Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

INTRODUCTION

[ocr errors]

The spirit of freedom is a treasure of inestimable price to the human mind. Everywhere and at all times the love of freedom asserts itself-politically, socially, but most of all, individually. But our individual freedom, which underlies social and political freedom, has its roots directly in the will. And the experience of the will -the act of striking an attitude, of choosing an alternative, of meeting a situation with an undivided self, which gives a positive sense of freedom-this is the thing in us that is most distinctively and intimately human. Since this experience is human and universal, and since poets are wont to deal with things human and universal, it were strange if they did not reflect in their work a sense of will and a spirit of freedom. They do so, and they "awaken in us a wonderfully full, new, and intimate sense" of these qualities.

The poet's method of appealing to the sense of will is most often indirect, but if the poet be of a volitional type, as Wordsworth, or Browning, he sometimes appeals to it directly. When he does so, his poetry may impress us as declamatory rather than poetic. The objection, however, is not to the volitional appeal, but to the baldness of the method of expression. More often the appeal is veiled in metaphor, and may be finely poetic. For instance, the line,

"Cased in the unfeeling armour of old time,” has often and justly been praised for the fineness and originality of the metaphor, while the simple beauty and superior power of the line just preceding it,

"Wordsworth, "Elegiac Stanzas."

"I love to see the look with which it braves,”

has been passed by unnoticed. Here the volitional appeal, veiled by the slight though exquisite figure expressed in look and braves, is poetic and effective. We are glad that the castle has a look with which it can brave the destroying elements, Its heroism unobtrusively takes hold of us, and the effect is bracing. Most often, however, the volitional appeal is wholly indirect, and lies in the texture and spirit of the poem as a whole, such a poem, for example, as the "Charge of the Light Brigade." It is because of this indirectness of the volitional appeal in poetry that comparatively little has been written about it in literary criticism.

Poetry is fundamentally the expression of personality, but the central and most important element in personality is the will. Where there is a weak and nerveless will there can be no strong and rich personality. Where there is a strong will and a noble soul, there personality abounds. The human will is beset with dangers—dangers, for instance, of imperiousness and sterility ;--but when these dangers are avoided and the will acts normally, it embodies the noblest elements of the human mind and furnishes to us our deepest organ of response to the truth of things. In the "Prelude" and in the "Excursion" Wordsworth frequently attests to the sublimity of mind possessed by the poor and those in the common walks of life. The Leech-Gatherer in "Resolution and Independence” has neither knowledge nor culture, and is devoid of romantic feelings. What he does possess, however, is the power of self-sustenance, which flouts despair, which bears up against adversity, and which turns sorrow into pleasure and contentment. And Wordsworth could have laughed himself to scorn to find "in that de

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

crepit man so firm a mind.” Far more than we are conscious of, this firmness of mind resides at the core of human personality.*

It is certain that purely intellectual conceptions are of less importance to poetry than the energy of will. It has been said, for example, that “Paradise Lost” is a monument to dead ideas, and that it lacks human interest. The first part of this count may perhaps be accepted, but hardly the second. No doubt Milton's theological ideas, as ideas, are of little interest to us, but the vast volitional energy stored up in the poem makes it genuinely human. Its imaginative sublimity is the natural and harmonious outgrowth of a volitional personality. This poem is "the precious life-blood of a master spirit," the song of a man with sword begirt to do mighty battle, a man who, "with danger compassed round," sang with “mortal voice unchanged to hoarse or mute.” The human interest in the poem lies in the indomitable energy of its creator's mind, and not in its intellectuality. The energy of will, closely bound up with personality, is a more vital force in poetry than intellectual conceptions.

There are indefinable elements in the will; and since this is so it is impossible to give a complete or accurate definition of it. We can proceed with sufficient clearness, however, by considering what is, so to speak, the raw material of which it is made, and by giving a partial definition. The lower ground work of our will lies in our physical reflexes, our impulses and instincts, our sensations and crude perceptions, in the clash between converging physical desires, in the unformed subconscious tendencies in us, vaguely pulling us hither and thither, in the occasional emergence into consciousness of this welter of unformed matter. This mass of experience furnishes the lower content and outer material for the will, and brings it to the very door of the outer and nonconscious world; yet this does not constitute the will itself. On a higher level the material of our will consists in the conflict of our desires other than the physical, in our higher aspirations and longings, in the conflict both of our passions and of our knowledge regarding things prudential, ethical, aesthetical, and religious. These things, again, do not constitute the will; they form the inner and higher material for the will. The will itself is an independent, self-directing, self-developing, but otherwise indefinable power in us-(it requires a pure act of believing and not at all of knowing to accept this statement)—which lies back of the things that have been described as the material upon which it works. This material is conditioned by heredity and environment, but behind it there is an increment of will, however small, that is absolutely independent of heredity and environment; else, where were the freedom? The will is the power "existent behind all laws," that makes laws, that selects and arranges and harmonizes our lower impulses and our higher aspirations, our passions and our knowledge; the power that organizes and unifies our personality. The will thus in its inmost circle ranges over the whole gamut of conscious life-from the physical to the transcendental, from the natural to the mystical, from the finite to the infinite, from the lowest physical desire to the highest and finest essence of spirit in us that can give rise to conscious aspirations.

*See Note 1, Appendix. Ť See Note 2, Appendix.

But there are those who do not consider the will to have this self-directing and self-developing power, who

deny the freedom of the human will. Such hold that consciousness is a mere cerebration of cells, the product of a materialistic evolution, and that freedom, so-called, is an illusion, a product of man's foolish fancies. Poets, however, like religionists, almost unanimously take for granted the existence of man's freedom. They hold implicitly that there is in consciousness a power independent of heredity and environment, and that this power, deep in the heart of man, gives man, in all ages and under all circumstances, an everlasting assurance of freedom. However strongly St. Paul may, when his logical faculty is active, reason about predestination, it is quite evident that "whosoever will” is the watchword written over the whole face of the Hebrew scriptures, including for the most part the writings of St. Paul himself; and perhaps in the advice of Tennyson, at the close of the poem “De Profundis,” that we should attempt to find

Nearer and ever nearer Him, wlio wrought
Not matter, nor the finite-infinite,
But this main-miracle, that thou art thou,

With power on thine own act and on the worldperhaps in this advice there is an expression of what lies very close to the inner core of all high poetic truth. It is not for the poets to argue the theory of freedom; and Milton in “Paradise Lost" and Chaucer in "Troilus and Criseyde” make sorry work of it when they attempt the argument. But it is of inestimable importance to the poet's work that it hold implicitly the theory of freedom and awaken in us an intimate sense of the spirit of freedom.

The first and simplest reason why the poet usually assumes the principle of freedom in his work is that the assumption is implied in the conduct and in the practical

« PredošláPokračovať »