199
Fuller, Thomas, 88
Galsworthy, John, 71, 155
Giovanitti, Arthur, 158
Goethe, 46, 71, 72, 118, 121, 131, 134, 148, 154, 167, 176, 185, 190, 213, 214
Goldberg, Isaac, 177
Gosse, Edmund, 64
Gray, Thomas, 19
Gummere, Professor, 44, 198
Ha Levi, Jehudah, 105, 172
Hafiz, 154, 211
Halper, B., 172, 182
Hardy, Thomas, 53, 71, 121, 181, 244
Hariri, 214, 215, 218
Harper, G. M., 122
Harte, Bret, 50, 130
Hauptmann, 71, 155, 156, 200
Hawthorne, Nathaniel, 50, 53, 92
Hazlitt, 49, 77, 131, 185, 193
Hearn, Lafcadio, 30, 46, 71, 72, 115, 140, 175, 232, 244
Hegel, 122, 240
Heine, Heinrich, 18, 31, 49, 70, 71, 118, 121, 154, 172, 190, 230, 243, 245
Henley, Walter, 118
Henry, O., 130, 230
Hewlett, Maurice, 71, 116
Holmes, O. W., 50, 168, 186
Homer, 13, 15, 62, 80, 82, 96, 137, 167, 236, 238
Horace, 72, 128
Hovey, Richard, 118
Howells, W. D., 86, 144
Hudson, W. H., 71
Hugo, Victor, 58, 87, 140, 154
Hume, 135, 170
Hunt, Leigh, 234
Ibn Abi Rabia, Omar, 207
Ibn Daud, Abraham, 183
Ibn Ezra, Moses, 172, 182, 222
Ibn Gebirol, Solomon, 172
Ibn Ishaq, 223
Ibn Khaldun, 203, 204, 205, 222, 223
Ibn Khallikan, 209
Ibn Pakuda, Bachya, 172
Ibn Rashiq, 223
Ibn ul Farid, Umar, 220
Ibn ul Mutazz, 223
Ibn Yunus, 220
Ibn Zaydun, 219
Ibsen, Henrik, 15, 38, 49, 71, 131, 132, 142, 150, 154, 166, 167, 169, 185, 190, 242
Imru'ul Qays, 206, 215, 217
Ingelow, Jean, 227
Israeli, Isaac, 183
Jacob, Cary F., 46
Jalalu 'l Din Rumi, 22
Johnson, Samuel, 113, 185
Kaplan, Jacob H., 37
Keats, John, 18, 128, 138, 154, 173, 233, 235
Keble, John, 187-190
Kelley, FitzMaurice, 212
Kempis, Thomas à, 20
Khalil, Ahmad, 221
Kingsley, Charles, 185
Kipling, Rudyard, 50, 71
König, 101, 102
La Rochefoucauld, 167
Lamb, Charles, 69, 185
Landor, W. S., 81, 213
Langdon, Professor, 100
Lawrence, D. H., 71
Le Sage, 87
Lee, A. H. E., 23
Lespinasse, Madame, 53
Lessing, G. E., 62, 63, 179, 239
Lewis, Sinclair, 232
Lincoln, Abraham, 60
Livy, 48, 120, 137
Locke, John, 178
Longfellow, H. W., 50, 126, 154, 170, 175, 176
Lowell, J. R., 41, 176, 178, 186, 193
Lowes, Professor, 63, 116
Lowth, Bishop, 102
Lucas, E. V., 221
Lyly, John, 121
Macaulay, T. B., 168
Macdonald, Duncan B., 34
Machen, Arthur, 23
Macleod, Fiona, 116
Maimonides, Moses, 37
Malory, 55, 88
Marston, P. B., 227
Masaryk, Thomas G., 162
Masters, Ed. L., 116
Maupassant, Guy de, 148
Meredith, George, 116, 121, 135, 230
Mill, J. S., 88, 178
Mills, L. H., 106
Milton, John, 13, 47, 48, 64, 88, 118, 120, 122, 141, 167, 178, 180, 238
Molière, 87, 154, 167
Morley, John, 178
Moore, George, 92
Moore, Thomas, 48, 71, 213
Moulton, R. G., 103
Müller, Max, 106
Murray, Gilbert, 30
Murry, J. Middleton, 122
Neilson, William A., 33
Newbolt, Henry, 171
Newton, Isaac, 40
Nicholson, D. H. S., 23, 217, 219, 225
Nidhami I Arudi, 204
Nietzsche, 28, 30, 53, 81, 124, 154, 163, 168, 171, 181, 189, 242
Omar Khayyam, 218
Oppenheim, James, 158
Palgrave, W. G., 207
Pascal, 20, 124
Pater, Walter, 30, 45, 53, 72, 116, 117, 126, 239, 245
Patterson, Professor, 45, 46, 117
Perry, Bliss, 118
Phelps, W. L., 21
Plato, 15, 24, 25, 26, 27, 48, 53, 96, 119, 122, 124, 133, 148, 160
Plutarch, 48, 56, 121, 133, 137
Poe, E. A., 18, 49, 50, 61, 72, 74, 92, 121, 131, 144, 161
Pope, Alexander, 75, 133, 232
Prescott, F. C., 184
Quiller-Couch, Sir Arthur, 66, 67
Riley, J. W., 170
Roberts, W. Rhys, 119
Roosevelt, Theodore, 116
Rossetti, Dante G., 186
Rousseau, 53, 87, 134
Ruskin, John, 38, 53, 72, 84, 112, 130, 154, 168, 169
Russel, Bertrand, 136
St. Augustine, 20, 53
Saintsbury, George, 43, 44, 81, 220
Sand, George, 87
Schlegel, Frederick, 49
Schofield, W. H., 214
Schopenhauer, 53, 124, 135, 163, 199
Scott, Samuel P., 213
Scott, Sir Walter, 55, 121, 168
Shairp, J. C., 89
Shakespeare, William, 13, 16, 56, 57, 69, 82, 83, 101, 112, 113, 124, 134, 138, 148, 150, 154, 167, 168, 170, 177, 193, 226, 238
Shaw, Bernard, 38, 112, 156, 167
Shelley, P. B., 12, 18, 23, 32, 38, 48, 70, 72, 74, 121, 124, 128, 133, 154, 167, 169, 173, 185, 186, 190, 233, 235
Sidney, Sir Philip, 12, 48, 88, 119, 121
Sinclair, Upton B., 155, 200
Smith, Sir George A., 101, 215
Smith, W. Robertson, 100
Socrates, 26, 42
Sophocles, 13, 80, 83, 160
Southey, Robert, 213
Spencer, Herbert, 135
Spenser, Edmund, 13, 235, 238
Spingarn, 117, 132, 179
Spinoza, 134, 135
Stedman, E. C., 32, 58
Stendhal, 57, 142, 206
Stevenson, R. A. M., 138
Stevenson, R. L., 247
Swinburne, A. C., 18, 23, 73, 125, 138, 140, 154
Symonds, J. A., 27, 69, 111, 125, 126
Symons, Arthur, 63, 121, 138
Taylor, Jeremy, 48, 178, 230
Tennyson, Alfred, 18, 23, 154, 185
Thackeray, W. M., 23, 121, 181
Thompson, Francis, 72
Thomson, James, 186
Thucydides, 53, 119, 137, 228
Tolstoy, 36, 53, 57, 140, 142, 190
Traubel, Horace, 118, 158
Tupper, Martin, 118
Twain, Mark, 59, 230
Untermeyer, Louis, 118, 158
Van Teslaar, J. S., 182
Verlaine, 31, 72, 154
Véron, Eugene, 87
Virgil, 57, 62, 148
Warton, Thomas, 211
Weil, Henri, 180
Whitman, Walt, 12, 15, 23, 31, 44, 45, 63, 65, 79, 114, 116, 118, 124, 142, 154, 164, 175, 178
Wilde, Oscar, 53, 138, 167
Wilkinson, J. G., 186, 187
Wittels, F., 181
Woodberry, Professor, 31, 132
Wordsworth, William, 12, 15, 18, 23, 31, 45, 49, 51, 52, 60, 65, 77, 78, 112, 121, 124, 146, 164, 173, 185, 222, 234
Wulfstan 108, 109
Yeats, William Butler, 71, 165
Zola, Emil, 142, 155, 156, 165, 167, 200
INDEX OF BOOKS AND WRITINGS
Adam Bede, 44
Advancement of Learning, 79
Æneid, 53, 54, 57, 111
Albion's England, 85
Arabia Deserta, 71
Arabian Nights, 187, 205, 213, 218
Areopagitica, 122, 178
Ars Poetica, 241
Art of Writing, 66
Aspects of Poetry, 89
Assemblies (or Maqamat), 214, 215, 218
Aucassin and Nicolette, 86
Aurora Leigh, 61
Avesta, 105, 106
Aylmer's Field, 44
Ballad of Mary the Mother, 143
Beginnings of Poetry, 44
Beowulf, 103, 109
Bible, 14, 44, 102, 103, 118, 160, 177, 202, 215, 222, 233
Birth of Tragedy, 30
Botanical Garden, 85
Boundaries of Music and Poetry, 52
Brushwood Boy, 50
Canterbury Tales, 55
Chanting the Square Deific, 23
Cherry Orchard, 122
Christmas Carol, 168
City of Dreams, The, 143
Confessions of an Opium Eater, 40
Convention and Revolt in Poetry, 63
Corn Law Rhymes, 88
Cousin Pons, 59
Creative Criticism, 117
Critique of Judgment, 229
Cypress Grove, 109
David Copperfield, 54
Defense of Poetry, 74
Deserted Village, 49
Devil's Case, 143
Dialogues on Eloquence, 86
Divine Comedy, 60, 184
Doll's House, 132
Don Juan, 61, 86, 125
Don Quixote, 39, 49, 169, 211, 212
Dream Fugue, 57
Dreams and Poetry, 184
Early Poetry of Israel, 101, 215
Elegy in a Country Churchyard, 19
English Literature from Roman Conquest to Chaucer, 212
Enoch Arden, 44
Epipsychidion, 165, 183
Erotic Motive in Literature, 185
Essay on Man, 122
Essays in Sacred Language, Writings and Religion of the Parsis, 107
Essays Speculative and Suggestive, 125
Essentials of Poetry, 33
Eugénie Grandet, 59
Exotics and Retrospectives, 115, 244
Fall of the House of Usher, 144
Fathers and Sons, 57
First Four Books of Civil War, 85
Foundations and Nature of Verse, 46
French Revolution, 53, 137
Function of the Poet, 41
Fuzzy Wuzzy, 50
Genesis, Book of, 64
Genius of Christianity, 87
Georgics, 62, 148
Germinal, 155, 200
Great Expectations, 124
Greek Poets, 69
Guide to the Perplexed, 37
Gulliver's Travels, 71
Harvard Lectures on Greek Subjects, 24
Haunted Mind, 50
Heart of Midlothian, 55
Heathen Chinee, 50
Hertha, 23, 125
History as Literature, 116
History of Criticism in Europe, 43, 220
History of English Literature, 170
History of English Poetry, 89
History of English Prose Rhythm, 43
History of English Rhythms, 108
History of the Jews, 225
History of Moorish Empire in Spain, 213
House of Gentlefolk, 57
Huckleberry Finn, 59
Hymn to Intellectual Beauty, 23
Idylls of the King, 55
Iliad, 97, 105
Inspiration of Poetry, 31
Irrational Knot, 167
Jewish Encyclopedia, 225
Julius Cæsar, 56
Jungle, 155, 200
Kinds of Poetry, 117
Kubla Khan, 186
La Mare au Diable, 87
Lady of the Lake, 55
Laila and Majnun, 206
Le Chartreuse de Parme, 57
Le Debâcle, 57
Leaves of Grass, 65, 80, 124, 159, 178
Lectures on Art, 130
Lectures on Sacred Poetry of Hebrews, 102
Les Martyrs, 58
Les Misérables, 58
Letters to French Academy, 86
Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow, 57
Life of Johnson, 221
Life of Roscommon, 113
Lily and the Bee, 118
Lily of the Valley, 59
Literary Criticism in the Renaissance, 179
Literary History of the Arabs, 219
Literary History of Persia, 203, 225
Literary Study of Bible, 103
Lives of the Saints, 108, 114
Locksley Hall, 213
Lorna Doone, 70
Lost Illusions, 59
Louis Lambert, 59
Lyrical Ballads, 65
Madame Bovary, 140
Mademoiselle de Maupin, 138
Main Currents of the Nineteenth Century, 92
Main Street, 232
Making of Humanity, 212
Making of Poetry, 200
Manon Lescaut, 87
Master Builder, 58
Modern Painters, 53
Mr. Sludge, "the Medium," 125
Muallaqat, 105, 206, 211, 213, 215
Nature of Poetry, 32
Nether World, 155
New Era in American Poetry, 161
New Rome, 143
Nibelungen Lied, 102, 154
Nigger of the Narcissus, 57
Notre Dame de Paris, 58
On Literary Composition, 119
On the Sublime, 15, 128, 160
Orlando Furioso, 60
Ottoman Poetry, 214, 225
Outcasts of Poker Flat, 50
Oxford Book of English Verse, 66
Oxford Lectures on Poetry, 75, 126
Paradise Lost, 68
Paradise Regained, 67
Path of the Rainbow, 98
Paul and Virginia, 87
Peer Gynt, 59, 164, 174
Peloponnesian War, 53, 137
Penguin Island, 232
Père Goriot, 57
Phaedrus, 26, 53, 122
Pickwick Papers, 23
Pierre and Jean, 148
Piers Plowman, 158
Pilgrim's Progress, 49, 184
Poetic Principle, 74, 144
Poetics, 42, 43, 136, 220
Poetry and Its Varieties, 88
Poetry and Religion, 39
Poly Olbion, 85
Post-Biblical Hebrew Literature, 172
Power of Sound, 62
Principles of Psychology, 135
Progress of Poesie, 19
Prophetic Books, 44
Psalms, 20, 64, 100, 171, 215
Psychology of Prophecy, 37
Rabbi Ben Ezra, 23, 57
Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt, 99
Renaissance, 53, 116
Republic, 26, 53, 122, 160
Revivifying of the Sciences of the Faith, 34
Revolt of Islam, 86, 125
Richard Feverel, 54
Rigveda, 105, 106, 107
Ring and the Book, 61, 86, 122
Robinson Crusoe, 49, 71
Romance of the Rose, 158
Sagas, 98, 109, 110
Sanskrit Literature, 106
Scarlet Letter, 53
Science of Poetry, 233
Silas Marner, 44
Sister Carrie, 83
Solitaire of Time, 223
Song of the Harper, 99
Song of Myself, 176
Songs Before Sunrise, 140
Spanish-American Literature, Studies in, 177
Specimens of English Prose Style, 92
Spirit of Russia, 162
Spoon River Anthology, 69, 116
Studies in Islamic Poetry, 218
Sunken Bell, 174
Symposium, 26, 53
Táin Bó Cualnge, 108
Tales from Shakespeare, 69
Tales of a Wayside Inn, 50
Ten o'Clock Lecture, 138
Ten Thousand a Year, 118
Tess of the D'Urbervilles, 122
Text Book of Irish Literature, 108
Theoria Sacra, 48
Thus Spake Zarathustra, 245
Tom Jones, 236
Tragische Motiv, 181
Treasure Island, 247
Tristram Shandy, 49
Triumph of Death, 51
Uncle Tom's Cabin, 70
Vanity Fair, 23, 65, 180
Vedas, 22, 105
Vicar of Wakefield, 49
Wandering Jew, 143
War and Peace, 57
Weavers, 155, 200
What is Art? 140
Wild Ass's Skin, 59
Wild Duck, 58
Wilhelm Meister, 49
Wooing of Our Lord, 109
World as Will and Idea, 53
The initials A.D. are unspaced in the original. The initials B. C. have been changed to B.C. to match.
The following spelling variations occur in the text. The names appear as in the original.
Abu l'Atahiya Abu l' Atihiya Aelfric Ælfric Aeneid Æneid Jehudah HaLevi Jehudah Ha Levi Mac Guckin de Slane MacGuckin de Slane McGuckin de Slane
The following corrections have been made to the text:
Page 19: the assumption that all the intellectual[original has intellecual]
Page 29: "[quotation mark missing in original]All kinds of ecstasy, however differently
Page 40: literature of power in his opinion[original has opinon] is permanent
Page 43: restated by the Italian critic Castelvetro[original has Castelevetro]
Page 57: Balzac's novel Père[original has Pére] Goriot
Page 65: one in prose of Eloise's[original has Eloises's]
Page 88: under the title _Poetry and Its Varieties_[original has Varities]
Page 95: sown with stars, wherever[original has where-ever hyphenated across lines]
Page 97: pre-Socratic philosophers[original has philsophers] like Parmenides
Page 108: article on Irish Literature in the _Britannica_[original has Brittanica]
Page 109: says Gosse in his article in the _Britannica_[original has Brittanica]
Page 120: in this care, have time for better things."[quotation mark missing in original]
Page 122: _New Study of English Poetry_ by Henry Newbolt[original has Newboldt]
Page 130: he is more advanced than[original has that] we are
Page 136: others were also absorbed as[original has a] to the difference
Page 138: preface to his Mademoiselle[original has Madamoiselle] de Maupin
Page 146: former is not wholly intuitive[original has intuitve]
Page 168: Shelley, Nietzsche[original has Nietsche], and Butler
Page 178: in the sense of recording his own individuality[original has individualty]
Page 185: See his essay on Casanova[original has Cananova] in _Affirmations_
Page 185: Shelley, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Goethe[original has Gothe] and Ibsen
Page 186: Wilkinson did not have to seek rhymes[original has ryhmes]
Page 209: is[original has ii] attributed to Ibn Alaamidi
Page 238: theories of aesthetic[original has esthetic] emotion
Page 253: Abu Ali[original has ali] al Qali, 222
Page 253: Baqui,[comma missing in original] 211, 214
Page 253: Bossuet[original has Bossnet], 87, 228
Page 253: Castelvetro[original has Castelevetro], 43, 179
Page 253: Coleridge, S. T., 12, 47, 48, 49, 77, 78, 121,[comma missing in original] 173
Page 253: Croce, 15, 28, 81, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150[original has 50], 239
Page 254: Elliot[original has Elliott], Ebenezer, 88
Page 254: Erasmus,[comma missing in original] 43
Page 255: Ibn Khallikan[original has Khallikans], 209
Page 255: Imru'ul[original has Imru 'ul] Qays, 206, 215, 217[original has 218]
Page 255: Khalil,[comma missing in original] Ahmad, 221
Page 255: Neilson, William[original has Willian] A., 33
Page 255: Newbolt[original has Newboldt], Henry, 171
Page 255: Nidhami[original has Nidham] I Arudi, 204
Page 256: Nietzsche, 28, 30, 53, 81, 124, 154, 163, 168[original has 166], 171, 181, 189, 242
Page 256: Senancour[original has Sénancour], 49
Page 257: Tha'alibi[original has Tha 'alibi], 223
Page 257: Untermeyer[original has Untermyer], Louis, 118, 158
Page 257: Yeats, William Butler, 71, 165[original has extraneous comma]
Page 259: Areopagitica[original has Aeropagitica], 122, 178
Page 260: Eugénie[original has Eugéne] Grandet, 59
Page 260: History of English Poetry,[comma missing in original] 89
Page 260: Julius Cæsar[original has Caesar], 56
Page 260: Laocoon[original has Laocoön], 62
Page 260: Les Misérables[original has Miserables], 58
Page 261: Mademoiselle[original has Madamoiselle] de Maupin, 138
Page 261: Mr. Sludge, "the Medium,"[original has quotation marks around the entire title] 125
Page 261: Nibelungen[original has Niebelungen] Lied, 102, 154
Page 262: Télémaque[original has Télemaque], 86
Page 263: Peloponnesian[original has Peloponessian] War, 53, 137
[52:A] Wilhelm[original has Wilhem] A. Ambros
[193:A] _The Function of the Poet._[original has extraneous quotation mark]
The index entry for Mark Twain was alphabetized under "Mark". Entry has been moved to its proper place.
In the two Indexes, several page number references are incorrect in the original. The following table shows the page number references in the original and the corrected page references. The changes have been made in the Indexes.
Incorrect Correct page page Index Entry references references
Aristotle 193, 221 191, 220 Arnold, Matthew 117 118 Bacon, Francis 52 -- Burke, Edmund 120 121 Butcher, S. H. 159 160 Cicero 119 120 De Quincey, Thomas 87 88 Eaton, Walter P. 115 116 Hegel 121 122 Henley, Walter 117 118 Homer 93 96 Ibsen, Henrik 48 49 Keats, John 247 -- Milton, John 49, 236 48, 238 Morley, John 168 178 Moore, Thomas 49 48 Nicholson, D. H. S. 218 217 Nietzsche 166 168 Plato 49, 52, 132 48, --, 133 Pope, Alexander 7 75 Saintsbury, George 221 220 Schofield, W. H. 212 214 Shelley, P. B. 29 -- Spenser, Edmund 236 235 Swinburne, A. C. 29 23 Wordsworth, William 29, 30 --, 31 Wulfstan 107, 108 108, 109
Beowulf 108 109 Birth of Tragedy 29 30 Brand 60 59 Defense of Poetry 73 74 Master Builder 59 58 Poetics 221 220 Wild Duck 59 58