Obrázky na stránke

2. Poetry is the metrical utterance of emotion. [This either expressive of emotion in itself, or calculated to raise emotion in the minds of others.] These two definitions, united into one general definition, may therefore stand thus :—the metrical utterance of emotion, having beauty for its result, and pervaded by a religious Idea which it thereby symbolizes.

The wording of these definitions may be questionable, and they require elucidation: the first may be called the religious Idea incarnate in the beautiful; but any formula must needs be elucidated: and this we proceed to attempt-till after which we beg the reader to suspend his judgment. The second we must consider first. Poetry must be emotive, it must be metrical—these are its conditions.

The domain of Art is not the intellect, but the emotionsnot thought, but feeling; it occupies itself with thoughts only as they are associated with feelings; as Bettina profoundly says, “art is the intuition of spirit into the senses. What "you feel becomes thought, and what you strive to invent becomes sensual feeling*;" and thus, as Coleridge and Wordsworth have long taught, the true antithesis to poetry is not prose, but science. “Poetry is the breath and finer spirit of “all knowledge; the impassioned expression which is in the “ countenance of science." Thoughts do and must abound in all good poetry, but they are there not for their own sake, but for the sake of a feeling ; a thought is sometimes the root, of which the feeling is the flower, and sometimes the flower, of which feeling is the root. Thought for thought's sake is science—thought for feeling's sake, and feeling for feeling's sake are poetry.

And therefore must poetry be emotive. Take as an illustration Shakspeare's description of morning

“Lo! where the morn, in russet mantle clad,

Walks o'er the dew of yon high eastern hill." Every one recognises this as poetry; yet change the emotive expression of it into a statement and it ceases to be poetry, or even change it into figurative prose, and by thus altering its emotive expression, which the “lo!” so well commences, the poetry is gone. Thus, “The morning now arises clothed

* Göthe's Correspondence with a Child, vol. ii.

“ in his mantle of russet, and walks over the dew on the high “ hill lying yonder in the east”—this is ornate prose. But perhaps the intense figurativeness of the language obscures our meaning ; so take a line from Childe Harold

“The moon is up-but yet it is not night!" These are two statements, which if put as facts in conversation are as prosaic as the statement of the weather, or the time of day; yet here the speaker himself is in a state of emotion-he utters it in awe, in mystery, in meditation-he does not announce it as a fact, and his emotion communicates itself to us. So Shakspeare's most religious saying, that there is a soul of goodness in things evil, is in itself no more than a philosophical opinion addressed to the understanding; but as such it would be thought for thought's sake (i. e. science): here the emotive expression of it shows it to be for the sake of the feeling

“God Almighty !
There is some soul of goodness in things evil,

Would men observingly distil it out." Pity that the solemn and fitting adjuration,“ God Almighty," should always be omitted when the passage is quoted !

But although not always expressing emotion, poetry must always by some art excite it, and never let its necessary statements or prosaic passages be prosaic in effect. Wordsworth often offends in this way by descriptions which are nothing more than catalogues ; as take the following, which is, except a word here and there, ten-feet prose :

“'Tis nothing more
Than the rude embryo of a little dome
Or pleasure-house, once destined to be built
Among the birch trees of this rocky isle.
But as it chanced Sir William having learn'd
That from the shore a full-grown man might wade
And make himself a freeman of the spot
At any hour he chose, the knight forthwith
Desisted, and the quarry and the mound

Are monuments of his unfinish'd task.” If there were not so many hundred similar prosaic passages in Wordsworth, one would wonder that he could have let this pass; it is certainly antagonistic to the spirit of poetry, and is felt to be so, all critical canons apart. “These are the “ axioms of poetry,” says Solger. “ Everything must be ac“tion or emotion. Hence a purely descriptive poetry is im“ possible, if it confine itself to its subject without action or “emotion ; on which point Lessing has some admirable re“ marks in the · Laocoon. In Homer you never see a par“ ticular subject merely described, but the description is al“ ways contained in some action. So the clothing of Aga“ memnon, or the shield of Achilles, where the subjects re“ presented appear themselves as living and in action*;" and the reason of this is given by Hegel when he says, “not things and their practical existence, but pictures and ima“ ginative symbols are the materials of poetry.”

It is this emotive principle which creates all the ornaments, as they are styled, such as personification, metaphor and trope; for nothing being announced as a fact, but every thing as seen through the passionate medium of the speaker's soul, it necessitates a figurative impassioned language; and here Professor Wilson's definition of poetry, "man's thoughts tinged by his feelings,” becomes admissible, except that it does not demarcate it from novels or oratory. “Ornaments” may be used by imitators and verse-makers, but they are always foreign, repulsive and cumbersome, simply because they are ornaments ostentatiously worn for their glitter, and not real associations clinging round the central feeling. But in the true poet, imagination acting on the feeling, or the feeling acting on the imagination, condenses and fuses a whole series of ideas into one nexus of expression; such is personification, one of the most poetical of figures, but which, when not springing from the ground of real passion, becomes an impertinence in the imitator or scholar-poet, and warms the mind no more than prose. When Milton speaks of

“The starry Galileo in his woes,” it is as if lightning flashed on the whole dark career of the man; all the scattered rays of light which have played around his name, his discoveries and his misfortunes are converged into one focus, and stand burning inextinguishably there. This is an instance of true passionate expression. Byron, in his

[ocr errors]

celebrated stanzas on the Dying Gladiator, has given as striking an instance of the false expression—the merely recherché illustration suggested by thought or perception of analogies purely intellectual :

“And through his side the last drops ebbing slow

From the red gash, fall heavy, one by one,

Like the first of a thunder shower.” Nothing can be more forced than the comparison of drops of blood to drops of rain. Note also the antithesis of last drops of blood and first drops of rain. The common epithet “snowy bosom” is another example. Marino in Italy, and Gongora in Spain, as well as Cowley and Donne in England, only pushed this principle into a system, and the result was affectation or wit. It is against such ornaments, and the vicious Gongorism they induced, that Wordsworth's theory was virtually directed; and although he was radically wrong in saying poetry differed in nothing from prose, yet we confess that such ornaments as coquettes put on the bosoms of their verses are but as gauds to hide the wrinkled skin on which they glitter; still those who, in their fury of simplicity—who, in their disgust at dowager-diamonds, declare that a lovely maiden shall not place a rose in her hair, because ornament is unnecessary, commit a sad blunder, and slight the beautiful because the deformed will ape it. Wordsworth, in consequence, often writes passages worthlessly prosaic. Nevertheless, although prosaic, such are not prose, simply because of their metrical expression, and this leads us to the second point of our inquiry, viz. the essential position of verse. I The dispute as to whether “prose can be poetry," is one of the most astounding instances of the want of clear notions on art which could well be selected-it even beats the discussion as to whether Pope was a poet. The unanimity of critics, that verse is nothing essential, is so great as almost to overwhelm our deep-rooted convictions; and did we not fancy that we not only see their error, but also how it became one, we should be tempted to give up in despair. Not only do writers perpetually caution their readers against supposing that they regard verse as synonymous with poetry” (as in truth it is not)—of which opinion they have a religious horror-but the sum of the whole we take to be, in a recent critic's contend

ing that Wycherley and Congreve were poets! The cause of this wide-spread error is partly owing to the want of clear definitions, partly that verse is a thing to be learned by all, whereas poetry is confessedly a talent given to few, and partly that many passages of prose are poetical. Poetical they may be, but not poetry-partaking of the imaginative spirit, but not of the musical bodya distinction always overlooked. It were as wise to talk of painting without colour as poetry without verse. Design is the groundwork—expresses the idea; but design alone is not painting: so thoughts or emotions uttered in prose are not poetry, but the mere cartoons of poetry. It is on all hands admitted that poetry is an art; if so, then we demand of the critic, what are its conditions ? Is prose an art? or is it the same art? These questions admit but of one answer. Much verse is employed by ambitious young gentlemen and ladies to express thoughts and feelings, real or imaginary, which criticism must admit to be very bad poetry, and which can get no recognition as art, except from the authors, and the “select friends” who “ SO earnestly urged their publication;" and the classing this trash with the Homers and Dantes, with all that we know of holy, indestructible beauty, may certainly blind the angry critic. Nevertheless public house signs, or the delineations of Scotchmen standing before tobacconists'. shops, are specimens of painting and sculpture in degree, though not of a degree to be admitted into Academy exhibitions. Turnspits are dogs, though of a beaten and despised race. Synonymous with poetry no one would assert verse to be; but an artistic element, a condition-Eine sinnliche Hüllewe insist upon being conceded to it. “ Versified prose," says Hegel, “ is “not poetry, but simply verse; as a poetical expression of “ an otherwise prosaic handling is only poetical prose; “ nevertheless metre is the first and only condition absolutely “ demanded by poetry, yea, even more necessary than a figu“ rative, picturesque diction*.”

Verse is the form of poetry; not the form as a thing arbitrary, but as a thing vital and essential; it is the incarnation of poetry. To call it the dress, and to consider it apart as a

* Æsthetik, b. iii. p. 289.

« PredošláPokračovať »