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Essays AEsthetical by George Calvert

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The Beautiful is one of the immortal themes. It cannot die; it grows
not old. On the same day with the sun was beauty born, and its life
runs parallel with the path of that great beautifier. As a subject for
exposition, it is at once easy and difficult: easy, from the affluence
of its resources; difficult, from the exactions which its own spirit
makes in the use of them.

Beauty--what is it? To answer this question were to solve more than
one problem. Shall we attempt what has been so often attempted and
never fully achieved? Such attempts are profitable. What though we
reach not the very heart of the mystery, we may get near enough to
hearken to the throb of its power, and our minds will be nerved by the

To him who has the gift to feel its presence, nature teems with
beauty. Whithersoever the senses reach, whenever emotion kindles,
wherever the mind seeks food for its finer appetites, there is beauty.
It expects us at the dawn; it is about us, "an hourly neighbor,"
through the day; at night it looks down on us from star-peopled
immensities. Glittering on green lawns, glowing in sunsets, flashing
through storm-clouds, gilding our wakeful hours, irradiating sleep, it
is ever around, within us, eager to sweeten our labors, to purify our
thoughts. Nature is a vast treasure-house of beauty, whereof the key
is in the human heart.

But many are the hearts that have never opened far enough to disclose
the precious key enfolded in their depths. Whole peoples are at this
moment ignorant that they live amid such wealth. As with them now, so
in the remote primitive times of our own race, before history was,
nature was almost speechless to man. The earth was a waste, or but a
wide hunting ground or pasturage; and human life a round of petty
animal circles, scarcely sweeping beyond the field of the senses;
until there gradually grew up the big-eyed Greek and the deep-souled
Hebrew. Then, through creative thought,--that is, thought quickened
and exalted by an inward thirst for the beautiful,--one little corner
of Europe became radiant, and the valley of Tempe and the wooded glens
of Parnassus shone for the first time on the vision of men; for their
eyes--opened from long sleep by inward stirring--were become as
mirrors, and gave back the light of nature:

"Auxiliar light
Came from their minds, which on the setting sun
Bestowed new splendor."[1]

[1] Wordsworth.

And man, heated by the throbs of his swelling heart, made gods after
his own image,--forms of such life and power and harmony that the
fragments of them, spared by time, are still guarded as faultless
models of manhood. And the vales and groves and streams were peopled
with beauteous shapes. And the high places were crowned with temples
which, in their majestic purity, look as though they had been posited
there from above by heavenly hands. And by the teemful might of
sculptors and painters and poets the dim past was made resurgent and
present in glorious transfiguration. And the moral law was grasped at
by far-reaching philosophies. In this affluence of genial activity so
much truth was embodied in so much beauty, that by the products of the
Greek mind even the newer, the deeper, the wiser Christian spirit is
still instructed, still exalted.

In Asia, too, a chosen people early made a revelation of the
beautiful. The Hebrews were introspective. At once ardent and
thoughtful, passionate and spiritual, their vigorous natures were
charged with fiery materials for inward conflicts. Out of the secret
chambers of troubled souls their poets and prophets sent forth cries
of despair and of exultation, of expostulation and self-reproach, that
ever find an echo in the conscience-smitten, sorrow-laden bosom of
man. The power and wisdom of God they saw as no other ancient people
had seen them. In the grandeurs and wonders of creation they could
behold the being and the might and the goodness of the Creator. The
strong, rich hearts of their seers yearned for a diviner life, in the
deep, true consciousness they felt that there can be peace and joy to
man only through reconcilement with God. And feeling their own
unworthiness and impurity, as well as that of their people, they
uttered their spiritual desires, and their aspirations and
disappointments and indignations and humiliations, in strains that
make their great writings sound like one long, impassioned, rhythmic
wail through the bars of a dungeon. Gloomy, wrathful, and intense,
their utterances are grand and pathetic and sublime; but the beautiful
plays through them, and gilds their highest points as the white crests
do the billows of a black, tempestuous sea.

Save these two, no other nations of antiquity, except the Hindoos,
seem to have had more than a superficial susceptibility to the
beautiful. The Romans learnt the arts from the Greeks, whom they
imitated, at a wide distance, in poetry as well as in sculpture and
architecture. The remnants of art found in the valley of the Nile
prove the Egyptians to have had the germ without the vitality to
unfold it. In the literature of the Hindoos there are currents of pure
poetry and of biblical depth. In passing down from ancient to modern
times the Persians and the Arabians light the long way with
scintillations from the beautiful.

The ugly semi-barbarian darkness of the Middle Ages in Europe was
first broken by the light that shone from the spires of Gothic
cathedrals in the eleventh century. About the twelfth century the
German mind was further illuminated by that mysterious, visionary,
titanic, Teutonic epic, the Niebelungen Lied; and a little later
appeared the troubadours in the south of Europe and the minnesingers
(love-singers) in Germany. Next came Dante and Giotto in Italy, then
Chaucer in England; so that by the end of the fourteenth century,
poetry and the arts, the offspring of the beautiful,--and who can have
no other parentage,--had established themselves in the modern European
mind, and have since, with varying vigor of life, upheld themselves
among Christian nations. To these they are now confined. In the most
advanced of Mahometan and heathen peoples sensibility to beauty is
hardly awakened, and among savages it seems scarcely to exist, so
deeply is it dormant.

Thus to indicate when and by whom the beautiful has been recognized
will further us in the endeavor to learn wherein consists that which,
enriching the world of man so widely and plenteously, is deeply
enjoyed by so few.

Were the beautiful, like size and shape and strength and nimbleness,
cognizable by intellectual perception, even the Hottentot would get to
know something of it in the forest, along with the grosser qualities
of trees and valleys. Were it liable to be seized by the discursive
and ratiocinative intellect, the most eminent statesman or lawyer or
general would excel too in the capacity to appreciate beauty; the
Roman would have shone in arts as in arms; the Spartan would not have
been so barren where the Athenian was so prolific. But beauty is
_felt_, not intellectually apprehended or logically deduced. Its
presence is acknowledged by a gush from the soul, by a joyous
sentimental recognition, not by a discernment of the understanding.
When we exclaim, How beautiful! there is always emotion, and
delightful, expansive, purifying emotion. Whence this mysterious
cleansing thrill? Thence, that the recognition of beauty ever denotes,
ever springs out of, sympathy with the creative spirit whence all
things have their being.

The beautiful, then, is not subject to the intellect. We cannot
demonstrate or coldly discover it; we cannot weigh or measure it.
Further to illustrate this position: we do not see with our outward
eye any more than we do with spectacles. The apparent ocular apparatus
is but the passive, unconscious instrument to transmit images thrown
through it upon a fine interior fibre, the optic nerve; and even this
does not take cognizance of the object, but is only another conductor,
carrying the image still farther inward, to the intellectual nerves of
the brain; and not until it reaches them do we see the object, not
until then is its individuality and are its various physical
qualities, size, shape, etc., apprehended. And now the intellect
itself becomes a conductor, transmitting still deeper inward to the
seat of emotion the image of the object; and not until it reaches that
depth is its beauty recognized.

In all her structures and arrangements Nature is definite, precise,
and economical. In subdivision of labor she is minute and absolute,
providing for every duty its special exclusive agent. In the mind
there is as severe a sundering of functions as in the body, and the
intellect can no more encroach upon or act for the mental
sensibilities than the stomach can at need perform the office of the
heart, or the liver that of the lungs. True, no ripe results in the
higher provinces of human life can be without intimate alliance
between the mental sensibilities and the intellect; nevertheless they
are in essence as distinct from one another as are the solar heat and
the moisture of the earth, without whose constant cooeperation no grain
or fruit or flower can sprout or ripen.

We live not merely in a world of material facts, and of objects and
things cognizable through the senses, but also in a spiritual world.
We live not only in presence of visible creation, but in presence of
the invisible Creator. With the creation we are in contact through the
intellect. Knowledge of all objects and the qualities of objects that
are within reach of the senses; distance and other material relations;
the bonds of cause and effect and of analogy, that bind all created
things in countless multiplicity of subtle relations,--these the
intellect gathers in its grasp. But with the Creator we are in
communication only through feeling. The presence, the existence of God
cannot by pure intellect be demonstrated: it must be felt in order to
be proved. The mass of objects and relations presented to us in nature
the intellect can learn, count, and arrange; but the life that
incessantly permeates the whole and every part, the spirit that looks
out from every object and every fact,--of the range and pitch of whose
power we have a faint token in the tornado and the earthquake,--of
this divine essence we should not have even an intimation through the
intellect alone. Not chemists, astronomers, mechanicians have uttered
the deepest thoughts about God, but prophets and poets: not Davys, but
Coleridges; not Herschels, but Wordsworths. It is a common belief,
indeed, that men addicted to the exact sciences are rather wanting
than otherwise in power to appreciate the invisible, a belief
pungently embodied by Wordsworth in the lines,--

"Physician art thou? one all eyes,
Philosopher! a fingering slave,
One that would peep and botanize
Upon his mother's grave?"

This is as much under the mark as is above it that saying of some one,
"An undevout astronomer is mad." A man's being endowed with rare
mathematical talent is no cause why he should or should not be devout.
His gifts to weigh and measure the stars are purely intellectual; and
nature being seldom profuse upon one individual,--as she was upon
Pascal and Newton,--the presumption as to an astronomer, of whom we
know nothing, would be that what may be termed his emotive
appreciation of stars and stellar systems is probably not so full as
his intellectual. And no amount or quality of intellectual insight can
supply or compensate a want of sensibility. No matter how many
hundreds of millions of miles he may pierce into space, he has still
to do with the visible and calculable. But religion is the putting of
the human mind in relation with the invisible, the incalculable. A man
gets no nearer to God through a telescope than through a microscope,
and no nearer through either than through the naked eye. Who cannot
recognize the divine spirit in the hourly phenomena of nature and of
his own mind will not be helped by the differential calculus, or any
magnitude or arrangement of telescopic lenses.

That we ever live not only in a material, but also in a spiritual
world, can be easily apprehended without at all entangling ourselves
in the web-work of metaphysics. The least of our acts or motions, is
it not always preceded by a thought, a volition, a something
intangible, invisible? All that we voluntarily do is, must be, an
offspring of mind. The waving of the hand is never a simple, it is a
compound process: mind and body, spirit and matter, concur in it. The
visible, corporeal movement is but the outward expression of an
inward, incorporeal movement. And so in all our acts and motions, from
birth till death; they issue out of the invisible within us; they are
feelings actualized, thoughts embodied. The embodiment is perishable,
the source of it imperishable. It is not a recondite, super-subtle,
metaphysical or psychological postulate, it is a palpable, and may be
and ought to be a familiar fact, that each one of us is ruled by the
eternal and invisible within us.

Now, just as our words and deeds and movements stand to our mind, as
being the utterance and embodiment of that, so do we stand towards
Deity, being the utterance and embodiment of the divine thought and
will. As all our doings are but exhibitions of our minds, so ourselves
are manifestations of God. Through all things shines the eternal soul.
The more perfect the embodiment, the more translucent is the soul; and
when this is most transparent, making the body luminous with the
fullness of its presence, there is beauty, which may be said to be the
most intense and refined incarnation and exhibition of the divine

Behind and within every form of being is immanent the creative power;
and thence, in proportion as this power discloses itself, is object,
act, or emotion beautiful. Thus is beauty always spiritual, a
revelation more or less clear of the creative spirit. Hence our
emotion in presence of the truly beautiful, which calms and exalts us.
Hence evil never is, cannot be, beautiful: the bad is, must be, ugly.
Evil consists in the deficiency of the divine creative spirit, whose
fullness gives, is, beauty. Evil is imperfection, unripeness,
shapelessness, weakness in, or opposition to, the creative spirit.
Evil is life that is unhealthy, short-coming. Wherever there is full,
unperverted life, there is, there must be, beauty. The beautiful
blossoms on every stem of unpoisoned power. The sap of sound life ever
molds itself into forms of beauty.

But however rich the exhibition of the divine soul, however glowing
with perfection the form, however noble the act and pure the feeling,
the richness, the perfection, the nobleness, the purity will be lost
on us, unless within us there be sympathy with the spirit whence they
flow. Only by spirit can spirit be greeted.

Thus beauty only becomes visible--I might say only becomes actual--by
the fire kindled through the meeting of a perfection out of us and an
inward appetite therefor. And it is the flaming of this fire, thus
kindled, that lights up to us the whole world wherein we live, the
inward and the outward. This fire unlighted, and on the face of nature
there is darkness, in our own minds there is darkness. For though all
nature teems with the essence and the outward mold of beauty, to the
unkindled mind beauty is no more present then was Banquo's ghost to
the guests of Macbeth. Macbeth's individual conscience made him see
the ghost; nay, by a creative potency summoned it: and so is beauty
created there where, without what I may call the aesthetic conscience,
it no more exists than do the glories of Titian and Claude to the
affectionate spaniel who follows his master into a picture-gallery. To
the quadruped, by the organic limitation of his nature, dead forever
is this painted life. By the organic boundlessness of _his_ nature,
man can grasp the life of creation in its highest, its finest, its
grandest manifestations; and from these beauty is indivisible.
Wherever the divine energy is most subtle and expressive, there glows
ever, in its celestial freshness, the beautiful.

Beauty is the happiest marriage between the invisible and the visible.
It may be termed the joyfullest look of God. Blessed is he who can
watch and reflect this radiant look. The faculties of such a one
become fortified by creative influx. Through the exquisite shock of
the beautiful he reaps an accession of mental magnetism. Thus through
the beautiful we commune the most directly with the divine; and, other
things being equal, to the degree that men respond to, are thrilled
by, this vivacity of divine presence, as announced by the beautiful,
to that degree are they elevated in the scale of being.

Nature being minute and absolute in subdivision of function, the law
of severalty and independence--than which there is no law more
important and instructive--pervades creation. Thence the intellectual,
the religious, the true, the good, cannot interchange functions. A man
may be sincerely religious and do little for others, as is seen in
anchorites, and in many one-sided people, of Christian as well as of
Mahometan parentage, who are not anchorites. A man may be immensely
intellectual and not value truth. But neither a man's intellect, nor
his preference for truth, nor his benevolent nor his religious
sentiment, can yield its best fruit without the sunshine of the
beautiful. Sensibility to the beautiful--itself, like the others, an
independent inward power--stands to each one of them in a relation
different from that which they hold one to the other. The above and
other faculties _indirectly_ aid one the other, and to the complete
man their united action is needed; but feeling for the beautiful
_directly_ aids each one, aids by stimulating it, by expanding, by

To the action of every other faculty this one gives vividness and
grace. It indues each with privilege of insight into the _soul_ of the
object which it is its special office to master. By help of
sensibility to the beautiful we have inklings of the essence of
things, we sympathize with the inward life that molds the outward
form. Hence men highly gifted with this sensibility become creative,
in whatever province of work they strive; and no man in any province
is truly creative except through the subtle energy imparted to him by
this sensibility, this competence to feel the invisible in the

The idea is the invisible; the embodiment thereof is the visible.
Hence the beautiful is always ideal; that is, it enfolds, embraces,
represents, with more or less success, the idea out of which springs
the object it illuminates: it brilliantly enrobes a germinal
essence. It is thus a sparkling emanation out of the Infinite, and it
leads us thither whence it has come.

Sensibility to the beautiful is thus the light of the whole mind,
illuminating its labors. Without it we work in the dark, and therefore
feebly, defectively. Infer thence the immensity of its function.
Hereby it becomes the chief educator of men and of man; and where its
teaching has not been conspicuous, there no elevation has been
reached. The Greeks and the Hebrews would not have been so deeply, so
greatly, so feelingly known to us, would not have been the pioneers
and inspirers of European civilization, would not have lived on
through thousands of years in the minds of the highest men, had they
not, along with their other rare endowments, possessed, in superior,
in unique quality, this priceless gift of sensibility to the
beautiful. Through this gift Shakespeare is the foremost man of
England, and through it has done more than any other man to educate
and elevate England. Because the Italians of the fourteenth and
fifteenth centuries were so rich in this gift, therefore it is that
Italy is still a shrine to which the civilized world makes annual

The supreme function of this sensibility is to develop, to
educate, to chasten the highest faculties, our vast discourse of
reason, our unselfish aspiration, our deep instinct of truth, our
capacious love. To educate these is its cardinal duty, and lacking
this they remain uneducated. But its beneficent influence is felt
likewise in the less elevated of our efforts. The man who makes shoes,
as well as he who makes laws and he who makes poems; the builder of
houses, with the builder of theologies or cosmogonies; the engineer,
as well as the artist, all work under the rays of this illuminator;
and, other things being equal, he excels all others on whose work
those rays shine with the most sustained and penetrative force.

"'T is the eternal law,
That first in beauty shall be first in might."[2]

[2] Keats.

In short, whatever the mental gift, in order to get from that gift its
best fruit, the possessor must be incited, upborne, enlightened,
inspired by the ideal, which burns as a transfiguring flame in his
mind, and throws thence its joyful light with every blow of his hand.

All good work is more or less creative, that is, a co-working with the
eternal mind; and work is good and productive in proportion to
the intensity of this cooeperation. Why is it that we so prize a
fragment of Phidias, a few lines traced by Raphael? Because the minds
of those workers were, more than the minds of most others, in sympathy
with the Infinite mind. While at work their hands were more distinctly
guided by the Almighty hand; they felt and embodied more of the spirit
which makes, which is, life.

Here is a frame of canvas, a block of marble, a pile of stones, a
vocabulary. Of the canvas you make a screen, you build a dwelling with
the pile of stones, chisel a door-sill out of the block, with the
vocabulary you write an essay. And in each case you work well and
creatively, if your work be in harmony with God's laws, if your screen
be light, sightly, and protective, your dwelling healthful and
commodious, your sill lie solid and square, your essay be judicious
and sound. But if on the canvas you have a Christ's head by Leonardo,
out of the pile of stones a Strasburg Cathedral, from the block of
marble a Venus of Milo, with the vocabulary a tragedy of Hamlet, you
have works which are so creative that they tell on the mind with the
vivid, impressive, instructive, never-wearying delight of the
works of nature. The men who wrought them were strong to do so through
the vigor of their sympathy with what Plato calls the formative
principle of the universe, they thereby becoming themselves creators,
that is, poets. And we sacredly guard their creations among our best
treasures of human gift, because they are so spiritually alive that
whenever we put ourselves in relation with them they animate us, they
spiritualize our thoughts; and this they do because the minds whence
they issued were radiant centers of ideal power, that is, power to
conceive the beautiful.

But what is ideal power? the reader may ask. He might likewise ask,
What is moral power? And unless he has in his own mind some faculty of
moral estimation, no answer will help him. That which comes to us
through feeling cannot be intellectually defined, can only be
appreciated through feeling. By describing its effects and
accompaniments we approach to a knowledge of what it is. By means of a
foot-rule you can make clear to every member of a crowd what is the
height of the Apollo Belvedere, and the exact length of the statue's
face; and each one can for himself verify the accuracy of your
statement. But not with a like distinctness and vivacity of assent can
you get the crowd to go along with you as to the Apollo's beauty.
Acknowledgment of the beautiful in art implies a degree of culture and
a native susceptibility not to be found in every accidental gathering.
Full and sincere assent to your declaration that the statue is very
beautiful presupposes a high ideal in the mind; that is, a lofty
pre-attained idea of what is manly beauty. But after all, the want of
unanimity of assent to a moral or an aesthetic position, does it not
come from the difficulty and subtlety of the idea to be pre-attained?
Assent even to an intellectual proposition, does not it too presuppose
an ideal in the mind of him who assents? When you show by visible
measurement that the statue is eight feet high, whoever understands
what you mean must have already in his head the idea of what one foot
is; that is, he must carry within him an ideal. No tittle of
information, not the slightest accession of knowledge, will you derive
from the measurement even of the area of a hall or of the cubic
contents of a block, unless you bring with you in your mind an idea,
an ideal, of what is a superficial or a cubic square foot.

Attempts to give a notion of what the beautiful is, by
enumerating some of the physical conditions that are found to be
present in artistic figures or persons distinguished for beauty, or
attempts to produce what shall be beautiful, by complying with these
conditions, come no nearer to the aim than do compounded mineral
waters to the briskness and flavor of a fresh draught from the
original spring. In the analysis there may be no flaw; the ingredients
are chemically identical in quality and proportion; but the nameless,
inimitable, inscrutable life is wanting: the mixing has been done by a
mechanical, not by a creative hand. Haydon says, "The curve of the
circle is excess, the straight line is deficiency, the ellipsis is the
degree between, and that curve, added to or united with proportion,
regulates the form and features of a perfect woman." Mr. D.R. Hay, in
a series of books, professes to have discovered the principles of
beauty in the law of harmonic ratio, without, however, "pretending,"
as he modestly and wisely declares, "to give rules for that kind of
beauty which genius alone can produce in high art." The discovery of
Mr. Hay is curious and fascinating, and, like the announcement of
Haydon, may give practical hints to artists and others. But no
intellectual process or ingenuity can make up for the absence of
emotional warmth and refined selection. "Beauty, the foe of excess and
vacuity, blooms, like genius, in the equilibrium of all the forces,"
says Jean Paul. "Beauty," says Hemsterhuis, "is the product of the
greatest number of ideas in the shortest time," which is like the
Italian definition, _il piu nel uno_, unity in multiplicity, believed
by Coleridge to contain the principle of beauty. On another page of
the "Table Talk" Coleridge is made to say, "You are wrong in resolving
beauty into expression or interest; it is quite distinct; indeed, it
is opposite, although not contrary. Beauty is an immediate presence,
between which and the beholder _nihil est_. It is always one and
tranquil; whereas the interesting always disturbs and is disturbed."
Hegel, in his "AEsthetic," defines natural beauty to be "the idea as
immediate unity, in so far as this unity is visible in sensuous
reality." And a few pages earlier he is more brief and distinct,
calling the beautiful "the sensuous shining forth of the idea." And
Schelling, in his profound treatise on "The Relation of the Plastic
Arts to Nature," says, "The beautiful is beyond form; it is substance,
the universal; it is the look and expression of the spirit of
Nature." Were it not better and more precise to say that it is to us
the look and expression of the spiritual when this is peering through
choicest embodiments? But we will stop with definitions. After
endeavoring, by means of sentences and definitions to get a notion of
the beautiful, one is tempted to say, as Goethe did when "the idea of
the Divinity" was venturously mentioned to him by Eckermann, "Dear
child, what know we of the idea of the Divinity? and what can our
narrow ideas tell of the Highest Being? Should I, like a Turk, name it
with a hundred names, I should still fall short, and, in comparison
with the infinite attributes, have said nothing."

We have called the beautiful the light of the mind; but there must be
mind to be illuminated. If your torch be waved in a chamber set round
with bits of granite and slate and pudding-stone, you will get no
luminous reverberation. But brandish it before rubies and emeralds and
diamonds! The qualities in the mind must be precious, in order that
the mind become radiant through beauty. To take a broad example.

The Hindoos in their organization have a fine sense of the
beautiful, but they lack mental breadth and bottom; and hence their
life and literature are not strong and manifold, although in both
there are exhibitions of that refinement which only comes of
sensibility to the beautiful. The Chinese, on the other hand, are
wanting in this sensibility; hence their prosaic, finite civilization.
But most noteworthy is the contrast between them in religious
development. In that of the Hindoos there was expansion, vastness,
self-merging in infinitude; the Chinese are religiously contracted,
petty, idolatrous; a contrast which I venture to ascribe, in large
measure, to the presence in the one case, and the absence in the
other, of the inspiration of the beautiful.

To the same effect individual examples might be cited innumerable.
Look at Wordsworth and Byron, both preeminent for sensibility to the
beautiful; but, from deep diverseness in other leading mental gifts,
the one, through the light of this vivifying power, became a poet of
the propensities and the understanding, a poet of passion and wit; the
other, a poet of the reason, a poet of nature and meditative emotion.

To do their best the moral feelings, too, need the light and inward
stimulus of the beautiful; but if these feelings are by nature
weak, no strength or intensity of the sense of beauty will have power
to get from a mind thus deficient high moral thought or action. If
there be present the accomplishment of verse, we shall have a Byron;
or, the other poetic gifts in full measure, with lack of this
accomplishment, and we may get a Beckford, who builds Fonthill Abbeys,
and with purity and richness of diction describes palaces, actual or
feigned, and natural scenery with picturesqueness and genial glow; or,
the intellectual endowments being mediocre, we shall have merely a man
of superficial taste; or, the moral regents being ineffective, an
intellectual sybarite, or a refined voluptuary. Like the sun, the
beautiful shines on healthful field and poisonous fen; and her warmth
will even make flowers to bloom in the fen, but it is not in her to
make them bear refreshing odors or nourishing fruit.

As men have body, intellect, and moral natures, so is there physical,
intellectual, and spiritual beauty, and each distinct from the others.
Take first a few examples from the domain of art. The body and limbs
of the Gladiator in the Louvre may be cited as the exponent of
corporeal beauty; the face of the Apollo Belvedere as that of
intellectual and physical; and the Santo Sisto Madonna of Raphael, and
the Christ of the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, for spiritual.
Through these radiant creations we look into the transcendent minds of
their artists with a chastened, exalting joy, not unmingled with pride
in our brotherhood with such beauty-lifted co-workers with God.

Among the higher races, life is affluent in examples of the three
kinds of beauty, two of them, and even all three, at times united in
one subject. Children and youth offer the most frequent instances of
physical beauty. Napoleon's face combined in high degree both physical
and intellectual, without a trace of moral beauty. Discoveries in
science, and the higher scientific processes, as likewise broad and
intense intellectual action, exemplify often intellectual beauty. Of
moral beauty history preserves examples which are the brightest
jewels, and the most precious, in the casket of mankind's memory;
among the most brilliant of which are the trust of Alexander, when he
drank the draught from the hand of his physician, though warned that
it was poisoned; the fidelity of the paroled Regulus, returning from
Rome to the enemy into the jaws of a certain and cruel death;
Sir Philip Sidney, wounded unto death, taking the cup of water
untasted from his parched lips, to give it to a dying soldier; Luther
at the Diet of Worms; the public life of Washington; the life and
death of Socrates, and especially that last act of washing his body to
save the women the trouble of washing it a few hours later, when it
would be a corpse; and, lastly, that most beautiful of lives and most
sublime of deaths, which live in the heart of Christendom as its
exemplar and ever fresh ideal.

There is no province of honorable human endeavor, no clean inlet
opened by the senses or the intellect or the feelings, into which from
that vast, deep, oceanic spring, the human soul, the beautiful does
not send its fructifying tides. There is no height in history but is
illuminated by its gleam. Only through the beautiful can truth attain
its full stature; only through the beautiful can the heart be
perfectly purified; only with vision purged by the beautiful can
anything be seen in its totality. All other faculties it makes
prolific; it is the mental generator. It helps to unveil, and then
welds, the link between the visible and the invisible. It inspires
feeling (which is ever the source of deepest insight) to discover
excellence; it quickens the mind to creative activity; it is
forever striving upward. Without the spiritual fervor of the
beautiful, your religion is narrow and superstitious, your science
cramped and mortal, your life unripened. In the mind it kindles a
flame that discloses the divinity there is in all things. Lightning
bares to the awed vision the night-shrouded earth; more vivid than
lightning, the flash of the beautiful reveals to the soul the presence
of God.



The better to meet the question, _What_ is poetry? we begin by putting
before it another, and ask, _Where_ is poetry? Poetry is in the mind.
Landscapes, rainbows, sunsets, constellations, these exist not to the
stag, the hare, the elephant. To them nature has no aspects, no
appearances modified by feeling. Furnished with neither combining
intellect nor transmuting sensibility, they have no vision for aught
but the proximate and immediate and the animally necessary. Corporeal
life is all their life. Within the life of mind poetry is born, and in
the best and deepest part of that life.

The whole world outside of man, and, added to this, the wider world of
his inward motions, whether these motions interact on one another or
be started and modified by what is without them, all this--that is,
all human life, in its endless forms, varieties, degrees, all that can
come within the scope of man--is the domain of poetry; only, to
enjoy, to behold, to move about in, even to enter this domain, the
individual man must bear within him a light that shall transfigure
whatever it falls on, a light of such subtle quality, of such
spiritual virtue, that wherever it strikes it reveals something of the
very mystery of being.

In many men, in whole tribes, this light is so feebly nourished that
it gives no illumination. To them the two vast worlds, the inner and
the outer, are made up of opaque facts, cognizable, available, by the
understanding, and by it handled grossly and directly. Things,
conditions, impressions, feelings, are not taken lovingly into the
mind, to be made there prolific through higher contacts. They are not
dandled joyfully in the arms of the imagination. Imagination! Before
proceeding a step further,--nay, in order that we be able to proceed
safely,--we must make clear to ourselves what means this great word,

The simplest intellectual work is to perceive physical objects. Having
perceived an object several times, the intellect lifts itself to a
higher process, and knows it when it sees it again, remembers it.
_Perception_ is the first, the simplest, the initiatory intellectual
process, _memory_ is the second. Higher than they, and rising
out of them, is a third process, the one whereby are modified and
transmuted the mental impressions of what is perceived or remembered.
A mother, just parted from her child, recalls his form and face,
summons before _her mind's eye_ an image of him; and this image is
modified by her feelings, she seeing him in attitudes and relations in
which she had never seen him before, cheerful or sad according to her
mood. This she could not do by aid of memory alone; she could not vary
the impress of her boy left on the brain; she could not vividly
reproduce it in shifting, rapidly successive conditions; she could not
modify and diversify that impress; in a word, she could not liberate
it. Memory could only re-give her, with single, passive fidelity, what
she had seen, unmodified, motionless, unenlivened, like a picture of
her boy on canvas. Urge intellectual activity to the phase above
memory, and the mental image steps out from its immobility, becomes a
changeful, elastic figure, brightened or darkened by the lights and
shadows cast by the feelings; the intellect, quick now with plastic
power, varying the image in position and expression, obedient
to the demands of the feelings, of which it is ever the ready
instrument. This third process is _imagination_.

Through this mode of intellectual action the materials gathered in the
mind are endlessly combined and modified. In all intellectual
activity, beyond bare perception and memory, imagination in some
degree is and must be present. It is in fact the mind handling its
materials, and in no sphere, above the simplest, can the mind move
without this power of firmly holding and molding facts and relations,
phenomena and interior promptings and suggestions. To the forensic
reasoner, to the practical master-worker in whatever sphere, such a
power is essential not less than to the ideal artist or to the weaver
of fictions. Imagination is thus the abstract action, that is, the
most intense action, of the intellect.

When I run over in my mind, and in the order of their service, the
first seven presidents of the United States, Washington, Adams,
Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Adams, Jackson, I exert only memory. The
moment I begin to compare or contrast one with another, or to give the
character of any of them, I put into play the higher, the imaginative
action; for, to draw an historical character, the facts collected by
memory must be shaped and colored and organized, the details
gathered must be combined into a whole by the intellect, which being a
mere tool, the success of the result (the tool being of a temper to do
the work laid on it) will depend on the quality of the powers that
handle it, that is, on the writer's gifts of sympathy.

The degree and fullness wherewith the imaginative power shall be
called upon depending thus on faculties of feeling, thence it is that
the word _imagination_ has come to be appropriated to the highest
exercise of the power, that, namely, which is accomplished by those
few who, having more than usual emotive capacity in combination with
sensibility to the beautiful, are hereby stimulated to mold and shape
into fresh forms the stores gathered by perception and memory, or the
material originated within the mind through its creative fruitfulness.
In strictness, this exaltation of intellectual action should be called
_poetic_ imagination.

To imagine is, etymologically speaking, _with_ the mind to form _in_
the mind an image; that is, by inward power to produce an interior
form, a something substantial made out of what we term the
unsubstantial. To imagine is thus always, in a certain sense, to
create; and even men of dullest mentality have this power in
_kind_. The _degree_ in which men have it makes one of the chief
differences among them. The power is inherent, is implied in the very
existence of the human mind. When it is most lively the mind creates
out of all it feels and hears and sees, taking a simple sight or hint
or impression or incident, and working out images, making much out of
little, a world out of an atom. Akin herein to the supreme creative
might, the man of highest imagination, the poet, unrolls out of his
brain, through vivid energy, new worlds, peopled with thought,
throbbing with humanity.

When we imagine, therefore, we hold an image in the mind, grasping it
with spiritual fingers, just as by our corporeal fingers a physical
substance is grasped. Now the poetic mind in handling the image tosses
it with what might be called a sportive earnest delight, and through
this power and freedom of _play_ elicits by sympathetic fervor, from
its very core, electric rays, wherein the subject glows like the
sculpture on an inwardly illuminated urn; rare insights being thus
vouchsafed to clearest imaginative vision,--insights gained never but
through sensibilities elevated and purified by aspirations
after, and gleaming glimpses of, the absolute and ideal, the intellect
being used as an obedient cheerful servant.

The sensibility that is so finely strung as to have these glimpses,
revels in them as its fullest happiness, and with its whole might
seeks and courts them. Hence the mind thus privileged to live nearer
than others to the absolutely true, the spiritual ideal, is ever
plying its privilege: conceiving, heightening, spiritualizing,
according to the vision vouchsafed it; through this vision beholding
everywhere a better and fairer than outwardly appears; painting nature
and humanity, not in colors fictitious or fanciful, but in those
richer, more lucent ones which such minds, through the penetrating
insight of the higher imagination, see more truly as they are than
minds less creatively endowed.

Thus is imagination a power inherent in, essential to, all
intellectual action that ranges above simple perception and memory; a
power without which the daily business of life even could not go on,
being that power whereby the mind manipulates, so to speak, its
materials. In its higher phasis it may be defined as the intellect
stimulated by feeling to multiply its efforts for the ends of feeling;
and in its highest it may be said to be intellect winged by
emotion to go forth and gather honey from the bloom of creation.

Imagination, then, being intellect in keenest chase, and the
intellectual part of the mind being, when moved in concert with the
effective part, but a tool of this, what are the feelings or
conditions of feeling of which intellect becomes the instrument in the
production of poetry?

Cast your look on a page filled with the titles of Shakespeare's
plays. What worlds of throbbing life lie behind that roll! Then run
over the persons of a single drama: that one bounded inclosure, how
rich in variety and intensity, and truth of feeling! And when you
shall have thus cursorily sent your mind through each and all, tragic,
comic, historic, lyric, you will have traversed in thought,
accompanied by hundreds of infinitely diversified characters, wide
provinces of human sorrow and joy. Why are these pictures of passion
so uniquely prized, passed on from generation to generation, the most
precious heir-loom of the English tongue, to-day as fresh as on the
morning when the paper was moist with the ink wherewith they were
first written? Because they have in them more fullness and fineness
and fidelity than any others. The poet has more life in him
than other men, and Shakespeare has in him more life than any other
poet, life manifested through power of intellect exalted through union
with power of sympathy, the embodiments whereof are rounded, enlarged,
refined, made translucent by that gift of _sensibility to the fair and
perfect_[3] whereby, according to its degree, we are put in more
loving relation to the work of God, and gain the clearest insights
into his doings and purposes; a gift without which in richest measure
Shakespeare might have been a notable historian or novelist or
philosopher, but never the supreme poet he is.

[3] See preceding Essay.

When Coriolanus, having led the Volscians to Rome, encamps under its
walls, and the Romans, in their peril and terror, send to him a
deputation to move him from his vengeful purpose, the deputies,--the
foremost citizens of Rome and the relations and former friends of
Coriolanus,--having "declared their business in a very modest and
humble manner," he is described by Plutarch as stern and austere,
answering them with "much bitterness and high resentment of the
injuries done him." What was the temper as well as the power of
Coriolanus, we learn distinctly enough from these few words of
Plutarch. But the task of the poet is more than this. To our
imagination, that is, to the abstracting intellect roused by sympathy
to a semi-creative state, he must present the haughty Roman so as to
fill us with an image of him that shall in itself embody that
momentous hour in the being of the young republic. He must dilate us
to the dimensions of the man and the moment; he must so enlarge and
warm our feeling that it shall take in, and delight in, the grandeur
of the time and the actors. The life of Rome, of Rome yet to be so
mighty, is threatened by one of her own sons. This vast history, to be
for future centuries that of the world, a Roman seemed about to
quench, about to rase the walls that were to embrace the imperial
metropolis of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Of what gigantic dimensions
must he be, this Roman! Now hear Menenius, a former friend and admirer
of Coriolanus, depict him. Having described, in those compressed
sinewy phrases which Shakespeare has at command, the change in his
nature, he adds, "When he walks, he moves like an engine, and the
ground shrinks before his treading. He is able to pierce a
corselet with his eye; he talks like a knell, and his hum is a
battery. He sits in his state, as a thing made for Alexander. What he
bids be done is finished with his bidding: he wants nothing of a god
but eternity and a heaven to throne in."

Hear how a mother's heart, about to break, from the loss of her son,
utters its grief when it has the privilege of using a voice quivering
with poetic fervor. The French king bids Lady Constance be comforted:
she answers,--

"No, I defy all counsel, all redress,
But that which ends all counsel, true redress,
Death, death. O amiable lovely death!
Thou odoriferous stench! sound rottenness!
Arise forth from the couch of lasting night,
Thou hate and terror to prosperity,
And I will kiss thy detestable bones;
And put my eyeballs in thy vaulty brows;
And ring these fingers with thy household worms;
And stop this gap of breath with fulsome dust,
And be a carrion monster like thyself:
Come, grin on me; and I will think thou smil'st:
And buss thee as thy wife! Misery's love,
O, come to me!"

In these two passages from "Coriolanus" and "King John" what
magnificence of hyperbole! The imagination of the reader, swept on
from image to image, is strained to follow that of the poet.
And yet, to the capable, how the pile of amplification lifts out the
naked truth. Read these passages to a score of well-clad auditors,
taken by chance from the thoroughfare of a wealthy city, or from the
benches of a popular lecture-room. To the expanded mold wherein the
passages are wrought, a few--five or six, perhaps, of the
twenty--would be able to fit their minds, zestfully climbing the
poet's climax. To some they would be dazzling, semi-offensive
extravagance, prosaic minds not liking, because seeing but dimly by,
the poetically imaginative light. And to some they would be grossly
unintelligible, the enjoyment of the few full appreciators seeming to
them unnatural or affected.

Now, the enjoyment of the few appreciators, what is its source? By
these passages certain feelings in them are made to vibrate and are
pitched to a high key. A very comprehensive word is feelings. What is
the nature of those feelings thus wrought upon?

The elementary feelings of our nature, when in healthful function, are
capable of emitting spiritual light; and, when exalted to their purest
action, do and must emit such, the inward fire sending forth clear
flame unmixed with smoke. To perceive this light, and, still
more, to have your path illuminated thereby, implies the present
activity of some of the higher human sensibilities; and to be so
organized as to be able to embody in words, after having imagined,
personages, conditions, and conjunctions whence this light shall flash
on and ignite the sensibilities of others, implies, besides vivid
sympathies and delight in the beautiful, a susceptibility to the
manifestations of moral and intellectual life which is enjoyed only by
him in whom the nobler elements of being are present in such
intensity, proportions, and quality, and are so commingled, that he
can reproduce life itself with translucent truthfulness, he becoming,
through this exalting susceptibility, poet or maker.

What constitutes the wealth of human life? Is it not fullness and
richness of feeling? To refine this fullness, to purify this richness,
to distill the essence out of this wealth, to educate the feelings by
revealing their subtle possibilities, by bringing to light the
divinity there is within and behind them, this is the poet's part; and
this, his great part, he can only do by being blest with more than
common sympathy with the spirit of the Almighty Creator, and thence
clearer insight into his work and will. Merely to embody in
verse the feelings, thoughts, deeds, scenes of human life, is not the
poet's office; but to exhibit these as having attained, or as capable
of attaining, the power and beauty and spirituality possible to each.
The glorifier of humanity the poet is, not its mere reporter; that is
the historian's function. The poet's business is not with facts as
such, or with inferences, but with truth of feeling, and the very
spirit of truth. His function is ideal; that is, from the prosaic, the
individual, the limited, he is to lift us up to the universal, the
generic, the boundless. In compassing this noble end he may, if such
be his bent, use the facts and feelings and individualities of daily
life; and, by illuminating and ennobling them he will approve his
human insight, as well as his poetic gift.

The generic in sentiment, the universal, the infinite, can only be
reached and recognized through the higher feelings, through those
whose activity causes emotion. The simple impulses, the elementary
loves, are in themselves bounded in their action near and direct; but
growing round the very fountain of life, having their roots
in the core of being, they are liable to strike beyond their
individual limits, and this they do with power when under their sway
the whole being is roused and expanded. When by their movement the
better nature is urged to heroism and self-sacrifice, as in the story
of Damon and Pythias, the reader or beholder is lifted into the
atmosphere of finest emotion; for then the impulse has reached its
acme of function, and playing in the noonday of the beautiful, the
contemplation of it purges and dilates us. We are upraised to the
disinterested mood, the poetical, in which mood there is ever
imaginative activity refined by spiritual necessities. It is not
extravagant to affirm that when act or thought reaches the beautiful,
it resounds through the whole being, tuning it like a high strain of
sweetest music. Thus in the poetical (and there is no poetry until the
sphere of the beautiful is entered) there is always a reverberation
from the emotional nature. Reverberation implies space, an ample vault
of roof or of heaven. In a tight, small chamber there can be none. If
feeling is shut within itself, there is no reecho. Its explosion must
rebound from the roomy dome of sentiment, in order that it become

The moment you enter the circle of the beautiful, into which
you can only be ushered by a light within yourself, a light kindled
through livelier recognition of the divine spirit,--the moment you
draw breath in this circle you find yourself enlarged, spiritualized,
buoyed above the self. No matter how surrounded, or implicated, or
enthralled, while you are there, be it but for a few moments, you are

"No more--no more--oh! never more on me
The freshness of the heart can fall like dew,
Which out of all the lovely things we see
Extracts emotions beautiful and new,
Hived in our bosoms like the bag o' the bee.
Think'st thou the honey with those objects grew?
Alas! 't was not in them, but in thy power
To double even the sweetness of a flower."

"All who joy would win
Must share it; happiness was born a twin."

"He entered in the house,--his home no more,
For without hearts there is no home--and felt
The solitude of passing his own door
Without a welcome; _there_ he long had dwelt,
There his few peaceful days Time had swept o'er,
There his worn, bosom and keen eye would melt
Over the innocence of that sweet child,
His only shrine of feelings undefiled."

These three passages are from a poem in which there is more wit than
poetry, and more cynicism than either; a poem in spirit unsanctified,
Mephistophelian, written by a man of the world, a terrible
egotist, _blase_ already in early manhood, in whose life, through
organization, inherited temperament, and miseducation, humanity was so
cramped, distorted, envenomed, that the best of it was in the fiery
sway of the more urgent passions, his inmost life being, as it must
always be with poets, inwoven into his verse. From the expiring
volcano in his bosom his genius, in this poem, casts upon the world a
lurid flame, making life look pale or fever-flushed. With unslumbering
vivacity, human nature is exhibited in that misleading light made by
the bursting of half-truths that relate to its lower side, a light the
more deceptions from the sparkling accompaniment of satire and wit.

Above the pungent secularities, the nimble intellectualities, the
specious animalism, the derisive skepticism, the snapping
personalities, the witty worldliness, that interlace and constitute
the successive cantos of "Don Juan," the passages just quoted and
similar ones (they are not many) rise, as above the desires and the
discontents, the plots and contentions, the shrewd self-seekings of a
heated, noisy city rises a Gothic spire, aspiring, beautiful, drawing
most of its beauty from its aspiration, on whose pinnacle, calmly
glistening in the upper air, plays the coming and the parting day,
while shadows fill the streets below, and whose beauty throws over the
town a halo that beckons men from afar. The spire, in its steadfast
tranquillity and its beauty, so unlike the restless wrangling
dissonance below it, grew nevertheless out of the same hearts that
make the dissonance, and, typifying what is spiritual and eternal in
them, tends by its ideal presence to enlarge and uplift those by whose
eyes it is sought. These upshootings in "Don Juan" irradiate the
cantos, giving an attractiveness which draws to them eyes that
otherwise would not have known them; and if too pure in their light
and too remote to mingle directly with the flare and flash that dazzle
without illuminating, silently they shine and steadily, an unconscious
heavenly influence, above these coruscations of earthly
thoughts,--thoughts telling from their lively numerousness, but
neither grand nor deep.

From the same solar center fall frequently single rays that make lines
and stanzas glisten, and but for which this poem, lacking their
perfusive light, would soon pass into oblivion; for from the
beautiful it is that the satire, the wit, the voluptuousness get their
sparkle and their sheen. If passages morally censurable are hereby
made more captivating, we are not content with saying that God's sun
fructifies and beautifies poison-oak and hemlock; but we affirm that
the beautiful, being by its nature necessarily pure, communicates of
its quality to whoever becomes aware of it, and thus in some measure
counterweighs the lowering tendency. Moreover, the morally bad,
deriving its character of evil from incompleteness, from the arresting
or the perversion of good, like fruit plucked unripe, and being
therefore outside the pale of the beautiful (the nature of which is
completeness, fullness, perfection of life) cannot by itself be made
captivating through the beautiful. Iago and Edmund are poetical as
parts of a whole; and when in speech they approach the upper region of
thought, it is because the details allotted to them have to be highly
wrought for the sake of the general plot and effect, and further,
because humanity and truth speak at times through strange organs.
Besides, the ideal may be used to show more glaringly the hideousness
of evil, and thence Iago and Edmund, as ideal villains, through the
very darkness in which only poetic art could have enveloped them, help
us by indirection to see and value the lights that surround the noble
and the good.

In healthy function all the feelings are pure and moral, those whose
action is most earthly and animal and selfish uniting themselves at
their highest with the spiritual, for performance whose compass
reaches beyond an individual, momentary good. A burglar or a murderer
may exhibit courage; but here, a manly quality backing baseness and
brutality for selfish, short-sighted ends, there is an introverted and
bounded action, no expansive upward tendency, and thence no poetry.
But courage, when it is the servant of principle for large, unselfish
ends, becomes poetical, exhibiting the moral beautiful, as in the
fable of Curtius and the fact (or fable) of Winkelried. In the
poetical there is always enlargement, exaltation, purification; animal
feeling, self-seeking propensity, becoming so combined with the higher
nature as to rise above themselves, above the self.

The lioness, pursuing the robber of her cub, if in her rage she
scarcely heed that he (to stay her steps) has dropped the cub in her
path, but, casting at it a glance of recognition, bounds with a
wilder howl after the robber, the incident is purely bestial, an
exhibition of sheer brute fury, and as such repulsive and most
unpoetical. But let her, instantly drawing her fiery eye from the
robber, stop, and for the infuriated roar utter a growl of leonine
tenderness over her recovered cub, and our sympathy leaps towards her.
Through the red glare of rage there shines suddenly a stream of white
light, gushing from one of the purest fountains: wrathful fury is
suddenly subdued by love. A moment before she was possessed with
savage fierceness, her blood boiling with hate and revenge; now it
glows with a mother's joy. Her nature rises to the highest whereof it
is capable. It is the poetry of animalism.

In the poetical, thought is amplified and ripened, while purified, in
the calm warmth of emotion. From being emotive, poetry draws in more
of the man, and higher, finer powers, than prose. The poetical has,
must have, rotundity. No poet ever had a square head. Prose, in its
naked quality, is to poetry what a skeleton is to a moving,
flesh-and-spirit-endowed body. From the skeleton you can learn
osteology, but neither aesthetics nor human nature. Imaginative prose
partakes of the spiritual character of poetry. When a page is
changed from poetry into prose it is flattened, deadened; when from
prose into poetry it is uplifted, enlivened. You get a something else
and a something more. Reduced to plain prose, the famous passage from
the mouth of Viola in "Twelfth Night" would read somewhat thus: "My
father had a daughter who loved a man and would let no one know of her
love, but concealed it, until her cheek grew pale with grief,
patiently bearing within her bosom the misery of an untold
attachment." Now hear the poet:--

"She never told her love,
But let concealment, like a worm i' the bud,
Feed on her damask cheek: she pined in thought:
And with a green and yellow melancholy
She sat like patience on a monument,
Smiling at grief."

What has been done with the prose statement? Instead of a bare fact we
have a picture, a twofold picture; and this, in its compact, fresh,
rose-tinted vividness, carries the whole into our hearts with a
tenfold success. Through emotional joy we apprehend, as by the light
of an instantaneous ignition, the state of the sufferer. The
prose-report is a smoldering fire on the hearth, through whose sleepy
smoke there comes a partial heat; the poetic is the flame in
full fervor, springing upward, illuminating, warming the heart,
delighting the intellect. The imagination of the reader, quickened by
illustrations so apt and original, is by their beauty tuned to its
most melodious key, while by the rare play of intellectual vitality
his mind is dilated. He has become mentally a richer man, enriched
through the refining and enlarging of his higher sensibilities, and
the activity imparted to his intellect.

To say of a man that he is without imagination were to say he is an
idiot; that is, one lacking the inward force and the inward
instruments to grasp and handle the materials collected from without
by perception and memory, and from within by consciousness. To say of
a poet that he is without poetic imagination were to say he is no
poet. What is poetic imagination? This, for our theme, is a vital
question. Can there be given to it an approximate answer?

Figure to yourself a company of men and women in presence of a
September sunset near the sea, the eye taking in at once ocean and a
variegated landscape. The company must not be a score of tawny
American aborigines, nor of European peasants, nor of individuals
whose life of monotonous labor, whether for necessaries or
luxuries, has no opportunity or no will for the finer mental culture;
but, to give aptness to our illustration, should consist of persons
whose being has been unfolded to the tissue of susceptibility to the
wonders and beauties of nature, and whose intellect has been tilled
sufficiently to receive and nourish any fresh seed of thought that may
be thrown upon it; in short, a score of cultivated adults. The
impression made by such a scene on such a company is heightened by a
rare atmospheric calm. The heart of each gazer fills with emotion, at
first unutterable except by indefinite exclamation; when one of the
company says,--

"A fairer face of evening cannot be."

These words, making a smooth iambic line, give some utterance, and
therefore some relief, to the feeling of all. Then another adds,--

"The holy time is quiet as a nun
Breathless with adoration."

Instantly the whole scene, steeped in the beams of the sinking sun, is
flooded with a light that illuminates the sunlight, a spiritual light.
The scene is transfigured before their eyes: it is as if the heavens
had opened, and inundated all its features with a celestial
subtilizing aura. How has this been accomplished? The first line has
little of the quality of poetic imagination.

"A fairer face of evening cannot be."

is simple and appropriate, but in it there is no fresh glow, no
mysterious throb. Above the level of this line rise suddenly the first
three words of the second, "the holy time." The presence of a scene
where sky, earth, and ocean combine for the delight of the beholders
puts them in a mood which crowns the landscape with a religious halo.
That the time is holy they all feel; and now, to make its tranquillity
appreciable by filling the heart with it, the poet adds--"is quiet as
a nun breathless with adoration." By this master-stroke of poetic
power the atmospheric earthly calm is vivified with, is changed into,
super-earthly calm. By a fresh burst of spiritual light the mind is
set aesthetically aglow, as by the beams of the setting sun the
landscape is physically. By an exceptionally empowered hand the soul
is strung to a high key. Fullness and range of sensibility open to the
poet[4] a wide field of illustration; its exacting fineness reveals
the one that carries his thought into the depths of the
reader's mind, bringing him that exquisite joy caused by keen
intellectual power in the service of pure emotion.

[4] Wordsworth.

Take now other samples from the treasury of choicest poetry. Here is
one from Coleridge:--

"And winter, slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of spring."

Here again the intellect is urged to its highest action, the abstract
or imaginative action, to do the hests of a sensibility so finely
wrought by the inward impulsion to seek for the most exquisite that
nature can furnish, that it yields similitudes most delicate, most
apt, most expressive.

Milton thus opens the fifth book of "Paradise Lost:"--

"Now morn, her rosy steps in the eastern clime
Advancing, sowed the earth with orient pearl."

Shakespeare makes Romeo describe daybreak:--

"And jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain-tops."

Keats begins "Hyperion" with these lines:

"Deep in the shady sadness of a vale,
Far sunken from the healthy breath of morn."

In the Monody on Keats, Shelley, describing the lamentation of
nature at his death, concludes a stanza as follows:--

"Morning sought
Her eastern watch-tower, and, her hair unbound,
Wet with the tears that should adorn the ground,
Dimmed the aerial eyes that kindle day;
Afar the melancholy thunder moaned,
Pale Ocean in unquiet slumber lay,
And the wild winds flew around, sobbing in their dismay."

Such passages are the very flower of poetry, thought exquisitely dyed
in sentiment, laying suddenly bare a picture with so much light in it
that each passage irradiates its page and the reader's mind. By their
happiness the similitudes emphasize and enforce the thought; and they
do a higher service than this; for, being a breath from the inner life
of genius, they blow power into the reader. To translate these
passages into prose were like trying to translate a lily into the mold
out of which it springs, or a bar of Beethoven into the sounds of the
forum, or the sparkle of stars into the warmth of a coal fire.

The best poetry has a far background; it comes out of deeps within the
poet, unfathomed by himself, unfathomable. He feels more than he can
express. Hence the imaginative poet always suggests, revealing enough
to inspirit the reader's higher faculties to strive for more;
not because, with artistic design, he leaves much untold, which he
often does, but because through imaginative susceptibility he at times
grasps at and partly apprehends much that cannot be embodied. He feels
his subject more largely and deeply than he can see or represent it.
To you his work is suggestive because to him the subject suggested
more than he could give utterance to. Every subject, especially every
subject of poetic capability, having infinite relations, he who most
apprehends this boundlessness--and indeed because he does apprehend
it--can do or say what will open it to you or me; and the degree of
his genius is measured by the extent to which he can present or expose
it. The unimaginative gives surface-work, and, suggesting nothing, is
at once exhausted.

The poetic imagination shows itself in the epithets the poet has at
his command, creative insight drawing an epithet out of the heart of
an object; whence, there is beneath such an epithet a depth that keeps
feeding it with significance, bringing out its aptness the longer we
look. Sometimes epithets are brighter than their object; the
unimaginative thus futilely striving to impart power instead of
deriving it. To be lasting, the light of the epithet must be struck by
the imagination out of its object. The inspired poet finds a word so
sympathetic with the thought that it caresses and hugs it.

Depth and breadth of nature are implied in the full poetic
imagination. The love of the beautiful, wielding a keen intellect,
needs furthermore rich material to mold, and only out of the poet's
individual resources can this be drawn. To make a high artist, you
must have very much of a man. Behind "Paradise Lost" and "Samson
Agonistes" is a big Miltonic man. The poet has to put a great deal of
himself, and the best of him, into his work; thence, for high poetry,
there must be a great deal of high self to put in. He must coin his
soul, and have a large soul to coin; the best work cannot be made out
of materials gathered by memory and fancy. His stream of thought must
flow from springs, not from reservoirs. Hence the universal
biographical interest in such men; they have necessarily a rich

The passages I have cited are all pictures of outward nature, natural
scenes mirrored on the mind, or rather refracted through it, and in
the act transfigured, spiritualized; for such scenes, having
the fortune to fall on the minds of poets, are reproduced with joyful
revelation of their inmost being, as sunbeams are through a crystal
prism. Exhibiting material nature spiritualized, well do these
passages show the uplifting character of poetic imagination. But this
displays a higher, and its highest power when, striking like a
thunderbolt into the core of things, it lays bare mysteries of God and
of the heart which mere prosaic reason cannot solve or approach,
cannot indeed alone even dimly apprehend.

I will now quote passages, brief ones, wherein through the poet are
opened vast vistas into the shining universe, or is concentrated in
single or few lines the life of man's finer nature, as in the diamond
are condensed the warmth and splendor that lie latent in acres of
fossil carbon.

When, in the sixth book of "Paradise Lost," Milton narrates the
arrival on the battle-field of the Son,--

"Attended by ten thousand thousand saints,"

and then adds:--

"Far off his coming shone,"

in these five short words is a sudden glare of grandeur that dilates
the capable mind with light, and, as the sublime always does, with

When Ferdinand, in "The Tempest," leaps "with hair up-staring"
into the sea, crying,--

"Hell is empty,
And all the devils are here,"

the mind is suddenly filled with an image of the tumult and flaming
rage of a thunder-storm at sea, such as words have never elsewhere
carried. What a reach in the imaginative stroke! In the first scene of
"Faust," the earth-spirit, whom Faust has evoked, concludes the
whirling, dazzling, brief, but gigantic sketch of his function with
these words, the majesty of which translation cannot entirely

"I ply the resounding great loom of old Time,
And work at the Godhead's live vesture sublime."

How ennobling is the idea the mind harbors of humanity, after taking
in these lines from Wordsworth's "Ode on Intimations of

"But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home."

With a single epithet, coined for the occasion, Keats flashes upon our
imagination the dethroned Saturn and the immensity of his fall:

"Upon the sodden ground
His old right hand lay nerveless, listless, dead,
Unsceptered; and his _realmless_ eyes were closed."

The "Hyperion" of this transcendent genius, written in his
twenty-fourth year, the year before he died, is as great poetry as has
ever been treasured in words. In it he lavishes poetic wealth as
though gold were with him as plenty as silver; and so on the next page
he exceeds, if possible, the sublimity of the above lines, making Thea
write in the catalogue of Saturn's colossal deprivations,--

"And all the air
Is emptied of thine hoary majesty."

These passages vividly exemplify poetic imagination, which is the
illumining of a capable material by a spiritual light, a light thrown
into it from the glow kindled in the poet's mind with richest
sensibilities, that are refined and sublimated by an exacting, subtle
inward demand for the best they can render. A single flash of new
thrilling light irradiates a continent of thought. This is the work of
genius, and genius is ever marked by a deeper sympathy with and
recognition of the creative spirit and the divine action, a sympathy
and recognition so sensitive that the spirit and action of the writer
are permeated by the divine effluence, he becoming thereby the
interpreter of divine law, the exhibitor of divine beauty.

In these passages the thought of the poet is thrust up through
the overlaying crust of the common, by a warming, expanding, inward
motion, which is sped by a vitality so urgent and irresistible that,
to make passage for the new thought, lightly is lifted a load which,
but for this spiritual efficacy, could not be stirred, just as heavy
stones are raised by delicate growing plants. To exert this power the
poet is always moved at the instance of feeling. Poetry having its
birth in feeling, no man can enjoy or value it but through feeling.
But what moves him to embody and shape his feeling is that ravishing
sentiment which will have the best there is in the feeling, the
sentiment which seeks satisfaction through contemplation or
entertainment of the most divine and most perfect, and ever rises to
the top of the refined joy which such contemplation educes.

The poetic imagination is the Ariel of the poet,--his spiritual
messenger and Mercury. A clear look into the above passages would show
that the source of their power is in the farther scope or exquisite
range the imagination opens to us, often by a word. For further
illustration I will take a few other examples, scrutinizing them more
minutely. Had Lorenzo opened the famous passage in "The
Merchant of Venice" thus,--

"How _calm_ the moonlight _lies_ upon this bank,"

and continued to the end of the dozen lines in the same key, saying,--

"There's not the _tiniest star_ that _can be seen_
But in its _revolution_ it doth _hum_,
Aye _chanting_ to the _heavenly_ cherubins,"

his words would not have become celebrated and quotable. But Lorenzo
has the privilege of being one of the mouth-pieces of Shakespeare, and
so he begins,--

"How _sweet_ the moonlight _sleeps_ upon this bank."

Two words, _sweet_ and _sleep_, put in the place of _calm_ and _lies_,
lift the line out of prose into poetry. A log _lies_ on a bank; so
does a dead dog, and the more dead a thing is the more it lies; but
only what is alive _sleeps_, and thus the word, besides an image of
extreme stillness, brings with it what strengthens the image, the idea
of change from liveliness to quiet; for that which was awake now
sleeps; and the more full the picture of stillness, the more awake is
the mind of the reader, awakened by the fitness and felicity of the
image. The substitution of _sweet_ for _calm_ is, in a less degree,
similarly enlivening; for, used in such conjunction, _sweet_ is more
individual and subtle, and imports more life, and thus helps the
distinctness and vividness of the picture. How does the poetic Lorenzo
word the other three lines?

"There's not the _smallest orb_ which _thou behold'st_,
But in _his motion like an angel sings_,
Still _quiring_ to the _young-eyed_ cherubins."

The words or phrases italicized carry a larger, or a deeper or a finer
meaning than the corresponding ones in the substituted lines. To
_behold_ is more than to _see_: it is to see contemplatively. The
figure _prosopopoeia_ is often but an impotent straining to impart
poetic life; but the personification in _in his motion_ is apt and
effective. _Quiring_ is an amplification of the immediately preceding
_sings_, and, signifying to sing in company with others, enlarges,
while making more specific, the thought. And what an image of the
freshness of heaven and of youthful immortality is conveyed by the
epithet _young-eyed_! At every step the thought is expanded and
beautiful, reaching at the end of the third line a climax on which the
poetically excited mind is left poised in delight.

But the passage transformed, and, as we might say, degraded, is still
poetical. There is so much poetry in the thought that the flattening
of the phraseology cannot smother it, the lines still remaining
poetically alive, their poetry shining through the plainer and less
figurative words. And the thought is poetical because it is the result
of a flight of intellect made by aid of imagination's wings, these
being moved by the soaring demands of the beautiful, and beating an
atmosphere exhaled from sensibility. As Joubert says,--herein uttering
a cardinal aesthetic principle,--"It is, above all, in the spirituality
of ideas that poetry consists." Thought that is poetic will glisten
through the plainest words; whereas, if the thought be prosaic or
trite, all the gilded epithets in the dictionary will not give it the
poetic sheen. Perdita wishes for

That come before the swallow dares, and take
The winds of March with beauty."

Note the poetic potency in the simple word _dares_; how much it
carries: the cold which the swallow has not the courage to confront; a
mental action, I might almost call it, in the swallow, who, after
making a recognizance of the season, determines that it would be rash
to venture so far north: all this is in the single word. For _dares_
write _does_, and the effect would be like that of cutting a
gash in a rising balloon: you would let the line suddenly down,
because you take the life out of the thought.

"And take
The winds of March with beauty."

Every one is taken at some time or other with the beauty of person or
thing, and the thought is common; but that the winds of March be taken
with the beauty of daffodils, this was a delicate secret which those
winds would confide only to one so sympathetic as Shakespeare. This is
poetic imagination, the intellect sent on far errands by a sensibility
which is at once generous and bold, and fastidious through the
promptings and the exactions of the beautiful.

In the opening of "Il Penseroso" Milton describes the shapes that in
sprightly moods possess the fancy,

"As thick and numberless
As the gay motes that _people_ the sunbeams."

Put _shine in_ the sunbeams, for _people_, and, notwithstanding the
luminousness of the word substituted, you take the sparkle out of the
line, which sparkle is imparted by mental activity, and the poetic
dash that has the delightful audacity to personify such atomies.

The poetical is the flush on the face of things in the
unconscious triumph of their purest life, cognizable by being beheld
at the moment when the higher faculties are at their fullest flood,
buoyed up on the joy of being and emotional sympathy. The most and the
highest of this joy is possessed by him whose imagination is most
capable of being poetically agitated; for by such agitation light is
engendered within him, whereby objects and sensations that before were
dim and opaque grow luminous and pellucid, like great statuary in
twilight or moonlight, standing vague and unvalued until a torch is
waved over it.

When we begin to speak of poetry, the higher qualities of the mind
come up for judgment. No genuine poet is without one or more of these,
and a great poet must have most of them. Thence the thought of the
poet is pitched on a high key, and even in poets of power the poetry
of a page is sometimes shown merely by the sustained tone of the
sentiment, giving out no jets of fire, having no passages salient with
golden embossings. Through sympathy and sense of beauty, the poet gets
nearer to the absolute nature of things; and thence, with little of
imagery, or coloring, or passion, through this holy influence
he becomes poetic, depicting by re-creating the object or feeling or
condition, and rising naturally into rhythmic lines and sentences, the
best substance asking for, and readily obtaining, the most suitable
form of words. Yet a poet of inward resources can seldom write a page
without there being heard a note or bar or passage of the finer

But men wanting this inward wealth, that is, wanting depth and breadth
of emotional capacity, have not, whatever their other gifts, the soil
needed for highly imaginative poetry. With broad emphasis this
aesthetic law is exemplified in the verse of Voltaire, especially in
his dramas, and in the verse of one who was deeper and higher than he
as thinker and critic, of Lessing. Skillful versifiers, by help of
fancy and a certain plastic aptitude and laborious culture, are
enabled to give to smooth verse a flavor of poetry and to achieve a
temporary reputation. But of such uninspired workmanship the gilding
after a while wears off, the externally imparted perfume surely

Often the most suitable form of words is made of plainest, commonest
parts of speech, and the fewest of them. The more intense and deep
the feeling, the greater is the need of briefest, simplest
utterance. When in one of those pauses of frantic wrath,--like the
sudden rifts that momentarily let the calm stars through a whirling
canopy of storm,--Lear utters imploringly that appeal to Heaven, the
words are the familiar words of hourly use; but what divine tenderness
and what sweep of power in three lines!

"O heavens,
If you do love old men, if your sweet sway
Allow obedience, if yourselves are old,
Make it your cause; send down and take my part!"

The thirty-third canto of the "Inferno" supremely exemplifies the
sustaining energy of poetic imagination, that by its sublimating light
it can forever hold before the mind, in tearful, irresistible beauty,
one of the most woful forms of human suffering, death by starvation.
In that terrific picture, in front of which all the generations of men
that come after Dante are to weep purifying tears, the most exquisite
stroke is given in five monosyllables; but in those five little words
what depth of pathos, what concentration of meaning! On the fourth day
one of Ugolino's dying sons throws himself at his father's feet,

"Father, why dost not help me?"

Here let me remark that it is not by witnessing, through
poetically imaginative representation, scenes of suffering and agony,
as in this case and the tragic drama, that the sensibilities are
"purged," according to the famous saying of Aristotle; but it is
because such scenes are witnessed by the light of the beautiful. The
beautiful always purifies and exalts.

In either of these two passages any piling up of words, any hyperbole
of phrase, or boldness or even grandeur of figurative speech, would
have proved a hindrance instead of a conductor to the feeling,
smothering and not facilitating expression. But when, turned out of
doors in "a wild night," by those "unnatural hags," his daughters,
Lear, baring his brow to the storm, invokes the thunder to

"Strike flat the thick rotundity o' the world,"

there is no tenderness, no folding of the sore heart upon itself;
there is the expansion of defiance, outburst of the mighty wrath of an
outraged father and wronged and crownless king: and so we have a gush
of the grandest diction, of the most tempestuous rhythm, the storm in
Lear's mind marrying itself with a ghastly joy to the storm of the
elements, the sublime tumult above echoed in the crashing splendor of
the verse:--

"Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving-thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o' the world!
Crack nature's moulds, all germins spill at once,
That make ingrateful man!"

I know of no other single passage that exhibits so clearly the
colossal dimensions of Shakespeare. Here is attained, with almost
unique effect, what according to Schiller is the aim of poetry, "no
other than to give to humanity its fullest possible expression, its
most complete utterance."

The best poetry, like the best music, soars towards the upper light.
The genuinely poetical always lifts up the thought on the swell of
emotion. The thought moves free and strong because there is a deep,
bubbling head of feeling behind it. Feeling, at its best, has an
ascending movement, reaching up towards that high sphere where,
through their conjunction, the earthly and the spiritual play in
freedom in the sunshine of the beautiful. The surest test of the
presence of poetry is buoyancy, springiness, which comes from the
union, the divine union, of the spiritual and the beautiful. However
weighty it may be with thought, the poetical passage floats,
thus giving certain sign of life, of a soul irrepressible.

But as in the forest there cannot be height of stem without strength
and breadth of root, the highest poetry is the most solid, the firmest
set in reality, in truth. The higher a poet is, the closer hold he has
of the roots of his subject. He looks at it with a peering, deeply
sympathetic insight. The roots, in fact, are in himself; they are in
the depths of his soul. Hence a cardinal question about a poem is, How
much of it does the poet draw out of himself? Is it his by projection
from his inward resources, by injection with his own juices; or is it
his only by adoption and adaptation, by dress and adjustment?

Flight of poetic imagination there cannot be unless the wings have
been feathered in the heart. Loftiness or grandeur of imagination
there cannot be, except there be first innate richness and breadth of
feeling. Imagination being simply the tensest action of intellect, is
ever, like intellect in all its phases, an instrument of feeling, a
mere tool. Height implies inward depth. The gift to touch the vitals
of a subject is the test-gift of literary faculty; it is the
soul-gift, the gift of fuller, livelier sympathy. Compare Wordsworth
with Southey to learn the difference between inward and outward gifts.

Poetry being in the mind, the man who has little poetry within him
will find little in nature or in the world or in Shakespeare. The man
who has no music in his soul will hear none at the Conservatoire in
Paris. Wordsworth sees with the inward eye, Southey too exclusively
with the outward. The true poet projects visions and rhythms out from
his brain, and gazes at and hearkens to them. The degree of the
truthfulness to nature and the vividness of these projections is the
measure of his poetic genius and capacity. Only through this intense
inwardness can he attain to great visions and rhythmic raptures, and
make you see and hear them. What illimitable inward sight must Keats
have dwelt in ere, to depict the effect on him of looking into
Chapman's Homer, he could write,--

"Then felt I like some watcher of the skies,
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez, when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific, and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise,
Silent, upon a peak in Darien."

Here is a brilliant example of poetic imagination, the
intellect urged to its finest action to satisfy the feeling which
delights in the grand, the select, the beautiful.

"Silent, upon a peak in Darien."

What an outlook! What a solemn, mysterious, elevating inward moment it
creates in us! To ascend to that peak, to carry the reader thither
with him, that is the flight of a great poet, of one who has been--as
in that choice poem, "The Prelude," Wordsworth, with an electric
stroke of poetic imagination, says of Newton--

"Voyaging through strange seas of thought, alone."

This vigor of flight in the poet, bearing on his wing the reader, whom
he ushers to new, sudden vistas, is a test of poetic genius. Some
poets never carry you to heights, but rather make you feel while
reading them as if you were moving through shut-in valleys: their
verse wants sky. They are not poetically imaginative, are not strung
for those leaps which the great poet at times finds it impossible not
to make. They have more poetic fancy than poetic imagination. Poetic
fancy is a thin flame kindled deliberately with gathered materials;
poetic imagination is an intense flash born unexpectedly of
internal collisions. Fancy is superficial and comparatively
short-sighted; imagination is penetrative and far-sighted, bringing
together things widely sundered, apparently diverse and opposite.
Fancy divides, individualizes; imagination compounds, builds, globes.
Fancy is not so broad or so keen or so warm or so bounding as
imagination; is comparatively tame and cold and quiet. Imagination is
synthetical. Large exhibitions of poetic imagination are rare even in
the greatest poets. At its best it strikes deep into the nature of
things, has a celestial quality which invests it with awe. Spenser
shows great resources of fancy, but little imagination. The arc of
imagination is in him too near its center. Hence there is no reach in
his thoughts. He has no exhaustless depths within. He is not,
as Coleridge says Shakespeare is, an example of "endless
self-reproduction." Cowley, says the same great critic, "is a fanciful
writer, Milton an imaginative poet."

As I have already said, the power of imagining, of forming in the mind
images, conceptions, is a purely intellectual power, and imagination
becomes poetical only when this intellectual power is an agent
obeying that emotional power which ardently seeks, intensely longs
for, the better, the more perfect, the purer, in one word, the
beautiful in each province of multiform life. The willing agent,
intellect, is sent out on excursions of discovery, and unexpectedly
falls in with and captures all kinds of sparkling booty.

Writers weak in poetic imagination are not visited by those beaming
thoughts that come unsummoned out of the invisible, like new stars
which, out of the unfathomable deeps of the sky, dart suddenly upon
the vision of the heaven-watcher. Such writers deal with the known,
with the best commonplace, not the common merely; and under the glance
of genius the common grows strange and profound.

Some poets, not weak in poetic imagination, yet use it chiefly for
secondary purposes, that is, for beautifying the dress, the externals
of poetry. Minds with some breadth but with little depth are not
thoroughly original. Their sense of the beautiful busies itself
necessarily with that for which they have the readiest gifts; and
their readiest gifts being words more than ideas, versification more
than thought, form more than substance, they turn out verse,
chiefly narrative, which captivates through its easy flow, its smooth
sensuousness of diction, its gloss. Take a poet so celebrated, in some
respects so admirable, as Tennyson. Tennyson's verse is apt to be too
richly dressed, too perfumed. The clothing is costlier than the
thoughts can pay for. Hence at every re-reading of him he parts with
some of his strength, so that after three or four repetitions he has
little left for you. From a similar cause this is the case too with
Byron, through whose pen to common sentiment and opinion a glow is
imparted by the animal heat of the man, heightened by poetic tints
from a keen sense of the beautiful. But this is not the case with
Keats or Shelley or Coleridge or Wordsworth, and of course therefore
not with Milton or Shakespeare. All these keep fresh, at every contact
giving you strength and losing none. As freely and freshly as the
sun's beams through a transparent, upspringing Gothic spire, intellect
and feeling play, ever undimmed, through Shelley's "Sky-Lark." Not so
through Tennyson's "Dream of Fair Women." After a time these
mellifluous stanzas droop, and cling to the paper: they have not
enough flame-like motion. The nicest word-choosing will not
supply the place of choice in thought, a choice prompted by fresh
feeling; nor, where there is no new impulse from the heart, will the
most gorgeous diction give to a line the poetic carnation. There can
be no freshness of expression without freshness of thought; the
sparkle on the skin comes from new blood in the heart.

Tennyson's poetry has often too much leaf and spray for the branches,
and too much branch for the trunk, and too much trunk for the roots.
There is not living stock enough of thought deeply set in emotion to
keep the leaves ever fresh and fragrant. Wordsworth's poetry has for
the most part roots deeply hidden.

Poetry is at times fitted to a subject too much like clothes to a
body. This is the method with even some writers of good gifts and
deserved name. Compared with Goethe, who, sensuous as he is, but
healthily sensuous, writes always from within outward, Schiller is
chargeable with this kind of externality. To try to make the fancy do
the work of feeling is a vain effort. And so much verse is of the
memory and fancy more than of the heart and imagination. Inward
impulse not being dominant, the words, however shiny, are touched with
coldness. Under the inward dominance (supposing always that the
intellectual tool be of due temper and sharpness) the poet mounts
springily on a ladder self-wrought out of the brain as he ascends; and
thus there is a prompt continuity and progressiveness, a forward and
upward movement towards the climax which ever awaits you in a subject
that has a poem in it. In a genuine poem, a work of inspiration and
not mainly of art, there is brisk evolution, phase of feeling climbing
over phase, thought kindled by thought seizing unexpected links of
association. This gives sure note of the presence of the matrix out of
which poetry molds itself, that is, sensibility warm and deep,
penetrating sympathy. Where evolution and upward movement are not, it
is a sign that the spring lacks depth and is too much fed by surface
streams from without.

Through a poem should run a thread of emotional thought, strong enough
to bind the parts together so vividly as to hold attention close to
the substance. Many a so-called poem is but a string of elaborate
stanzas, mostly of four lines each, too slightly connected to
cooperate as members of an organic whole. There is not heat enough in
the originating impulse to fuse the parts into unity. There is
too much manufacture and not enough growth. Coleridge says, "The
difference between manufactured poems and works of genius is not less
than between an egg and an egg-shell; yet at a distance they both look

Men without depth of sensibility or breadth of nature, but with enough
sense of beauty to modulate their thoughts, using with skill the
floating capital of sentiment and the current diction and molds of
verse, for a generation are esteemed poets of more genius than they
have, their pages being elaborate verse flavored with poetry, rather
than poems. In much verse are found old thoughts re-dressed in the
scoured garments of an ambitious fancy. The remark being made to
Goethe in his latter days, that scarce one of the younger German poets
had given an example of good prose, he rejoined, "That is very
natural; he who would write prose must have something to say; but he
who has nothing to say can make verses and rhymes; for one word gives
the other, till at last you have before you what in fact is nothing,
yet looks as though it were something." There is much good-looking
verse which does not fulfill any one of Milton's primary conditions
for poetry, being artificial instead of "simple," and having
neither soul enough to be "passionate," nor body enough to be
"sensuous." By passionate Milton means imbued with feeling.

The poetical mood is always a visionary mood; so much so, that even
when the poet is depicting an actual person or scene, he must see it
with the imaginative eye, the inward eye, as well as with the outward.
Unless he does, there is no poetry in the result. A poem is twofold,
presenting an actuality, and at the same time a tender lucent image
thereof, like the reflection of a castle, standing on the edge of a
lake, in the calm deep mirror before it: at one view we see the castle
and its glistening counterpart. In the best poetry there is vivid
picture-making: reality is made more visible by being presented as a
beautiful show. It is the power to present the beautiful show which
constitutes the poet. To conceive a scene or person with such
liveliness and compactness as to be able to transfer the conception to
paper with a distinctness and palpitation that shall make the reader
behold in it a fresh and buoyant type of the actual--this implies a
subtle, creative life in the mind, this is the test of poetic
faculty. To stand this test there must be an inward sea of thought and
sensibility, dipping into which the poet is enabled to hold up his
conception or invention all adrip with sparkling freshness. The poetic
mind, with a firm, and at the same time free, easy hold, holds a
subject at arm's length, where it can be turned round in the light;
the prosaic mind grasps and hugs what it handles so close that there
is no room for play of light or motion.

Contemplating synthetically the highest and choicest and purest, and
at the same time actively endeavoring to embody it, the genuine poet
has in his best work joy as exalted as the mind can here attain to;
and in the reader who can attune himself to the high pitch, he
enkindles the same kind of joyful exaltation. There is current a
detestable phrase or definition, which even Coleridge allows himself
to countenance, namely, that poetry is something which gives pleasure.
Pleasure! Do we speak of the pleasure of beholding the sun rise out of
the Atlantic or from the top of Mount Washington, or the pleasure of
standing beside Niagara, or of reading about the self-sacrifice of
Regulus or Winkelried? Pleasure is a word limited to the animal or to
the lighter feelings. "Let me have the pleasure of taking wine
with you." A good dinner gives great pleasure to a circle of gourmets.
Even enjoyment, a higher word than pleasure, should, when applied to
poetry, be conjoined with some elevating qualification; for all the
feelings impart enjoyment through their simple healthy function, and
there are people who enjoy a cock-pit, or a bull-fight, or an
execution. But poetry causes that refined, super-sensuous delight
which follows the apprehension of any thought, sentiment, act, or
scene, which rises towards the best and purest possible in the range
of that thought, sentiment, act, or scene. In the poetical there
always is exaltation, a reaching towards perfection, a subtle,
blooming spirituality. The end of poetry is not pleasure,--this were
to speak too grossly,--but refined enjoyment through emotion.

To him who has the finer sensibility to become aware of its presence,
the poetical is everywhere. The beautiful is a kiss which man gives to
Nature, who returns it; to get the kiss from her he must first give
it. Wordsworth says, "Poetry is the breath and fine spirit of all
knowledge; it is the impassioned expression which is in the
countenance of all science." It might be called the aromatic
essence of all life.

A poem is the incarnation of this aroma, the condensation of it into
form. A drop of dew symbolizes a poem; for a true poem should be oval,
without angles, transparent, compact, complete in itself, graceful
from inward quality and fullness. It may be of a few lines, or of
hundreds or thousands; but there must be no superfluous line or word.
A poem drops out of the brain a fragrant distillation. A poem must be
a spiritual whole; that is, not only with the parts organized into
proportioned unity, but with the whole and the parts springing out of
the idea, the sentiment, form obedient to substance, body to soul, the
sensuous life to the inward. For enduring, ruddy incarnation, the
subject, whether it be incident, scene, sentiment, or action, must
have within its core this essential aroma. The poet (and the test of
his poetic capacity is his gift to draw the fragrance out of such a
core) keeps his conception distinctly and vividly before him. The
conception or ideal prefigurement of his theme precedes him, like the
pillar of fire in the night, drawing him onward surely and rapidly.
Otherwise he lags and flags and stumbles. The spring into poetry is on
a flash, which not only lights up the thought on which it springs, but
renews, recreates it.

A man's chief aim in life should be to better himself, to keep
bettering himself; and in this high duty the poet helps him. Poetry is
the great educator of the feelings. By seizing and holding up to view
the noblest and cleanest and best there is in human life, poetry
elevates and refines the feelings. It reveals and strengthens the
spirituality of our nature. Poetry tunes the mind. Faculty of
admiration is one of our super-animal privileges. Poetry purges and
guides admiration; and the sounder and higher our admirations, the
more admirable ourselves become.

The best poetry turns the mind inward upon itself, and sweetens its
imaginations. Our imaginations, that is, our inward thoughts, plans,
shaping our silent, interior doings, these are the chief part of us;
for out of these come most of our outward acts, and all of their
color. As is the preponderance of the man, will be this inward brood.
The timid man will imagine dangers, the anxious man troubles, the
hopeful man successes, the avaricious man accumulations, the ambitious
possession of power; and the poetic man will imagine all sorts
of perfections, be ever yearning for a better and higher, be ever
building beautiful air-castles, earthy or moral, material or ethereal,
according as the sensuous or the spiritual predominates in his nature.
Beckford, of a sensuously poetic nature, having command of vast
wealth, brought his castle in the air down to the ground, and dazzled
his contemporaries with Fonthill Abbey. Not only are Fonthill Abbeys
and all beautiful buildings achieved through the warm action of the
poetic faculty, but all improvements are brought about by its virtue.
Out of this deep, inward, creative power issue all theories and
practice for the bettering of human conditions. All original founders
and discoverers are poets: the most poetic French mind I know is that
of Fourier.

When a mind, having the texture and expansibility to become surcharged
with magnetic effluence, has moreover that aesthetic gift of rhythmic
expression which involves a sense of the beautiful, that is, of the
high and exquisite possibilities of created things,--when such a mind,
under the pressure of inward needs, betakes it to embodying in verse
its imaginations and conceptions, the result is poetry. _Poetry is
thought so inly warmed by creative sensibility as to overflow in
musical cadence._ And when we consider that thought is the gathering
of loose intellectual activity into a fast focus; that creative
sensibility is human feeling refined of its dross, stilled of its
tumultuousness in the glow of the beautiful; that musical cadence is
heard by him who can hearken with such rapt reverence as to catch some
sound of the tread in divine movement, we may apprehend that a genuine
poem implies, for its conception, an illuminated plenitude of mind,
and involves in its production a beatific visionariness.



Thought, act, and speech are of one substance. Where the best things
have been done, the best things have been said. The history of Attica
is richer and more significant than that of her sister-states of old
Greece, and among them her literature is supreme. So of England in
modern Europe. And where good thoughts have been uttered the form of
those will be finest which carry the choicest life. The tree gets its
texture from the quality of its sap. Were I asked what author is the
most profitable to the student of English on account of style, I
should answer, study Shakespeare.

Have something to say, and say it in the best and fewest words, were a
good recipe for style. In this brief precept there are more
ingredients than at first view appear. To have something to say
implies that a man must write out of himself, and not chiefly out of
his memory; and so to write involves much more than many people
are aware of; in order that his style have freshness, which is a
primary need of a good style, the writer's thought must be fresh.
Then, to say his thought in the best and fewest words implies faculty
of choice in words, and faculty of getting rid of all verbal
superfluity; and these two faculties betoken proficiencies and some of
the finer aesthetic forces.

Style itself is a gift (or more properly an issue of several gifts),
not an acquisition; it cannot be taught. As to teaching style to one
with inharmonious or defective natural powers, you might as well
attempt to teach a thrush to sing the songs of the nightingale. To be
sure, like the poetical, or the scientific, or any mental gift, it
requires culture. But style is little helped from without. The most,
as to the form of his utterance, that a writer can get from
others--whether through study of the best masters or through direct
rhetorical instruction--is in the mechanical portion of the art; that
is, how to put sentences together according to relation of clauses,
how by position of words and phrases to avoid obscurity and
awkwardness, and thus make most presentable and accessible what he has
to give out. Even in these superficial lessons success imports
something more than a superficial capacity. These lessons learnt, and
you have still to go behind them for style, whose cradle is within
you. _Le style c'est l'homme meme_ (a man's style is his very self),
is the oft-quoted profound sentence of Buffon. Style comes out of the
interior: beneath a genuinely good style are secret springs which give
to the surface its movement and sparkle. Mostly when people talk of
style 't is of the surface; they think not of the depths beneath. In
popularly good styles there are indeed no deep or fine springs
beneath; in Tom Moore's, for example, or Southey's.

Nevertheless there are writers who have more skill and art than others
in presenting agreeably what they have to say, in gracefully shaping
their utterances; they are better endowed with some of the plastic
faculties; they have what Sainte-Beuve calls the genius of style. Tact
and craft enable them to make themselves more readable than some other
writers of more substance; still, they are only capable of so doing by
means of qualities which, however secondary, are interior and fervent,
and the skill imparted by which cannot be acquired except through the
presence of these qualities. This superiority of skill in form
is illustrated by the literature of France in comparison with the
literature of Germany, and even with that of England. The French
follow a precept thus embodied by Beranger: "Perfection of style
should be sought by all those who believe themselves called to diffuse
useful thoughts. Style, which is only the form appropriated to a
subject by art and reflection, is the passport of which every thought
has need in order to circulate, expand, and lodge itself in people's
brains. To neglect style is not to show sufficient love for the ideas
one wishes to make others adopt." And so effective is the following of
such a precept that, through careful devices and manipulating
cleverness, a brilliant success, though transitory is achieved by some
writers who range lightly over surfaces, their thoughts dipping no
deeper than a flat stone thrown to skim along the water, which it
keeps ruffling, making a momentary sprightly splash at each contact,
until, its force being soon spent, it disappears and is seen no more.

The possession of certain mental gifts constitutes a talent for
writing, gifts which, with reference to the great primary powers of
the mind, are secondary. Sainte-Beuve says of the Abbe Gerbet
that he "had naturally the flowers of speech, movement and rhythm of
phrase, measure and choice of expression, even figurative language,
what, in short, makes a talent for writing." The possessor of these
qualifications may, nevertheless, rise only a little above mediocrity.
Of the styles of many, even clever, accomplished writers, one gets a
clear notion from the remark made of a certain polished actress, that
she always played well, never better.

When Sainte-Beuve says _Rien ne vit que par le style_, he asserts in
fact the exclusive privilege of original thought to give permanence to
literary work; for nothing but an interior source can give life to
expression. The inward flow will shape itself adequately and
harmoniously in proportion as it has at full command the auxiliary,
what I have called the plastic literary qualities; but shape itself it
will, effectively and with living force, without the fullest command,
while the readiest mastery over these qualities can never give
vitality to style when are wanting primary resources. Literary
substance which does not shape itself successfully (it may not be with
the fullest success) is internally defective, is insufficient;
for if it throb with life, it will mold a form for its embodiment,
albeit that form, from lack of complete command of the secondary
agents, will not be so graceful or rich as with such command it would
have been. Wordsworth has made to English literature a permanent
addition which is of the highest worth, in spite of notable plastic
deficiencies. A conception that has a soul in it will find itself a
body, and if not a literary body, one furnished by some other of the
fine arts; or, wanting that, in practical enterprise or invention. And
the body or form will be stamped with the inward lineaments of the
man. Style issues from within, and if it does not, it is not style,
but manner. Words get all their force from the thoughts and feelings
behind them. They are necessary media, created, molded, and combined
by mental wants. Picking and polishing words and phrases is
ineffectual without the picking and polishing of the thoughts: below
the surface of words lies that which controls and vivifies style. And
then between the substance, the mental material, and the executive
faculties there must be lively harmony. The executive power is a
purely intellectual composite instrument; the force that
wields it is feeling. For the best style the wielding force must be
fine as well as rich and strong, and the shaping, harmonizing
instrument of superfine temper and smiling willingness.

Style, in writing, is the art of putting into words what you think or
feel, in such a way as to make the best of it--presupposed, that what
you think or feel is worth putting into printed words. There are men
who, without being original or inventive, have still, through strong
understanding and culture, much to say that will profit their
contemporaries; men of a certain mental calibre, of talent, activity,
will, cleverness, of verbal facility and of prominent ambition and in
most cases of audacity, and who by discipline and labor attain to a
style which for their purposes is effective. Of this class Jeffrey,
Brougham, Macaulay are conspicuous examples. Theirs are not winged
minds. They keep to the plane of commonplace; they are never rapt into
an upper sphere of thought, where sentences grow transparent,
illuminated by soulful revelations. All three lack subtlety, the finer

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