The Nature and Elements of Poetry/The Faculty Divine: Passion, Insight, Genius, Faith

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The Nature and Elements of Poetry  (1892)  by Edmund Clarence Stedman
The Faculty Divine: Passion, Insight, Genius, Faith



Poetic expression is that of light from a star, our straightest message from the inaccessible Unde aether sidera pascit?—Lucr.human soul. Critics may apply their spectral analysis to the beam, but without such a process our sympathetic instinct tells us how fine, how rude, how rare or common, are the primal constituents from which its vibrations are derived. The heat-rays, the light, the actinic,—these may be combined in ever various proportions, but to make a vivid expression they must in some proportion come together. Behind the action at their starting-place glows and pulsates a spirit of mysterious and immortal force, the "vital spark," to comprehend which were to lay hold upon divinity itself. As to the poet's share of this, Wordsworth, that inspired schoolmaster with the gift to create a soul under the ribs of pedantry, conceived his impressive title,—"the faculty divine." Before approaching more closely to this radiant source, we have to touch upon one remaining element which seems most of all to excite its activity, and to which, in truth, a whole discourse might be devoted as equitably as to truth, or beauty, or imagination.

I have laid stress, heretofore, upon the passion Passion. See pages 19, 49.which so vivifies all true poetry that certain thinkers believe the art has no other office than to give emotion vent. And I have just said that, while poetry which is not imaginative cannot be great, the utterance which lacks passion is seldom imaginative. It may tranquillize, but it seldom exalts and thrills. Therefore, what is this quality which we recognize as passion in imaginative literature? What does Milton signify, in his masterly tractate on education, by the element of poetry which, as we have seen, he mentions last, as if to emphasize it? Poetry, he says, is simple,—and so is all art at its best; it is sensuous,—and thus related to our mortal perceptions; lastly, it is passionate,—and this, I think, it must be to be genuine.

In popular usage the word "passion" is almost a Not an epithet of love alone.synonym for love, and we hear of "poets of passion," votaries of Eros or Anteros, as the case may be. Love has a fair claim to its title of the master passion, despite the arguments made in behalf of friendship and ambition respectively, and whether supremacy over human conduct, or its service to the artistic imagination, be the less. Almost every narrative-poem, novel, or drama, whatsoever other threads its coil may carry, seems to have love for a central strand. Love has the heart of youth in it,

"—and the heart
Giveth grace unto every art."

Love, we know, has brought about historic wars and treaties, has founded dynasties, made and unmade chiefs and cabinets, inspired men to great deeds or lured them to evil: in our own day has led more than one of its subjects to imperil the liberty of a nation, if not to deem, with Dryden's royal pair, "the world well lost." A strenuous passion indeed, and one the force of which pervades imaginative literature.

But if Milton had used the word "impassioned," his meaning would be plainer to the vulgar Passion and Imagination.apprehension. Poetic passion is intensity of emotion. Absolute sincerity banishes artifice, ensures earnest and natural expression; then beauty comes without effort, and the imaginative note is heard. We have the increased stress of breath, the tone, and volume, that sway the listener. You cannot fire his imagination, you cannot rouse your own, in quite cold blood. Profound emotion seems, also, to find the aptest word, the strongest utterance,—not the most voluble or spasmodic,—and to be content with it. Wordsworth speaks of "thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears," while Mill says that "the poetry of a poet is Feeling itself, using thought only as a means of expression." The truth is that passion uses the imagination to supply conceptions for its language. On the other hand, the poet, imagining situations and experiences, becomes excited through dwelling on them. But whether passion or imagination be first aroused, they speed together like the wind-sired horses of Achilles.

The mere artisan in verse, however adroit, will do Emotion must be unaffected and ideal.well to keep within his liberties. Sometimes you find one affecting the impassioned tone. It is a dangerous test. His wings usually melt in the heat of the flame he would approach. Passion has a finer art than that of the æsthete with whom beauty is the sole end. Sappho illustrated this, even among the Greeks, with whom art and passion were one. Keats felt that "the excellence of every art is its intensity, capable of making all disagreeables evaporate, from their being in close relations with beauty and truth." Passion rises above the sensuous, certainly above the merely sensual, or it has no staying power. I heard a wit say of a certain painting that it was "repulsive equally to the artist, the moralist, and the voluptuary." Even in love there must be something ideal, or it is soon outlawed of art. A few of Swinburne's early lyrics, usually classed as erotic, with all their rhythmic beauty, are not impassioned. His true genius, his sacred rage, break forth in measures burning with devotion to art, to knowledge, or to liberty. There is more real passion in one of the resonant "Songs before Sunrise" than in all the studiously erotic verse of the period, his own included.

The idea that poetry is uttered emotion, though now somewhat in abeyance, is on the whole modern. It was distinctive with the romantic school, until the successors of Scott and Byron allied a new and refined tenderness to beauty. Recognition of this force in art.The first rush had been that of splendid barbarians. It is so true that strong natures recognize the force of passion, that even Wordsworth, conscious of great moods, was led to confess that "poetry is the spontaneous outflow of powerful feelings," and saved himself by adding that it takes "its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity." Poets do retain the impressions of rare moments, and express them at their own time. But "the passion of Wordsworth," under which title Wordsworth's emotional limits.I have read an ingenious plea for it by Dr. Coan, was at its best very serene, and not of a kind to hasten dangerously his heart-beats. Like Goethe, he regarded human nature from without; furthermore, he studied by choice a single class of people, whose sensibilities were not so acute, say what you will, as those of persons wonted to varied and dramatic experiences. The highest passion of his song was inspired by inanimate nature; it was a tide of exaltation and worship, the yearning of a strong spirit to be at one with the elements. Add to this his occasional notes of feeling: the pathos of love in his thought of Lucy:—

"But she is in her grave, and, oh,
The difference to me!"

the pathos of broken comradeship in the quatrain:—

"Like clouds that rake the mountain-summits,
Or waves that own no curbing hand,
How fast has brother followed brother
From sunshine to the sunless land!"

include also his elevated religious and patriotic moods, and we have Wordsworth's none too frequent episodes of intense expression.

All passion obtains relief by rhythmic utterance The quality of music or speech; it is soothed like Saul in his frenzy by the minstrel harp of David: But the emotion which most usually gives life to poetry is not that of fits of passion, but, as in the verses just quoted, of the universal moods embraced in the word "feeling." Out of natural feeling, one touch of which "makes the whole world kin," come the lyrics and popular verse of all nations; it is the fountain of spontaneous song. Take the poetry of this class from Southern literatures, such as the Italian and Spanish, and you leave only their masterpieces. At first thought, it seems more passionate than our own, and certainly it is more sonorous. But Anglo-Saxon words are deep and strong, although there is a good deal of insularity in the song from "The Princess":—

"O tell her, Swallow, thou that knowest each,
That bright and fierce and fickle is the South,
And dark and true and tender is the North."

If this be so, they should wed indissolubly, for each Voices of the heart.must be the other's complement. Scottish verse is full of sentiment, often with the added force of pathos. For pure feeling we all carry in our hearts "Auld Lang Syne," "The Land o' the Leal," Mother-well's "Jeanie Morrison," and "My heid is like to rend, Willie." Robert Burns is first and always the poet of natural emotion, and his fame is a steadfast lesson to minstrels that if they wish their fellow-men to feel for and with them, they must themselves have feeling. Only from the depths of a great soul could come the stanzas of "Highland Mary" and "To Mary in Heaven." He touches chords for high and low alike in the unsurpassable "Farewell":

"Had we never loved sae kindly,
Had we never loved sae blindly,
Never met or never parted,
We had ne'er been broken-hearted!"

His lyrics of joy, ambition, patriotism, are all virile with the feeling of a brave and strong nature.

English emotional verse is more self-conscious, and often flooded with sentimentalism. English sentiment.Yet Byron's fame rests upon his intensity, whether that of magnificent apostrophes, or of his personal poems, among which none is more genuine than his last lyric, written upon completing his thirty-sixth year. In the Victorian period the regard for art has covered sentiment with an aristocratic reserve, but Hood was a poet of emotion in his beautiful songs and ballads no less than in "The Bridge of Sighs."

From the middle register of emotion, poetry rises to the supreme, such as that of Shelley's "Lines to an Indian Air," The ecstasy of song.or the more spiritual ecstasy of his invocation to the West Wind:

"Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of its mighty harmonies
Will take from both a deep autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!"

Of recent English lyrical poets Mrs. Browning is "Das Ewigweibliche."one of the most impassioned. Her lips were touched with fire; her songs were magnetic with sympathy, ardor, consecration. But our women poets of the century usually have written from the heart; none more so than Emma Lazarus, whose early verse had been that of an art-pupil, and who died young,—but not before she seized the harp of Judah and made it give out strains that all too briefly renewed the ancient fervor and inspiration.

Every note of emotion has its varying organ-stops: "Fill all the stops of Life with tuneful breath."religious feeling, for instance, whether perfectly allied with music in cloistral hymns, or expressed objectively in studies like Tennyson's "St. Agnes" and "Sir Galahad," and Elizabeth Lloyd's "Milton in his Blindness," or rising to the eloquent height of Coleridge's Chamouni Hymn. So it is with martial songs and national hymns, from Motherwell's "Cavalier's Song," and Campbell's "Ye Mariners of England," to the Marseillaise hymn, to "My Maryland" and the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." It is the passion of Lowell's "Memorial Odes" that so lifts their rhythm and argument. With Poe, beauty was a passion, but always hovering with Exquisite sadness and enraptured joy.strange light above some haunted tomb. Emerson exhibits the intensity of joy as he listens to nature's "perfect rune." On the one side we have Poe avowing that the "tone" of the highest manifestations of beauty is one of sadness. "Beauty of whatever kind," he said, "in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears." This is the key-note of our romanticism, of which there has been no more sensitive exemplar than Poe,—Grecian as he was at times in his sense of form. But far more Grecian, in temper and philosophy, was Emerson, who found the poet's royal trait to be his cheerfulness, without which "no man can be a poet, for beauty is his aim. … Beauty, the spirit of joy and hilarity, he sheds upon the universe." What diverse interpretations, each a lesson to those who would limit the uncharted range of feeling and art! Yet it is easy to comprehend what Poe meant, and to confess that mortal joy is less intense of expression than mortal grief. And it was Emerson himself who, in his one outburst Emerson's "Threnody."of sorrow, gave us the most impassioned of American lyrics, the "Threnody" for his lost child,—his "hyacinthine boy." This free and noble poem—even for its structural beauty, so uncommon in Emerson's work—must rank with memorable odes. But the poet's faith, thought, imagination, are all quickened by his sorrow, so that the "Threnody" is one of the most consolatory as well as melodiously ideal elegies in the language.

Taken for all in all, Whittier, "our bard and prophet best-beloved," Whittier's impulsive glow. Cp. "Poets of America": pp. 121-128.that purely American minstrel, so virginal and so impassioned, at once the man of peace and the poet militant, is the Sir Galahad of American song. He has read the hearts of his own people, and chanted their emotions, and powerfully affected their convictions. His lyrics of freedom and reform, in his own justified language, were "words wrung from the nation's heart, forged at white heat." Longfellow's national poems, with all their finish, cannot rival the natural art of Whittier's; they lack the glow, the earnestness, the intense characterization, of such pieces as "Randolph of Roanoke," "Ichabod," and "The Lost Occasion." The Quaker bard, besides, no less than Longfellow, is a poet of sympathy. Human feeling, derived from real life and environment, is the charm of "Snow-Bound," even more than its absolute transcript of nature. Years enough have passed since it was written for us to see that, within its range, it is not inferior to "The Deserted Village," "The Cotter's Saturday Night," and "Tarn O'Shanter."

Mark Pattison justly declared that "poets of the first order" always have felt that "human action or passion "is the highest theme. These are the topics of Homer, Dante, Milton, Goethe, Hugo. Dante, while perceiving by the smiling of the stars, and by the increasing beauty and divineness of Beatrice, that she is translating him to the highest spheres, still clings to his love for the woman. Its blood-red strand connects his Paradise with earth. The Faust-Margaret legend is human to the radiant end. Rossetti's "The Blessed Damozel" idealizes the naïve materialism of The human element.the cathedral ages. The motive of that prismatic ballad is the deathless human passion of the sainted maiden. Her arms make warm the bar of Heaven on which she leans, still mortal in her immortality, waiting for the soul of her lover. Such is the poetic instinct that no creature can be finer in quality, however advanced in power, than man himself; that the emotions of his soul are of the uttermost account. Rossetti was ever an impassioned poet, in whom were blended Northern and Italian types. His series of sonnets, "The House of Life," quivers with feeling. Christina Rossetti, his sister, holds her eminence not by the variety and extent of her verse, but for its emotion deep inwrought. Tennyson's career indicates From youth to age. Cp. "Victorian Poets": p. 422.that the line of advance for a poet is that of greater intensity; nevertheless, he has furnished a typical example of the national repugnance to throwing wide the gates of that deep-set but rugged castle, an English heart. His sense of beauty and art at first was all in all, although such poems as "Locksley Hall" and "The Sisters"—such a line as that from the former,—

"And our spirits rushed together at the touching of the lips,"

showed him capable of taking up the "Harp of Life." Throughout his long idyllic reign, he grew upon the whole more impassioned in thought and dramatic conception,—yet the proof of this is not found in his dramas, but in portions of "In Memoriam," in powerful studies like "Lucretius" and "Rizpah," and in the second part of "Locksley Hall." Great poets confront essentials as they approach their earthly resolution.

Thus far I have referred only to the emotion of The objective creation of impassioned types.the poet's own soul, often the more intense and specific from its limits of range. The creative masters give us all the hues of life's "dome of many-colored glass," as caught from their interior points of view. What is life but the speech and action of us all, under stress of countless motives and always of that blind emotion which Schopenhauer termed the World-Will? It is at the beck of the strong invoker that these modes of feeling come arrayed for action, and not in single spies, but far more various than the passions which Collins's Muse drew around her cell. Such are the throes of Homer's personages within and without the walls of Troy. The intense and natural emotion of Priam and Achilles, of Hector and Andromache and Helen, has made them imperishable. The heroic epics have gone with their ages, and for every romantic and narrative poem we have a hundred novels; but the drama remains, with its range for the display of passion's extreme types. The keen satisfaction we take in an exhibition, See page 103.not of the joy and triumph alone, but of the tragedy, the crime, the failure of lives that ape our own, is not morbid, but elevating. We know by instinct that they are right who declare all passion good per se; we feel that it is a good servant if a bad master, and bad only when it goes awry, and that the exhibition of its force both enhances and instructs the force within each soul of us. Again, the poet who broods on human passion Exaltation.and its consequent action attains his highest creative power: he rises, as we say, at each outbreak and crisis, and the actor impersonating his conception must rise accordingly, or disappoint the audience which knows that such culminations are his opportunities, above the realistic level of a well-conceived play. More than all, and as I have suggested in a former lecture, the soul looks tranquilly Intense sensations enhance the worth of life.on, knowing that it, no more than its prototypes, can be harmed by any mischance. "Agonies" are merely "its changes of garments." They are forms of experience. The soul desires all experiences; to touch this planetary life at all points, to drink not of triumph and delight alone; it needs must drain its portion of anguish, failure, wrong. It would set, like the nightingale, its breast against the thorn. Its greatest victory is when it is most agonized. When all is lost, when the dark tower is reached, then Childe Roland dauntless winds his blast upon the slug-horn. Its arms scattered, its armor torn away, the soul, "the victor-victim," slips from mortal encumbrance and soars freer than ever. Victor atque victima, atque ideo victor quia victima. This is the constant lesson of the lyrics and plays and studies of Browning, the most red-blooded and impassioned of modern dramatic poets; a wise and great master, whose imagination, if it be less strenuous than his insight and feeling, was yet sufficient to derive from history and experience more types of human passion than have been marshalled by any compeer. I have been struck by a critic's quotation of a passage from Beyle (written in 1817) which says that, after centuries of artificiality, it must be the office of the coming artist to express "states of soul,"—that that is what a Michelangelo would do with modern sculpture. In truth the potent artist, the great poet, is he who makes us realize the emotions of those who experience august extremes of fortune. For what can be of more value than intense and memorable sensations? What else make up that history which alone is worth the name of life?

The most dramatic effects are often those which indicate suppressed passion—that the hounds are ready to slip the leash. These are constantly utilized by Browning; they characterize the Reserved power.Puritan repression in Hawthorne's romances and Mrs. Stoddard's novels, and the weird power of Emily Brontë's "Wuthering Heights." In the drama, above all, none but a robustious periwigpated fellow is expected to "tear a passion to tatters." Nor can dramatic heights be of frequent occurrence: they must rise like mountains from a plain to produce their effect, and even then be capped with clouds—must have something left untold. A poem at concert-pitch from first to last is ineffective. See with what relief of commonplace or humor Shakespeare sets off his supreme crises: the banter with Osric before the death of Hamlet; the potter and babble of the peasant who brings the aspic to Cleopatra. In the silent arts, as in nature, the prevailing mood is equable, and must be caught. The picture on your walls that displays nature in her ordinary mien, and not in a vehement and exceptional phase, is the one which does not weary you. But poetry, with its time-extension, has True naturalism.the freedom of dramatic contrasts—of tranquillity and passion according to nature's own allotment. With this brave advantage, naturalism is ignoble which restricts itself to the ordinary, and is indeed grossly untrue to our life, at times so concentrated and electric.

The ideal of dramatic intensity—that is, of imagined feeling—is reached when the expression is as inevitable as that of a poet's outburst under stress Absolute dramatic passion.of personal emotion. You are conscious, for example, that one must endure a loss as irreparable as that which Cowper bemoaned, before he can realize the pathos and beauty of the monody "On the Receipt of my Mother's Picture":—

"O that those lips had language! Life has passed
With me but roughly since I heard thee last."

But you also feel, and as strongly, that only one who has been agonized by the final surrender, whether to violence or death, of an adored child, can fully comprehend that passionate wail of Constance bereft of Arthur:—

"Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;
Then have I reason to be fond of grief."

Shakespeare's dramas hold the stage, and if his stronger characters are not impersonated so frequently as of old, they are still the chief rôles of great actors, and are supported with a fitness of detail unattained before. The grand drama, then, is the most efficient form of poetry in an unideal period to conserve a taste for something imaginative and Modern equanimity.impassioned. But, with a public bred to reserve, our new plays and poems on the whole avoid extremes of feeling, which, alike in life and literature, are not "good form." What we do accept is society drama, chiefly that which turns upon the Parisian notion of life as it is. But whether the current drama, poetic or otherwise, reflects life as it is, is a question upon which I do not enter. I have referred to the lack of passion in modern poetry. The minor emotions are charmingly, if lightly, expressed. Humor, for instance, is given a play almost Catullian; and that Mirth is a feeling, if not a passion, is the lyrical justification of some of our felicitous modern song. Many of our poets realize that we have rounded a beautiful but too prolonged idyllic period; they amuse themselves with idly touching the strings, while awaiting some new dispensation—the stimulus of a motive, the example of a leader. Emotion cannot be always sustained; there must be intervals of rest. But each generation desires to be moved, to be thrilled; and they are mistaken who conceive the poetic imagination to be out of date and minstrelsy a foible of the past.

As it is, we hear much talk, on the part of those observers whose business it is to record An idle outcry.the movement of a single day, about the decline of ideality. Whenever one of the elder luminaries goes out, the cry is raised, Who will there be to take his place? What lights will be left when the constellation of which he was a star shall have vanished? The same cry has gone up from every generation in all eras. Those who utter it are like water-beetles perceiving only the ripples, comprehending little of the great waves of thought and expression, upon which we are borne along. The truth is that, alike in savagery and civilization, there never is a change from stagnation to life, from bondage to freedom, from apathy to feeling and passion, that does not beget its poets. At such a period we have the making of new names in song, as surely as deeds and fame in great wars come to men unknown before. It is true that the greatest compositions, in all the arts, are usually produced at culminating epochs of national development. But the period of that eminent group, the "elder American poets," surely has not been that of our full development. Theirs has been the first inspiring rise of the foot-hills, above which—after a stretch of mesa, or even a slight descent—range upon range are still to rise before we reach that culminating sierra-top whose height none yet can measure. Throughout this mountain-climbing, every time that a glowing and original poet appears, his art will be in vogue again.

Now, is such a poet the child of his period, or When comes the poet.does he come as if by warrant and create an environment for himself? From the first it seemed to me a flaw in the armor of Taine, otherwise our most catholic exponent of the principles of art, that he did not allow for the irrepressibleness of genius, for the historic evidence that now and then "God lets loose a man in the world." Such a man, it is true, must be of ingrained power to overcome an adverse situation; his very originality will for a long time, as in the recent cases of Wordsworth and Browning, stand in his way, even if in the end it secures for him a far more exceeding crown of glory. If the situation is ripe for him, then his course is smooth, his work is instantly recognizable. First, then, the poet is needed. He must possess, besides imaginative and emotional endowments, the special gifts which, however The Faculty Divine.cultivable, come only at birth—"the vision and the faculty divine," and a certain strong compulsion to their exercise. But these gifts, under such compulsion, constitute what we mean by the poet's genius.

In our age of distributed culture, it has become a matter of doubt—even among men Genius: whether it is "the inspired gift of God."reared upon the Shorter Catechism—whether there is any predestination and foreordination of the elect in art, literature, or action. Many deem this a superstition which has too long prevailed. That it has impressed mankind everywhere and always is a matter of record. I have much faith in a universal instinct; and I believe that I still have with me the majority even of modern realists, and that the majority is right, in refusing to discredit the gift of high and exceptional qualities to individuals predestined by heredity or otherwise, and I believe that without this gift—traditionally called genius—no poet has afforded notable delight and service. I know that men of genius often waive their claim; that Buffon said genius was "but long-continued patience"; that Carlyle wrote, it "means transcendent capacity for taking trouble, first of all"; that one eminent modern writer, though in a passing mood, announced: "There is no 'genius'; there is only the mastery which comes to natural aptitude from the hardest study of any art or science." But these are the surmises of men whose most original work comes from them so easily that they do not recognize the value of the gift that makes it natural. They honestly lay more stress upon the merit of the hard labor which genius unconsciously drives them to undertake. I say "drives them," and call to mind Lowell's acute distinction: "Talent is that which is in a man's power; genius is that in whose power a man is." Carlyle's whole career proves that he simply wished to recognize the office laid upon genius of taking "infinite trouble." His prevailing tone is unmistakable: "Genius," he says, "is the inspired gift of God." "It is the clearer presence of God Most High in a man;" and again, "Genius, Poet, do we know what those words mean? An inspired Soul once more vouchsafed to us, direct from Nature's own fire-heat, to see the Truth, and speak it, or do it." His whole philosophy of sway by divine right is a genius-worship. Even Mr. Howells's phrase, "natural aptitude," if raised to the highest power, is a recognition of something behind mere industry. It is what forces the hero, the artist, the poet, to be absorbed in a special office, and decides his choice of it.[1]

The world is equipped with steadfast workers whose natural taste and courageous, strenuous Talent and executive service.labor do not lift them quite above the mediocre. The difference between these, the serviceable rank and file, and the originative leaders, is one of kind, not of degree. However admirable their skill and service in time become, they do not get far apart from impressions common to us all. We cannot dispense with their army in executive and mechanical fields of action. It is a question whether they are so essential to arts of taste and investigation; to philosophy, painting, music; to the creative arts of the novelist and poet. But with respect to these, it would be most unjust to confound them with the upstarts whose condign is a desirable thing for both the public and themselves,—claimants really possessed of less than Pretension.ordinary sense. Such is the fool of the family who sets up for a "genius"; the weakling of the borough, incapable of practical work, or too lazy to follow it, but with a fondness for fine things and a knack of imitating them. Such are the gadflies of every art, pertinaciously forcing themselves upon attention, and lowering their assumed crafts in the esteem of a community.

It is wise to discriminate, also, between genius Taste, as distinguished from artistic genius.and natural fineness of taste. The latter, joined with equally natural ambition, has made many a life unhappy that had peculiar opportunities for delight. For surely it is a precious thing to discern and enjoy the beautiful. Taste in art, in selection, in conduct, is the charm that makes for true aristocracy, a gift unspoiled but rather advanced by gentle breeding, a grace in man, and adorable in woman; it is something to rest content with, the happier inasmuch as you add to the happiness of others. It is the nimbus of many a household, beautifying the speech and bearing of the members, who, if they are wise, realize that their chief compensation is a more tranquil study and possession of the beautiful than the fates allot to those who create it. Hephaistos, the grim, sooty, halt artificer of all things fair, found small comfort even in the possession of Aphrodite, the goddess who inspired him. The secret of happiness, for a refined nature, is a just measure of limitations. Taste is not always original, creative. There are no more pathetic lives than the lives of those who know and love the beautiful, and who surrender its enjoyment in a vain struggle to produce it. Their failures react upon finely sensitive natures, and often end in sadness, even misanthropy, and disillusionment when the best of life is over.

Men of talent and experience do learn to concentrate their powers on certain occasions, Fortunate moments.and surprise us with strokes like those of genius. That is where they write "better than they can," as our Autocrat so cleverly has put it. But such efforts are exhausting and briefly sustained. I know it is said that genius also expires when its work is done; but who is to measure its reservoir of force, or to gauge the unseen current which replenishes it?

That there is something which comes without effort, yet impels its possessor to heroic Congenital gift.labor, is immemorially verified.[2] It whispered melodies to Mozart almost in his boyhood, made him a composer at five,—at seven the author of an opus, four sonatas for piano and violin; and it so drew him on to victorious industry, that he asserted in after life: "No one has taken such pains with the study of composition as I!" It made the child Clairon, as she refused to learn to sew, cry out under brutal punishment: "Kill me! You had better do so, for if you don't I shall be an actress!" Dickens declared that he did not invent his work: "I see it," he said, "and write it down."[3] Sidney Lanier, in nervous crises, would seem to hear rich music. It was an inherited gift. Thus equipped with a rhythmical sense beyond that of other poets, he turned to poetry as to the supreme art. Now, the finer and more complex the gift, the longer exercise is needful for its full mastery. He strove to make poetry do what painting has done better, and to make it do what only music hitherto has done. If he could have lived three lives, he would have adjusted the relations of these arts as far as possible to his own satisfaction. I regard his work, striking as it is, as merely tentative from his own point of view. It was as if a discoverer should sail far enough to meet the floating rock-weed, the strayed birds, the changed skies, that betoken land ahead; should even catch a breath of fragrance wafted from outlying isles, and then find his bark sinking in the waves before he could have sight of the promised continent.

In our day, when talent is so highly skilled and industry so habitual, people detect the genius of a poet or tale-writer through its originality, perhaps first of all. It has a different note, even in the formative and imitative period, and it soon has a different message,—perhaps one from a new field. The note is its style; the message involves an exhibition of creative power. Genius does not borrow its main conceptions. As I have said, it reveals a more or less populous world of which it is the maker and showman. Here it rises above taste, furnishing new conditions, to the study of which taste may profitably apply itself. It is neither passion nor imagination, but it takes on the one and makes a language of the other. Genius Transfiguration.of the universal kind is never greater than in imparting the highest interest to good and ordinary and admirable characters; while a limited faculty can design only vicious or eccentric personages effectively, depending on their dramatic villainy or their grotesqueness for a hold upon our interest. Véron has pointed out this inferiority of Balzac and Dickens to Shakespeare and Molière—and he might have added, to Thackeray also. In another way the genius of many poets is limited,—that of Rossetti, of Poe, for example,—poets of few, though striking, tones and of isolated temperaments. Genius of the more universal type is marked by a sound and healthy Sanity.judgment. You may dismiss with small respect the notion of Fairfield, Lombroso, and their like, that genius is the symptom of neurotic disorder—that all who exhibit it are more or less mad. This generalization involves a misconception of the term; they apply it to the abnormal excess, the morbid action, of a special faculty, while true genius consists in the creative gift of one or more faculties at the highest, sustained by the sane coöperation of the possessor's other physical and mental endowments. Wisdom.Again, what we term common sense is the genius of man as a race, the best of sense because the least ratiocinative. Nearly every man has thus a spark of genius in the conduct of life. A just balance between instinct, or understanding, and reason, or intellectual method, is true wisdom. It requires years for a man of constructive talent—a writer who forms his plans in advance—for such a man to learn to be flexible, to be obedient to his sudden intuitions and to modify his design Obedience to the vision.accordingly. You will usually do well to follow a clew that comes to you in the heat of work—in fact, to lay aside for the moment the part which you had designed to complete at once, and to lay hold of the new matter before that escapes you. The old oracle, Follow thy Spontaneity.genius, holds good in every walk of life. Everything, then, goes to show that genius is that force of the soul which works at its own seemingly capricious will and season, and without conscious effort; that its utterances declare what is learned by spiritual and involuntary discovery:—

"Vainly, O burning Poets!
Ye wait for his inspiration,
Even as kings of old
Stood by Apollo's gates.
Hasten back, he will say, hasten back
To your provinces far away!
There, at my own good time,
Will I send my answer to you."

Yes, the spontaneity of conception, which alone gives worth to poetry, is a kind of revelation—the Revelation through Insight.imagery of what genius perceives by Insight. This sense has little to do with reason and induction; it is the inward light of the Quaker, the a priori guess of the scientist, the prophetic vision of the poet, the mystic, the seer. If it be direct vision, it should be incontrovertible. In occult tradition the higher angels, types of absolute spirit, were thought to know all things by this pure illumination:—

"There, on bright hovering wings that tire
Never, they rest them mute,
Nor of far journeys have desire,
Nor of the deathless fruit;
For in and through each angel soul
All waves of life and knowledge roll,
Even as to nadir streams the fire
Of their torches resolute."

While this is a bit of Preraphaelite mosaic, it is not too much to say of the essentially poetic soul that at times it becomes, in Henry More's language,—

"One orb of sense, all eye, all airy ear;"

that it seems to have bathed, like Ayesha, in central and eternal flame; or, after some preëxistence, to have undergone the lustration to which, in the sixth Æneid, we find the beclouded spirits subjected:—

"Donee longa dies, perfecto temporis orbe,
Concretam exemit labem, purumque relinquit
Aetherium sensum atque aurai simplicis ignem."[4]

At such times its conclusions are as much more infallible than those worked out by logic as is the off-hand pistol-shot of the expert, whose weapon has become a part of his hand, than the sight taken along the barrel. It makes the leopard's leap, without reflection and without miss. I think it was Leigh Hunt who pointed out that feeling rarely makes the blunders which thought makes. Applied to life, we know that woman's intuition is often wiser than man's wit.

The clearness of the poet's or artist's vision is so The artist's noble discontent.much beyond his skill to reproduce it, and so increases with each advance, that he never quite contents himself with his work. Hence the ceaseless unrest and dissatisfaction of the best workman. His ideal is constantly out of reach,—a "lithe, perpetual escape."

From the poet's inadequate attempts at expression countless myths and faulty statements have originated. Still, he keeps in the van of discovery, and has been prophetic in almost every kind of knowledge,—evolution not excepted,—and from time immemorial in affairs that constitute history. This gave rise, from the first, to a belief in the direct inspiration of genius. Insight derives, Inspiration.indeed, the force of inspiration from the sense that a mandate of utterance is laid upon it. To the ancients this seemed the audible command of deity. "The word of the Lord came unto me, saying,"—"Thus saith the Lord unto me,"—"So the spirit lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit, but the hand of the Lord was strong upon me,"—such were the avowals of one of the greatest poets of all time. The vision of Ezekiel and the compulsion to declare it have been the inspiration of The prophetic gift.the prophetic bard, of the impassioned lyric poet, almost to our own day. His time has passed. We cannot have, we do not need, another Ezekiel, another Dante or Milton. Hugo, the last Vates, was the most self-conscious, and his own deity. A vision of the wisdom and beauty of art has inspired much of the superior poetry of recent times. A few prophetic utterances have been heard, evoked in some struggle of humanity, some battle for liberty of belief or nationality or conduct. Yet I doubt not that, whenever a great cause is in progress,—before its culminating triumph, rather than after,—it will have its impassioned and heroic minstrelsy. The occasion will seek out and inspire its poet.

But he must believe in his prophecy, and as Indispensability of Faith.something greater than himself, though indomitably believing in himself as the one appointed to declare it. Reflecting upon the lack of originality, of power, of what we may consider tokens of inspiration, in so much of our most beautiful latter-day song, I suspect that it is not due alone to the diversion of effort in many new fields of action and expression, but also to a general doubt of the force and import of this chief art of expression,—even to the modern poet's own distrust in its significance. The higher his gift and training, the more he seems affected by the pleasant cynicism which renders him afraid, above all, of taking himself and his craft "too seriously." This phrase itself is the kind of chaff which he most dreads to incur. Now, I have just spoken of the wisdom of recognizing one's limitations, but if one has proved that he has a rare poetic gift, I think that he scarcely can take it and himself too seriously. The poets of our language and time who have gained the most distinction—such as Tennyson, Browning, Longfellow, Arnold, Emerson—have taken themselves very seriously indeed; have refused to go after strange gods, and have done little but to make poetry or to consider matters demanding the higher exercise of thought and ideality. Doubtless poets are born nowadays as heretofore, though nature out of her "fifty seeds" may elect to bring not even "one to bear." But some who exhibit the most command of their art, and in truth a genuine faculty, are very shy of venturing beyond the grace and humor and tenderness of holiday song.

I think that such a condition might be expected to exist during the unsettled stage of conviction affecting our purpose and imagination. There is no lack of desire for a motive, but an honest lack of motive,—a questioning whether anything is worth while,—a vague envy, perhaps, of the superb optimism of our scientific brethren, to whom the material world is unveiling its splendors as never before, and to whom, as they progress so steadfastly, everything seems worth while.

I remember an impressive lyric, perhaps the finest thing by a certain American writer. Its title, "What is the Use?" was also the burden of his song. He took his own refrain so much to heart that, although he still lives according to its philosophy, there are only a few of us who pay meet honor to him as a poet.

Distinction ever has been achieved through some form of faith, and even the lesser poets have won their respective measures of success, other things Faith of some kind the stay of all true art.being equal, in proportion to their amount of trust in certain convictions as to their art, themselves, and "the use of it all." The serene forms of faith in deity, justice, nationality, religion, human nature, which have characterized men of the highest rank, are familiar to you. Such faiths have been an instinct with sovereign natures, from the Hebraic sense of a sublime Presence to the polemic belief of Bunyan and Milton. Homer cheerfully recognizes the high gods as the inspirers and regulators of all human action. Dante's faith in the ultimate union of perfect beauty and perfect holiness was intense, and his conviction in the doom of the ignoble was so absolute that he felt himself commissioned to pronounce and execute it. Shakespeare made no question of the divinity that doth hedge a king; he believed in institutions, in sovereignty, in the English race. His tranquil acceptance of the existing order of things had no later parallel until the century of Goethe and Emerson and Browning. Byron and Shelley invoked political and religious liberty, and believed in their own crusade against Philistia. Hugo and his band were leaders in a lifelong cause; they carried a banner with "Death to tradition" upon it. The underlying motive of all strenuous and enthusiastic movement, in art or poetry, is faith. Gautier and Musset concerned themselves with beauty and romantic passion; Clough and Arnold, with philosophy and feeling: all were poets and knights-errant according to their respective tempers and nationalities. And so we might go on indefinitely, without invalidating the statement that some kind of faith, with its resulting purpose, has engendered all poetry that is noteworthy for beauty or power. True art, of every class, thrives in an affirmative and motive-breeding atmosphere. It is not the product of cynicism, pessimism, or hopeless doubt. I do not mean "the honest doubt" which Tennyson sets above "half the creeds." The insatiate quest for light is nobler than a satisfied possession of the light we have. The scientific unsettlement of tradition is building up a faith that we are obtaining a new revelation, or, at least, opening our eyes to a continuous one.

But without surmising what stimulants to imaginative expression may be afforded hereafter, A crowning masterpiece of faith.let me refer to a single illustration of the creative faith of the poet. For centuries all that was great in the art and poetry of Christendom grew out of that faith. What seems to me its most poetic, as well as most enduring, written product, is not, as you might suppose, the masterpiece of a single mind,—the "Divina Commedia," for instance,—but the outcome of centuries, the expression of many human souls, even of various peoples and races. Upon its literary and constructive side, I regard the venerable Liturgy of the historic The Church Liturgy.Christian Church as one of the few world-poems, the poems universal. I care not which of its rituals you follow, the Oriental, the Alexandrian, the Latin, or the Anglican. The latter, that of an Episcopal Prayer-Book, is a version familiar to you of what seems to me the most wonderful symphonic idealization of human faith,—certainly the most inclusive, blending in harmonic succession all the cries and longings and laudations of the universal human heart invoking a paternal Creator.

I am not considering here this Liturgy as divine, Its universal quality.though much of it is derived from what multitudes accept for revelation. I have in mind its human quality; the mystic tide of human hope, imagination, prayer, sorrows, and passionate expression, upon which it bears the worshipper along, and wherewith it has sustained men's souls with conceptions of deity and immortality, throughout hundreds, yes, thousands, of undoubting years. The Orient and Occident have enriched it with their finest and strongest utterances, have worked it over and over, have stricken from it what was against the consistency of its import and beauty. It has been a growth, an exhalation, an apocalyptic cloud arisen "with the prayers of the saints" from climes of the Hebrew, the Greek, the Roman, the Goth, to spread in time over half the world. It is The voice of human brotherhood.the voice of human brotherhood, the blended voice of rich and poor, old and young, the wise and the simple, the statesman and the clown; the brotherhood of an age which, knowing little, comprehending little, could have no refuge save trust in the oracles through which a just and merciful Protector, a pervading Spirit, a living Mediator and Consoler, had been revealed. This being its nature, and as the crowning masterpiece of faith, you find that in various and constructive beauty—as a work of poetic art—it is unparalleled. It is lyrical from first to last with perfect and Its symphonic perfection.melodious forms of human speech. Its chants and anthems, its songs of praise and hope and sorrow, have allied to themselves impressive music from the originative and immemorial past, and the enthralling strains of its inheritors. Its prayers are not only for all sorts and conditions of men, but for every stress of life which mankind must feel in common—in the household, or isolated, or in tribal and national effort, and in calamity and repentance and thanksgiving. Its wisdom is forever old and perpetually new; its calendar celebrates all seasons of the rolling year; its narrative is of the simplest, the most pathetic, the most rapturous, and most ennobling life the world has known. There is no malefactor so wretched, no just man so perfect, as not to find his hope, his consolation, his lesson, in this poem of poems. I have called it lyrical; it is dramatic in structure and effect; it is an epic of the age of faith; but in fact, as a piece of Without a parallel.inclusive literature, it has no counterpart, and can have no successor. Time and again some organization for worship and instruction, building its foundations upon reason rather than on faith, has tried to form some ritual of which it felt the need. But such a poem of earth and heaven is not to be made deliberately. The sincere agnostic must be content with his not inglorious isolation; he must barter the rapture and beauty and hope of such a liturgy for his faith in something different, something compensatory, perchance a future and still more world-wide brotherhood of men.

Until this new faith, or some fresh interpretation Tenebræ.of past belief, becomes vital in action, becomes more operative, the highest flight of poetry will be timidly essayed. The songs of those who are crying, "They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him!" will be little else than tenebræ—cries out of the darkness, impassioned, it may be, but hardly forceful or creative. Arnold and Clough.I have spoken of Arnold and Clough, the conspicuously honest, noble, intellectual poets of the transition period. Just as far as their faith extended, their verse rests firmly in art and beauty, love, and nobility of purpose. But much of it comes from troubled hearts; its limits are indicated by a spirit of unrest—limits which Arnold was too sure and fine a self-critic not to perceive; so that, after he had reached them,—which was not until he had given us enduring verse, and shown how elevated was his gift,—he ceased to sing, and set himself resolutely to face the causes of his unrest, and to hasten, through his prose investigations, the movement toward some new dawn of knowledge-brightened faith.

A few verses from his "Dover Beach" are in the key of several of his most touching lyrics,—in The troubled heart.the varying measure so peculiarly his own,—utterances of a feeling which in the end seems to have led him to forego his career as a poet: "The sea of faith," he plains,—

"Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

"Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night."

Doubtless Arnold's reserve intensified this sadness. Clough equally felt the perturbed spirit of his time; but he had a refuge in a bracing zest for life and nature, which so often made the world seem good to him, and not designed for naught.

In time our poets will acquire, with the new learning and the more humane and critical The new day.theology, the health and optimism in which a noteworthy art must originate if at all. As for the new learning—

"Say, has the iris of the murmuring shell
A charm the less because we know full well
Sweet Nature's trick? Is Music's dying fall
Less finely blent with strains antiphonal
Because within a harp's quick vibratings
We count the tremor of the spirit's wings?
There is a path by Science yet untrod
Where with closed eyes we walk to find out God.
Still, still, the unattained ideal lures,
The spell evades, the splendor yet endures;
False sang the poet,—there is no good in rest,
And Truth still leads us to a deeper quest."

For one, I believe that the best age of imaginative production is not past; that poetry is to retain, as of old, its literary import, and from time to time to prove itself a force in national life; that the Concord optimist and poet was sane in declaring that "the arts, as we know them, are but initial," that "sooner or later that which is now life shall be poetry, and every fair and manly trait shall add a richer strain to the song."

And now, after all that has been said in our consideration Thoughts in conclusion.of the nature of poetry, and although this has been restricted closely to its primal elements, I am sensible of having merely touched upon an inexhaustible theme; that my comments have been only "words along the way." Meanwhile the press teems with criticism, our time is alert with debate in countless private and public assemblies respecting almost every verse of all renowned poets, ancient or contemporary; texts and editions, even if relatively less in number compared with the varied mass of publications, are multiplied as never before, and readers—say what you may—are tenfold as many as in the prime of the elder American minstrels. The study of poetry has stimulated other literary researches. Yet the best thing that I or any one can say to you under these conditions is that a breath of true poetry is worth a breeze of comment; that one must in the end make his own acquaintance with its examples and form his judgment of them. Read the best; not the imitations of imitations. Each of you will find that with which he himself is most in touch, and therewith a motive and a legend—petere altiora. The poet's verse is more than all the learned scholia upon it. He makes it by direct warrant; he produces, and we stand by and often too complacently measure his productions. In no wise can I forget that we are regarding even the lowliest poets from our still lower station; we are like earth-dwellers viewing, comparing, mapping out the stars. Whatsoever their shortcomings, their gift is their own; they bring music and delight and inspiration. A singer may fail in this or that, but when he dies the charm of his distinctive voice is gone forever.

  1. Nothing of late has seemed apter than a criticism of the Saturday Review upon certain outgivings of the academicians, Sir Frederick Leighton and Sir John Millais, quite in the line of the industrial theory from which the present writer is dissenting. The reviewer, commenting upon these didactic paradoxes, asserts that all the truth which is in them amounts to just this: "That the intuitive perceptions and rapidity of combination which constitute genius, whether in action or speculation, in scientific discovery or inventive art or imaginative creation, open out so many new problems and ideas as to involve in their adjustment and development the most arduous labor and the most unwearied patience. But without the primal perception the labor will be vanity and the patience akin to despair. Perhaps it is important to keep in mind that labor without the appropriate capacity is even more fruitless than aptitude without industry."
  2. The cases of Mozart and Dickens, with others equally notable, were cited by the writer in an extended paper on Genius, which was published several years ago.
  3. Hartmann's scientific definition, which I cited in a former lecture, "Genius is the activity and efflux of the intellect freed from the domination of the conscious Will,"—finds its counterpart in the statement by F. W. H. Myers, concerning the action of the "Subliminal Consciousness." This, Mr. Myers says, has to do with "the initiation and control of organic processes, which the conscious will cannot reach. … Perhaps we seldom give the name of genius to any piece of work into which some uprush of subliminal faculty has not entered." (See the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, February, 1892.)
  4. "Till Time's great cycle of long years complete
    Clears the fixed taint, and leaves the ethereal sense
    Pure, a bright flame of unmixed heavenly air."

    Crunch's Translation.