Phantasmagoria and Other Poems/Poeta Fit, Non Nascitur

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Phantasmagoria and Other Poems by Lewis Carroll
Poeta Fit, Non Nascitur

POETA FIT, NON NASCITUR

 

"How shall I be a poet?
 How shall I write in rhyme?
You told me once 'the very wish
 Partook of the sublime:'
Then tell me how! Don't put me off
 With your 'another time'!"

The old man smiled to see him,
 To hear his sudden sally;
He liked the lad to speak his mind
 Enthusiastically:
And thought "There's no hum-drum in him,
 Nor any shilly-shally."


"And would you be a poet
 Before you've been to school?
Ah, well! I hardly thought you
 So absolute a fool.
First learn to be spasmodic—
 A very simple rule.

"For first you write a sentence,
 And then you chop it small;
Then mix the bits, and sort them out
 Just as they chance to fall:
The order of the phrases makes
 No difference at all.

"Then if you'd be impressive,
 Remember what I say,
That abstract qualities begin
 With capitals alway:
The True, the Good, the Beautiful—
 Those are the things that pay!


"Next, when you are describing
 A shape, or sound, or tint;
Don't state the matter plainly,
 But put it in a hint;
And learn to look at all things
 With a sort of mental squint."

"For instance, if I wished, Sir,
 Of mutton-pies to tell,
Should I say 'dreams of fleecy flocks
 Pent in a wheaten cell'?"
"Why, yes," the old man said; "that phrase
 Would answer very well.

"Then fourthly, there are epithets
 That suit with any word—
As well as Harvey's Reading Sauce
 With fish, or flesh, or bird—
Of these, 'wild,' 'lonely,' 'weary,' 'strange,'
 Are much to be preferred."


"And will it do, O will it do
 To take them in a lump—
As 'the wild man went his weary way
 To a strange and lonely pump'?"
"Nay, nay! You must not hastily
 To such conclusions jump.
 
"Such epithets, like pepper,
 Give zest to what you write;
And, if you strew them sparely,
 They whet the appetite:
But if you lay them on too thick,
 You spoil the matter quite.

"Last, as to the arrangement:
 Your reader, you should show him,
Must take what information he
 Can get, and look for no im-
mature disclosure of the drift
 And purpose of your poem.


"Therefore, to test his patience—
 How much he can endure—
Mention no places, names, or dates,
 And evermore be sure
Throughout the poem to be found
 Consistently obscure.

"First fix upon the limit
 To which it shall extend:
Then fill it up with 'padding'—
 (Beg some of any friend):
Your great Sensation-stanza
 You place towards the end."

"And what is a Sensation,
 Grandfather, tell me, pray?
I think I never heard the word
 So used before to-day:
Be kind enough to mention one
  'Exempli gratiâ.' "


And the old man, looking sadly
 Across the garden-lawn,
Where here and there a dew-drop
 Yet glittered in the dawn,
Said "Go to the Adelphi,
 And see the 'Colleen Bawn.'

"The word is due to Boucicault—
 The theory is his,
Where Life becomes a spasm,
 And History a whiz:
If that is not Sensation,
 I don't know what it is.

"Now try your hand, ere Fancy
 Has lost its present glow—"
"And then," his grandson added,
 "We'll publish it, you know:
Green cloth—gold-lettered at the back—
 In duodecimo!"


Then proudly smiled that old man
 To see the eager lad
Rush madly for his pen and ink
 And for his blotting-pad—
But, when he thought of publishing,
 His face grew stern and sad.