The Nature and Elements of Poetry/Oracles Old and New

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Poetry of late has been termed a force, or mode of force, very much as if it were the heat, "The force of heaven-bred poesy."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 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.

Amongst all gracious evidences of this ideality The Percy Turnbull Memorial Lectureship: 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, its fine significance. but enhanced construction. 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:—

"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."

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 The spirit giveth life.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, 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.

Under the present auspices, our own approach can Design of this treatise.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.

Enter the studio of an approved sculptor, a man Tot artes tantæ scientiæ.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 expression, 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 Preëssentials.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 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.

And thus, I say, we must obtain at least a serviceable A working basis needed;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 again, to but not for the promotion of versifying.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 faultless 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. But the poet studies in his own Nature both makes and trains a poet.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 exercises. 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.

I assume, then, that the poet's technical modes, even the general structure of a masterwork, come by intuition, environment, reading, experience; and that The natural method.too studious consideration of them may perchance retard him. I suspect that no instinctive poet bothers himself about such matters 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.

On the other hand, the mature poet, and no less the lover of poetry, may profitably observe One end in view.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; 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."

We owe to the artist's feeling that his gift is innate,Artistic reserve. 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 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. All have access toThe heritage of all, 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.

But it is precisely the arts in which anybody can the crown of few.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. The A traditional undervaluation.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 we, even here, take up poetry as a botanist takes up a flower, and analyze its components? Can we make visible the ichor of its protoplasm,Can poetry be defined? 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.

Edgar Poe avowed his belief in the power of words to express all human ideas,—a Whether language is inadequate.belief entertained by Joubert also. Nor have I any doubt that for every clear thought, even 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. They have, in fact,Oracles, old and new. 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 formulate 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.

Various poets and thinkers, each after his kind, have contributed to such a definition. I The antique or classical idea.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. Aristotle regards From Aristotle to Goethe.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.

Naturally an artist like Horace assented to this conception. Within his range there is no Horace, Dryden, and others.more enduring poet; yet he excludes himself from the title, and this because of the very elements which make him so modern,—his lyrical 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 As an art alone.poetry is the tragic." 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, but, so far as we know, she never bore children."[2] 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.

Other poets have thrown different and priceless alloys into the crucible from which is to The Romantic view. Poetry as the lyrical expression of Emotion.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 Byron.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 later but still limited canon, that poetry is emotionMill and Ruskin. expressed in lyrical language.[3] 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 Imagination.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. WordsworthThe Lake School. admits the need of emotion, but renounces taste. Coleridge plainly has the instinct for beauty and the spell of measured words. The chief contributions of the Lake School to our definition are the recognition of the imagination and the antithesis of science to poetry.[4] 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."

From the attributes of invention, passion, and imagination may perhaps be deduced what The Platonic conception.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,—Inspiration.the Inspiration governing creative, impassioned, imaginative art? The poet's soul was, according to Plato, in harmonic relation with the soul of the universe. It is true that in the "Republic" he supplies Aristotle with a technical basis; Plato, in "The Republic."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 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.

Those who take this higher view revere the name From Plato to Emerson.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,[5] "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 Cicero.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 and to reproduce it. Transcendental thinkers—such as Lord Bacon in his finest vein—recognize this as its office. While Bacon's general Bacon.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 flawlessSidney. "Defense of Poesie"[6] 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." And thus all the Concord group, notably The Concord School.Dr. W. T. Harris, in whose treatises of Dante and other poets the spiritual interpreting power of the bard is made preëminent. The subtlest modern poet of life and thought, Browning, 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 Carlyle.Plato, a poet throughout) to discountenance the making of poetry as an art. Carried too far, the Platonic idea often has vitiated the work Transcenden-
tal strength and weakness.
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.

Thus we see that many have not cared to speak Per ambages ut mos oraculis.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 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?

All in all, various writers connected with the art movement of the present century have Clearer statements.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 Shelley's noble "Defence of Poetry," 1821.voice to its key. 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 subject,[7] 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 ideas presented by many of the poets seemThe personal limitation. 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 Lecture on "The Poetic Principle," 1845.definition—"the Rhythmical Creation of Beauty." 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 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.

But often a poet, great or small, has burnished some facet of the jewel we are setting.The Miltonic canon. Milton's declaration that poetry is "simple, sensuous, passionate," is a recognition of its most effective attributes.[8] 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 phrase, "a criticism ofArnold's Delphic outgiving. life, under the conditions fixed for such a criticism by the laws of poetic truth and poetic 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."

What does this assertion mean, and how far does Poetry as the antithesis to science.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.

To illustrate the distinction between a poet's, or other artist's, old-style treatment of things The Real and the 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.[9] 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 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.

But to show the distinction as directly affecting A modern instance.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 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.

We cannot too clearly understand the difference between artistic vision and scientific analysis.The distinction chiefly one of methods. 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 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.

The poet's other function, which the scientistDiscovery through Imagination does not avoid, but which research alone through Imagination, 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 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 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 newThrough night to light. ideality. 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 dissuade 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 Cp. "Poets of America": pp. 153-155, 262, 382."Paradise Lost" could not be written in this century, even by a Milton. 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. Even as we find them turned savants, we find Scientific intuitions.our Clerk Maxwells, Roods, Lodges, Rowlands, poets in their quick guesses and assumptions. 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[10] 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? He Letter from an imaginitive savant.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 preachers, that we inherit this doctrine of immortality. Being poets, through insight they Insight first of all.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."

Theology, teaching immortality, now finds science deducing the progressive existence of the Aspects of the transition.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 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.

My romancer and scientist goes on to say, "In all The poet's inalienable ground.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."

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." Meanwhile the laws of change, Ebb and, 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.

  1. Johns Hopkins University.
  2. But see Ovid, Met. x. 297:—

    "Illa Paphon genuit, de quo tenet insula nomen."

  3. J. S. Mill's Thoughts on Poetry and its Varieties, 1833.
  4. Coleridge's Introductory Matter on Poetry, the Drama, and the Stage; Wordsworth's Prefaces and Appendix to Lyrical Ballads, etc.
  5. Cited by F. B. Sanborn in a paper on Emerson.
  6. 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.'"
  7. "Poetry," in the Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition.
  8. 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."
  9. "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.

  10. Prof. A. S. Hardy, of Dartmouth College.