The Nature and Elements of Poetry/Beauty
For the moment, and somewhat out of the order of discussion, I will assume that no poem Poetry as an artistic expression of the beautiful.can have birth without that unconscious process of the soul which is recognized in our use of words like "intuition," "insight," "genius," "inspiration." Nor can it be brought to completeness without the exercise of conscious afterthought. True poetry, however, is reinforced by three dynamic elements. No work of art is worth considering unless it is more or less effective through beauty, feeling, and imagination; and in the consideration of art, truth and ethics are a part of beauty's fidelity to supreme ideals.
You will find it needful to examine the nature of that which is termed Beauty, before What, then, is Beauty?rather the chief illustration, when it is declared that an indispensable function of the arts is the expression of the beautiful.that poetry can be no exception, but
With respect to the artists and critics who abjure that declaration,—as when, for instance, The denial of its indispensability.a critic said of an American draughtsman that he was too fine an artist to concern himself about mere beauty,—I am convinced that they simply are in rebellion against hackneyed standards. They have adopted some fresh, and therefore welcome, notion as to what is attractive. This they have given a new name, to distinguish it from an established and too familiar standard. They are unwittingly wooing beauty in a new dress,—the same goddess, with more disguises than Venus Mater. Some day they will recognize her, et vera incessu patuit dea, and again be taught that she never permits her suitors to escape. She has the secret of keeping them loyal in spite of themselves. This belief that they are free is a charm by which she lures them to her unknown haunts, rewarding them with the delight of discovery, or ironically permitting them to set up claims for invention. One may even compare beauty to the wise and charming wife who encourages a fickle husband's attentions at a masquerade. She has a thousand graces and coquetries. At last the masks are removed. "What, is it you? And still superior to all others!" He needs must worship her more than ever, and own that none can rival her adorable and "infinite variety."
No; the only consistent revolt is on the part of A logical but purely Berkeleian theory.those who declare that she has no real existence,—that beauty is a chimera. Let me confess at once that I am not in their ranks. I doubt whether any artist, or any thinker who honestly loves art and has an instinct for it, believes this theory of æsthetics, though he may advocate it or be driven into its acceptance. An argument can be made on that side, granting certain premises. Even then it is a dispute about terms. The claim may serve for metaphysicians, not for those whose vocations relate to the expression of artistic ideas in what is called tangible form. Go back to Berkeley and his forebears, if you like. Deny the existence of all things,—for that is what you must do if you deny the actuality of beauty, else you are instantly routed. Your only safe claim is that naught but soul exists, and this not the general soul, but your own soul, your Ego. You think, therefore you are; everything else is, for all that I can prove, the caprice of your own dream. Some of our modern transcendentalists, vaunting their Platonic allegiance to ideal beauty, affected Its supporters.indifference to its material emblems. The modern impressionists, after all the most ardent and ingenuous of technicists, are unwittingly their direct successors. Now, the transcendentalists often were speculators, and not, as they deemed themselves, artists and poets. Having little command over the beautiful, they took refuge in discrediting it. I speak of certain of the followers: their chief was Argus-eyed. In Emerson Emerson's own view.the true poet constantly broke loose. He, too, looked inward for the ideal beauty, that purest discovery of the soul, but in song he always recognized its visible reality:—
"For Nature beats in perfect tune,
And rounds with rhyme her every rune,
Whether she work in land or sea,
Or hide underground her alchemy.
Thou canst not wave thy staff in air,
Or dip thy paddle in the lake,
But it carves the bow of beauty there,
And the ripples in rhymes the oar forsake."
But, as I say, the recantation of beauty, by transcendentalists, realists, and impressionists alike, is the search for her in some other of her many Impressionism.realms. Whatsoever kingdom the impressionist enters, he still finds her on the throne. For him she may veil herself in twilight and half-tints,—or at rare instants of perception in still more witching drapery worn for him alone. The individual impressions enrich our museum of her portraitures. The impressionist depicts her not as she was known to Pheidias, or Raphael, or Velasquez, but as she appears to his own favored vision. This is the truth that makes impressionism a brave factor in modern art and poetry. What lessens its vantage is the delusion, absurd as Malvolio's, of incompetents, each of whom fancies that he is in special favor and that myopic vision and eccentric technic result in impressions that are worth recording.
Whenever there is a notable break from that mediocrity falsely termed "correct," which lurks in academic arras, it is not a rebellion but a just revolution. This is why it has been said that "the strength of Shakespeare lay in the fact Art's new departures.that he had no taste; he was not a man of letters." But men of letters now accept Shakespeare as their highest master. Thus every new movement or method in art has the added form of strangeness at first,—of a true romanticism. In time this, too, becomes classicism and academic. The mediocrities, the dullards of art, are ever the camp-followers of its shining soldiery. In every campaign, under every mode that a genius brings into vogue, they ultimately pitch their ragged tents; and even if they do not sink the cause into disrepute, they make in time a new departure necessary. In the greatest work, however, there will be found always a fresh originality that is not radically opposed to principles already established; you will have a union of classicism and romanticism.
Any poem or painting which produces a serious and lasting impression will in the end be The æsthetic canon.found to have a beauty, not merely of its own, but allied to universal types and susceptible of logical analysis. Its royal stamp will be detected by the expert. Gainsay this, and you count out a host of the elect brotherhood who make this the specific test,—who will forego other elements (as in religion the Church passes over minor matters if you accept its one essential) and concentrate their force upon the dogma tersely expressed by Poe when he defined poetry as "the rhythmical creation of beauty." One need not accept this as a sufficient statement, but one may assert that no statement is sufficient which does not pointedly include it.
Confront, however, the fact that the new æsthetic Æsthetics as the study of "the manifestations of artistic genius."is grounded in science, and see to what this leads. It opposes, for example, the theory of those who accept the existence of a something which we recognize as beauty, and which as a sensible and primary quality can be defined only by itself, or by a synonym, though its conditions are observable and reasons can be given for it. Expression is its source; is not beauty itself, but that which gives Eugène Véron's exposition of "personal art."objects beauty. Now Véron, a forcible expositor of the school that has in mind the scientific situation, declares that beauty is solely in the eye or mind of the artist, and that everything turns on the expression of his impression. The latter clause is true enough. The beauty which the painter or poet offers us certainly depends upon the quality of his vision, upon his ability to give us something in accord with general laws, yet deriving a special charm and power from the touch or atmosphere of his personal genius. As each race has its specific mode of vision, so for each there are as many and different impressions and expressions as the race has artists; and the general or academic outlines of perfection being known, the distinctive value of a poem or painting does come from its maker's habit of vision and interpretation.
But why, in order to advance the banner of impressionism,Yet beauty is no less a force existent. or of neo-impressionism, or of realism, good as these may be, should we assume the task of denying beauty altogether? Beauty is confessedly not a substance; you cannot weigh it with scales or measure it with a yard-stick: but it lies in a vibratory expression of substances. It characterizes that substance which enforces upon intelligence—in our case, upon human intelligence—a perception of its fitness. In the mind of a creative poet, it is a quality of his imagined substance,—poetry dealing, as we have seen, with "the shews of things" and treating them as if real. To the pure idealist they are the only realities, as Emerson himself implied in his remark when called away from an abstract discussion in the library to inspect a farmer's load of wood: "Excuse me a moment, my friends. We have to attend to these matters just as if they were real."
To be sure, from the place where I stand, I cannot see the rays, the vibrations, which convey to you the aspect of something in your line of vision:Its vibrations actually occur, the light and shape and color which constitute your impression are your personal sensations. But the vibrations which produce them are actually occurring, and the quality of the substance from which they emanate is operative,—unless, again, you choose to deny in toto the existence of matter,—and, after every allowance has been made for personal variation, if I move to your point of view, they will, so far as we can know anything, produce approximately the same effect upon my mind and upon yours. It matters not throughand excite our spiritual perception of them. which of the senses impressions are received: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, all resolve themselves at last into spiritual feeling. Form, for example, appeals to the touch as well as to the eye. Note the blind Herreshoff, that skilled designer of the swift, graceful hulls of yachts and other cruisers. As his sensitive fingers passed over, and shaped, and reshaped his model, he had as keen a sense of the beauty of its lines as we have in seeing them. A poem, conveyed by touch to one congenitally deaf, dumb, and blind, will impress him only with the beauty of its thought, construction, and metric concordance; but in one who has lost his sight and hearing in mature years, and who retains his memories, it will excite ideas of Form and sentiment.sound and imagery and color. Moral and intellectual beauty is the spiritual analogue of that which is sensuous; but just now we are regarding concrete qualities; for example, the form, the verbal and rhythmical excellence, of a poet's poem. Our reference to arts that specially appeal to the eye is illustrative, since they afford the diagrams, so to speak, of most service in this discussion.
For the perception of the beautiful there must be a soul in conjunction; that statement is Beauty is the quality regulating certain vibrations.irrefutable. Yet I think that the quality of beauty exists in substances, even if there be no intelligence at hand to receive an impression of it; that if a cataract has been falling and thundering and prismatically sparkling in the heart of a green forest, from time immemorial, and with no human being to wonder at it, it has no less the attribute of beauty; it is waiting, as Kepler said of its Creator, "six thousand years for an interpreter." Suppose that an exquisite ode by Sappho or Catullus has been buried for twenty centuries in some urn or crypt: its beauty is there, and may come to light. Grant that our sense of material beauty is the impression caused by vibrations; then the quality regulating those vibrations is what I mean by the "beauty" of the substance whence they emanate. Grant what we term the extension of that substance; the characteristics of that extension are what affect us. There is no escape, you see, unless, with Berkeley, you say there is no matter.
This is just what the poet, the artist, is not called upon to do. He is at the outset a phenomenalist. He sets forth his apparitions of things, idealizing The poet receptive to universal them for the delight of himself and the world. And as to the law of beauty, whether it lies in use or proportion or what not, it all comes back to the truths of nature, to the perfection of the universe, to that sense of the fitness of things which is common to us all in our respective degrees; so that there are some objects so perfect that we all, if of the same breed and condition, assent to their beauty. There are women, for example, who take the world with beauty at first glance, and there are other objects only partly beautiful, less perfect, about which, therefore, even critical judgments are in dispute. That beauty does go somewhat with use is plain from its creation by necessity. The vessel that is most beautiful, that differs most from the lines of a junk or scow, is the one best fitted safely and swiftly to ride the waves. The condition is the same with everything in nature and art, from a bird to a portico. If the essence of .Beauty the natural quality of all things.beauty lies in conformity to the law and fitness of things, then all natural things are as beautiful as they can be,—that is, beauty is their natural quality; they develop it unconsciously as far as possible under limitations imposed by the pervading struggle for existence. That is what leads Hartmann to assert that in Nature's beauty "the individual, who is at the same time marble and sculpture, realizes the Idea perfectly unconsciously; in human artistic production, on the other hand, the instigation of consciousness supervenes."
The poet, through intuition and executive gift realizing the normal beauty of everything, Recognition of it is intuitive.imaginatively sets it forth. He detects it even within the abnormal gloom and deformity imposed by chance and condition, helps it to struggle to the light, restores it—I may say—to consonance with the beauty of the universal soul. This being partly comprehensible through empiricism and logical analysis, men of talent and of little insight produce tolerable work by means of trained æsthetic judgment. But no art, no poetry, is a distinctive addition to the world's stores unless its first conception be intuitive; then only it is a fresh expression of the universal beauty through one of its select interpreters. Like all things else it comes to us from Jove.
Even Véron is compelled to assume the element which he denies. When he begins toThe schools. illustrate and to criticise, he instantly talks of "the perfection of parts." The despotism of established art systems springs from this perfection,—the academic sway of the antique and of Raphaelitism. Much of this discussion belongs to metaphysical æsthetics, and some persons may think these notions antiquated. We know little of these things absolutely. We know not the esoteric truth in matters of art or nature,—otherwise the schools at once would cease their controversies. As it happens, certain of the latest physicists claim that "deduced facts"—that is, the objects inferred from our sensations—are the true substantialities; that only our perception of them is transient; that the world of subjective feelings is the chimera, not the objective matters which excite perception.
One question you very properly may ask: "WhyWhere danger lies. not take all this for granted, and go on? Join either side, and the result is the same. Eclipses were calculated readily enough upon the Ptolemaic method." Not so. The theory that beauty is a chimera leads to an arrogant contempt for it on the part of many artists and poets, who substitute that which is bizarre and audacious for that which has enduring charm. It begins with irreverence, and leads to discordant taste; to something far beneath the excellence of noble literatures and of great plastic and poetic eras.
The tentative revolts that break forth in art and"The old order changeth." letters are against methods to which, however fine they be and grounded in nature, the world has become too servile. Movements in poetry, like those of Blake and Whitman and Lanier for greater rhythmical freedom, of the Rossettians for a study of Preraphaelite methods, of Banville and Dobson for a restoration of attractive forms; movements in art like those of Monticelli and Claude Monet,—all these are to some extent the quest for values so long unwonted that they seem new; and thus art returns upon its circuit and the wisdom of the Preacher is reaffirmed. Still, every race has its culminating or concurrent ideal of beauty, Development of racial and national ideals.which is affected, again, by the conditions of life in the different regions of the race's establishment. Each nation, like a rose-tree, draws from the soil and air its strength, and wealth, and material sustenance; it puts forth branches, and leaves, and sturdy thorns, and battles with the elements and with the thicket that hems it in; finally, with all its hardier growth assured, it breaks into flower, it develops an ideal; its own and perfect rose of beauty marks the culmination, the intent, the absolute fulfilment, of its creative existence. Thus the ideals of Grecian art and song doubtless represent the South, and those of the Gothic or romantic the North, in Europe; and the two include the rarest of our Aryan types. In art, these haveUltimate standards. resulted in various academic standards the excellence of which cannot be discredited. Pater has rightly said that it is vulgar to ignore the "form" of the one, and vulgar to underrate the "substance" of the other. The charm of the Perfection of the antique.antique, for instance, is so celestial that, supposing we had been deprived of it hitherto and were suddenly to be introduced to it through discovery of a new continent, the children of art would go wild over its perfection. The very artists who now revolt from it would in that case break from other standards and lead a revolt in its favor, and a momentous progress in art and song would be recorded. As it is, we are intellectually aware of its nobility; but anon our sense of delight in it is blunted,—we have no zest in its repetition, being to the manner born. Zest is the sensation most Fashion. Cp. "Poets of America": pp. 273, 274.worth possessing. The eager student instinct is right in essaying discovery and revival, since only thus can zest be sustained, and, for the sake of this, occasional changes even to fashions of minor worth are not to be scouted. The element of strangeness itself conveys a peculiar effect of beauty. This, by the way, is the strength of the Grotesque, a subordinate form of art and at its best accessory.
You will observe that after most revolts the Renaissance.schools go back, in time, to certain ideals,—to those which become academic because the highest. They recover zest for these, having wearied of some passing fashion or revival. An occasional separation is not a bad thing, after all, in friendship, art, or marriage. Thus it was that the classic Renaissance of Italy reopened a world of beauty, and began a fresh creative period, in which new styles of painting, moulding, architecture arose, different from the antique, but inspired by it, and possible because the spirit of beauty itself was reborn.
We constantly have illustrations of the dependence of artistic zest upon the stimulus of novelty. Some of you possibly were brought up in our old towns and in those old houses where architecture, furniture, wall-paper, were all "in keeping." Another illustration: the "Colonial" revival.How prim and monotonous it then seemed, and how a lad longed to get away from it! Citified folk long since got away, and with zest, to something vastly inferior,—to something with no style at all. At last the Colonial and Revolutionary homestead styles became rare to find in their integrity. Now we see a restoration of them; now we rediscover their lightness and fitness,—their beauty,—and are reviving them in all departments of taste; until, in fact, as I recently heard an artist break forth, "there is a great deal of taste,—and some of it is good!" It may be that another generation will tire of them, as we did, though it seems heresy to say so now.
For a long time after 1775, Sir Joshua Reynolds stood, in his work and "Discourses," as a Academic art.representative exponent of the academic. One must remember that he had no light task in promoting taste among his Anglo-Saxons; their race is not endowed with the intuitive Southern perception of the beautiful. The English acquire their artistic taste intellectually, except in landscape-gardening, although their poets seem to be even more noble (perhaps because more intellectual) than those of nations whose sense of material beauty Sir Joshua Reynolds.is congenital. Sir Joshua was a good deal of a poet with his brush. The chief of academicians, he had a touch, a lovely feeling, an impressiveness of his own. When he sought a foundation for his discourses upon art, he wisely went to the best ideals known to him. His lectures are in the main sound; no artist, even a recanter, can afford not to read them; yet the attempt to carry them out almost confirmed the English School in "correct," rigid, and lifeless methods. And why? Because Sir Joshua, an original painter in his studio, in his teachings did not sufficiently allow for and inculcate a local, climatic, racial divergence from his revered Italian models.
Now, the Indo-European ideals of beauty usually Diverse ideals of another people.have been the foundation of academic theoretics upon art, just as they are interwrought, in sooth, with English poetry, and with the great criticism thereon,—from Lamb and Coleridge to Dryden and Arnold and Lowell. But what would Sir Joshua Reynolds have made of the extreme antipodal type, that of those Asiatic Greeks,—our delightful Japanese? To be sure, there were Indian and Chinese cults, but these were merely capricious and accessory, and not pursued to any just appreciation of their ideals. Here, then, inThe Japanese. Japan is a race developed under distinctive biological conditions, with types of art and life almost the reverse of our own, yet perfectly consistent throughout, and—as we now see—superior to those of Western civilization in more than one department. Its ideals are just as perfect as those of the Greeks or Goths, yet absolutely different. Here we indeed enter a new world. Ideal beauty plainly lies in adaptation of the spirit to Fitness, material and spiritual.the circumstances, though not always to the apparent material exigencies. La Farge, whom I have before quoted,—and upon the subject of beauty the sayings of a painter or an architect (mutatis mutandis) apply just as fully to poetry as to his own art,—La Farge says, in speaking of the adaptation of Japanese buildings to resistance against earthquakes, that
No better illustration could be given of the relations of fitness and beauty; but he soon has occasion to add:—
We see, then, every people recognizing an extra-mundane conception of beauty, founded in the spirit of man, and this again conforms itself to the spirit of each race. Through it the poets become creative rather than adaptive,—the beauty of their imaginings coming from within, just as the beauty of nature is the efflux of the universal spirit. So far as human artists share the Divinity of that spirit, their interpretations give it form to human eyes, melody to human ears, and imagery and feeling therewithal to move the recipient. It seems, then, I say, the lot of each nation, as if an individual, and Specific evolution.of each period, as if a modish season, to discover the beauty conformed both to general laws and to specific needs and impulse; to create, moreover, its proper forms in every art, thus making new contributions to the world's thesaurus of poetry and design. This is acknowledged by all, as concerns the every-day art of dress. A Japanese gentleman is dignified in his national costume; his wife and daughters are charming in their clinging and curving robes. Attire them—and that is the shameful thing which our invasion is effecting—in the dapper broadcloth, the Parisian gown, and their comeliness often is gone. A pitiful incongruity is apt to take its place. I believe that such a race as theirs also develops its fine arts, manners, government, literature,—yes, even religion,—to its foreordained capacity; that if you force or coax it to adopt the modes of a divergent people, you sound the death-knell of its fair individuality. If the tempter race is the superior, the one that surrenders its own ideals is doomed to be absorbed,—at least, to lose its national distinction. Possibly with the progressive What distant goal?modern intercourse of peoples a general blending is to result. Languages, arts, races, may react upon one another and produce a cosmic mongrelism. If this is according to the law of progress, something grand will come out of it, a planetary and imposing style. But during centuries of transition the gradual loss of national individualities will seem pathetic indeed. Something of this passed through my mind as I watched, half sorrowful and half amused, an accomplished Japanese lady, the adopted daughter of an American, yielding to the influence of our Western ideals. A natural artist, like so many of her blood, she is impressible by beauty of a novel type. As far as personal The assimilative process.experience is concerned, she doubtless adds to the worth of her own life by assimilating the results of an art no more perfect in its kind than the decorative—and therefore secondary—art of her own race, yet one far beyond the power of her race to originate, or to pursue in competition with its originators. Therefore it seemed almost a pity to find her at work upon a lesson from the Art Students' League, copying in crayon an antique Apollo, with deft fingers, which to my thinking should be tracing designs in lacquer or in cloisonné on bronze, or painting some group of Japanese men and maidens, in their flexible costume, by the bayside, on a terrace, with herons stalking among sacred lilies in the near distance, and the eternal peak of Fujiyama meeting the blue sky beyond.
Meanwhile our present standard of beauty is the European, with modifications. To comprehend any other you must enter into its spirit by adoption, by a certain naturalization; until then you will find it Taste is congenital yet cultivable.as hard to master as the idioms of a language not your own. These seem grotesque and childish until you speak, even think, in their tongue without mentally translating it. A translation will give you the imagination, action, thought, of a poem, for instance, but not its native and essential beauty. Æsthetics relate to the primal sense, and must be taken at first hand. This is all the truth there is in the maxim De gustibus. If the rays of our sun were as green as those of the star β Libræ, beauty would exist and have its standard in conformity. Taste would be as intuitive as now, and just as open to cultivation.
These general principles should entitle us to our Poetic beauty.surmise respecting the ultimate value of a poem. A mode attractive for its novelty may be only the vogue of a generation, or of a brief season. I take endurance to be the test of art. History will show, I think, that if a poem had not the element of beauty, this potency in art, its force could not endure. Beauty partakes of eternal youth and conveys its own immortality. Passion and imagination intensify much of the poetry that has survived; but under their stress the poet summons beauty to his aid. Wisdom and morals do not so inevitably take Its conserving power.on grace: their statements, impressive at the time, must be recast perpetually. The law of natural selection conserves artistic beauty in the poem as in the bird and butterfly. Besides, just as gems and gold are hoarded while iron is left to rust, and as paintings that are beautiful in line and color grow costlier with time, so the poetry that has the beauty of true art becomes the heirloom of generations. For beauty seems to consecrate both makers and possessors. Just as all the world clings to the legends of Helen and Cleopatra and Mary Stuart, so it has a fondness for the Cellinis and Villons and Marlowes and Lovelaces,—the ne'er-do-weels of art and song. This is because it reads the artist's higher self in his work; there alone it is expressed, and we give him credit for it. The truth of fairy tales is that of beauty; the Florizels and Cinderellas and Percinets are its ideals. Beauty loves the Beast, but the Beast is beauty in disguise. Thus creative taste holds the key to the future, and art for art's sake is a sound motto in so far as beauty is a legitimate end of art. That it is not the sole end of art—life is the lesson of Tennyson's "The Palace of Art." One who thought otherwise at last found need to throw her royal robes away:
"Make me a cottage in the vale," she said,
"Where I may mourn and pray.
"Yet pull not down my palace towers, that are
So lightly, beautifully built:
Perchance I may return with others there
When I have purged my guilt."
All in all, if concrete beauty is not the greatest thing in poetry, it is the one thing indispensable, and therefore we give it earliest consideration. Besides, it so depends on the elements of emotion and truth that when these are not expressed in a poem you may suspect the beauty to be defective and your sense of it mistaken. It may be said to symbolize truth in pure form.
The young poet, as instinctively as a plant seeks The poet's instinct.the light, feels that he must worship and express the beautiful. His passion for it, both in his life and in his art, is his greatest strength and danger. It is that which must distinguish him from other men; for many will have more wisdom, more virtue, than himself, while only he who can inform these with beauty by that token is the poet. In the early poems of Shakespeare, Milton, Goethe, Tennyson, Rossetti, thought is wreaked "upon expression." Even the lyrists whose development stops at this point, such as Herrick, the cavalier singers, the Provençal minstrels, have no obscure stations in the hemicycle of song.
Why is it that all the relics of Grecian poetry Survival of the fittest and most beautiful.have such beauty? Were there no dullards, was there no inartistic versifying, even in Athens? It is my belief that for every poet whose works have reached us a score passed into obscurity, and their writings were lost; furthermore, that, in spite of the burning of the Alexandrian library, comparatively little has been lost since the time of Herodotus that was worth saving. Only the masterpieces, large and small, were copied and recopied, and treasured in men's hearts and homes. And those were. The ugly statues, also, went to ruin. It is the Venus of the Louvre that is piously buried when danger threatens, whether in Melos or by the Seine; and it is she who always rises again and comes to light. Doubtless we have the most beautiful dramas of even Æschylus and Sophocles, and some of the choicest verse of even Æolian and Dorian lyrists. Belief in this is not shaken by the recovery of classical fragments through our archæological explorations; for, if something fresh and fair—a portion of the Antiope, for instance—is occasionally gained, it is surprising how many passages from works already in our hands are quoted in the writings upon new-found tablets and papyri. Time and fate could not destroy the blooms of the anthology, the loveliest Syracusan idyls, the odes of Catullus and Horace. By chance something less attractive has remained: we keep Ausonius and Quintus on the archaic shelves, but they have no life; they are not cherished and quoted, they cannot be said to endure.
All service is in a sense acceptable, and hence the claim that the intent, rather than the outcome, Motive and accomplish-ment.crowns the work. Thus Browning in his paper on Shelley and in certain poems shows himself to be a pure idealist in his estimate of art. Professor A. H. Smyth explains that the object of Browning's "Old Pictures in Florence" is "to show that Greek art in all its matchless perfection is no more admirable than dim and almost undecipherable ruins of efforts merely monastic, on smoke-stained walls of Christian churches." But to me the latter suggest merely faith and aspiration, without that perfected beauty which adds the grandeur of attainment and completes the trinity of art.
The poetry of our own tongue is sufficient to test Beauty of our English poetry.the law of durability. Its youth, as if that of a poet, was pledged to the mastery of the beautiful as soon as it grew out of half-barbaric minstrelsy and displayed a conscious intent. Chaucer is a poet of the beautiful; always original in his genius, and sometimes in his invention, he for the most part simply tells old tales with a new and English beauty. Five hundred years later his pupil, Morris, renews the process. Spenser's rare and exhaustless art makes him a poet for poets. Passing by Shakespeare as we would pass by nature, what we cull again and again from the Elizabethan garden are those passages in the dramatists, beautiful for rhythm and diction, which furnish examples for the criticism of Coleridge and Lamb. From the skylark melodies and madrigals of that English Arcady those which are most beautiful are ever chosen first by the anthologists. We never tire of them: they seem Things "to full perfection brought."more perfect and welcome with each remove. Too few read Ben Jonson's plays; who does not know "To Celia," "The Triumph of Charis," and "Drink to me only with thine eyes"? The song, "Take, O take those lips away," even were it not embalmed by Shakespeare, would outlast the dramas of John Fletcher. Suckling's "Why so pale and wan, fond lover?" and his verses on a wedding; Lovelace's "To Lucasta" and "To Althæa, from Prison,"—such are the gems in whose light the shades of courtier-poets remain apparent. More of Herrick's endure, because with him beauty of sound and shape and fancy was always first in heart, and always fresh and natural. I have written a paper on Single-Poem Poets, but the greater number of them were no less the authors of a mass of long-forgotten verse. Of Waller's poetry we remember little beyond the dainty lyrics, "Go, lovely rose" and "On a Lady's Girdle." From time to time the saddest and gladdest and sweetest chansons of Villon and Ronsard and Du Bellay are retranslated by deft English minstrels, as men take out precious things from cabinets and burnish them anew. A ponderous epic disappears; some little song, once carolled by Mary Stuart, or a perfect conceit of imagery and feeling, whose very author is unknown, becomes imperishable. For instance,
THE WHITE ROSE.
Sent by a Yorkish Lover to his Lancastrian Mistress.
"If this fair rose offend thy sight,
Placed in thy bosom bare,
'T will blush to find itself less white,
And turn Lancastrian there.
"But if thy ruby lip it spy,
As kiss it thou mayest deign,
With envy pale 't will lose its dye,
And Yorkish turn again."
The few lyrics I have named are among the most familiar that occur to you and me; but what has made them so if it be not their exceeding loveliness?
We have but one poet of the first order, but one From Shakespeare to Wordsworth.strong pier of the bridge, between Shakespeare and our own century. Milton in his early verse, which has given lessons to Keats and Tennyson, displays the extreme sense and expression of poetic beauty. Dryden and Pope have values of their own; but from Pope to Burns, only Goldsmith, for his charms of simplicity and feeling, and Collins and Gray, who achieved a certain perfection even in conventional forms, are still endeared to us. Examine the imposing mass of Wordsworth's poetry. With few exceptions the imaginative and elevated passages, the most tender lyrics, have a peculiar beauty of rhythm and language,—have sound, color, and artistic grace. Take these, and nearly all are chosen for Arnold's "Selection" and Palgrave's "Golden Treasury," and you possibly have the most of Wordsworth that will be read hereafter.
A revival of love for the beautiful culminated in the modern art school. Naturalness had come back with Burns, Cowper, and Wordsworth; intensity Modern æstheticism.and freedom with Byron; then the absolute poetic movement of Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, and of that æsthetic propagandist, Leigh Hunt, began its prolonged influence. Poetry is again an art, constructed and bedecked with precision. So potent the charm of this restoration, that it has outrun all else: there is a multitude of minor artists, each of whom, if he cannot read the heart of Poesy, casts his little flower beside her as she sleeps. Who can tell but some of "L'art robuste seul a l'éternité.these blossoms may be selected by Fame and Time, that wait upon her? Ars Victrix wears her little trophies as proudly as her great. Dobson's paraphrase on Gautier became at once a proverb, from instant recognition of its truth:
"All passes. Art alone
Enduring stays to us;
The Bust outlasts the throne,—
The Coin, Tiberius;
Even the gods must go;
Only the lofty Rhyme
Not countless years o'erthrow,—
Not long array of time."
In this one lecture, you see, I dwell upon the technical features that lend enchantment Elemebts of concrete poetic beauty.to poetry in the concrete. How, then, does the beauty of a poem avail? Primitively, as addressed to the ear in sound; that was its normal Melody, as heard or symbolized.method of conveying its imagery and passion to the human mind, and we have already considered the strange spell of its vocal music. But with the birth of written literature it equally addressed the eye, and since the invention of printing, a thousand times more frequently; so that the epigram is not strained which declares that "It is read with the ear; it is written with the voice; it is heard with the eyes." The mind's ear conceives the beauty of those seen but "unheard melodies" which are "the sweetest." The look of certain words conveys certain ideas to the mind; they seem as entities to display the absolute color, form, expression, associated with their meanings, just as their seen rhythm and melody sound themselves Constructive effects.to the ear. The eye, moreover, finds the architecture of verse effective, realizing a monumental, inscriptionary beauty in stanzaic and ode forms. Shape, arrangement, proportion compose the synthetic beauty of Construction. Thus poetry has its architecture and shares that condition celebrated by Beatrice in the "Paradiso": "All things collectively have an order among themselves, and this is form, which makes the universe resemble God." Beauty of construction is still more potent in the effect of plot and arrangement. Simplicity, above all, characterizes alike the noblest and the loveliest poems,—simplicity of art and of feeling. There are no better examples of this, as to motive and construction, than those two episodes of Ruth and Esther. Written in the poetic Hebrew, though not in verse, Examples, and a contrast.they fulfil every requisition of the prose idyl: the one a pure pastoral, the other a civic and royal idyl of the court of a mighty king. There is not a phrase, an image, an incident, too much or too little in either; not a false note of atmosphere or feeling. These works, so naïvely exquisite, are deathless. Their charm is even greater as time goes on. Now, a remarkable novel has been written in our own day, "Anna Karénina," which chances to be composed of two idyls,—one distinctly of the city and the court, the other of the country and the harvest-field. These two cross and interweave, and blend and separate, until the climacteric tragedy and lesson of the book. Powerful as this work is, it has little chance of great endurance, inasmuch as its structure and detail are complex even for this complex period. It is at the opposite extreme from the simplicity of those matchless idyls of the Old Testament.
Nevertheless, that idyllic perfection came from a really advanced art. However spontaneous Nature of the antique simplicity.of impulse, it was not perpetuated through the uncertain process of oral transmission, but by a polished scriptural text. Absolutely primitive song was often a rhapsody, and not suited to textual embodiment. When finally gathered up from traditions, it owed as much to the compiler as a rude folk-melody owes to a composer who makes it a theme for his sustained work. The judge of such poetry, then, must consider it as both an art and an impulse, and even as addressed to both the eye and the ear. And while it is true that the simplicity of the ancients, of purely objective art, is of the greatest worth, we must remember that the works in question were the product of an age of few "values,"—as Our compensation for its loss.a painter would say. In our passage from the homogeneous to the complex, the loss in simplicity is made up by the gain in variety and richness. We return to simplicity, ever and anon, for repose, and for a new initiative, as a sonata returns to its theme. Refreshed, we advance again, to still richer and more complex inventions. In place of the few Homeric colors we have captured a hundred intermediate shades of the spectrum, and we possess a thousand words to recall these to the imagination. The same progression affects all the arts. What modern painter would be content with the few Pompeian tints; what musician with the five sounds of the classic pentachord?
Artistic simplicity, then, must be attained through The natural key.naturalness; and from that grace of graces modern complexity of material and emotion cannot debar us. If a poet, imitating antique or foreign methods, confines himself baldly to a few "values," he may incur the charge of artifice; and artificiality is the antithesis of naturalness. You may exhibit an apparent simplicity of style and diction, which Mrs. Browning, for instance, failed of altogether,—and yet have no sincere motive and impulse, in respect of which her lyrics and sonnets were beyond demur.
In poetry true beauty of detail is next to that of construction, but non-creative writers Beauty of detail.lavish all their ingenuity upon decoration until it becomes a vice. You cannot long disguise a lack of native vigor by ornament and novel effects. Over-decoration of late is the symptom of over-prolonged devotion to the technical sides of both poetry and art. Sound, color, word-painting, Over-elaboration. Cp. "Victorian Poets": p. 289.verse-carving, imagery,—all these are rightly subordinate to the passion of a poem, and must not usurp its place. Landscape, moreover, at its best, is but a background to life and action. In fine, construction must be decorated, but decoration is not the main object of a building or a poem. "The Eve of St. Agnes" is perhaps our finest English example of the extreme point to which effects of detail can be carried in a romantic poem. The faultless construction warrants it. Some of Tennyson's early pieces, such as the classico-romantic "Œnone" and "The Lotos-Eaters," stand next in modern verse. But I forego a disquisition upon technique. All of its countless effects One thing needful.are nothing without that psychical beauty imparted by the true poetic vitality,—are of less value than faith and works without love. The vox humana must be heard. That alone can give quality to a poem; the most refined and artistic verse is cold and forceless without it. A soulless poem is a stained-glass window with the light shining on and not through it.
Since a high emotion cannot be sustained too Mill's canon, afterwards sustained by Poe.long without changing from a rapture to a pang, many have declared that the phrase "a long poem " is a misnomer. Undoubtedly, concentration of feeling must be followed by depression or repose. The fire that burns fiercely soon does its work. Yet he who conceives and makes a grand tragedy or epic so relieves his work with interludes and routine that the reader moves as from wave to wave across a great water. It may be, as alleged, a succession of short poems, but these are interwrought as by one of nature's processes for the building of a master-work. However, let me select the beauty of a short and lyric poem, as the kind about which there is no dispute, for the only type which I can here consider.
Lyrical beauty does not necessarily depend upon Lyrical beauty:the obvious repetends and singing-bars of a song or regular lyric. The purest lyrics are not of course songs; the stanzaic effect, the use of open vowel sounds, and other matters instinctive with song-makers, need not characterize them. What they must have is quality. That their rhythmic and verbal expression appeals supremely to the finest sensibilities indicates, first, that the music of speech is more advanced, because more subtly varying, than that of song; or, secondly, that a more advanced music, such as the German and French melodists now wed to words, is required for the interpretation of the most poetic and qualitative lyric. A profound philosophy of sound and speech is here involved,—not yet fully understood, and into which we need not enter.
But you know that rare poetic types, whether of the chiselled classic verse, or of the song its subtile quality.and lyric, have a grace that is intangible. There is a rare bit of nature in "The Reapers" of Theocritus. Battus compares the feet of his mistress to carven ivory, her voice is drowsy sweet, "but her air,"—he says,—"I cannot express it!" And thus the gems of Greek and Latin verse, the cameos of Landor and Hunt and Gautier, the English songs from Shakespeare to Procter and Tennyson and Stoddard, the love-songs of Goethe and his successors, the ethereal witching lyrics of Shelley and Swinburne and Robert Bridges,—all these have one impalpable attribute, light as thistle-down, potent as the breath of a spirit, a divine gift unattainable by will or study, and this is, in one word, Charm. Charis, Grace herself, bestows Charm.it, blending perfect though inexplicable beauty of thought with perfect though often suggested beauty of feeling. To these her airy sprites minister with melody and fragrance, with unexpectedness and sweet surprises, freedom in and out of law, naïveté", aristocratic poise, lightness, pathos, rapture,—all gifts that serve to consecrate the magic touch. However skilled the singer, quality and charm are inborn. Something of them, therefore, always graces the folk-songs of a peasantry, the ballads and songs, let us say, of Ireland and Scotland. Theirs is the wilding flavor which Lowell detects:—
"Sometimes it is
A leafless wilding shivering by the wall;
But I have known when winter barberries
Pricked the effeminate palate with surprise
Of savor whose mere harshness seemed divine."
When to this the artist-touch is added, then the The pure lyric.—"Das Durchcompo-nirt."wandering, uncapturable movement of the lyic—more beautiful for its breaks and studied accidentals and most effective discords—is ravishing indeed: at last you have the poet's poetry that is supernal. Its pervading quintessence is like the sheen of flame upon a glaze in earth or metal. Form, color, sound, unite and in some mysterious way become lambent with delicate or impassioned meaning. Here beauty is most intense. Charm is the expression of its expression, the measureless under-vibration, the thrill within the thrill. We catch from its suggestion the very impulse of the lyrist; we are given the human tone, the light of the eye, the play of feature,—all, in fine, which shows the poet in the poem and makes it his and not another's.
Just as this elusive beauty prevails, the song, or lyric, will endure. Art is in truth the victress when she fulfils Ruskin's demand and is able "to stay what is fleeting, and to enlighten what is incomprehensible; to incorporate the things that have no measure, and immortalize the things that have no duration." And yet, recognizing her subtle paradoxy, and if asked to name one suggested feeling which more than others seems allied with Charm and likely to perpetuate its expression (for I can name only one to-day), I select that which dwells not upon continuance, but upon—our perishableness. Think of it, and you Most fair because most fleeting.will see that Evanescence is an unfailing source of charm. Something exquisite attaches to our sense of it. The appeal which a delicate and fragile thing of beauty makes to us depends as much upon its peril as upon its rarity. In the fulness of life we may have other things as fair and cherished; but that one individuality, that grace and sweetness, cannot be repeated. In time we must say of it:—
"Like the dew on the mountain,
Like the foam on the river,
Like the bubble on the fountain,
Thou art gone, and forever!"
We marvel at the indestructible gem, but love the flower for its share in our own doom. If the violet, the rose-gerardia, the yellow jasmine, were unfading, imperishable, what would their worth be? Mimic them exactly in wax, reproduce even their fragrance, and the copies smack of embalmment. We have, indeed, blooms that do not wither, that do not waste themselves in exhalations; we call them immortelles, but we feel that these amaranthine, husky blossoms are emblems not of life but of death; they cannot have souls, else they would not be so changeless. Not theirs
"The unquiet spirit of a flower
That hath too brief an hour."
The ecstatic charm of nature lies in her evanishments. Each season is too fair to last; no sunrise stays; "the rainbow comes and goes;" the clouds change and fleet and fade to nothingness. Thus sadness dwells with beauty,—
"Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
The height of wisdom, then, is to make the most of life's best moments, to realize that "it is their evanescence Morituri salutamua.makes them fair." So it is with all mortal existence: we idealize the unalterable fact of its mortality. Time passes like a bird, joy withers, even Love dies, and the Graces ring us to his burial. We ask, with the Hindu Prince, concerning life,—
"Shall it pass as a camp that is struck, as a tent that is gathered and gone
From the sands that were lamp-lit at eve, and at morning are level and lone?"
We ask with sighs and tears, but would we have it otherwise? If Poe was wrong in restricting poetry to the voices of sorrow and regret, he was right, methinks, in feeling these to be among the most effectual of lyrical values. The word Irreparable suggests a yearning as infinite as that for the Unattainable, under the spell of which Richter fled as from a passion too intense to bear. Yes; From Cory's "Ionica."the sweetest sound in music is "a dying fall." "Mimnermus in Church" weighs the preacher's adjuration, and makes an impetuous reply:
"Forsooth the present we must give
To that which cannot pass away!
All beauteous things for which we live
By laws of time and space decay.
But oh, the very reason why
I clasp them is because they die."
Among priceless lyrics from the Greek anthology to our own, those of joy and happy love and hope are fair indeed, but those which haunt the memory turn upon the escape—not the retention—of that which is "rich and strange." Their charm is poignant, yet ineffable. The consecration of such enduring melody to regret for the beloved, whose swift, inexplicable transits leave us dreaming of all they might have been, is the voice of our desire that their work, even though perfecting in some unknown region, may not wholly fail upon earth,—that their death may not be quite untimely.
How subtile the effect, even in its English rendering, of Villon's "Ballade of Dead Ladies"—"Where The ecstasy of pathos.are the snows of yester-year?" And are any lyrics more captivating than our English dirges,—the song dirges of the dramatists: "Come away, come away, Death," "Call for the robin redbreast and the wren," "Full fathom five thy father lies," and the like? Collins' "Dirge for Fidele," a mere piece of studied art, acquires its beauty from a flawless treatment of the master-theme. Add to such art the force of a profound emotion, and you have Wordsworth in his more impassioned lyrical strains: "She dwelt among the untrodden ways," "A slumber did my spirit steal;" and the stanzas on Ettrick's "poet dead." Lander's "Rose Aylmer" owes its spell to a consummate union of nature and art in recognition of the unavailability of all that is rarest and most lustrous:—
"Ah, what avails the sceptred race!
Ah, what the form divine!
What every virtue, every grace!
Rose Aylmer, all were thine.
Rose Aylmer, whom these wakeful eyes
May weep, but never see,
A night of memories and of sighs
I consecrate to thee."
—Of memories and of sighs, yet not of pain, for such vigils have a rapture of their own. The perished have at least the gift of immortal love, remembrance, tears; and at our festivals the unseen guests are most apparent. Thus the tuneful plaint of sorrow, the tears "wild with all regret," the touch that consecrates, the preciousness of that which lives but in memory and echo and dreams, move the purest spirit of poesy to sweep the perfect minstrel lute. To such a poet as Robert Bridges "My song be like an air!"the note of evanescence is indeed the note of charm, and in choosing the symbols of it for the imagery of his most ravishing song, he knows that thus, and thus most surely, it shall haunt us with its immortality:—
"I have loved flowers that fade,
Within whose magic tents
Rich hues have marriage made
With sweet unmemoried scents—
A honeymoon delight—
A joy of love at sight,
That ages in an hour:—
My song be like a flower!
"I have loved airs that die
Before their charm is writ
Upon a liquid sky
Trembling to welcome it.
Notes that, with pulse of fire,
Proclaim the spirit's desire,
Then die and are nowhere:—
My song be like an air!
"Die, song, die like a breath
And wither as a bloom:
Fear not a flowery death,
Dread not an airy tomb!
Fly with delight, fly hence!
'T was thine love's tender sense
To feast, now on thy bier
Beauty shall shed a tear."
- Véron, in his L'Esthétique, declares very justly that the definition of Æsthetics as the "Science of the Beautiful" itself requires defining; that the beauty of Art does not consist in imitation, or realism, or romanticism, but in effects determined by the individuality of the artist; and that herein lies the true worth of impressionism. Finally, he accepts, in deference to usage, the "Science of Beauty in Art" as a convenient formula, but prefers his own statement that "Æsthetics is the science whose object is the study and elucidation of the manifestations of artistic genius."
- Thus cited by Dr. W. T. Harris in The Spiritual Sense of Dante's Divina Commedia.
- Poems by Robert Bridges. Oxford, 1884.