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dramatic; he drew his inspiration from the life about him, and accordingly the metrical forms he used sprang naturally out of the idiom of his time.
Again, there is an idol of the art of poetry which suggests that the source of poetical life is to be found in words rather than in ideas. This is of all poetical idols the most seductive, because it presents strongly one side of the truth, and because it is recommended by many brilliant poetical tours de force. Coleridge defined prose to be words in the right order, poetry to be the best words in the right order. And, doubtless, the mere sound of words has the power of raising imaginative ideas, as we see from Keats' lines
Forlorn! the very word is like a bell,
and we know that the word 'nevermore’ inspired Edgar Poe with his remarkable poem, The Raven. But words, apart from things, can, as a rule, suggest only fragmentary conceptions of life and nature. What can be more delightfully suggestive of coming poetry than the opening of Kubla Khan?
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Down to a sunless sea.
But, as we know, Nature never provided the completion, nor could she have done so, of that wonderful fragment of poetry. Sometimes, indeed, a whole poem containing a definite idea may be constructed on this principle, and a very fine example is furnished by Mr. Swinburne's Dolores, where the aim of the poet has, apparently, been to group a variety of images round the single central phrase, Our Lady of Pain.' Many of the stanzas in this poem completely satisfy Coleridge's definition of poetry, 'the best words in the right order,' but, on the other hand, as the inspiration proceeds from words rather than ideas, there are many other stanzas in it which have no poetical raison d'être, and which diminish the effect of the whole composition. The mode of expression belongs to the art of music rather than to the art of poetry. Horace's rule is inverted: the eloquence and order of the metrical arrangement suggest the idea, not the idea the
I do not say that this method of composition is illegitimate; but it must be evident that such inspiration is of the most fortuitous kind, and that one might as well attempt to make oneself dream the same dream twice over, as to find a regular principle of poetical expression in the metrical combination of words and metaphors.
Few indeed are the metrical compositions that will stand the test I propose, few the poems that answer perfectly to Spenser's description of life in poetry :
Wise words, taught in numbers for to run,
But this being so, we may well ask ourselves the question, Why is verse so abundantly produced in our time? Why do we so often find men in these days, either using metre like Wordsworth in the passages I have cited, where they ought to have expressed themselves in prose, or expressing themselves in verse in a style so far remote from the standard of diction established in society that they fail to touch the heart ?
I think the explanation of this curious phenomenon is that though metre can only properly be used for the expression of universal ideas, there is in modern society an eccentric or monastic principle at work, which leads men to pervert metre into a luxurious instrument for the expression of merely private ideas. The metrical form of expression is the oldest form of literary language that exists. In the early stages of society it is used for two reasons, first because, as writing has not been invented, it is the only way of preserving memorable thoughts, and secondly because in primitive times what may be called the poetical or ideal method of conceiving nature predominates over the scientific method. Imagination is then stronger than reason, and the poet is at once the story-teller, the theologian, the historian, and the natural philosopher of society. As society emerges from its infancy more scientific habits of thought are gradually formed; the art of writing is invented ; and men find the means of preserving the records of ordinary observation and experience in prose. Science is always withdrawing fresh portions of nature from the rule of imagination; and no one who is animated by a scientific purpose, and understands how to use language properly, thinks any longer of composing a treatise on astronomy or an historical narrative in verse.
Yet, in spite of these achievements of civilisation and science, it would be a vast mistake to suppose that society in its later stages can dispense with the poet and the art of metrical composition. The deepest life of society is spiritual, ideal, incapable of analysis. What binds men to each other is the memory of a common origin, the prospects of a common destiny, common perceptions of what is heroic in conduct, common instincts as to what is beautiful in art. The unimpassioned language, suitable to law and science, suffices not for the embodiment of these great elemental ideas. The poet alone possesses the art of giving expression to the conceptions of the public conscience, and he is as much bound to interpret the higher feelings of society in the maturity of its development, as the scald or minstrel was bound to act as interpreter for the imagination of the primitive tribe. No other defence of the art of poetry is needed than this, that, only in imaginative creations, metrically expressed, can
society behold the image of its own unity, and realise the objects of its own existence.
But since this is so, to pursue any other ideal is 'to speak things unworthy of Phæbus,' and to misapply the purposes of the art. Nevertheless it cannot be denied that contrary views of the end of poetry have asserted themselves in this generation. The vulgar idea of poetry is, that it is something private, peculiar, and opposed to
We have been taught by the poets themselves that the source of poetry lies solely in the mind of the individual poet, and that the life of poetical expression is to be found apart from the active life of society. Philosophers have encouraged this belief. John Stuart Mill attempts to draw a sharp distinction between the genius of the orator and that of the poet ; the one, he says, speaks to be heard, the other to be overheard. I venture to
that a more false description of the life and nature of poetry has never been given to the world. At no great epoch of poetical production was the art of the poet ever entirely separated from' that of the orator. Did Homer, Pindar, 'the Greek tragedians, and Aristophanes not speak to be heard? Were the Trouvères, the Troubadours, the Ballad Singers, the Elizabethan dramatists, the English satirists of the Restoration and the Revolution, not dependent on an audience ? There have been, it is true, epochs when the private literary motives approved by Mill have prevailed in poetical composition-Alexandrian periods of literature, when the poet, abandoning the representation of the great themes of action and passion, and sick of self-love like Malvolio, has indulged himself in the pleasures of soliloquy. But these were also the ages in the history of the world when men for the sake of life had destroyed the causes of living, when a petty materialism had dwarfed their conception of the sublime and the heroic, when liberty had perished, and art languished in decay.
On this subject I propose to speak more fully in my next lecture on Poetical Decadence. Meantime the course of our argument brings me round to a re-statement of the law of poetry, as it is declared by Horace, and illustrated in the practice of all great classic poets. The secret of enduring poetical life lies in individualising the universal, not in universalising the individual. What is required of the poet above all things is right conception—the res lecta potenter of Horace—a happy choice of subject matter which shall at once assimilate readily with the poet's genius, and shall, in Shakespeare's phrase, “show the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.' The poet must be able not only to gauge the extent of his own powers, but to divine the necessities of his audience. He must realise the nature of the subject-matter which, in his generation, most needs expression, and whether it requires to be expressed in the epic, dramatic, lyric, or satiric form. When the subject has
5 Dissertations and Discussions, i. 71 (1859).
been rightly conceived, then, as Horace says, it will instinctively clothe itself in the right form of expression, according to the laws of the art. The poet's theme being of a universal nature, Wordsworth was right in demanding that his diction should not be very remote from the real language of men;' but as his thought is conveyed in verse, the expression of his ideas must accommodate itself to the laws of metre, and these exact a diction far more radically distinct, than Wordsworth imagined, from the forms of prose. As to the more particular character of poetic diction, everything will depend on the individual genius of the poet: the beauties of style must be studied in the works of the great classic poets. Shakespeare has furnished a thousand examples of poetic diction suitable to the requirements of the romantic drama; the style of Paradise Lost, peculiar as it is, is exactly appropriate to what Pope calls the out-ofthe-world nature of the subject; Dryden's character of Zimri, and Pope's lines on the death of Buckingham, reach the highest level of poetic diction in satire; and, lest I should be thought to depreciate the poetry of our own day, let me cite one out of many suitable passages from Tennyson's In Memoriam, to exemplify the perfection of lyrical composition. The lines are those in which the poet is describing the loss of the individual human life in the total life of nature :
Unwatched, the garden bough shall gway,
The tender blossom flutter down;
Unloved, the beech shall gather brown,
Unloved, the sunflower, shining fair,
Ray round with flames the disk of seed,
And many a rose-carnation feed
Unloved, by many a sandy bar
The brook shall babble down the plain,
At noon, or when the lesser Wain
Uncared for gird the windy grove,
And flood the haunts of hern and crake,
Or into silver arrows break
Till from the garden and the wild
A fresh association blow,
And year by year the landscape grow
As year by year the labourer tills
His wonted glebe, and lops the glades ;
And year by year our memory fades
There is but one phrase in this passage which I could wish to see altered. • Twisting round the polar star' is a mode of expression too fanciful and particular in my judgment to blend with the chaste simplicity of the other images. But with this exception the poetical effect is produced by rendering a general idea into language which differs from the ordinary idiom only in the elegance and refinement of the words chosen, and in the perfect propriety with which they adapt themselves to the movement of the verse. Horace's principle is vindicated in practice; the eloquence and lucid order of the versification prove the justice and universality of the thought.
W. J. COURTHOPE..