Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Poetry by Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch

Adobe PDF icon
Poetry by Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch - Full Text Free Book
File size: 0.1 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

Produced by Ted Garvin, Susan Woodring and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team.



_Arthur Quiller-Couch_

"Trust in good verses then:
They only shall aspire,
When pyramids, as men
Are lost i'the funeral fire."

As the tale is told by Plato, in the tenth book of his _Republic_, one
Er the son of Arminius, a Pamphylian, was slain in battle; and ten days
afterwards, when they collected the bodies for burial, his body alone
showed no taint of corruption. His relatives, however, bore it off to
the funeral pile; and on the twelfth day, lying there, he returned to
life and told them what he had seen in the other world. Many wonders he
related concerning the dead, for example, with their rewards and
punishments: but most wonderful of all was the great Spindle of
Necessity which he saw reaching up into heaven with the planets
revolving around it in whorls of graduated width and speed, yet all
concentric and so timed that all complete the full circle punctually
together.--"The Spindle turns on the knees of Necessity: and on the rim
of each whorl sits perched a Siren, who goes round with it, hymning a
single note; the eight notes together forming one harmony."

* * * * *

The fable is a pretty one: but Er the Pamphylian comes back to report no
more than the one thing Man already grasps for a certainty amid his
welter of guesswork about the Universe--that its stability rests on
ordered motion--that the "firmament" stands firm on a balance of active
and tremendous forces somehow harmoniously composed. Theology asks "By
_whom_?": Philosophy inclines rather to guess "_How?_" Natural Science,
allowing that these questions are probably unanswerable, contents itself
with mapping and measuring what it can of the various forces. But all
agree about the harmony: and when a Newton discovers a single rule of it
for us, he but makes our assurance surer.

For uncounted centuries before ever hearing of "Gravitation" men knew
of the sun that he rose and set at hours which, though mysteriously
appointed, could be accurately predicted; of the moon that she regularly
waxed and waned, drawing the waters of the earth in a flow and ebb, the
gauge of which and the time-table could be advertised beforehand in the
almanack; of the stars, that they swung as by clockwork around the pole.
Says the son of Sirach concerning them--

_At the word of the Holy one they will stand in due order,
And they will not faint in their watches._

So evident is this celestial harmony that men, seeking to account for it
by what was most harmonious in themselves or in their experience,
supposed an actual Music of the Spheres inaudible to mortals; Plato (who
learned of Pythagoras) inventing his Octave of Sirens, spinning in the
whorls of the great planets and intoning as they spin; Chaucer (who
learned of Dante and makes the spheres nine) in his _Parliament of
Foules_ telling, out of Cicero's _Somnium Scipionis_, how the great
Scipio Africanus visited his descendant in a dream and--

_Shewed he him the litel erthe, that heer is,
In regard of the hevenes quantit�:
And after shewed he him the nyn� sper�s,
And after that the melodye herde he
That cometh of thilke sper�s thry�s-three
That welle is of musicke and melodye
In this world heer, and cause of armonye._

While Shakespeare in the last Act of _The Merchant of Venice_ makes all
the stars vocal, and not the planets only:

_There's not the smallest orb which thou beholdest
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubims..._

And Milton in _Arcades_ goes straight back to Plato (save that his
spheres are nine, as with Chaucer):

_then listen I
To the celestial Sirens' harmony
That sit upon the nine enfolded spheres
And sing to those that hold the vital shears
And turn the adamantine spindle round
Of which the fate of gods and men is wound.
Such sweet compulsion doth in music lie
To lull the daughters of Necessity,
And keep unsteady Nature to her law,
And the low world in measured motion draw
After the heavenly tune._

From the greater poets let us turn to a lesser one, whom we shall have
occasion to quote again by and by: to the _Orchestra_ of Sir John Davies
(1596), who sees this whole Universe treading the harmonious measures of
a dance; and let us select one stanza, of the tides:

_For lo, the sea that fleets about the land,
And like a girdle clips her solid waist,
Music and Measure both doth understand;
For his great Crystal Eye is always cast
Up to the Moon, and on her fix�d fast;
And as she daunceth in her pallid sphere,
So daunceth he about the centre here._

This may be fantastic. As the late Professor Skeat informed the world
solemnly in a footnote, "Modern astronomy has exploded the singular
notion of revolving hollow concentric spheres...." (The Professor wrote
"singular" when he meant "curious."--The notion was never "singular.")
"These 'spheres,'" he adds, "have disappeared, and their music with
them, except in poetry." Nevertheless the fable presents a truth, and
one of the two most important truths in the world. This Universe is not
a Chaos. (If it were, by the way, we should be unable to reason about it
at all.) It stands and is continually renewed upon an ascertained
harmony: and what Plato called "Necessity" is the duty in all things of
obedience to that harmony, the Duty of which Wordsworth sings in his
noble Ode,

_Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong,
And his most ancient heavens, through thee, are fresh and strong._

Now the other and only equally important truth in the world is that this
macrocosm of the Universe, with its harmony, cannot be apprehended at
all except as it is focussed upon the eye and intellect of Man, the
microcosm. All "transcendental" philosophy,--all discussions of the
"Absolute," of mind and matter, of "subjective" and "objective"
knowledge, of "ideas" and "phenomena," "flux" and "permanence"--all
"systems" and "schools," down from the earliest to be found in "Ritter
and Preller," through Plato, Aristotle, Zeno, Epicurus, on to Aquinas,
to Abelard, to the great scholastic disputants between Realism and
Nominalism; again on to Bacon, Spinoza, Locke, Comte, Hegel, and yet
again on to James and Bergson--all inevitably work out to this, that the
Universal Harmony is meaningless and nothing to Man save in so far as he
apprehends it, and that he can only apprehend it by reference to some
corresponding harmony within himself. Lacking him, the harmony (so far
as he knows) would utterly lack the compliment of an audience: by his
own faulty instrument he must seek to interpret it, if it is to be
interpreted at all: and so, like the man at the piano, he goes on "doing
his best."

* * * * *

"God created Man in His image," says the Scripture: "and," adds Heine,
"Man made haste to return the compliment." It sounds wicked, but is one
of the truest things ever said. After all, and without vanity, it is the
best compliment Man can pay, poor fellow!--and he goes on striving to
pay it, though often enough rebuked for his zeal. "Canst _thou_,"
demands the divine Interlocutor in the _Book of Job_--

_"Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands
of Orion? Canst thou bring forth Mazaroth in his season? Or canst thou
guide Arcturus with his sons?"_

To this, fallen and arraigned man, using his best jargon, responds that
"the answer is in the negative. I never pretended to _do_ these things,
only to guess, in my small way, how they are done."

Nor is there any real irreverence in answering thus: for of course it is
not the Almighty who puts the questions, but someone audaciously
personating Him. And some of us find this pretension irritating; as
Douglas Jerrold meeting a pompous stranger on the pavement was moved to
accost him with, "I beg your pardon, Sir, but would you mind informing
me--Are you anybody in particular?"

Again, in the sixth chapter of the Second Book of Esdras, someone
usurping the voice of the Almighty and using (be it said to his credit)
excellent prose, declares:

_"In the beginning, when the earth was made, before the waters of
the world stood, or ever the wind blew,

Before it thundered or lightened, or ever the foundations of
paradise were laid,

Before the fair flowers were seen, or ever_ _the moveable powers
were established; before the innumerable multitude of angels were
gathered together,

Or ever the heights of the air were lifted up, before the measures
of the firmament were named, or ever the chimneys of Zion were hot._

Then _did I consider these things, and they all were made through Me
alone, and through none other: by Me also they shall be ended, and
by none other."_

It is all very beautiful: but (for aught that appears) no one was
denying it. It has been shrewdly objected against the arguments of the
"affable Archangel" in the later books of _Paradise Lost_ that argument
by its nature admits of being answered: and the fatal fallacy of putting
human speech into a divine mouth, as in the above passage, is that it
invites retort.

A sensible man does not aspire to bind the sweet influences of Pleiades:
but he may, and does, aspire to understand something of the universal
harmony in which he and they bear a part, if only that he may render it
a more perfect obedience. "Let me know," he craves, "that I may accept
my fate intelligently, even though it prove that under the iron rule of
Necessity I have no more freedom of will than the dead,

_Roll'd round in earth's diurnal course
With rocks, and stones, and trees._"

The claim (as Man must think) is a just one--for why was he given
intelligence if not to use it? And even though disallowed as
presumptuous, it is an instinctive one. Man is, after all, a part of the
Universe, and just as surely as the Pleiades or Arcturus: and moreover
he _feels_ in himself a harmony correspondent with the greater harmony
of his quest. His heart beats to a rhythm: his blood pulses through
steady circuits; like the plants by which he is fed, he comes to birth,
grows, begets his kind, dies, and returns to earth; like the tides, his
days of gestation obey the moon and can be reckoned by her; in the sweat
of his body he tills the ground, and by the seasons, summer and winter,
seedtime and harvest, his life while it lasts is regulated. But above
all he is the microcosm, the tiny percipient centre upon which the
immense cosmic circle focusses itself as the sun upon a
burning-glass--and he is not shrivelled up by the miracle! Other
creatures (he notes) share his sensations; but, so far as he can
discover, not his intelligence--or, if at all, in no degree worth
measuring. So far as he can detect, he is not only an actor in the grand
cosmic pageant, but the sole intelligent spectator. As a poor Welsh
parson, Thomas Traherne, wrote of the small town of his childhood:--

_The streets were mine, the temple was mine, the people were mine, their
clothes and gold and silver were mine, as much as their sparkling eyes,
their skins and ruddy faces. The skies were mine, and so were the sun
and moon and stars; and all the world was mine, and I the only spectator
and enjoyer of it...._

_But little did the infant dream
That all the treasures of the world were by;
And that himself was so the cream
And crown of all which round about did lie.
Yet thus it was: the Gem,
The Diadem,
The ring enclosing all
That stood upon this earthly ball,
The heavenly Eye,
Much wider than the sky
Wherein they all included were,
The glorious soul that was the King,
Made to possess them, did appear
A small and little thing!_

We may safely go some way even beyond this, and lay it down for
unchallengeable truth that over and above Man's consciousness of being
the eye of the Universe and receptacle, however imperfect, of its great
harmony, he has a native impulse to merge himself in that harmony and be
one with it: a spirit in his heart (as the Scripture puts it) "of
adoption, whereby we cry, _Abba, Father_"--_And because ye are sons, God
hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba,
Father._ In his daily life he is for ever seeking after harmony in
avoidance of chaos, cultivating personal habits after the clock; in his
civic life forming governments, attempting hierarchies, laws,
constitutions, by which (as he hopes) a system of society will work in
tune, almost automatically. When he fights he has learnt that his
fighting men shall march in rhythm and deploy rhythmically, and they do
so to regimental music. If he haul rope or weigh anchor, setting out to
sea, or haul up his ship on a beach, he has proved by experiment that
these operations are performed more than twice as easily when done to a
tune. But these are dull, less than half-conscious, imitations of the
great harmony for which, when he starts out to understand and interpret
it consciously, he must use the most godlike of all his gifts. Now the
most godlike of all human gifts--the singular gift separating Man from
the brutes--is speech. If he can harmonise speech he has taught his
first and peculiar faculty to obey the great rhythm: "I will sing and
give praise," says the Psalmist, "with the best member that I have."
Thus by harmonising speech (in a fashion we will discuss by and by), he
arrives at _Poetry_.

* * * * *

But an objection may be raised. "_Is_ the tongue, rather than the brain,
the best member that I have?" or (to put it in another way), "Surely a
man's _thoughts_ about the Universe have more value than his words about

The answer is, that we cannot separate them: and Newman has put this so
cogently that I must quote him, making no attempt to water down his
argument with words of my own. "Thought and speech are inseparable from
one another. Matter and expression are parts of one: style is a thinking
out into language. This is literature; not _things_, but the verbal
symbols of things; not on the other hand mere _words_, but thoughts
expressed in language. Call to mind the meaning of the Greek word which
expresses this special prerogative of Man over the feeble intelligence
of the lower animals. It is called Logos. What does Logos mean? It
stands both for _reason_ and for _speech_, and it is difficult to say
which means more properly. It means both at once: why? Because really
they cannot be divided.... When we can separate light and illumination,
life and motion, the convex and the concave of a curve, then will it be
possible for thought to tread speech under foot and to hope to do
without it--then will it be conceivable that the vigorous and fertile
intellect should renounce its own double, its instrument of expression
and the channel of its speculations and emotions." Words, in short, are
the outward and visible signs of thought: that, and something
more--since you may prove by experiment that the shortest and simplest
train of thought cannot be followed unless at every step the mind
silently casts it into the mould of words.

* * * * *

As an instrument for reconciling Man's inward harmony with the great
outer harmony of the Universe, Poetry is notoriously imperfect. Men have
tried others therefore--others that appeared at first sight more
promising, such as Music and Mathematics--yet on the whole to their

Take Mathematics. Numbers inhere in all harmony. By numbers harmony can
be expressed far more severely than by Poetry, and so successfully up to
a point, that poets have borrowed the very word to dignify their poor
efforts. They "lisp in numbers"--or so they say: and the curious may
turn to the _Parmenides_, to Book vii. of _The Republic_ and others of
the _Dialogues_ and note how Plato, hunting on the trail of many
distinguished predecessors, pursues Mathematics up to the point where,
as a means of interpreting to Man the Universal harmony, Mathematics,
like Philosophy, inevitably breaks down. Mathematics, an abstract
science, breaks down just because it is abstract and in no way personal:
because though it may calculate and time and even weigh parts of the
greater Universe, it cannot, by defect of its nature, bring its
discoveries back to bear on the other harmony of Man. It is impersonal
and therefore nescient of his need. Though by such a science he gain the
whole world, it shall not profit a man who misses from it his own soul.

Philosophy, too, fails us over this same crux of "personality"; not by
ignoring it, but by clinging with obstinacy to the wrong end of the
stick. The quarrel between Philosophy and Poetry is notorious and
inveterate: and at ninety-nine points in the hundred Philosophy has the
better of the dispute; as the Fox in the fable had ninety-nine ways of
evading the hounds, against the Cat's solitary one. But the Cat could
climb a tree.

So Philosophy has almost all the say in this matter, until Poetry
interjects the fatal question, "I beg your pardon, Madam, but do you
happen to be the Almighty, or are you playing Egeria to his Numa? You
are constructing admirably comprehensive schemes and systems for _His_
guidance, if your hints will but be taken. But if you address yourself
to Man, you will find that his business is not at all to _comprehend_
the Universe; for this, if he could achieve it, would make him equal
with God. What he more humbly aspires to, is to _apprehend_; to pierce
by flashes of insight to some inch or so of the secret, to some star to
which he can hitch his waggon. Now there are," Poetry goes on, "certain
men, granted to dwell among us, of more delicate mental fibre than their
fellows; men whose minds have as it were exquisite filaments which they
throw out to intercept, _apprehend_ and conduct home to Man stray
messages between the outer mystery of the Universe and the inner mystery
of his soul; even as modern telegraphy has learnt to search out, snatch
and gather home messages wandering astray over waste waters of Ocean.
Such men are the poets, my servants."

"Moreover," Poetry will continue, "these men do not collect their
messages as your philosophers do, by vigorous striving and learning;
nor, as the priests of Baal did, by cutting themselves and crying; but
by schooling their souls to harmony and awaiting the moment of
apprehension with what one of them has called 'a wise passiveness.' For
it is not their method to wrestle with God, like Jacob, or to hold Him
up with a 'Stand and deliver.' It is enough for them to be receptacles
of His passing breath, as the harps abandoned and hung on willow-trees
by the waters of Babylon may have caught, at evening, and hummed the
wind whispering from Israel. And for this, while they hang and wait,
they will be despised by the commonalty for indolent fellows, as indeed
they are; as when the wind inspires and sets them hymning, they will be
accused of insobriety. Yet always they excel your philosophers, insomuch
as they accept the transcendental as really transcendental and do not
profess to instruct the Almighty in it; and chiefly, perhaps, they excel
your philosophers by opposing a creativeness, potential at any rate,
against a certain and foredoomed barrenness. For the philosophers would
get at the secret by reason, contemning emotion; whereas the poet knows
that creation implies fatherhood, and fatherhood implies emotion, even
passionate emotion. It is (take it as a cold fact) only on the impulse
of yearning, on the cry of Abba, that the creature can leap to any real
understanding of the Creator."

Yet the philosopher will go on to the end of time despising the poet,
who grasps at mysteries _per saltum_, neglecting the military road of

Shall we then, by a violent recoil, abandon Mathematics and Philosophy
and commit our faith to Music? Music is, above all things, harmonious:
Music has the emotion in which Mathematics and Philosophy have been
found wanting. Music can be "personal"; Music, since the invention of
counterpoint, is capable of harmonies deeper and more intricate than any
within the range of human speech. In short, against Poetry, Music can
set up a very strong claim.

But first we note that--_securus judicat orbis terrarum_--in the
beginning Poetry and Music did their business together (with the Dance
conjoined as third partner); and that, by practice, men have tended to
trust Poetry, for an interpreter, more and more above Music, while
Dancing has dropped out of the competition. The ballad, the sonnet, have
grown to stand on their merits as verse, though their names--_ballata,
sonata_--imply that they started in dependence upon dance and
orchestra. This supersession of music by verse, whether as ally or
competitor, is a historical fact, if a startling one, which Mr.
Watts-Dunton, in his famous article on Poetry in the _Encyclop�dia
Britannica_, has been at pains to examine. He starts by admitting a
little more than I should grant. "There is one great point of
superiority," says he, "that musical art exhibits over metrical art.
This consists, not in the capacity for melody, but in the capacity for
harmony in the musician's sense...." "Why, of course," is my comment
upon this: "every art can easily claim excellence, if it take that
excellence in its own sense." Mr. Watts-Dunton proceeds: "The finest
music of �schylus, of Pindar, of Shakespeare, of Milton, is after all,
only a succession of melodious notes, and in endeavouring to catch the
harmonic intent of strophe, antistrophe and epode in the Greek chorus
and in the true ode (that of Pindar), we can only succeed by pressing
memory into our service." But I, for one, should not seek counterpoint
in these any more than in the recurrent themes of a sonata. I should
seek it rather in the running line which he pronounces (mistakenly, as I
think) to be "after all, only a succession of melodious notes." C sharp,
B, A, A, A, E, A are a succession of melodious notes and spell the
opening phrase of "The Death of Nelson": as the vowels E, O, U, U, O, O,
E, E, U are a succession of melodious notes, and, if notes alone
counted, would spell a phrase of Milton's great Invocation to Light. But
when we consider the consonantal value, the interplay and the exquisite
repetition of--

_Seasons return; but not to me returns

or note the vowel-peals throughout the passage, now shut and anon opened
by the scheme of consonants; now continuous, anon modulated by delicate
pauses; always chiming obediently to the strain of thought; then I hold
that if we have not actual counterpoint here, we have something
remarkably like it,--as we certainly have harmony--

_thoughts that move
Harmonious numbers,_

or I know not what harmony is. In truth, if counterpoint be (as the
dictionary defines it), "a blending of related but independent
melodies," then Poetry achieves it by mating a process of sound to a
process of thought: and Mr. Watts-Dunton disposes of his own first
contention for music when he goes on to say (very rightly), "But if
Poetry falls behind Music in rhythmic scope, it is capable of rendering
emotion after emotion has become disintegrated into thoughts." Yet I
should still object to the word "disintegrated" as applied to thought,
unless it be allowed that emotion undergoes the same process at the same
time and both meet in one solution. To speak more plainly, Music is
inferior to Poetry because, of any two melodies in its counterpoint,
both may be (and in practice are) emotional and vague: while of any two
melodies in the counterpoint of Poetry one must convey thought and
therefore be intelligible. And, to speak summarily, Poetry surpasses
Music because it carries its explanation, whereas the meaning of a
_concerto_ has to be interpreted into dull words on a programme.

We have arrived at this, then; that Poetry's chief function is to
reconcile the inner harmony of Man (his Soul, as we call it) with the
outer harmony of the Universe. With this conception of "peerless Poesie"
in our minds, we turn to Aristotle's _Poetics_, and it gives us a
sensible shock to read on the first page, that "Epic Poetry and Tragedy,
Comedy also and dithyrambic Poetry, and the greater part of the music of
the flute and of the lyre are all, generally speaking, modes of
imitation" (_πα̂σαι τυγχάνουσιν οὖσαι μιμήσεις τὸ σύνολον_). "What?" we
say--"Nothing better than _that_?"--for "imitation" has a bad name among
men and is apt to suggest the ape. But, first bearing in mind that there
are imitations and imitations (the _Imitatio Christi_ among them), let
us go on to see what it is that in Aristotle's opinion Poetry imitates
or copies. It is "the Universal" (_τό καθόλου_): and as soon as we
realise this we know ourselves to be on the same track as Aristotle,
after all. "Imitation," as he uses it, is not an apish or a slavish
imitation; it is no mere transcribing or copying of phenomena as they
pass (he even allows that the poet may "imitate" men as "better than
they are"): it is an expressing, in fiction and harmonious speech,
intelligible to his fellow-men, of what truth, order, harmony, and "law"
the poet's mind has apprehended in the outer Universe. No fair-minded
reader of the _Poetics_, as he lays down the treatise, will doubt that
this, or something like this, was Aristotle's meaning, nor is it
probable that he will find any essential difference (or any difference
that seriously disturbs agreement) between Aristotle's "Universal" and
the Platonic "Idea" or pattern of things "laid up somewhere in the

* * * * *

Now the Poet's way of apprehending the Universal is (as I have
indicated) by keeping true to himself, attending to his soul's inner
harmony, and listening, waiting, brooding with a "wise passiveness"
until the moment when his and the larger harmony fall into tune
together. The Psalmist describes the process accurately: "While I was
thus musing the fire kindled, and at the last I spake with my tongue."
"Poetry," writes Shelley, "is not, like reasoning, a power to be exerted
according to the determination of the will. A man cannot say, _I will
compose poetry_. The greatest poet, even, cannot say it: for the mind in
creation is as a fading coal, which some invisible influence, like an
inconstant wind, awakens to transitory brightness." But the Poet's way
of reporting these apprehensions to his fellows, since he deals with
Universals or ideas, is by "universalising" or "idealising" his story:
and upon these two terms, which properly mean much the same thing, we
must pause for a moment.

The word "idealise," which is the more commonly used, has unfortunately
two meanings, a true and a false; and, again unfortunately, the false
prevails in vulgar use. To "idealise" in the true sense is to disengage
an "idea" of all that is trivial or impertinent or transient or
disturbing, and present it to men in its clearest outline, so that its
own proper form shines in on the intelligence, as you would wipe away
from a discovered statue all stains or accretions of mud or moss or
fungus, to release and reveal its true beauty. False "idealising," on
the other hand, means that, instead of trusting to this naked
manifestation, we add to it some graces of our invention, some touches
by which we think to improve it; that we "paint the lily," in short. But
the true "idealisation" and the first business of the poet is a
_denuding_ not an _investing_ of the Goddess, whether her name be
"Life," "Truth," "Beauty," or what you will: a revealing, not a
coverture of embroidered words, however pretty and fantastic; as has
been excellently said by Shelley: "A poem _is the very image of life
expressed in its external truth_. There is this difference between a
story and a poem, that a story is a catalogue of detached facts, which
have no other connection than time, place, circumstance, cause and
effect; the other is the erection of actions according to the
unchangeable forms of human nature, as existing in the mind of the
Creator, which is itself the image of all other minds." Let us enforce
this account of the true idealisation by a verse or two of our old
friend Sir John Davies (quoted by Coleridge in his _Biographia
Literaria_). "What an unworldly mass of impressions the mind would be,"
says Sir John in effect, "did not the soul come to the rescue and reduce
these crowding bodies by 'sublimation strange.'"--

_From their gross Matter she abstracts the Forms,
And draws a kind of Quintessence from things,
Which to her proper nature she transforms
To bear them light on her celestial wings.
This doth She when from things particular
She doth abstract the Universal kinds...._

But it is time to descend from these heights (such as they are) of
philosophising, and illustrate the difference between true and false
"idealising" in Poetry by concrete example: and no two better examples
occur to me, for drawing this contrast, than Webster's _Duchess of
Malfy_ and Shakespeare's _Macbeth_. Each of these plays excites horror
and is calculated to excite horror; both have outlived three hundred
years, there or thereabouts; both may be taken as having established an
indefinitely long lease on men's admiration--but to any critical mind,
how different an admiration! Webster is an expert, a _virtuoso_ in
horrifics; in flesh-creeping effects lies his skill; and, indulging that
skill, he not only paints the lily, but repaints it and daubs it yet a
third time. There is no reason on earth--she has offended against no
moral law on earth or in the heavens--that could possibly condemn the
Duchess to the hellish tortures she is made to endure. At the worst she
has married a man beneath her in station. To punish her in Webster's
extravagant fashion every other character, with the whole story of the
play, has to be dehumanised. To me--as I penetrate the Fourth Act--the
whole business becomes ludicrous: not sanely comic, or even quite sanely
absurd: but bizarre, and ridiculously bizarre at that. It has no "idea"
at all, no relation to the Universal in the shape of any moral order,
"law," fate, doom, destiny. It is just a box of tricks, of raw heads and
bloody bones, left with the lid open. That is false "idealising";
Webster choosing his effect and "improving" it for all he was
worth--which (let it be added) was a great deal.

* * * * *

Turn from _The Duchess of Malfy_ to _Macbeth_, and you find an English
poet as sensitive of fate, doom, destiny, "law," the moral order, as
ever was Aeschylus; nay, interpreting it perhaps more effectively than
ever did Aeschylus. In the First Act we see it suggested to Macbeth by
witchcraft (which is the personified foe of moral order) that he can
achieve an ambition by an unlawful path, the ambition itself being
suggested along with the way to it and growing as the way opens. We see
them both communicated to a feminine mind, narrower, more intent and
practical; because narrower, because more intent and practical, for the
moment more courageous. (It was Eve that the Serpent, wily enough,
selected to tempt.) Both Macbeth and his lady move to the deed under a
law which--for a while--has usurped the true moral order and reversed
it, he not without misgivings: the spectators all the while knowing the
true order, yet held silent, watching the event. Outside the castle an
owl hoots as Duncan is slain. The guilty man and woman creep back,
whispering; and thereupon--what happens? A knocking on the door--a
knocking followed by the growls of a drowsy if not drunken porter:
"Here's a knocking indeed! If a man were porter of hell-gate, he should
have old turning the key. (Knocking again.) Knock, knock, knock! Who's
there, i' the name of Be�lzebub?" The stage direction admits Macduff,
who in due course is to prove the avenger of blood: but the hand that
knocks, the step on the threshold, are in truth those of the moral order
returning _pede claudo_, demanding to be readmitted. From the instant of
that first knock the ambitions of the pair roll back toward their doom
as the law they have offended reasserts itself, and the witches'
palindrome _In girum imus noctu, ecce!_ steadily spells itself backward,
letter by letter, to the awful sentence, _Ecce ut consumimur igni!_

* * * * *

This is to "idealise" in the right sense of the word. Fixing his mind on
the Idea of two human beings, a man and a woman who trespass from the
law of the great moral powers ordering the Universe (Man along with it)
and are overtaken in that trespass and punished, Shakespeare
disencumbers it of all that is trivial, irrelevant, non-essential. He
takes the wickedest crime of which man can be guilty; not a mere naked
murder, nor even a murder for profit, but the murder of a king by his
sworn soldier, of a guest by his host, of a sleeping guest by the hand
on which he has just bestowed a diamond. Can criminality be laid barer?
He illustrates it again in two persons lifted above the common station;
and he does this not (as I think) for the practical reason for which
Aristotle seems to commend it to tragic writers--that the disasters of
great persons are more striking than those of the small fry of
mankind--that, as the height is, so will be the fall--or not for that
reason alone; but, still in the process of "idealising," because such
persons, exalted above the obscuring petty cares of life, may reasonably
be expected to see the Universe with a clearer vision than ours, to have
more delicate ears for its harmonies. Who but a King should know most
concerning moral law? Why is he with our consent lifted up so that he
may hear the divine commandments better than we, and dictate them down
to us? He is greater, but yet--and this is the point--_a man like
ourselves_ (_ομοιος_). He cannot for purposes of tragedy be
wholly good: for not only is this extremely rare in real life, and
almost inconceivable, but the ruin of a wholly good man would merely
shock, without teaching us anything. The disaster of a tragic figure
must come, and be seen to come, through some fault--or, at least, some
mistake--of his own. But again he must not be wholly bad, for the
disasters of the wholly bad do not affect us save with disgust. Such
men, we know, are not _like ourselves_. What happens to them may serve
for _The Police News_. Tragedy does not deal with the worthless. How
then are Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, beings like ourselves, to fall into
crime so heinous? Again Shakespeare strips the Idea bare: their trespass
comes through ambition, "last infirmity of noble minds," under the
blinding persuasion of witchcraft, which (an actual belief in
Shakespeare's time) is a direct negation of the moral law, and puts
Satan in place of God.

* * * * *

It is curious that, some thirty-odd years after Shakespeare had handled
this tremendous theme, another attempt on it was being meditated, and by
the man whom the most of us rank next after Shakespeare in the hierarchy
of English poets. Among the treasures in the library at Trinity College,
Cambridge, lies a manuscript, the hand-writing undoubtedly Milton's,
containing a list compiled by him of promising subjects for the great
poem for which, between his leaving the University and the outbreak of
the Civil War, all his life was a deliberate preparation. The list is
long; the subjects proposed run to no fewer than ninety-nine. Of these,
fifty-three are derived from Old Testament history (with a recurring
inclination for the theme of _Paradise Lost_), eight from the New
Testament; thirty-three from the history of Britain (with a leaning
towards the Arthurian legend); while five of them are legendary tales of
Scotland or North Britain, the last being headed "Macbeth. Beginning at
the arrival of Malcolm at Macduff. The matter of Duncan may be expressed
by the arrival of his ghost." Now that Milton (an adorer of
Shakespeare's genius, as everyone knows) should have taken so deep an
impression from the play that its theme possessed him and he longed to
transfer it to _Epic_, is credible enough. That he, with his classical
bent, should choose to attempt in Drama an improvement upon the most
"classical" of all Shakespeare's tragedies seems to me scarcely
credible. But if the credibility of this be granted, then I can only
conceive Milton's designing to improve the play by making it yet more
"classical," _i.e._ by writing it (after the fashion he followed in
_Samson Agonistes_) closely upon the model of Athenian Tragedy.

For my part I always consider Milton's _Macbeth_ the most fascinating
poem--certainly, if play it were, the most fascinating play--ever
unwritten. But of this any man may be sure; that (since they were both
great poets) one made, as the other would have made, a story of far more
value to us than Shakespeare or Milton or any man before or after could
have made by a strict biography of Macbeth, the man as he lived. For any
such biography would clog the lesson for us with details which were more
the less irrelevant because they really happened. Here I must quote
Aristotle again, and for the last time in this little book: but no
sentences in his treatise hold a deeper import than these:--

"It is not the function of the Poet to relate what has happened, but
what may happen of likelihood or must happen of necessity. The Poet and
the Historian are not different because one writes in verse and the
other in prose. Turn what Herodotus tells into verse, and none the less
it will be a sort of history; the metre makes no difference. The real
difference lies in the Historian's telling what has happened, the Poet's
telling what may happen. _Thus Poetry is a more philosophical thing, and
a more serious, than History: for Poetry tells of the Universal, History
of the Particular_. Now the business of the Universal is to tell us how
it will fall to such and such a person to speak or act in such or such
circumstances according to likelihood or necessity: and it is at this
that Poetry aims in giving characters names of its own: whereas the
Particular narrates what Alcibiades did or what happened to him."

* * * * *

This may seem a hard saying, even after what has been said. So let us
pause and digest it in Sir Philip Sidney's comment: "... Thus farre
Aristotle, which reason of his (as all his) is most full of reason. For
indeed, if the question were whether it were better to have a
particular acte truly or falsely set down, there is no doubt which is to
be chosen, no more than whether you had rather have _Vespasian's_
picture right as hee was or at the Painter's pleasure nothing
resembling. But if the question be for your owne use and learning,
whether it be better to have it set downe as it should be, or as it was,
then certainly is more doctrinable the fayned _Cyrus of Xenophon_ than
the true _Cyrus in Justine_, and the fayned _�neas in Virgil_ than the
true _�neas_ in _Dares Phrygius._"

* * * * *

But now, having drawn breath, let us follow our Poet from the lowest up
to the highest of his claim. And be it observed, to start with, that in
clearing and cleansing the Idea for us (in the manner described) he does
but employ a process of Selection which all men are employing, all day
long and every day of their lives, upon more trivial matters; a process
indeed which every man is constantly obliged to employ. Life would be a
night-mare for him, soon over, if he had to take account, for example,
of every object flashed on the retina of his eye during a country walk.
How many millions of leaves, stones, blades of grass, must he not see
without seeing? Say it be the shortest of rambles on an afternoon in
early November. The light fades early: but before he reaches home in the
dark, how many of the myriad falling leaves has he counted?--a dozen at
most. Of the myriad leaves changing colour does he preserve, unless by
chance, the separate image of one? Rather from the mass over which his
eyes have travelled he has abstracted an "idea" of autumnal
colouring--yellow, red, brown--and with that he carries home a
sentimental, perhaps even a profound, sense of the falling leaf, the
falling close of the year. So--and just so, save more deftly--the Poet

_Where is the prime of Summer--the green prime--
The many, many leaves all twinkling?--Three
On the moss'd elm; three on the naked lime
Trembling; and one upon the old oak tree!_

(As a matter of fact, oak leaves are singularly tenacious, and the
autumnal oak will show a thousand for the elm's one. Hood, being a
Cockney, took his seven leaves at random. But what does it matter? He
was a poet, and seven leaves sufficed him to convey the idea.)

* * * * *

Nor does our Poet, unless he be a charlatan, pretend to bring home some
hieratic message above the understanding of his fellows: for he is an
interpreter, and the interpreter's success depends upon hitting his
hearer's intelligence. Failing that, he misses everything and is null.
To put it in another way--at the base of all Literature, of all Poetry,
as of all Theology, stands one rock: _the very highest Universe Truth is
something so absolutely simple that a child can understand it._ This is
what Emerson means when he tells us that the great writers never _seem
to condescend_; that yonder slip of a boy who has carried off
Shakespeare to the window-seat, can feel with King Harry or Hamlet or
Coriolanus, with Rosalind or Desdemona or Miranda. For the moment he
_is_ any given one of these, because any human soul contains them all.
And some such thought we must believe to have been in Our Lord's mind
when He said, "I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that
Thou hast hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and hast
revealed them unto babes." For as the Universe is one, so the individual
human souls that apprehend it have no varying values intrinsically, but
one equal value. They differ only in power to apprehend, and this may be
more easily hindered than helped by the conceit begotten of finite
knowledge. I would even dare to quote of this Universal Truth the words
I once hardily put into the mouth of John Wesley concerning divine Love:
"I see now that if God's love reaches up to every star and down to every
poor soul on Earth, it must be something vastly simple, so simple that
all dwellers on earth may be assured of it--as all who have eyes may be
assured of the planet shining yonder at the end of the street--and so
vast that all bargaining is below it, and they may inherit it without
considering their deserts." The message, then, which one Poet brings
home, is no esoteric one: as Johnson said of Gray's _Elegy_, "it abounds
with images which find a mirror in every mind, and with sentiments to
which every bosom returns an echo." It exalts us through the best in us,
by telling it, not as anything new or strange, _but so as we recognise

* * * * *

And here let us dwell a moment on Johnson's phrase, "to which every
bosom returns an echo": for it recalls us to a point, which we noted
indeed on p. 22, but have left (I fear) somewhat under-emphasised--the
emotion that enters into poetical truth, which only by the help of
emotion is apprehended; as through emotion it is conveyed, and to an
emotional understanding in the hearer addresses its appeal. For the
desire of man's soul after the Universal, to be in harmony with it, is
(as a matter of fact, and when all pulpit eloquence has been
discounted) something more than a mere intellectual attraction: a
_στοργή_ rather; a yearning felt in its veins to know its fatherhood.
Saint Paul goes farther and assures us that "the earnest expectation of
the creature waiteth for the manifestation," so that "the whole creation
groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now." "And not only
they," he goes on, "but ourselves also": while the pagan poet has tears
that reach the heart of the transitory show: _Sunt lacrim� rerum, et
mentem mortalia tangunt_--"Tears are for Life, mortal things pierce the

And why not? For the complete man--_totus homo_--has feelings as well as
reason, and should have both active, in fine training, to realise the
best of him. Shelley obviously meant this when he defined Poetry as "the
record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds."
He did not mean that they are happy only in the sense of being
"fortunate," _felices_, in such moments, but that they were happy in the
sense of being "blessed," _beati_; and this feeling of blessedness they
communicate. "We are aware," he goes on, "of evanescent visitations of
thought and feeling sometimes associated with place or person, sometimes
requiring our own mind alone, and always arising unforeseen and
departing unbidden, but elevating _and delightful_ beyond all expression
... so that even in the desire and the regret they leave, _there cannot
but be pleasure_, participating as it does in the nature of its object.
It is as it were the interpenetration of a divine nature through our
own, ... and the state of mind produced is at war with every base
desire. The _enthusiasm_ of virtue, love, patriotism, and friendship is
essentially linked with such emotions; and whilst they last, self
appears as what it is--an atom in the universe." Every word italicised
above by me carries Shelley's witness that Poetry and joyous emotion are
inseparable. "Poetry," he winds up, "redeems from decay the visitations
of the Divinity in Man." How can we dissociate from joy the news of such
visitations either on the lips that carry or in the ears that receive?

Yet, as has been hinted, the very simplicity of it puzzles the ordinary
man, and not only puzzles the philosopher but exasperates him. It annoys
the philosopher, first, that the poet apparently takes so little
trouble. (As a fact he takes endless trouble; but, to be sure, he saves
an immense deal by going the right way to work.) All knowledge is
notoriously painful (that is to say, to philosophers). Moreover, the
fellow mixes it up with emotion (an integral part of man which
philosophy ignores, and stultifies itself, as a rule, by ignoring). He
is one with the Oracles, a suspected tribe. He idles like an Oracle,
attending on inspiration, and when he has received the alleged afflatus,
the fellow--so different from us--is neither to hold nor to bind. The
easiest way with him seems to be a pitying contempt. "For all good
poets," says Socrates sagely in the Ion, "epic as well as lyric, compose
their lovely strains, not by art, but because they are inspired and
possessed. And as the Corybantian dances are not quite 'rational,' so
the lyric poets are, so to speak, not quite '_all there_.' ... They tell
us," he goes on condescendingly, "that they bring songs from honeyed
fountains, culling them from the gardens and dells of the Muses; that,
like the bees, they wing from one flower to another. Yes of a truth: the
Poet is a light and a winged and a holy thing, without invention in him
until he is inspired and out of his senses, and out of his own wit;
until he has attained to this he is but a feeble thing, unable to utter
his oracles." I can imagine all this reported to Homer in the Shades and
Homer answering with a smile: "Well, and who in the world is denying it?
I certainly did not, while I lived and sang upon earth. Nay, I never
even sang, but invited the Muse to sing to me and through me. _Μη̂νιν
ἄειδε θεά ... Ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, Μου̂σα_.--Surely the dear fellow might
remember the first line of my immortal works! And if he does remember,
and is only bringing it up against me that in the intervals of doing my
work in life I was a feeble fellow, go back and tell him that it is
likely enough, yet I fail to see how it can be any business of his,
since it was only my work that I ever asked for recognition. They say
that I used to go about begging a dinner on the strength of it. Did
I?... I cannot remember. Anyhow, that nuisance is over sometime ago, and
_his_ kitchen is safe!"

To you, who have followed the argument of this little book, the theory
of poetic "inspiration" will be intelligible enough. It earned a living
in its day and, if revived in ours, might happily supersede much modern
chatter about art and technique. For it contains much truth:--

_When the flicker of London sun falls faint on the Club-room's green
and gold,
The sons of Adam sit them down and scratch with their pens in the mould--
They scratch with their pens in the mould of their graves, and the ink
and the anguish start,
For the Devil mutters behind the leaves, "It's pretty, but is it Art?"_

The philosophers did poetry no great harm by being angry with it as an
"inspired" thing: for that, in a measure, it happens to be. They did it
far more harm when they took it seriously and made it out to be a form
of _teaching_. For by the nature of things there happens to be something
of the pedant in every philosopher and the incurable propensity of the
pedant is to remove everything--but Literature especially--out of the
category to which it belongs and consider it in another with which it
has but a remote concern. (Thus a man will talk of Chaucer as though his
inflexions were the most important thing about him.) Now to acclaim
Homer as a great teacher, and use him in the schools, was right enough
so long as the Athenians remembered (and is right enough for us, so long
as we remember) _how_ he teaches us, or rather _educates_. What we have
described the Poet as doing for men--drawing forth the inner harmonies
of the soul and attuning them to the Universal--is _educative_ in the
truest sense as in the highest degree. So long as we remember this, the
old dispute whether the aim of Poetry be to teach or to delight is seen
to be futile: for she does both, and she does the one by means of the
other. On the other hand, you cannot leave a delicate instrument such as
Poetry lying within reach of the professional teacher; he will
certainly, at any risk of marring or mutilating, seize on it and use it
as a hammer to knock things into heads; if rebuked for this, plaintively
remonstrating, "But I thought you told me it was useful to teach with!"
(So Gideon taught the men of Succoth.) And therefore, we need not be
astonished: coming dawn to Strabo, to find him asserting that "the
ancients held poetry to be a kind of elementary philosophy, introducing
us from childhood to life and pleasureably instructing us in character,
behaviour and action." The Greeks, he tells us, chose poetry for their
children's first lessons. Surely (he argues) they never did that for the
sake of sweetly influencing the soul, but rather for the correction of
morals! Strabo's mental attitude is absurd, of course, and preposterous:
for this same influencing of the soul--_φυχαγωγία_ (a beautiful
word)--is, as we have seen, Poetry's main business: but the mischief of
the notion did not end with making the schooldays of children unhappy:
it took hold of the poets themselves, and by turning them into prigs
dried up the children's well of consolation. The Fathers of the Church
lent a hand too, and a vigorous one; and for centuries the face of the
Muse was sicklied o'er with a pale determination to combine amusement
with instruction. Even our noble Sidney allowed his modesty to be
overawed by the pedantic tradition, though as a man of the world he
tactfully gave it the slip. "For suppose it be granted," he says, "(that
which I suppose with great reason may be denied) that the Philosopher in
respect of his methodical proceeding doth teach more perfectly than the
Poet: yet do I thinke that no man is so much _Philosophus_ as to compare
the Philosopher, in _mooving_, with the Poet. And that mooving is of a
higher degree than teaching, it may by this appeare: that it is welnigh
the cause and the effect of teaching. For who will be taught, if hee bee
not mooved with desire to be taught?" Then, after a page devoted to
showing "which constant desire whosoever hath in him hath already past
halfe the hardness of the way," Sidney goes on: "Now therein of all
Sciences (I speak still of human, and according to the human conceit) is
our Poet the Monarch. For he dooth not only show the way, but giveth so
sweete a prospect into the way, as will intice any man to enter into it.
Nay he dooth as if your journey should lye through a fayre Vineyard, at
the first give you a cluster of Grapes, that full of that taste you may
long to passe further. He beginneth not with obscure definitions, which
must blur the margent with interpretations and load the memory with
doubtfulnesse: but hee commeth to you with words set in delightful
proportion, either accompanied with, or prepared for, the
well-inchaunting skill of Musicke; and with a tale forsooth he commeth
unto you: with a tale which holdeth children from play and old men from
the chimney-corner."

* * * * *

"And with a tale, forsooth, he commeth to you."--For having stripped
the Idea bare, he has to reclothe it again and in such shape as will
strike forcibly on his hearer's senses. A while back we broke off midway
in a stanza of Sir John Davies. Let us here complete it. There are two
versions. As first Davies wrote:--

_This doth She when from things particular,
She doth abstract the Universal kinds,
Which bodiless and immaterial are,
And can be lodged but only in our minds._

--the last two lines of which are weak and unnecessary. Revising the
stanza, he wrote:--

_This does She, when from individual states
She doth abstract the Universal kinds,
Which then reclothed in divers names and fates
Steal access through our senses to our minds,_

--which exactly describes the whole process. Having laid bare the Idea,
our Poet, turning from analysis to synthesis, proceeds to reclothe it in
new particulars of his own inventing, carefully chosen that they may
strike home hardest upon the hearer's perceptions. Now that which
strikes home hardest on a man is a tale which he can grasp by the
concretest images conveyed in the concretest language. '_Labor improbus
omnia vincit_' tells him not half so much as a tale of the labours of
Hercules; so he will learn more of patience from Job or Griselda; more
of chivalrous courage from Hector or Roland or Launcelot or the tale of
Palamon and Arcite; more of patriotism from the figures in
history--Leonidas, Horatius, Regulus, Joan of Arc, William Tell,
Garibaldi, Gordon--that have translated the Idea back into their own
lives with the noblest simplicity, so that we say of them that they are
"epical figures" or "figures worthy of romance," thereby paying them the
highest compliment in our power: yes and more of Christian simplicity
from my Uncle Toby, Colonel Newcome, even Mr. Pickwick; than from a
hundred copybook maxims concerning these virtues: all these figures
indeed illustrating the tritest copybook maxim of all--that "Example
is better than Precept." Thus Charles Lamb praises the Plays of
Shakespeare as "enrichers of the fancy, strengtheners of virtue, a
withdrawing from all selfish and mercenary thoughts, a lesson of all
sweet and honourable thoughts and actions, to teach courtesy, benignity,
generosity, humanity: for," say he, "of _examples_, teaching those
virtues, his pages are full."

* * * * *

The Poet then, having seized on the Idea and purged it of what is
trivial or accidental, reclothes it in a concrete dress and so
represents it to us. And you will generally remark in the very greatest
poets that not only are the images they represent to us extraordinarily
definite and concrete and therefore vivid--as Dante, for example, will
describe a Scene in Hell or in Paradise with as much particularity as
though he were writing a newspaper report; but this concreteness of
vision translates itself into a remarkable concreteness of speech. I
suppose there was never a more concrete writer than Shakespeare, and his
practice of translating all his idea into things which you can touch or
see grew steadily stronger throughout his career, so that any competent
critic can in a moment distinguish his later writing from his earlier by
its compression of images in words, its forcible concretion of the
various "parts of speech," its masterful _corv�e_ of nouns substantive
to do the work of verbs, and so on. Even in very early work such as
_Venus and Adonis_ we cannot but note this gift of vision, how quick and
particular it is....

_Upon this promise did he raise his chin,
Like a dive-dipper, peering through a wave,
Who, being look'd on, ducks as quickly in...._

But in his later plays--so fast the images teem--he has to reach out
among nouns, verbs, adverbs, with both strong hands, grasping what comes
and packing it ere it can protest. Take for example:--

_Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care._


_The multitudinous sea incarnadine,
Making the green one red._


_In the dark backward and abysm of time._

Or this from Lear:--

_My face I'll grime with filth,
Blanket my loins, elf all my hair in knots
And with presented nakedness outface
The winds and persecutions of the sky._

Or (for vividness) this, from _Antony and Cleopatra_, when Cleopatra
cries out and faints over Antony's body:--

_O! withered is the garland of the war,
The soldier's pole is fall'n: young boys and girls
Are level now with men; the odds is gone,
And there is nothing left remarkable
Beneath the visiting moon ..._

"Madam! Madam!" "Royal Egypt!" "Empress!" cry the waiting-maids as she
swoons. She revives and rebukes them:--

_No more, but e'en a woman, and commanded
By such poor passion as the maid that milks
And does the meanest chares. It were for me
To throw my sceptre at the injurious gods;
To tell them that this world did equal theirs
Till they had stolen my jewel._

When a poet can, as Shakespeare does here, seize upon a Universal truth
and lay it bare; when, apprehending _passion_ in this instance, he can
show it naked, the master of gods and levelling queens with
milkmaids--_totus est in armis idem quando nudus est Amor;_ when he can
reclothe it in the sensuous body of Cleopatra, "Royal Egypt," and,
rending the robe over that bosom, reveal the Idea again in a wound so
vividly that almost we see the nature of woman spirting, like brood,
against the heaven it defies; then we who have followed the Poet's
ascending claims arrive at his last and highest, yet at one which has
lain implicit all along in his title. He is a Poet--a "Maker." By that
name, "Maker," he used to be known in English, and he deserves no lesser

* * * * *

I have refrained in these pages, and purposely, from technical talk and
from defining the differences between Epic, Dramatic, Lyric Poetry:
between the Ode and the Sonnet, the Satire and the Epigram. To use the
formula of a famous Headmaster of Winchester, "details can be arranged,"
when once we have a clear notion of what Poetry is, and of what by
nature it aims to do. My sole intent has been to clarify that notion,
which (if the reader has been patient to follow me) reveals the Poet as
a helper of man's most insistent spiritual need and therefore as a
member most honourable in any commonwealth: since, as Ben Jonson says:
"Every beggarly corporation affords the State a mayor or two bailiffs
yearly; but _solus rex, aut poeta, non quotannis nascitur_"--these two
only, a King and a Poet, are not born every year. The Poet "makes"--that
is to say, creates--which is a part of the divine function; and he
makes--using man's highest instruments, thought and speech--harmonious
inventions that answer the harmony we humbly trace in the firmament
fashioned, controlled, upheld, by divine wisdom. _"Non c'e' in mondo,_"
said Torquato Tasso proudly, _"chi merita nome di creatore, se non Iddio
ed il Poeta"_--"Two beings only deserve the name of Creator: God and the


Book of the day: