Page:The Harvard Classics Vol. 51; Lectures.djvu/94

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.

experience in ourselves. The kind of poetry which finds us first is that which relates itself somehow to our immediate interests. Its appeal depends upon what we bring to it of our own knowledge and sensibility. We understand it because it phrases what we have ourselves perceived and felt, though vaguely. Thus it interprets our present lot, intensifying its quality and weaving its tangled threads into a satisfying pattern. The poetry which seems to beckon to us and is able to hold us longer is the figuring forth of experience, already ours in part, into which we may enter more abundantly; it helps us to take the step beyond. The poetry to which we finally make our way—the great things of all time—is the revelation of farther depths of insight, of unsounded depths of emotion. Such poetry as this compels us to its own temper and mood. It is not only revelation, it is creation; for out of the otherwise common things of life it builds a quite new world for our possession.

If we seek a standard by which to try the quality and value of a poem, we find it most immediately in our present need. But we must be sure that the need is real, not a passing caprice, that it is intrinsically and profoundly a part of our expanding life. That poem is truly for us, and so far good, which reveals beauty to us and some kind of significance; for it can thus sustain and nourish us and minister to our growth. But there is an objective standard as well. This is found first of all in the poet's genuineness of feeling. Does the word exactly measure the emotion it is intended to express? Without this primary and underlying sincerity of purpose, all the graces of form and phrase cannot satisfy for long. Granted this sincerity, however, we may say that that greatest poetry is that which gathers into itself and radiates the most of reality, that which discloses the deepest insight into life, and is charged with the fullest intensity of emotion, matched by the greatest fitness and power of expression.

By the witchery of its music and the radiance of image, poetry may rightly give pleasure to a leisure moment. Apprehended in its deeper import, it may be one of the serious pursuits of life. To see the world poetically is itself a kind of success. Although some quiet spirits are content with the passive reception of beauty in nature and in art, yet the poetic interpretation of life is not incompatible with high moral endeavor, and may even be a stimulus to it, kin-