Edmund Clarence Stedman



The Nature and Elements of Poetry
I. Oracles Old and New.
II. What is Poetry?



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I. Oracles Old and New


[3] "The force of heaven-bred poesy."

POETRY of late has been termed a force, or mode of force, very much as if it were the heat, or light, or motion known to physics. And, in truth, ages before our era of scientific reductions, the energia — the vital energy — of the minstrel's song was undisputed. It seems to me, in spite of all we hear about materialism, that the sentiment imparting this energy — the poetic impulse, at least — has seldom been more forceful than at this moment and in this very place.

Our American establishments — our halls of learning and beauty and worship — are founded, as you know, for the most part not by governmental edict; they usually take their being from the sentiment, the ideal impulses, of individuals. Your own institute, 1 still mewing like Milton's eagle its mighty youth, owes its existence to an ideal sentiment, to a [4] most sane poetic impulse, in the spirit of its founder, devoted though he was, through a long and sturdy lifetime, to material pursuits. Its growth must largely depend on the awakening from time to time, in other generous spirits, of a like energy, a similarly constructive imagination.

The Percy Turnbull Memorial Lectureship:

Amongst all gracious evidences of this ideality thus far calendared, I think of few more noteworthy, of none more beautiful, than those to which we owe the first endowed lectureship of poetry in the United States; the second foundation strictly of its kind, if I mistake not, throughout the universities of the English-speaking world.

Whenever a university foundation is established for the study of elemental matters, —of scientific truth or human ideality, — we return to motives from which the antique and the mediæval schools chiefly derived their impulse, if not their constitution. The founders would restore a balance between the arbitrary and the fundamental mode of education. The resulting gain is not the overflow of collegiate resources, not the luxury of learning; not decoration, but enhanced construction.

its fine significance.

We have a fresh search after the inmost truth of things, the verities of which the Anglo-Florentine songstress was mindful when she averred that poets are your only truth-tellers; of which, also, Lowell, in his soliloquy of "Columbus," was profoundly conscious when he made the discoverer say: —

[5] "For I believed the poets; it is they
      Who utter wisdom from the central deep,
      And, listening to the inner flow of things,
      Speak to the age out of eternity."

The spirit giveth life

Within these verities new estates originate; moreover, they perpetually advance the knowledge and methods of the time-honored professions. The present and future influences of a school are more assured when it enters their realm. If I did not believe this with my noonday reason and common sense, it would be an imposture for me to discourse to you upon our theme. The sovereign of the arts is the imagination, by whose aid man makes every leap forward; and emotion is its twin, through which come all fine experiences, and all great deeds are achieved. Man, after all, is placed here to live his life. Youth demands its share in every study that can engender a power or a delight. Universities must enhance the use, the joy, the worth of existence. They are institutions both human and humane: not inevitable, except in so far as they become schools for man's advancement and for the conduct of life.

We now have to do with the most ideal and comprehensive of those arts which intensify life and suggest life's highest possibilities. The name of poetry, like that of gentleman, is "soiled with all ignoble use;" but that is because its province is universal, and its government a republic, whose right of franchise any one can exercise without distinction of age, [6] sex, color, or (more's the pity) of morals, brains, or birthright. The more honor, then, to the founders of this lectureship, whose recognition of poetry at its highest is not disturbed by its abuse, and whose munificence erects for it a stately seat among its peers.

Design of this treatise.

Under the present auspices, our own approach can scarcely be too sympathetic, yet none the less free of illusion and alert with a sense of realities. We may well be satisfied to seek for the mere ground-plot of this foundation. I am privileged, indeed, if I can suggest a tentative design for the substructure upon which others are to build and decorate throughout the future of your school. Poetry is not a science, yet a scientific comprehension of any art is possible and essential. Unless we come to certain terms at the outset, if only to facilitate this course, we shall not get on at all.

Tot artes tantæ scientiæ.

ENTER the studio of an approved sculptor, a man of genius, and, if you choose, poetic ideality. He is intent upon the model of a human figure, a statue to be costumed in garments that shall both conceal and express the human form. Plainly he has in his mind's eye the outside, the ultimate appearance, of his subject. He is not constructing a manikin, a curious bit of mechanism that imitates the interior — the bones, muscles, arteries, nerves — of the body. He is fashioning the man as he appears to us, giving his image the air, the expres[7]sion, of life in action or repose. But you will perceive that even the rude joinery on which he casts his first clay is a structure suggesting a man's interior framework. Ere long the skeleton is built upon; the nude and very man is modeled roughly, yet complete, so that his anatomy shall give the truth, and not a lie, to the finished work. Not until this has been done will the sculptor superadd the drapery — the costume which, be it the symbol of our fall or of our advancement, distinguishes civilized man from the lower animals. At all events, it is a serious risk for the young artist to forego this progressive craftsmanship. Even a painter will rudely outline his figures according to primitive nature before giving them the clothing, which, however full of grace and meaning, is not themselves. Otherwise he will be a painter of dead garments, not of soul-possessing men and women. An artist of learning and experience may overleap this process, but only because his hand has become the trained slave of his creative vision, which sees clearly all that can lie beneath.


To the anatomic laws, then, of the human form the sculptor's and the figure-painter's arts are subservient. The laws of every art are just as determinate, even those pertaining to the evasive, yet all-embracing art of poesy, whose spirit calls other arts to its aid and will imitate them, as art itself imitates nature; which has, in truth, its specific method and also the reflex of all other methods. I [8] do not speak of the science, even of the art, of verse. Yet to know the spirit of poetry we must observe, with the temper of philosophers, its preëssentials in the concrete. Even its form and its method of work must be recognized as things of dignity: the material symbols and counterparts, as in Swedenborg's cosmos, of the spirit which is reality.

A working basis needed;

And thus, I say, we must obtain at least a serviceable definition of the word poetry for our present use. In beginning this course, it is well to let the mists rise, at least to have none of our own brewing. The sentimentalists invariably have befogged our topic. I ask you to divest your minds, for the moment, of sentimentalism, even of sentiment, and to assume, in Taine's phrase, that we are to begin by realizing "not an ode, but a law." Applied criticism — that which regards specific poets and poems — is a subsequent affair. Let us seek the generic elements that are to govern criticism by discovering and applying its standards. If you ask, To what end? I reply, That we may avoid dilettanteism. We are not a group of working artists, but they possess something we can share; to wit, the sincere and even ascetic mood that wishes no illusions and demands a working basis.

but not for the promotion of versifying.

But again, to what purpose? Surely not for the development of a breed of poets! Consider the tenuous voices of minnesingers far and near, whose music rises like the chirping of locusts by noonday and of meadow-frogs at night. Each has his fault[9]less little note, and while the seasonable chorus blends, it is humored by some and endured by most, quite as a matter of course, and the world goes on as usual. Human suffering may have been greater when the rhapsodist flourished and printing was unknown, when one was waylaid at the corners of the market-place, and there was no escape but in flight or assassination. And if our object were to train poets, and a past-master were on the rostrum, his teachings would be futile unless nature reasserted her averages. Fourier accounted for one poet in his phalanstery of a thousand souls; yet a shrewder estimate would allow but one memorable poet to a thousand phalansteries, in spite of the fact that even nature suspends her rules in countenance of youth's prerogative, and unfailingly supplies a laureate for every college class. With respect to training, the catalogues term a painter the pupil of Bonnat, of Duran, of Cabanel; a musician, pupil of Rubinstein or Liszt.

Nature both makes and trains a poet.

But the poet studies in his own atelier. He is not made, his poetry is not made, by a priori rules, any more than a language is made by the grammarians and philologists, whose true function is simply to report it.

Yet even the poet has his teachers: first of all, since poetry is vocal, those from whom he learns the speech wherewith he lisps in numbers. In the nursery, or on the playground, he is as much at school as any young artist taking his initial lessons in the drawing-class, or a young singer put to his first exer[10]cises. Later on, he surely finds his way to the higher gymnasium; he reads with wonder and assimilation the books of the poets. Thus not only his early methods, but his life-long expression, his vocabulary, his confines and liberties, will depend much upon early associations, and upon the qualities of the models which chance sets within his way. As to technical ability, what he seeks to acquire after the formative period relatively counts for little; his gain must come, and by a noble paradox, from learning to unlearn, from self-development; otherwise his utterance will never be a force. One poet's early song, for example, has closely echoed Keats; another's, Tennyson; afterward, each has given us a motive and a method of his own, yet he was first as much a pupil of an admirable teacher as those widely differing artists, Couture and Millet, were pupils of Delaroche. Still another began with the Italian poets, and this by a fortunate chance, — or rather, let us say, by that mysterious law which decrees that genius shall find its own natural sustenance. In time he developed his own artistic and highly original note, with a spirituality confirmed by that early pupilage.

The natural method.

I assume, then, that the poet's technical modes, even the general structure of a masterwork, come by intuition, environment, reading, experience; and that too studious consideration of them may perchance retard him. I suspect that no instinctive poet bothers himself about such matters [11] in advance; he doubtless casts his work in the form and measures that come with its thought to him, though he afterward may pick up his dropped feet or syllables at pleasure. If he ponders on the Iambic Trimeter Catalectic, or any of its kin, his case is hopeless. In fact, I never have known a natural poet who did not compose by ear, as we say: and this is no bad test of spontaneity. And as for rules, — such, for example, as the Greeks laid down, — their efficacy is fairly hit off in that famous epigram of the Prince de Condé, when the Abbé d'Aubignac boasted that he closely observed the rules of Aristotle: "I do not quarrel with the Abbé d'Aubignac for having so closely followed the precepts of Aristotle; but I cannot pardon the precepts of Aristotle that occasioned the Abbé d'Aubignac to write so wretched a tragedy." We do see that persons of cleverness and taste learn to write agreeable verses; but the one receipt for making a poet is in the safe-keeping of nature and the foreordaining stars.

One end in view.

On the other hand, the mature poet, and no less the lover of poetry, may profitably observe what secrets of nature are applied to lyrical creation. The first Creator rested after his work, and saw that it was good. It is well for an artist to study the past, to learn what can be done and what cannot be done acceptably. A humble music-master can teach a genius not to waste his time in movements proved to be false. Much of what is good is established, but the range of the good is infinite; [12] that which is bad is easily known. If there be a mute and to-be-glorious Milton here, so much the better. And for all of us, I should think, there can be no choicer quest, and none more refining, than, with the Muse before us, to seek the very well-spring and to discover the processes of her "wisdom married to immortal verse."

Artistic reserve.

We owe to the artist's feeling that his gift is innate, and that it does produce "an illusion on the eye of the mind" which, he fears, too curious analysis may dispel: to this we doubtless owe his general reluctance to talk with definiteness concerning his art. Often you may as well ask a Turk after his family, or a Hindu priest concerning his inner shrine. I have put to several minstrels the direct question, "What is poetry?" without obtaining a categorical reply. One of them, indeed, said, "I can't tell you just now, but if you need a first-class example of it, I'll refer you to my volume of 'Lyrics and Madrigals.'" But when they do give us chips from their workshop, — the table-talk of poets, the stray sentences in their letters, — these, like the studio-hints of masters, are both curt and precious, and emphatically refute Macaulay's statement that good poets are bad critics. They incline us rather to believe with Shenstone that "every good poet includes a critic; the reverse" (as he added) "will not hold."

Even a layman shares the artist's hesitation to [13] discourse upon that which pertains to human emotion. Because sensation and its causes are universal, the feeling that creates poetry for an expression, and the expression itself, in turn exciting feeling in the listener, are factors which we shrink from reducing to terms. An instinctive delicacy is founded in nature. To overcome it is like laying hands upon the sacred ark. One must be assured that this is done on the right occasion, and that, at least for the moment, he has a special dispensation. A false handling cheapens the value of an art — puts out of sight, with the banishment of its reserve, what it might be worth to us.

The heritage of all,

All have access to the universal elements; they cost nothing, are at the public service, and even children and witlings can toy with and dabble in them. So it is with music, poetry, and other general expressions of feeling. Most people can sing a little, any boy can whistle — and latterly, I believe, any girl who would defy augury, and be in the fashion. Three fourths of the minor verse afloat in periodicals or issued in pretty volumes corresponds to the poetry of high feeling and imagination somewhat as a boy's whistling to a ravishing cavatina on the Boehm flute. As a further instance, a knack of modelling comes by nature. If sculptor's clay were in every road-bank, and casts from the antique as common as school readers and printed books of the poets, we probably should have reputed Michelangelos and Canovas in every village instead of here and there a Ward, a St. Gaudens, or a Donoghue.

the crown of few.

[14] But it is precisely the arts in which anybody can dabble that the elect raise to heights of dignity and beauty. Those who realize this indulge a pardonable foible if they desire to reserve, like the Egyptian priests, certain mysteries, if only pro magnifico. Besides, there are periods when the utility of artistic analysis is not readily accepted by those who make opinion. Economics and sociology, for example, largely absorb the interest of one of our most scholarly journals. Its literary and art columns are ably conducted.

A traditional undervaluation.

The chief editor, however, told me that he knew little of æsthetics, and cared to know less; and in such a way as to warrant an inference that, though well disposed, he looked upon art and song and poetry very much as Black Bothwell regarded clerkly pursuits, — that they were to him what Italian music seemed to Dr. Johnson, in whose honest eyes its practitioners were but fiddlers and dancing-masters. This undervaluation by a very clever man is partly caused, if not justified, one must believe, by the vulgarization of the arts of beauty and design. Yet these arts belong as much to the order of things, and indirectly make as much for wealth, as the science of economics, and they make as much for social happiness as the science of sociology, — if, indeed, they are to be excluded from either.

Can poetry be defined?

Can we, even here, take up poetry as a botanist [15] takes up a flower, and analyze its components? Can we make visible the ichor of its protoplasm, and recognize a something that imparts to it transcendency, the spirit of the poet within his uttered work? Why has the question before us been so difficult to answer? Simply because it relates to that which is at once inclusive and evasive. There is no doubt what sculpture and painting and music and architecture seem to be; the statements of critics may differ, but the work is visible and understood. Do you say with the philosophers that poetry is a sensation, that its quality lies in the mind of the recipient, and hence is indefinite? The assertion applies no less to the plastic arts and to music, yet the things by which those excite our sensations are well defined, and what I seek is the analogous definition of the spoken art. It has been said that "one element must forever elude researches, and that is the very element by which poetry is poetry." I confess we cannot define the specific perfume of a flower; but there is a logical probability that this conveys itself alike to all of us, that the race is as but one soul in receiving the impression. I think we can seize upon all other conditions that make a flower a flower or a poem a poem.

Whether language is inadequate.

Edgar Poe avowed his belief in the power of words to express all human ideas, — a belief entertained by Joubert also. Nor have I any doubt that for every clear thought, even [16] for every emotion, words have been, or can be, found, as surely as there is a conquest of matter by the spirit; that speech, the soul's utterance, shares the subtilties of its master. Where it seems to fail, the fault is in the speaker. As a race goes on, both its conceptions and its emotions are clearer and richer, and language keeps pace with them. The time may come, indeed, when thought will not be "deeper than all speech," nor "feeling deeper than all thought." If we still lag in emotional expression, we can excite feelings similar to our own by the spells of art. I do not see why the primary elements of poetry in the concrete should not be stated without sophistication, and as clearly as those of painting, music, or architecture.

Oracles, old and new.

They have, in fact, been stated fragmentarily by one and another poet and thinker, most of whom agree on certain points. True criticism does not discredit old discovery in its quest for something more. Its office, as Mill says of philosophy, is not to set aside old definitions, but it "corrects and regulates them." It does not differ for the sake of novelty, but formulates what is, and shall be, of melody and thought and feeling, and what no less has been since first the morning stars sang together. I must ask you, then, to permit me, in this opening lecture, very swiftly to review familiar and historic utterances, from which we may combine principles eminently established, and, if need be, to add some newly stated factor, in our subsequent effort to for[17]mulate a definition of poetry that shall be scientifically clear and comprehensive, and also to establish limits beyond which speculation is foreign to the design of this lecture-course.

The antique or classical idea.

Various poets and thinkers, each after his kind, have contributed to such a definition. I have mentioned Aristotle. He at least applied to the subject a cool and level intellect; and his formula, to which in certain essentials all must pay respect, is an ultimate deduction from the antique. It fails of his master Plato's spirituality, but excels in precision.

From Aristotle to Goethe.

Aristotle regards poetry as a structure whose office is imitation through imagery, and its end delight, — the latter caused not by the imitation, but through workmanship, harmony, and rhythm. The historian shows what has happened, the poet such things as might have been, devoted to universal truth rather than to particulars. The poet — the ποιητής — is, of course, a maker, and his task is invention. Finally, he must feel strongly what he writes. Here we have the classical view. The Greeks, looking upon poetry as a fine art, had no hesitation in giving it outline and law.

Horace, Dryden, and others.

Naturally an artist like Horace assented to this conception. Within his range there is no more enduring poet; yet he excludes himself from the title, and this because of the very elements which make him so modern, — his lyrical [18] grace and personal note. With Aristotle, he yielded the laurel solely to heroic dramatists and epic bards. His example is followed by our brave old Chapman, Homer's bold translator, who declares that the energia of poets lies in "high and hearty Invention." Dryden also accepts the canon of Imitation, but avows that "Imaging is, in itself, the height and life of it," and cites Longinus, for whom poetry was "a discourse which, by a kind of enthusiasm, or extraordinary emotion of the soul, makes it seem to us that we behold those things which the poet paints." Landor, the modern Greek, whose art was his religion, repeats that "all the imitative arts have delight for their principal object; the first of these is poetry; the highest of poetry is the tragic."

As an art alone.

But recognition of only the structure of verse, without its soul, deadened the poetry of France in her pseudo-classical period, from Boileau to Hugo, so that it could be declared, as late as A. D. 1838, that "in French literature that part is most poetry which is written in prose." Even the universal Goethe repressed his "noble rage" by the conception of poetry as an art alone, so that Heine, a pagan of the lyrical rather than of the inventive cast, said that this was the reason why Goethe's work did not, like the lesser but more human Schiller's, "beget deeds." "This is the curse," he declared, "of all that has originated in mere art." Like Pygmalion and the statue, "his kisses warmed her into life, [19] but, so far as we know, she never bore children." 1 Goethe's pupil, the young Matthew Arnold, accepted without reserve the antique notion of poetry. "Actions, human actions," he cried, "are the eternal objects of the muse." In after years, as we shall see, he formed a more sympathetic conception.

The Romantic view. Poetry as the lyrical expression of Emotion.

Other poets have thrown different and priceless alloys into the crucible from which is to flow the metal of our seeking, adding fire and sweetness to its tone. The chiefs of the romantic movement, so near our own time, believed Passion to be the one thing needful. Byron was its fervent exemplar.


In certain moods, it is true, he affected to think that he and his compeers were upon a wrong system, and he extolled the genius and style of Pope. But this was after all had got the seed of his own flower. It was plainly an affectation of revolt from his own affectation, with haply some prophetic sense of naturalism as a basis for genuine emotion. His summing up is given in "Don Juan": —

"Thus to their extreme verge the passions brought
    Dash into poetry, which is but passion,
    Or at least was so, ere it grew a fashion."

Moore, light-weight as he was, aptly stated the Byronic creed: "Poetry ought only to be employed as an interpreter of feeling." This is certainly true, as far as it goes, and agrees with Mill's [20] later but still limited canon, that poetry is emotion expressed in lyrical language. 1

Mill and Ruskin.

But a complete definition distinguishes the thing defined from everything else; it denotes, as you know, "the species, the whole species, and nothing but the species." Bascom and Ruskin follow Mill, but Ruskin adds other elements, saying that poetry is the suggestion, by the "imagination," of noble "thoughts" for noble emotions. This does not exclude painting and other emotional and imaginative arts. In truth, he is simply defining art, and takes poetry, as Plato might, as a synonym for art in all its forms of expression.


An elevated view, on the whole, is gained by those who recognize more sensibly the force of Imagination. Here the twin contemplative seers, Wordsworth and Coleridge, lift their torches, dispersing many mists. They saw that poetry is not opposed to prose, of which verse is the true antithesis, but that in spirit and action it is the reverse of science or matter of fact. Imagination is its polestar, its utterance the echo of man and nature. The poet has no restriction beyond the duty of giving pleasure. Nothing else stands between him and the very image of nature, from which a hundred barriers shut off the biographer and historian.

The Lake School.

Wordsworth admits the need of emotion, but renounces taste. Coleridge plainly has the instinct for beauty and the spell of measured words. [21] The chief contributions of the Lake School to our definition are the recognition of the imagination and the antithesis of science to poetry. 1 The pessimist Schopenhauer, who wrote like a musician on music, like a poet on poetry, yet with wholly impassive judgment, also avows that poetry is "the art of exciting by words the power of the imagination," and that it must "show by example what life and the world are."

The Platonic conception.

From the attributes of invention, passion, and imagination may perhaps be deduced what seems to others the specific quality of the poet, the very quintessence of his gift. What should I mean, save that which Aristotle's master considered the element productive of all others and a direct endowment from heaven, —


the Inspiration governing creative, impassioned, imaginative art? The poet's soul was, according to Plato, in harmonic relation with the soul of the universe.

Plato, in "The Republic."

It is true that in the "Republic" he supplies Aristotle with a technical basis; "furthermore, as an idealist playing at government, he is more sternly utilitarian than even the man of affairs. The epic and dramatic makers of "imitative history" are falsifiers, dangerous for their divine power of exciting the passions and unsettling the minds of ordinary folk. He admires a poet, and would even crown him, but feels bound to escort [22] him to the side of the ship Republic and to drop him overboard, as the Quaker repulsed the boarder, with the remark, "Friend, thee has no business here!" But this is Plato defying his natal goddess in a passing ascetic mood; Plato, in whose self the poet and philosopher were one indeed, having ever since been trying, like the two parts of his archetypal man, to find again so perfect a union. In his more general mood he atones for such wantonness, reiterating again and again that the poet is a seer, possessed of all secrets and guided by an inspiring spirit; that without his second sight, his interpretation of the divine ideas symbolized by substance and action, his mission would be fruitless.

From Plato to Emerson.

Those who take this higher view revere the name of Plato, though sometimes looking beyond him to the more eastern East, whence such occult wisdom is believed to flow, — to such sayings as that ascribed to Zoroaster, 1 "Poets are standing transporters; their employment consists in speaking to the Father and to Matter, in provoking apparent copies of unapparent natures, and thus inscribing things unapparent in the apparent fabric of the world."


Cicero, deeply read in Plato, could not conceive of a poet's producing verse of grand import and perfect rhythm without some heavenly inbreathing of the mind. The soul's highest prerogative was to contemplate the order of celestial things [23] and to reproduce it.


Transcendental thinkers — such as Lord Bacon in his finest vein — recognize this as its office. While Bacon's general view of poetry is that all "Feigned History" (as he terms it), prose or verse, may be so classed, he says the use of it "hath been to give some shadow of satisfaction to the mind of man in those points wherein the nature of things doth deny it"; and again, that it is thought to "have some participation of divineness because it doth raise and erect the mind, by submitting the shews of things to the desires of the mind."


Sidney's flawless "Defense of Poesie" 1 exalts the prophetic gift of the vates above all art and invention. In our day Carlyle clung to the supremacy of inspiration, in art no less than in action. But no one since Plotinus has made it so veritably the golden dome of the temple as our seer of seers, Emerson, in whose belief the artist does not create so much as report. The soul works through him. "Poetry is the perpetual endeavor to express the spirit of the thing."

The Concord School.

And thus all the Concord group, notably Dr. W. T. Harris, in whose treatises of Dante and other poets the spiritual interpreting [24] power of the bard is made preëminent.


The subtlest modern poet of life and thought, Browning, has left us only one prose statement of his art, but that is the lion's progeny. The poet's effort he saw to be "a presentment of the correspondency of the universe to the Deity, of the natural to the spiritual, and of the actual to the ideal." Spiritual progress, rather than art, is the essential thing.


A similarly extreme view led Carlyle (himself, like Plato, a poet throughout) to discountenance the making of poetry as an art.

Transcendental strength and weakness.

Carried too far, the Platonic idea often has vitiated the work of those minor transcendentalists who reduce their poetics to didactics, and inject the drop of prose that precipitates their rarest elixir. Their creed, however, — with its inclusion of the bard as a revealer of the secret of things, — while not fully defining poetry, lays stress upon its highest attribute.

Per ambages ut mos oraculis.

Thus we see that many have not cared to speak absolutely, and more have failed to discriminate between the thing done and the means of doing. Poetry is made a Brahma, at once the slayer and the slain. A vulgar delusion, that of poetasters, is to confound the art with its materials. The nobler error recognizes the poetic spirit, but not that spirit incarnate of its own will in particular and concrete form. The outcome is scarcely more exact and substantial than the pretty thesis caroled by "one of America's pet Marjories" in her tenth [25] year, and long since become of record. This child's heart detected "poetry, poetry everywhere!" and proclaimed that

"You breathe it in the summer air,
 You see it in the green wild woods,
 It nestles in the first spring buds.
 ·     ·     ·     ·     ·     ·     ·     ·    
 'T is poetry, poetry everywhere —
 It nestles in the violets fair,
 It peeps out in the first spring grass —
 Things without poetry are very scârce."

That our naïve little rhymer was a sibyl, and her statement hardly more vague than the definitions of poetry offered by older philosophers, who will deny?

Clearer statements.

All in all, various writers connected with the art movement of the present century have most sensibly discussed the topic. They recognize poetry as an entity, subject to expressed conditions. Hazlitt and Leigh Hunt logically distinguished between it and poetic feeling, and believed one to be the involuntary utterance of the other, sympathetically modulating the poet's voice to its key.

Shelley's noble "Defence of Poetry," 1821.

Shelley, the Ariel of songsters, came right down to the ground of our enchanted isle, laying stress upon the dependence of the utterance on rhythm and order — on "those arrangements of language, and especially metrical language, which are created by that imperial faculty whose throne is contained within the invisible nature of man." More recently the poet-critic, Theodore Watts, in the best modern essay upon the [26] subject, 1 says that "absolute poetry is the concrete and artistic expression of the human mind in emotional and rhythmical language." Here we certainly are getting out of the mists. In these formulas an effort for precision is apparent, and the latest one would be satisfactory did it insist more definitely, within itself, upon the office of the imagination, and upon the interpretative gift which is the very soul of our art.

The personal limitation.

The ideas presented by many of the poets seem in the main conformed to their own respective gifts, and therefore in a sense limited. Thus, years after Schlegel had termed poetry "the power of creating what is beautiful, and representing it to the eye or ear," our disciple of taste, Poe, who avowed that poetry had been to him "not a purpose, but a passion," amended Schlegel's terms with the adjective needed to complete his own definition — "the Rhythmical Creation of Beauty."

Lecture on "The Poetic Principle," 1845.

Never did a wayward romancer speak with a sincerer honesty of the lyrical art, and he clenched his statement by adding that its sole arbiter was Taste. If you accept beauty in a comprehensive sense, including all emotions, truths, and ethics, accept this definition as precise and unflinching. But Poe confines its meaning to the domain of æsthetics, which of itself he thought opposed to vice on account of her deformity; furthermore, he restricts it to what he terms supernal beauty, the [27] note of sadness and regret. This was simply his own highest range and emotion. His formula, however, will always be tenderly regarded by refined souls, for Beauty, pure and simple, is the alma mater of the artist; her unswerving devotee is absolved — many sins are forgiven to him who has loved her much.

The Miltonic canon.

But often a poet, great or small, has burnished some facet of the jewel we are setting. Milton's declaration that poetry is "simple, sensuous, passionate," is a recognition of its most effective attributes. 1 Lowell has sprinkled the whole subject with diamond-dust, and he, of all, perhaps could best have given a new report of its tricksy spirit.

Arnold's Delphic outgiving.

Arnold's phrase, "a criticism of life, under the conditions fixed for such a criticism by the laws of poetic truth and poetic [28] beauty," is of value, yet one of those definitions which themselves need a good deal of defining. With the exception of Mr. Watts, we see that not even the writers of our logical period have condensed into a single clause a statement that establishes, practically and inclusively, the basis on which our art sustains its enrapturing vitality, and Mr. Watts's statement leaves something for inference and his after-explanation. Before endeavoring, in the next lecture, to construct a framework that may serve our temporary needs, I wish to consider briefly the most suggestive addition which this century has made to the elements previously observed. I refer to the assertion of Wordsworth and Coleridge that poetry is "the antithesis to science."

Poetry as the antithesis to science.

What does this assertion mean, and how far does its bearing extend? The poet has two functions, one directly opposed to that of the scientist, and avoided by him, while of the other the scientist is not always master. The first is that of treating nature and life as they seem, rather than as they are; of depicting phenomena, which often are not actualities. I refer to physical actualities, of which the investigator gives the scientific facts, the poet the semblances known to eye, ear, and touch. The poet's other function is the exercise of an insight which pierces to spiritual actualities, to the meaning of phenomena, and to the relations of all this scientific knowledge.

The Real and the Apparent.

[29] To illustrate the distinction between a poet's, or other artist's, old-style treatment of things as they seem and the philosopher's statement of them as they are, I once used an extreme, and therefore a serviceable, example; to wit, the grand Aurora fresco in the Rospigliosi palace. Here you have the childlike, artistic, and phenomenal conception of the antique poets. To them the Dawn was a joyous heroic goddess, speeding her chariot in advance of the sun-god along the clouds, while the beauteous Hours lackeying her scattered many-hued blossoms down the eastern sky. For the educated modern there is neither Aurora nor Apollo; there are no winged Hours, no flowers of diverse hues. His sun is an incandescent material sphere, alive with magnetic forces, engirt with hydrogenous flame, and made up of constituents more or less recognizable through spectrum analysis. The colors of the auroral dawn — for the poet still fondly calls it auroral — are rays from this measurable incandescence, refracted by the atmosphere and clouds, under the known conditions that have likewise put to test both the pagan and biblical legends of that prismatic nothing, the rainbow itself. 1 The stately blank-verse poem, "Orion," which the late Hengist Horne published at a farthing half a century ago, is doubtless our most imaginative rendering of the legend which [30] placed the blind giant in the skies. The most superb of constellations represents even in modern poetry a mythical demigod. In science it was but the other day that the awful whirl of nebulæ developed by the Lick telescope revealed it to us almost as a distinct universe in itself.

A modern instance.

But to show the distinction as directly affecting modes of expression, take the first of countless illustrations that come to hand; for instance, the methods applied to the treatment of one of our recurrent coast storms. The poet says: —

"When descends on the Atlantic
    The gigantic
 Storm-wind of the Equinox,
 Landward in his wrath he scourges
    The toiling surges
 Laden with sea-weed from the rocks."

Or take this stanza by a later balladist: —

"The East Wind gathered, all unknown,
    A thick sea-cloud his course before:
 He left by night the frozen zone,
    And smote the cliffs of Labrador;
 He lashed the coasts on either hand,
 And betwixt the Cape and Newfoundland
    Into the bay his armies pour."

All this impersonation and fancy is translated by the Weather Bureau into something like the following: —

An area of extreme low pressure is rapidly moving up the Atlantic coast, with wind and rain. Storm-centre now [31] off Charleston, S. C. Wind N. E. Velocity, 54. Barometer, 29.6. The disturbance will reach New York on Wednesday, and proceed eastward to the Banks and Bay St. Lawrence. Danger-signals ordered for all North Atlantic ports.

The distinction chiefly one of methods.

We cannot too clearly understand the difference between artistic vision and scientific analysis. The poet in his language and the painter with his brush are insensibly and rightly affected by the latter. The draughtsman, it is plain, must depict nature and life as they seem to the eye, and he needs only a flat surface. The camera has proved this, demonstrating the fidelity in outline and shadow of drawings antedating its use. The infant, the blind man suddenly given sight, see things in the flat as we do, but without our acquired sense of facts indicated by their perspective. We have learned, and experience has trained our senses to instant perception, that things have the third dimension, that of thickness, and are not equally near or far. The Japanese, with an instinct beyond that of some of his Mongolian neighbors, avoids an extreme flat treatment by confining himself largely to the essential lines of objects, allowing one's imagination to supply the rest. He carries suggestiveness, the poet's and the artist's effective ally, to the utmost. Still, as Mr. Wores says, he has no scruples about facts, "for he does not pretend to draw things as they are, or should be, but as they seem." Now, it is probable that the [32] Aryan artist is born with a more analytic vision than that of the Orient; if not, that he does instinctively resist certain inclinations to draw lines just as they appear to him. But this natural resistance unquestionably was long ago reinforced by his study of the laws of perspective. The generally truer and more effective rendering of outline and shadow by Western masters cannot be denied, and furnishes an example of the aid which scientific analysis can render to the artist. In just the same way, we may see, empirical knowledge is steadily becoming a part of the poet's equipment, and, I have no doubt, is by inherited transmission giving him at birth an ability to receive from phenomena more scientifically correct impressions. For his purposes, nevertheless, the portrayal of things as they seem conveys a truth just as important as that other truth which the man of analysis and demonstration imparts to the intellect. It is the methods that are antithetical.

Discovery through Imagination.

The poet's other function, which the scientist does not avoid, but which research alone does not confer upon him, is that of seizing the abstract truth of things whether observed or discovered. It has been given out, though I do not vouch for it, that Edison obtains some of his ideas for practical invention from the airy flights of imagination taken by writers of fiction. In any case, it is clear that with respect to inventive surmise the poet is in advance: the investigator, if he would [33] leap to greater discoveries, must have the poetic insight and imagination, — be, in a sense, a poet himself, and exchange the mask and gloves of the alchemist for the soothsayer's wand and mantle. Those of our geologists, biologists, mechanicians, who are not thus poets in spite of themselves must sit below the seers who by intuition strike the trail of new discovery. For beyond both the phantasmal look of things and full scientific attainment there is a universal coherence — there are infinite meanings — which the poet has the gift to see, and by the revelation and prophecy of which he illumines whatever is cognizable.

The so-called conflict of science and religion, in reality one of fact and dogma, has been waged obviously since the time of Galileo. Its annals are recorded. It was the sooner inevitable because science takes nothing on faith. The slower, but equally prognosticable, effect of exact science on poetry, though foreseen by the Lake School, was not extreme until recently, — so recently, in fact, that a chapter which I devoted to it in (Cp. "Victorian Poets": pp. 7-21.) 1874 was almost the first extended consideration that it received. Since then it has been constantly debated, and not always radically. That the poets went on so long in the old way, very much like the people who came after the deluge, was due to two conditions. First, their method was so ingrained in literature, so common to the educated world, that it sustained a beauteous phantasmagory [34] against all odds. Again, the poets have walked in lowly ways, and each by himself; they have no proud temporal league and station, like the churchmen's, to make them timid of innovation, of any new force that may shake their roof-trees. They have been gipsies, owning nothing, yet possessed of everything without the care of it. At last they see this usufruct denied them; they are bidden to surrender even their myths and fallacies and inspiring illusions. With a grace that might earlier have been displayed by the theologians, they are striving to adapt art to its conditions, though at the best it is a slow process to bring their clientage to the new ideality.

Through night to light.

Though the imagery and diction which have served their use, and are now absurd, must cease, the creation of something truer and nobler is not the work of a day, and of a leader, but of generations. So there is a present struggle, and the poets are sharing the discomfort of the dogmatists. The forced marches of knowledge in this age do insensibly perturb them, even give the world a distaste for a product which, it fears, we must distrust. The new learning is so radiant, so novel, and therefore seemingly remarkable, that of itself it satiates the world's imagination. Even the abashed idealists, though inspired by it, feel it becoming to fall into the background. Some of them recognize it with stoical cynicism and stern effect. In Balzac's "The Search for the Absolute," Balthazar's wife, suffering agonies, makes an attempt to dis[35]suade him from utterly sacrificing his fortune, his good name, even herself, in the effort to manufacture diamonds. He tenderly grasps her in his arms, and her beautiful eyes are filled with tears. The infatuated chemist, wandering at once, exclaims: "Tears! I have decomposed them: they contain a little phosphate of lime, chloride of sodium, mucin, and water." Such is the last infirmity of noble minds to-day.

We latterly find our bards alive to scientific revelations. It has been well said that a "Paradise Lost" could not be written in this century, even by a Milton (Cp. "Poets of America": pp. 153-155, 262, 382). In his time the Copernican system was acknowledged, but the old theory of the universe haunted literature and was serviceable for that conception of "man's first disobedience," and the array of infernal and celestial hosts, to which the great epic was devoted. In our own time such a poet as Tennyson, to whom the facts of nature are everything, does not make a lover say, "O god of day!" but

"Move eastward, happy earth, and leave
    Yon orange sunset, waning slow."

Browning, Banville, Whitman, Emerson earliest and most serenely, — in fact, all modern intellectual poets, — not only adapt their works to physical knowledge, but, as I say, often forestall it.

Scientific intuitions.

Even as we find them turned savants, we find our Clerk Maxwells, Roods, Lodges, Rowlands, poets in their quick guesses and assump[36]tions. Imaginative genius is such that often one of its electric flames will come through what is ordinarily a non-conductor. That term, howbeit, cannot be applied to an American scientist 1 who enjoys the distinction of being at once a master of abstruse mathematics and a brilliant writer of very poetic novels, and to whom I put the same question I have addressed to poets, — simply, What is poetry?

Letter from an imaginitive savant.

He repaid me with a letter setting forth in aptest phrase his own belief in the kindred imaginations of the physicist and the poet. Naturally he considers the physical discoverer just now more triumphant and essential. "His study," he says, "is relations. When he cannot discover them, he invents them, — strings his fact-beads on the thread of hypothesis." After some illustrations of this, he sets present research above past fancy, and exclaims: "Compare the wings of light on which we ascend with a speed to girdle the earth eight times a second, to sift the constitution of stars, with the steed of Mohammed and its five-league steps and eyes of jacinth! What a chapter the Oriental poet could give us to-day in a last edition of Job — founding the conception of the Unknown on what we know of his works, instead of on our ignorance of them. I want a new Paul to rewrite and restate the doctrine of immortality."

But here the poet may justly break in and say, It is not from investigators, but from the divine [37] preachers, that we inherit this doctrine of immortality.

Insight first of all.

Being poets, through insight they saw it to be true, and announced it as revealed to them. Let science demonstrate it, as it yet may, and the idealists will soon adjust their imagery and diction to the resulting conditions. It is only thus they can give satisfaction and hold their ground. The prolongation of worn-out fancy has been somewhat their own fault, and it is just they should suffer for it. Still, although we may shift externals, the idealists will be potent as ever; their strength lies not in their method, but in their sovereign perception of the relations of things. Even the theologians no longer dismiss facts with the quotation, "Canst thou by searching find out God?" The world has learned that at all events we can steadily broaden and heighten our conception of him. We are beginning to verify Lowell's prophetic statement: –

"Science was faith once; Faith were science now
 Would she but lay her bow and arrows by
 And arm her with the weapons of the time."

Aspects of the transition.

Theology, teaching immortality, now finds science deducing the progressive existence of the soul as an inference from the law of evolution. Poetry finds science offering it fresh discovery as the terrace from which to essay new flights. While realizing this aid, a temporary disenchantment is observed. The public imagination is so intent upon the marvels of force, life, psychology, that it [38] concerns itself less with the poet's ideals. Who cares for the ode pronounced at the entrance of this Exposition, while impatient to reach the exhibits within the grounds? Besides, fields of industrial achievement are opened by each investigation, enhancing human welfare, and absorbing our energies. The soldiers of this noble war do not meditate and idealize; their prayer and song are an impulse, not an occupation.

The poet's inalienable ground.

My romancer and scientist goes on to say, "In all this the poet loses nothing. It is fundamental fact that the conquest of mystery leads to greater mystery; the more we know the greater the material for the imagination." This I too believe, and that the poet's province is, and ever must be, the expression of the manner in which revealed truths, and truths as yet unseen but guessed and felt by him, affect the emotions and thus sway man's soul.

Therefore his final ground is still his own, and he well may say, as Whitman chanted thirty years ago: —

"Space and Time! now I see it is true, what I guessed at.
 ·      ·      ·      ·      ·        ·      ·      ·      ·    
 I accept Reality, and dare not question it,
 Materialism first and last imbuing.
 ·      ·      ·      ·      ·        ·      ·      ·      ·    
 Gentlemen, to you the first honors always!
 Your facts are useful, and yet they are not my dwelling,
 I but enter by them to an area of my dwelling.
 Less the reminders of properties told my words,
 And more the reminders they of life untold."

[39] Insight and spiritual feeling will continue to precede discovery and sensation. In their footprints the investigator must advance for his next truth, and at the moment of his advance become one with the poet. In the words of Tyndall on Emerson, "Poetry, with the joy of a bacchanal, takes her grave brother by the hand, and cheers him with immortal laughter."

Ebb and flow.

Meanwhile the laws of change, fashion, ennui, that breed devotion first to one exercise of man's higher faculty, and anon to another, will direct the public attention alternately to the investigator and to the poet. In lulls or fatigue of discovery, there will be an eager return to the oracles for their interpretation of the omens of the laboratory and ward. The services of the temple are confined no more to the homily and narrative than to song and prayer.




II. What is Poetry?


[41] A word beforehand.

THESE lectures, as I have intimated, are purposely direct of statement, and even elementary. From my point of view this does not of itself imply a lack of respect for the intelligence of the listener. The most advanced star-gazer holds to his mathematics; while, as to poetry, enthusiasts find it easier to build fine sentences than to make clear to others, if to themselves, the nature of that which affects them so inspiringly. I trust that you are willing, in place of the charm of style and the jest and epigram of discourses for entertainment, to accept a search for the very stuff whereof the Muse fashions her transubstantial garments — to discover what plant or moth supplies the sheeny fibre; in what heat, what light, the iridescent fabric is dyed and spun and woven.

The direct and timely question.

It has occurred to me — I think it may not seem amiss to you — that this eager modern time, when the world has turned critic, this curious evening of the century, when the hum of readers and the mists of thought go up from every village; when poetry is both read and written, whether well or ill, more generally than ever before; [42] and when clubs are formed for its study and enjoyment, where commentators urban or provincial, masters and mistresses of analytics, devote nights to the elucidation of a single verse or phrase — it has occurred to me that this is an opportune time for the old question, so often received as if it were a jet of cold water upon steam or the stroke of midnight at a masquerade — an apt time to ask ourselves, What, then, is poetry, after all? What are the elements beneath its emotion and intellectual delight? Let us have the primer itself. For, if such a primer be not constructible, if it be wholly missing or disdained, you may feel and enjoy a poem, but you will hardly be consistent in your discourse upon it, and this whether you concern yourself with Browning, or Meredith, or Ibsen, — as is now the mode, — or with the masterworks of any period.

The poetic spirit not reducible to terms.

Nevertheless, we too must begin our answer to the question, What is poetry? by declaring that the essential spirit of poetry is indefinable. It is something which is perceived and felt through a reciprocal faculty shared by human beings in various degrees. The range of these degrees is as wide as that between the boor and the sensitive adept — between the racial Calibans and Prosperos. The poetic spirit is absolute and primal, acknowledged but not reducible, and therefore we postulate it as an axiom of nature and sensation.

To state this otherwise: it is true that the poetic [43] essence always has been a force, an energy, both subtile and compulsive; a primal force, like that energy the discovery of whose unities is the grand physical achievement of this century. The shapes which it informs are Protean, and have a seeming elusiveness. Still, even Proteus, as Vergil tells us, is capturable. Force, through its vehicle of light, becomes fixed within the substance of our planet; in the carbon of the fern, the tree, the lump of coal, the diamond.

Its vocal expression may be defined.

The poetic spirit becomes concrete through utterance, in that poetry which enters literature; that is, in the concrete utterances of age after age. Nothing of this is durably preserved but that which possesses the crystalline gift of receiving and giving out light indefinitely, yet losing naught from its reservoir. Poetry is the diamond of these concretions. It gives out light of its own, but anticipates also the light of after-times, and refracts it with sympathetic splendors.

With this uttered poetry, then, we are at present concerned. Whether sung, spoken, or written, it is still the most vital form of human expression. One who essays to analyze its constituents is an explorer undertaking a quest in which many have failed. Doubtless he too may fail, but he sets forth in the simplicity of a good knight who does not fear his fate too much, whether his desert be great or small.

A definition of Poetry in the Concrete.

In this mood seeking a definition of that poetic utterance which is or may become of record, — a definition both defensible and [44] inclusive, yet compressed into a single phrase, —I have put together the following statement:

Poetry is rhythmical, imaginative language, expressing the invention, taste, thought, passion, and insight, of the human soul.

1. The imaginitive invention and expression are Creative.

First of all, and as a corollary, — a resultant from the factors of imaginative invention and expression, — we infer that poetry is, in common with other art products, a creation, of which the poet is the creator, the maker. Expression is the avowed function of all the arts, their excuse for being; out of the need for it, art in the rude and primitive forms has ever sprung. No work of art has real import, none endures, unless the maker has something to say — some thought which he must express imaginatively, whether to the eye in stone or on canvas, or to the ear in music or artistic speech; this thought, the imaginative conception moving him to utterance, being his creative idea — his art-ideal. This simple truth, persistently befogged by the rhetoric of those who do not "see clear and think straight," and who always underrate the strength and beauty of an elementary fact, is the last to be realized by commonplace mechanicians.

Metrical sterility.

They go through the process of making pictures or verses without the slightest mission — really with nothing to say or reveal. They mistake the desire to beget for the begetting power. Their mimes and puppets have everything but souls. Now, the imaginative work of a true artist, convey[45]ing his own ideal, is creative because it is the expression, the new embodiment, of his particular nature, the materialization of something which renders him a congener, even a part, of the universal soul — that divinity whose eternal function it is to create. The expressive artist is to this extent indeed fashioned after his Maker. He can even declare, in the words of Beddoes, who used them, however, to reveal his surprising glimpses of evolution: –

"I have a bit of Fiat in my soul,
 And can myself create my little world."

2. The poet a revealer through Insight.

At the same time, the quality of the poet's creation, be it lyrical, narrative, or dramatic, is in a sense that of revelation. He cannot invent forms and methods and symbols out of keeping with what we term the nature of things; such inventions, if possible, would be monstrous, baleful, not to be endured. But he utters, reveals, and interprets what he sees with that inward vision, that second sight, the prophetic gift of certain personages, — that which I mean by "insight," and through which the poet is thought to be inspired. This vision penetrates what Plato conceived to be the quintessence of nature, what Wordsworth, in his very highest mood, declares that we perceive only when

              "we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things."

Genius, its recognition and its scientific vindication.

[46] The creative insight, according to its degree, is allied with, if not the source of, the mysterious endowment named genius, which humdrum intellects have sought to disallow, claiming that it lies chiefly in one of its frequent attributes, — industry, — but which the wisdom of generations has indubitably recognized. The antique and idealistic notion of this gift is given in "Ion": "A poet ... is unable to compose poetry until he becomes inspired and is out of his sober senses, and his imagination is no longer under his control; for he does not compose by art, but through a divine power." The modern and scientific rendering is that of the exact investigator, Hartmann, who traces this power of genius to its inmost cell, and classifies it as the spontaneous, involuntary force of the untrammelled soul, — in precise terms, "the activity and efflux of the Intellect freed from the domination of the Conscious Will." Whichever statement you accept, — and I see no reason why the two are not perfectly concordant, — here is the apparently superhuman gift which drew from Sophocles that cry of wonder, "Æschylus does what is right without knowing it."

3. Poetry as an expression of the beautiful,

As an outcome of genius producing the semblance of what its insight discovers, poetry aims to convey beauty and truth in their absolute simplicity of kind, but limitless variety of guise and adaptation. The poet's vision of these is shared to some extent by all of us, else [47] his appeal would not be universal. But to his inborn taste and wisdom is given the power of coadequate expression. Taste has been vilely mistaken for a sentiment, and disgust with its abuse may have incited the Wordsworthians and others to disqualify it. They limited their own range by so doing. The world forgives most sins more readily than those against beauty. There was something ridiculous, if heroic, in the supercilious attitude of our transcendentalists, not only putting themselves against the laity, but opposing the whole body of their fellow seers and artists, whose solace for all labors ever has been the favor of their beloved mistress Beauty, — the inspirer of creative taste.

through creative Taste.

The truth is that taste, however responsive to cultivation, is inborn, — as spontaneous as insight, and, indeed, with an insight of its own. Schlegel's alertness with respect to the æsthetic moved him to define even genius as "the almost unconscious choice of the highest degree of excellence, and, consequently," he added, "it is taste in its highest activity." Profound thinkers, lofty and unselfish natures, may flourish without taste: if so, they miss a sense, nor only one that is physical, — something else is lacking, if the body be the symbol of the soul. I would not go so far as to say of one born, for instance, without ear for melody, that there will be "no music in his soul" when that is disembodied. It is finer to believe that

    "whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in"

[48] such a one cannot hear it; that

"The soul, with nobler resolutions deck'd,
 The body stooping, does herself erect."

Taste often wanting or assumed.

But taste, whether in or out of the body, is a faculty for want of which many ambitious thinkers have in the end failed as poets. It is a sense, however, the functions of which are very readily assumed and mechanically imitated. At periods when what are called false and artificial standards have prevailed, as in French and English letters from 1675 to 1790, the word "taste" has been on every one's lips, and the true discernment of beauty has been supposed to be supreme, when in fact merely the crown and sceptre of taste have been set up and its mantle stuffed with straw. At this very time art is suffering everywhere from an immense variety of standards and models, and our taste, in spite of the diverse and soulless yet attractive productions of the studio and the closet, is that of an interregnum.

4. Poetry as an expression of intellectual Thought.

Assuming that the artist's conceptions are spontaneous and imaginative, their working out brings into play the conscious intellect. He gives us thought, building up masterpieces from the germinal hint or motive: his wisdom is of so pure a type that through it the poet and the philosopher, in their ultimate and possible development, seem united. It is the exclusive presentation of thought and truth that makes poetry didactical, and hence untrue in the artistic sense. [49] For taste has been finely declared to be "the artistic ethics of the soul," and it is only through a just balance of all the elements in question that poetry rises above ordinary and universal human speech and becomes a veritable art.

5. Emotion. The poet must be impassioned.

Under the conditions of these reciprocal elements, the poet's nature, "all touch, all eye, all ear," exalted to a creative pitch, becomes emotional. Feeling is the excitant of genuine poetry. The Miltonic canon, requiring the sensuous beauty which taste alone insures, demands, last of all, as if laying stress upon its indispensability, that poetry should be passionate. It is the impassioned spirit that awakes the imagination, whose taste becomes alert, that hears whisperings which others do not hear, — which it does not itself hear in calmer periods, — that breaks into lyric fervor and melody, and that arouses kindred spirits with recital of its brave imaginings. Feeling of any kind is the touch upon the poet's electric keyboard; the passio vera of his more intense moods furnishes the impulse and the power for effective speech. His emotion instinctively acquires the tone and diction fitted to its best expression. Even the passion of a hateful nature is not without a certain distinction. Flame is magnificent, though it feed upon the homes of men.

But the foregoing elements pertain to all the arts.

Right here we stop to consider that thus far our discussion ofthe poetic elements applies with almost [50] equal significance to all the fine arts; each of them, in fact being a means of expressing the taste, thought, passion, imagination, and insight, of its devotee. The generic principles of one are those of all. Analysis of one is to this extent that of art as art: a remark illustrated by the talk of every noteworthy virtuoso, from Angelo to Reynolds and Ruskin and Taine. Reflect for an instant upon the simultaneous appearance of a certain phase, such as Preraphaelitism, in the plastic, structural, and decorative arts, in imaginative literature; and on the stage itself, and you see that the Muses are indeed sisters, and have the same food and garments, — often the same diseases. But take for granted the "consensus of the arts." What is it, then, that differentiates them? Nothing so much as their respective vehicles of expression.

6. Poetry, then, is an art of Speech.

The key-stone of our definition is the statement that poetry, in the concrete and as under consideration, is language. Words are its specific implements and substance. And art must be distinguished, whatsoever its spirit, by its concrete form. A picture of the mind is not a painting. There is a statue in every stone; but what matters it, if only the brooding sculptor sees it? A cataract, a sunset, a triumph, a poetic atmosphere, or mood, or effect, — none of these is a poem. When Emerson and Miss Fuller went together to see Fanny Elssler dance, and the philosopher whispered to the sibyl, "Margaret, this is poetry!" and the sibyl re[51]joined, "Waldo, it is religion!" they both, I take it, would have confessed with Hosea that they had used similitudes. We are now considering the palpable results of inspiration. Poetry houses itself in words, sung, spoken, or inscribed, though there is a fine discrimination in the opening sentence of Ben Jonson's Grammar, which declares of language that "the writing [of it] is but an accident."

Its characteristic language always Rhythmical.

Language is colloquial and declarative in our ordinary speech, and on its legs for common use and movement. Only when it takes wings does it become poetry. As the poet, touched by emotion, rises to enthusiasm and imaginative power or skill, his speech grows rhythmic, and thus puts on the attribute that distinguishes it from every other mode of artistic expression — the guild-mark which, rightly considered, establishes the nature of the thing itself. At this date there is small need to descant upon the universality of rhythm in all relations of force and matter, nor upon its inherent consonance with the lightest, the profoundest, sensations of the living soul. Let us accept the wisdom of our speculative age, which scrutinizes all phenomena and reaches the scientific bases of experience, and, looking from nadir to zenith, acknowledges a psychological impulse behind every physical function. The earliest observers saw that life was rhythmical, that man and brute are the subjects of recurrent touch, sensation, order, and are alike responsive to measured sound, the form of [52] rhythm most obvious and recognizable; that music, for instance, affects the most diverse animate genera, from the voiceless insect and serpent to the bird with its semi-vocal melody, and the man whom it incites to speech and song. The ancients no less comprehended the rhythm of air and water, the multitudinous harmonies, complex and blended, of ocean surges and wind-swept pines.

The soul responsive to Vibrations.

But our new empiricism, following where intuition leads the way, comprehends the function of vibrations: it perceives that every movement of matter, seized upon by universal force, is vibratory; that vibrations, and nothing else, convey through the body the look and voice of nature to the soul; that thus alone can one incarnate individuality address its fellow; that, to use old Bunyan's imagery, these vibrations knock at the ear-gate, and are visible to the eye-gate, and are sentient at the gates of touch of the living temple. The word describing their action is in evidence: they "thrill" the body, they thrill the soul, both of which respond with subjective, interblending vibrations, according to the keys, the wave-lengths, of their excitants.

Every true poet is born with the gift of Rhythm.

Thus it is absolutely true that what Buxton Forman calls "idealized language," that is, speech which is imaginative and rhythmical, goes with emotional thought; and that words exert a mysterious and potent influence, thus chosen and assorted, beyond their normal meanings. Equally true it is that natural poets in sensi[53]tive moods have this gift of choice and rhythmic assortment, just as a singer is born with voice and ear, or a painter with a knack of drawing likenesses before he can read or write. It is not too much to say that if not born with this endowment he is not a poet: a poetic nature, if you choose, — indeed, often more good, pure, intellectual, even more sensitive, than another with the "gift," — and, again, one who in time by practice may excel in rhythmical mechanism him that has the gift but slights it; nevertheless, over and over again, not a born poet, not of the royal breed that by warrant roam the sacred groves. I lay stress upon this, because, in an age of economics and physics and prose fiction, the fashion is to slight the special distinction of poetry and to deprecate its supremacy by divine right, and to do this as our democracy reduces kingcraft — through extending its legitimate range. You cannot force artists, architects, musicians, to submit to such a process, for material dividing lines are too obvious. Otherwise, some would undoubtedly make the attempt. But poetic vibrations are impalpable to the carnal touch, and unseen by the bodily eye, so that every realist, according to his kind, either discredits them or lays claim to them. All the same, nothing ever has outrivaled or ever will outrival, as a declaration of the specific quality of poetry, the assertion that its makers do

    "feed on thoughts, that voluntary move
Harmonious numbers;"

[54] and the minstrel poet, of my acceptation, "lisped in numbers" as an infant — and well does the hackneyed verse reiterate, "for the numbers came."

Rhythmical factors and minor aids.

Aside from the vibratory mission of rhythm, its little staff of adjuvants, by the very discipline and limitations which they impose, take poetry out of the place of common speech, and make it an art which lifts the hearer to its own unusual key. Schiller writes to Goethe that "rhythm, in a dramatic work, treats all characters and all situations according to one law.... In this manner it forms the atmosphere for the poetic creation. The more material part is left out, for only what is spiritual can be borne by this thin element." In real, that is, spontaneous minstrelsy, the fittest assonance, consonance, time, even rhyme, — if rhyme be invoked, and rhyme has been aptly called "both a memory and a hope," — come of themselves with the imaginative thought. The soul may conceive unconsciously, and, as I believe in spite of certain metaphysicians, without the use of language; but when the wire is put up, the true and only words — just so far as the conception is true and clear and the minstrel's gift coequal — are flashed along it. Such is the test of genuineness, the underlying principle being that the masterful words of all poetic tongues are for the most part in both their open and consonantal sounds related to their meanings, so that with the inarticulate rhythm of impassioned thought we have a correspondent verbal rhythm for [55] its vehicle. The whole range of poetry which is vital, from the Hebrew psalms and prophecies, in their original text and in our great English version, to the Georgian lyrics and romances and the Victorian idyls, confirms the statement of Mill that "the deeper the feeling, the more characteristic and decided the rhythm." The rapture of the poet governs the tone and accent of his

  "high and passionate thoughts
To their own music chanted."

The essential differentiation.

Whoever, then, chooses to exempt poetry from this affinity with rhythm is not considering the subject-matter of these discourses. Not that I would magnify its office, or lessen the claims of other forms of imaginative and emotional expression. "The glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.... There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon." Nor do I ask you, with the Scripture, to set one above the other: count them of equal rank, if you like, – as in truth they seem to be in a time which has produced not only "In Memoriam," "Pippa Passes," "The Problem," but also "A Tale of Two Cities," "Henry Esmond," "The Scarlet Letter," — but count them as different. Of one thing I am assured, that every recognized poet will claim the vitality of this difference — a professional claim, without doubt, but not as though made by a lawyer or a divine, since their professions are more arbitrary and acquired. I confess that natural aptitude [56] justifies in a measure the expressions "a born lawyer," "a born doctor," etc.; still, more of what we call professional skill is obtained by training than by derivation. The reverse of this is true of minstrelsy, and thus it chances that for a thousand excellent lawyers you shall not discover one superior poet.

Rhyme, etc.

It is not essential now, when the trick of making clever verse is practised, like all the minor technics of decoration, music, and so on, by many more or less cultured persons with a talent for mimicry, to discuss historic forms of measure, and to show why rhythm is not confined to any formal measures rhymed or unrhymed. Yet even rhyme, in our tongue, has advantages apart from its sound, when so affluent and strong a workman as Browning uses it in some of his most extended poems as a brake on the whirl and rush of an over-productive genius. All the varied potencies of rhythm, — its trinity of time-beat, consonance, and assonance, its repetends and refrains and accidental wandering melodies and surprises, — are the vibrations of the poetic fervor made manifest, and the poet's conveyance of it to his listeners.

Imaginative prose fiction:

Now, we have seen that the term poetry was long applied to all imaginative literature. I recognize the fact that the portion of it which was only germinal with the ancients, but is the chief characteristic of our modern age, the prose tale or romance, — that this, our prose fiction, is equally a part of the feigned history celebrated by [57] Plato and Bacon and Sidney, of the thing creatively invented rather than of things debated or recorded. It is often imbued with the true spirit of poesy, and is almost always more original in plot, narrative, structure, than its sister art. It well may supply the topic for a series of discourses. Among the brilliant romancers and novelists are not a few who, were not fiction the dominant mode of our time, would possibly have wreaked their thoughts upon expression in rhythmical form.

how it is distinguished from the poetry under consideration.

But to see how distinct a thing it is, and also to illustrate my belief that a dramatic poet may as well not originate his own narrative or plot, read a story of Boccaccio or a chronicle by Holinshed, and then the play of Shakespeare's moulded upon it. The masterly novelist, the better to control his plot and to reflect life as it is, keeps his personal emotion within such command that it fails to become rhythmical. Where it gets the better of him, and he breaks into blank verse or singsong, his work is infallibly weakened; it may catch the vulgar ear, but is distinctly the less enduring. Who now can abide the tricky metrical flow of certain sentimental passages in Dickens? And Dickens, by the way, — nature's own child and marvellous, as in truth he was, — occasionally set himself to write poetic verse, but he knew no trick of it, and could acquire none. His lyrics were mostly commonplace. This was to be expected, for a real poet usually writes good prose, and rarely rhythmical prose as prose, though [58] he may elect, with Macpherson, Blake, Tourgénieff, Emerson, and Whitman, to cast his poetry in rhythmical prose form. Thackeray, who was a charming poet, of a light but distinct quality above which he was too genuine to venture, put no metrics into his novels.

The prose of poets, vs.

See how definite the line between the prose and the verse of Milton, Goethe, Landor, Coleridge, Byron. Of Emerson I have said elsewhere that his prose was poetry, and his poetry light and air. There is a class of writers, of much account in their day, whose native or purposed confusion between rhythmical and true prose attracts by its glamour, and whom their own generation, at least, can ill spare.

"poetical" prose.

Of such was Richter, and such in a measure have been De Quincey, Wilson, Carlyle, and even Ruskin, each after his kind. The strong personality of a writer forces its way. But it is to be noted that these after a time fall into distrust, as if the lasting element of true art had somehow escaped them. Certain latter-day lights well might take a lesson from the past. These iliuminati leave firm ground, but do they rise to the upper air? There is something eerie and unsubstantial about them as they flit in a moonlit limbo between earth and sky. Howbeit, they are what they are, and may safely plead that it is more to be what they can be than not to be at all. The difference betwixt poetical prose and the prose of a poet is exemplified by Mark Pattison's citation of the two at their best — the prose of Jeremy [59] Taylor and that of Milton, the former "loaded with imagery on the outside," but the latter "colored by imagination from within."

In short, although throughout our survey, and especially in the Orient, the most imaginative poetry often chants itself in rhythmic prose, the less rhythm there is in the prose of an essayist or novelist the better, even though it characterizes an interlude. As a drop of prosaic feeling is said to precipitate a whole poem, so a drop of sentimental rhythm will bring a limpid tale or essay to cloudy effervescence.

Eloquence, rhetoric, etc.

As for eloquence, which also was classed with poetry by our ancestors, and which is subjective and passionate, I do not say that it may not rise by borrowing wings; but in a poem the force of eloquence pure and simple cannot be prolonged without lessening ideality and the subtlest quality of all, — suggestiveness, — and rhetoric is as false a note as didacticism in the poet's fantasia.

Modern cleverness and training.

It is worth while to observe, in passing, that there never was a time before our own in literary history when more apparent successes, more curious and entertaining works, were achieved by determined and sincere aspirants who enter, not through original bent, but under gradual training and "of malice aforethought," fields to which they are not born inheritors, — the joint domains of poetry and prose fiction. Their output deceives even the critic, because it does serve [60] a purpose, until he reflects that none of it is really a force, — really something new, originative, enduring. Such a force was that of Fielding, of Byron, of Scott, of Keats, of Wordsworth, of Browning; and many lesser but fresh and natural poets and novelists are forces in their several degrees. What they produce, from its individual, often revolutionary, quality, is an actual addition to literature. But we see natural critics and moralists, persons of learning, of high cultivation in the focal centres of literary activity, who develop what is inborn with them — an exquisite gift of appreciation, and in time a stalwart purpose to rival the poets and novelists on their own ground. This they undertake at that mature age when the taste and judgment are fully ripe, and after admirable service as scholars, essayists and the like.

Nature's process.

Now, there scarcely is an instance, in the past, of a notable poet or romancer who did not begin, however late, by producing poetry or fiction, however crude, and this whether or not he afterward made excursions into the fields of analysis or history or æsthetics. Mr. Howells is a living illustration of this natural process. He began as a poet, and then, after excursions into several literary fields that displayed his humor, taste, and picturesqueness, he caught the temper of his period as a novelist, and helped to lead it. The cleverness and occasional "hits" of various self-elected poets and tale-writers are, however, noteworthy, even bewildering. At this mo[61]ment many who command public attention and what is called the professional market have previously demonstrated that their natural bent was that of didactic and analytic, rather than of emotional and creative, writers. Their success has been a triumph of culture, intellect, and will power. These instances, as I have said of an eminent poet and essayist (Cp. "Victorian Poets": pp. 91, 442.) now no more, almost falsify the adage that a poet is born, not made. Still, we bear in mind that precisely analogous conditions obtain in the cognate artistic professions, — in painting, music, architecture. The poets and novelists by cultivation, despite their apparent vogue in the most extended literary market the world has ever seen, and ambitious as their work may be, lack, in my opinion, the one thing needed to create a permanent force in the arts, and that is the predestined call by nature and certain particles of her "sacred fire."

"The Science of Verse."

We need not enter the poet's workshop and analyze the physics and philosophy controlling the strings of his lyre. That a philosophical law underlies each cadence, every structural arrangement, should be known in this very spot, 1 if anywhere, where not alone the metrics and phonetics, and what has been called the rationale, of verse, but therewithal the spirit of the poetry of the East, of our classical antiquity, of the Romance tongues, of the Norse, and of our own composite era, are in |62] the air, one may say, and are debated with a learning and enthusiasm for which a few of us, in my own academic days, hungered in vain.


Here, too, it was that the most analytic treatise ever conceived, upon the technics of rhythmical effect, was written by your own poet, Lanier, for whom the sister-spirits of Music and Poesy contended with a rivalry as strong as that between "twin daughters of one race," both loving, and both worshipped by, one whom death too soon removed while he strove to perfect their reconciliation. Though poetry must come by the first intention, if at all, and inspiration laughs at technical processes, even the unlettered minstrel conforms to law, as little conscious of it as some vireo in the bush is conscious of the score by which a Burroughs or an Olive Miller transfers the songster's tirra-lirra to the written page.

Poetry, above all, is utterance.

The point remains that poetry is ideal expression through words, and that words are not poetry unless they reach a stress that is rhythmical. Painting is a mode of expression, being visible color and shadow distributed upon a material surface; the language of poetry is another mode, because it is articulate thought and feeling. Sidney pointed merely to the fact that rhythm is not confined to verse, when he spoke of "apparelled verse" as "an ornament, and no cause to poetry, since there have been many most excellent poets that never have versified"; and he added that "now swarm many versifiers that need never answer to the name [63] of poet." Wordsworth's familiar recognition of "the poets that ne'er have penned their inspiration" was a just surmise; but such a poet is one in posse, assuredly not in esse, not a maker. Swinburne traverses the passage with a bit of common sense — "There is no such thing as a dumb poet or a handless painter. The essence of an artist is that he should be articulate."

Comparative review of the Arts.

Submitting these views with respect to a scientific definition of poetry, I ask your attention to a brief consideration of its bounds and liberties, as compared with those of music and the respective arts of design.

The respective powers and limitations of Sculpture,

The specific province, by limitation, of Sculpture, the art consecrate to the antique precision of repose, is to express ideals of form arrested as to movement and time. Its beauteous or heroic attitudes are caught at the one fit moment, and forever transfixed in rigid stone or wood or metal. Painting has an additional limitation; it gives only the similitude of form in all its dimensions, and only from one point of a beholder's view. To offset this, the range of the painter is marvellously broadened by the truth of perspective, the magic and vital potency of color, the tremulous life of atmosphere, and the infinite gradations and contrasts of light and shade. The mystical warmth and force of the Christian humanities are radiant in this enrapturing art. Yet its office is to capture the [64] one ideal moment, the lifelong desire of Faust, and to force it to obey the mandate: —

"Ah, still delay – thou art so fair!"


Such are the arts addressed to the eye alone, both of them lending their service to the earliest, the latest, the most various, of all material constructions — Architecture, whose pediments and roofs and walls originate in our bodily necessities, whose pinnacles typify our worship and aspiration, and which so soon becomes the beneficiary and the incasement of its decorative allies. None of the three can directly express time or movement, but there is practically no limit to their voiceless representation of space and multitude.


But movement in time is a special function of Music, that heavenly maid, never so young as now, and still the sovereign of the passions, reaching and rousing the soul through sound-vibrations perpetually changing as they flow.

The composer's sublime freedom, through progressive change.

To this it adds the sympathetic force of harmonic counterpoint. Its range, then, is freer than that of the plastic and structural arts, by this element of progressive change. Under its spell, thrilling with the sensations which it can excite, and which really are immanent in our own natures, considering moreover the superb mathematics of its harmony, and again that it has been the last in development of all these arts, we question whether it is not only superior to them [65] but even to that one to which these lectures are devoted. All feel, at least, the force of Poe's avowal that music and poetry at their highest must go together, because "in music the soul most nearly attains the great end for which it struggles — supernal beauty." And so old John Davies, in praise of music, —

"The motion which the ninefold sacred quire
   Of angels make: the bliss of all the blest,
 Which (next the Highest) most fills the highest desire."

Schopenhauer thought that the musician, because there is no sound in nature fit to give him more than a suggestion for a model, "approaches the original sources of existence more closely than all other artists, nay, even than Nature herself." Herbert Spencer has suggested that music may take rank as the highest of the fine arts, as the chief medium of sympathy, enabling us to partake the feeling which excites it, and "as an aid to the achievement of that higher happiness which it indistinctly shadows forth." And in truth, if the intercourse of a higher existence is to be effected through sound-vibrations rather than through the swifter light-waves, or by means of aught save the absolute celestial insight, one may fondly conceive music to be the language of the earth-freed, as of those imagined seraphim with whom feeling is "deeper than all thought."

But intellectual Speech is supreme.

Consider, on the other hand, how feeling governs the simple child, "that lightly draws its breath," [66] while thought begins its office as the child grows in strength and knowledge, and it is a fair inference that thought is the higher attribute, and that the suggestion of emotion by music is a less vital art than that of intellectual speech. The dumb brutes partake far more of man's emotion than of his mental intelligence. Neither is music — despite our latter-day theorists who defy the argument of Lessing's Laocoön and would make one art usurp the province of another, and despite its power as an indirect incentive to thought by rousing the emotions — a vehicle for the conveyance of precise and varied ideas. The clearer the idea, the more exact the language which utters and interprets it. This, then, is the obvious limitation of music: it can traverse a range of feeling that may govern the tone of the hearer's contemplations, it can "fill all the stops of life with tuneful breath" and prolong their harmonic intervals indefinitely, but the domain of absolute thought, while richer and more imperial for its excitation, is not mastered by it. Of that realm music can make no exact chart.

Limitations of the poet.

Thus far, we have no art without its special office, and none that is not wanting in some capacity displayed by one or more of the rest. Each goes upon its appointed way. Now comes poetry, — rhythmical, creative language, compact of beauty, imagination, passion, truth, — in no wise related, like the plastic arts, to material substance; less able than its associate, music, to move the soul [67] with those dying falls of sound that increase and lessen thought and the power to harbor it; almost a voiceless spirit of invention, working without hands, yet the more subtile, potent, inclusive, for this evasive ideality, and for creations that are impalpable except through the arbitrary and non-essential symbols by which it now addresses itself to the educated eye.

Permit me to select, almost at random, from Keats and Tennyson, ready illustrations of the bounds and capabilities of the various arts — passages necessarily familiar, since they are from Keats and Tennyson, but chosen from those masters because, of all English poets since Spenser, they are most given to picture-making, to the craft that is, as we say, artistic, picturesque.

How far he can illustrate and imitate sculpture.

A stanza from the "Ode on a Grecian Urn" describes, and rivals in verse, the ravishing power of a bit of sculpture to perpetuate arrested form and attitude — yes, even the suggestion of arrested music: —

"Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
    Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on —
 Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,
    Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone.
 Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
    Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
 Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
    Though winning near the goal; yet, do not grieve —
 She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss;
    Forever wilt thou love, and she be fair."

These undying lines not only define by words the [68] power and limits of the sculptor, but are almost a matchless example of the farthest encroachment poetry can make upon sculpture's own province. 1 What it cannot do is to combine the details of the carving so as to produce them to the mind, as sculpture does to the eye, at a single instant of time. It lingers exquisitely upon each in succession. Progressive time is required for its inclusion of the effects of a Grecian frieze or scroll.

His picture-making:

Now, take from Tennyson's lovely but lighter poem, "The Day-Dream," — a lyrical idyl at the acme of melodious and fanciful picture-making, — a stanza which seems to match with a certain roundness and color the transfixing effect of the painter's handiwork. It portrays a group entranced by the spell that has doomed to a hundred years of abeyance and motionlessness the life of the king's palace and the Sleeping Beauty. In the poems of Keats and Tennyson, as I say, artists find their sculptures and paintings already designed for them, so that these poets are the easiest of all to illustrate with some measure of adequacy.

its liberties and bounds.

The theme of the following lines, rendered by a painter, would show the whole group and scene at a flash of the eye; poetry cannot do this, yet, aided |69] by its moving panorama, the listener has painted all in his mind when the last word is uttered: —

    "More like a picture seemeth all
 Than those old portraits of old kings,
    That watch the sleepers from the wall.

"Here sits the butler with a flask
    Between his knees, half-drain'd; and there
 The wrinkled steward at his task,
    The maid-of-honor blooming fair;
 The page has caught her hand in his:
    Her lips are sever'd as to speak:
 His own are pouted to a kiss:
    The blush is fix'd upon her cheek."


It is to be noted, as we read, that Tennyson's personages, and those of Keats as well, are mostly conventional figures, as characterless as those on a piece of tapestry. The genius of neither poet is preferably dramatic: they do not get at individuality by dramatic insight like Shakespeare, nor by monodramatic soliloquy and analysis, like the strenuous Browning. Their dramas are for the most part masques containing eidullia (little pictures); though who can doubt that Keats, had he lived, would have developed the highest dramatic power? Remember what the less sensuous, more lyrical Shelley achieved in "The Cenci," when only four years beyond the age at which Keats imagined his "gold Hyperion, love-lorn Porphyro."

The poet infuses Life by his command of vocal movement.

But, to resume, see what poetry, in addition to the foregoing counterfeit of the painter's ocular presentment, can bring about in its [70] own field through its faculty of movement in time — a power entirely wanting to the arts which it has just mimicked. Note how it breaks the spell of transfixed attitude, of breathless color and suspended action; how it lets loose the torrents of Life at the instant of the "fated fairy prince's" experimental kiss: —

"A touch, a kiss! the charm was snapt.
    There rose a noise of striking clocks,
And feet that ran, and doors that clapt,
    And barking dogs, and crowing cocks;
A fuller light illumined all,
    A breeze thro' all the garden swept,
A sudden hubbub shook the hall,
    And sixty feet the fountain leapt.
    ·     ·     ·     ·     ·     ·     ·     ·    
The maid and page renew'd their strife,
    The palace bang'd, and buzz'd, and clackt,
And all the long-pent stream of life
    Dash'd downward in a cataract."

That is the stream which the painter has no art to undam. Only by a succession of pictures can he suggest its motion or follow the romance to its sequel; and that he can do even this with some fitness in the case of a Tennysonian ballad is because the laureate, as we see, counterfeits the painter's own method more artistically than other idyllists of rank in our time. If art is the fit and beautiful conformation of matter infused with the spirit of man, it must indeed have life.

He is again supreme.

The most nimble, ardent, varied transfer of the vital spirit is by means of language, and of all language that of [71] the poet is the most alive and expressive. Observe, again, that in what are called art circles — Arcadian groups of those devoted to art and letters — the imaginative writers are apt to interest themselves far more with respect to the plastic arts than the sculptors and painters with respect to poetry and romance; and well they may, since the poet enriches his work by using all artistic effects, while nothing is more dangerous to a painter, for example, than that he should give his picture a literary cast, as the phrase is, and make it too closely tell a story or rehearse a poem. This of itself tends to confirm Lessing's apothegm that "the poet is as far beyond the painter as life is better than a picture."



Final analysis and summary of the chief of arts.

The conquests of poetry, in fine, are those of pure intelligence, and of emotion that is unfettered. Like the higher mathematics, it is not dependent on diagrams, for the mind to which it appeals is a responsive draughtsman of lines finer and more complex than any known to brush or graver. It creates no beauty of form beyond the accidental symbols grouped in script and print, none of light and color, while the ear is less touched by it than by the melodies or harmonies of music; for its melody is that of flexible speech, and it knows not counterpoint, but must resort to the value of successive strains. Yet we [72] say that it has form and outline of its own, an architecture of its own, its own warmth and color, and, like music, life, and withal no little of music's vocal charm, in that through words it idealizes these "sweet influences," and is chartered to convey them all to the inward sight, the spiritual hearing, of the citadeled soul, with so apt suggestion that the poet's fellow-mortals, of like passions and perceptions with himself, see and hear and feel with much of his distinct individuality. Its vibrations excite the reflex action that creates in the mind of the receiver a vision corresponding to the imagination of the poet. Here is its specific eminence: it enables common mortals to think as the poet thinks, to use his wings, move through space and time, and out of space and time, untrammelled as the soul itself; it can feel, moan, weep, laugh, be eloquent, love, hate, aspire, for all – and with its maker; can reflect, and know, and ever seek for knowledge; can portray all times and seasons, and describe, express, interpret, the hiddenmost nature of man. Through poetry soul addresses soul without hindrance, by the direct medium of speech. Words are its atmosphere and very being: language, which raises man above the speechless intelligences; which, with resources of pitch, cadence, time, tone, and universal rhythm, is in a sense a more advanced and complex music than music itself — that idealized language which, as it ever has been the earliest form of emotional expression, appears almost a gift captured in man's [73] infancy from some "imperial palace whence he came." To the true poet, then, we say, like the bard to Israfel: —

"The ecstasies above
    With thy burning measures suit —
 Thy grief, thy joy, thy hate, thy love,
    With the fervor of thy lute —
    Well may the stars be mute."



[Die Anmerkungen stehen als Fußnoten auf den in eckigen Klammern bezeichneten Seiten]

[3] 1 John Hopkins University.   zurück

[19] 1 But see Ovid, Met. x. 297: —
            "Illa Paphon genuit, de quo tenet insula nomen."   zurück

[20] 1 J. S. Mill's Thoughts on Poetry and its Varieties, 1833.   zurück

[21] 1 Coleridge's Introductory Matter on Poetry, the Drama, and the Stage; Wordsworth's Prefaces and Appendix to Lyrical Ballads, etc.   zurück

[22] 1 Cited by F. B. Sanborn in a paper on Emerson.   zurück

[23] 1 Prof. Albert S. Cook, in his edition of Sidney's tractate, remarks concerning the title: "The Defense was not published till 1595, and then by two different printers, Olney and Ponsonby. The former gave it the title, An Apologie for Poetrie; the latter, The Defence of Poesie. It is doubtful which of these appeared the earlier.... Sidney himself refers to the treatise as 'a pitiful defense of poor poetry.'"   zurück

[26] 1 "Poetry," in the Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition.   zurück

[27] 1 Milton's phrase has become familiar as a proverb since Coleridge used it with great force in the prelude to his lectures on Shakespeare and on the Drama, but it is seldom quoted with its context, as found in the tractate On Education, addressed to Samuel Hartlib, A. D. 1644. The poet there speaks of "Rhetoric" as an art "to which poetry would be made subsequent, or indeed rather precedent, as being less subtile and fine, but more simple, sensuous, and passionate. I mean not here the prosody of a verse, which they could not but have hit on before among the rudiments of grammar; but that sublime art which in Aristotle's poetics, in Horace,... teaches what the laws are of a true epic poem, what of a dramatic, what of a lyric, what decorum is, which is the grand masterpiece to observe. This would make them soon perceive what despicable creatures our common rhymers and playwriters be; and show them what religious, what glorious and magnificent, use might be made of poetry, both in divine and human things."   zurück

[29] 1
"There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:
 We know her woof, her texture; she is given
 In the dull catalogue of common things."
                                                    Keats: Lamia.   zurück

[36] 1 Prof. A. S. Hardy, of Dartmouth College.   zurück

[68] 1 Since the first appearance of this lecture I have seen a finely penetrative essay by Mr. J. W. Comyns Carr (The New Quarterly Magazine, October, 1875), in which this same Ode is quoted to illustrate the ideal calm sought for by "The Artistic Spirit in Modern Poetry." As no better example can be found, in conveyance of the poetic and the plastic methods respectively, I do not hesitate to retain it.   zurück

[61] 1 John Hopkins University.   zurück





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Edmund Clarence Stedman: The Nature and Elements of Poetry.
Boston u. New York: Houghton, Mifflin 1892, S. 3-73.

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Stedman, Laura / Gould, George M.: Life and Letters of Edmund Clarence Stedman.
2 Bde. New York: Moffat, Yard 1910.
PURL: https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uva.x000209352   [Bd.2]
URL: https://archive.org/details/lifeandletterse00goulgoog   [Bd.2]
Bd. 2, S. 613-654: Bibliography.

The Vault at Pfaff's.
An Archive of Art and Literature by the Bohemians of Antebellum New York.
Stedman, Edmund Clarence (1833-1908).
Banker, Editor, Journalist, Literary Critic, Poet, War Correspondent.
URL: https://pfaffs.web.lehigh.edu/node/54136

Stedman, Edmund Clarence: Elements of the Art of Poetry.
In: The Galaxy. An Illustrated Magazine of Entertaining Reading.
Bd. 1, 1866, 1. Juli, S. 408-415.
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000054839

Stedman, Edmund Clarence: Victorian Poets.
In: Scribner's Monthly, an Illustrated Magazine for the People.
Bd. 5, 1873, Nr. 3, Januar, S. 357-364.
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000544996

Stedman, Edmund Clarence: Victorian Poets.
Boston: James R. Osgood 1875.
URL: https://archive.org/details/cu31924013268697   [1876]
PURL: https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc2.ark:/13960/t93776f7z   [1876]

Stedman, Edmund Clarence: Walt Whitman.
In: Scribner's Monthly. An Illustrated Magazine.
Bd. 21, Nov. 1880-April 1881, Nr. 1, November 1880, S. 47-64.
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000544996

Stedman, Edmund Clarence: Edgar Allan Poe.
Boston: Houghton, Mifflin 1881.
URL: https://archive.org/details/edgarallanpoe00stedgoog
PURL: https://hdl.handle.net/2027/loc.ark:/13960/t5k940674

Stedman, Edmund Clarence: Some London Poets.
In: Harper's New Monthly Magazine.
Bd. 64, 1882, Nr. 384, Mai, S. 874-892.
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008919716
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008882057

Stedman, Edmund Clarence: Poets of America.
Boston u. New York: Houghton, Mifflin 1885.
URL: https://archive.org/details/poetsofameri00sted
PURL: https://hdl.handle.net/2027/loc.ark:/13960/t56d6qd9v

Stedman, Edmund Clarence: The Twilight of the Poets.
In: The Century Magazine.
Bd. 30, 1885, Nr. 5, September, S. 787-800.
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/006057380
URL: http://www.unz.com/print/Century/

Stedman, Edmund Clarence: The Nature and Elements of Poetry.
Boston u. New York: Houghton, Mifflin 1892.
URL: https://archive.org/details/natureelementsof00steduoft
PURL: https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc2.ark:/13960/t7pn90z1x

Stedman, Edmund Clarence: A Victorian Anthology, 1837-1895.
Illustrating the Editor's Critical Review of British Poetry in the Reign of Victoria.
Boston u. New York: Houghton, Mifflin 1895.
PURL: https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc2.ark:/13960/t1fj2d32n
URL: https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.178942

Stedman, Edmund Clarence: An American Anthology, 1787-1900.
Selections Illustrating the Editor's Critical Review of American Poetry in the Nineteenth Century.
Boston u. New York: Houghton, Mifflin 1900.
S. XV-XXXIV: Introduction.
URL: https://archive.org/details/anamericananthol00stedrich
PURL: https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uiug.30112041556215

Stedman, Edmund Clarence: Victorian Poets.
Revised, and Extended, by a Supplementary Chapter to the Fiftieth Year of the Period Under Review.
Boston u. New York: Houghton, Mifflin 1903.
URL: https://archive.org/details/victorianpoet00sted
PURL: https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc2.ark:/13960/t5j963v1f

Stedman, Edmund Clarence: Genius and Other Essays.
New York: Moffat, Yard 1911.
URL: https://archive.org/details/geniusandothere00stedgoog
PURL: https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc1.$b275404




Brandmeyer, Rudolf: Poetiken der Lyrik: Von der Normpoetik zur Autorenpoetik. In: Handbuch Lyrik. Theorie, Analyse, Geschichte. Hrsg. von Dieter Lamping. 2. Aufl. Stuttgart 2016, S. 2-15.

Christ, Carol T.: Victorian Poetics. In: A Companion to Victorian Poetry. Hrsg. von Richard Cronin u.a. Malden, MA 2002, S. 1-21.

Cohen, Michael: E. C. Stedman and the Invention of Victorian Poetry. In: Victorian Poetry 43.2 (2005), S. 165-188.

Jackson, Virginia: Art. Lyric. In: The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Hrsg. von Roland Greene u.a. 4. Aufl. Princeton u.a. 2012, S. 826-834.

Loeffelholz, Mary: Stedman, Whitman, and the Transatlantic Canonization of American Poetry. In: Whitman among the Bohemians. Hrsg. von Joanna Levin u. Edward Whitley. Iowa City 2014, S. 213-230.

Newcomb, John T.: How Did Poetry Survive? The Making of Modern American Verse. Urbana, Ill. u.a. 2012.

Renker, Elizabeth: The 'Twilight of the Poets' in the Era of American Realism, 1875-1900. In: The Cambridge Companion to Nineteenth-Century American Poetry. Hrsg. von Kerry Larson. Cambridge 2011, S. 135-153.

Renker, Elizabeth: The "Genteel Tradition" and Its Discontents. In: The Cambridge History of American Poetry. Hrsg. von Alfred Bendixen u. Stephen Burt. New York 2015, S. 403-424.

Renker, Elizabeth: Realist Poetics in American Culture, 1866-1900. Oxford 2018.

Rodriguez, Antonio (Hrsg.): Dictionnaire du lyrique. Poésie, arts, médias. Paris 2024.

Zymner, Rüdiger: Lyrik. Umriss und Begriff. Paderborn 2009.

Zymner, Rüdiger (Hrsg.): Handbuch Gattungstheorie. Stuttgart u.a. 2010.



Lyriktheorie » R. Brandmeyer