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    Mill What Is Poetry Essay (3949 words)

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    That, however, the word “poetry” imports something quite peculiar in its nature; something which may exist in what is called prose as well as in verse; something which does not even require the instrument of words, but can speak through the other audible symbols called musical sounds, and even through the visible ones which are the language of sculpture, painting, and architecture–all this, we believe, is and must be felt, though perhaps indistinctly, by all upon whom poetry in any of its shapes produces any impression beyond that of tickling the ear.

    The distinction teens poetry and what is not poetry, whether explained or not, is felt to be fundamental; and, where every one feels a difference, a difference there must be. All other appearances may be fallacious; but the appearance of a difference is a real difference. Appearances too, like other things, must have a cause; and that which can cause anything, even an illusion, must be a reality.

    And hence, while a half- philosophy disdains the classifications and distinctions indicated by popular language, philosophy carried to its highest point frames new ones, but rarely sets aside the old, content with correcting and regulating them. It cuts fresh channels for thought, but does not fill up such as it finds ready-made: it traces, on the contrary, more deeply, broadly, and distinctly, those into which the current has spontaneously flowed.

    Let us then attempt, in the way of modest inquiry, not to coerce and confine Nature within the bounds of an arbitrary definition, but rather to find the boundaries which she herself has set, and erect a barrier round them; not calling mankind to account for having misapplied the word “poetry,” but attempting to clear up the conception which they already attach to it, and to bring forward as a distinct Renville that which, as a vague feeling, has really guided them in their employment of the term.

    The object of poetry is confessedly to act upon the emotions; and therein is poetry sufficiently distinguished from what Wordsmith affirms to be its logical opposite; namely, not prose but matter of fact, or science. The one addresses itself to the belief; the other, to the feelings. The one does its work by convincing or persuading; the other, by moving. The one acts by presenting a proposition to the understanding; the other, by offering interesting objects of contemplation to the sensibilities.

    This, however, leaves us very far from a definition of poetry. This distinguishes it from one thing; but we are bound to distinguish it from everything. To bring thoughts or images before the mind, for the purpose of acting upon the emotions, does not belong to poetry alone. It is equally the province (for example) of the novelist; and yet the faculty of the poet and that of the novelist are as distinct as any other two faculties; as the faculties of the novelist and of the orator, or of the poet and the metaphysical.

    The two characters may be united, as characters the most disparate may; but they have no natural connection. Many of the greatest poems are in the form of fictitious narratives; and, in almost all good serious fictions, there is true poetry. But there is a radical distinction between the interest felt in a story as such, and the interest excited by poetry; for the one is derived from incident, the other from the representation of feeling.

    In one, the source of the emotion excited is the exhibition of a state or states of human sensibility; in the other, of a series of states of mere outward circumstances. Now, all minds are capable of being affected more or less by representations of the latter kind, and all, r almost all, by those of the former; yet the two sources of interest correspond to two distinct and (as respects their greatest development) mutually exclusive characters of mind. At what age is the passion for a story, for almost any kind of story, merely as a story, the most intense?

    In childhood. But that also is the age at which poetry, even of the simplest description, is least relished and least understood; because the feelings with which it is especially conversant are yet undeveloped; and, not having been even in the slightest degree experienced, cannot be sympathized with. In what stage of the progress of society, again, is storytelling most valued, and the storyteller in greatest request and honor? In a rude state like that of the Tartars and Arabs at this day, and of almost all nations in the earliest ages.

    But, in this state of society, there is little poetry except ballads, which are mostly narrative–that it, essentially stories–and derive their principal interest from the incidents. Considered as poetry, they are of the lowest and most elementary kind: the feelings depicted, or rather indicated, are the simplest our nature has; such Joys and grief as the immediate pressure of some outward event excites in rude minds, which live wholly immersed in outward things, and have never, either from choice or force they could not resist, turned themselves to the contemplation of the world within.

    Passing now from childhood, and from the childhood of society, to the grown-up men and women of this most grown-up and machinelike age, the minds and hearts of greatest depth and elevation are commonly those which take greatest delight in poetry; the shallowest and emptiest, on the contrary, are, at all events, not those least addicted to novel-reading. This accords, too, with all analogous experience of human nature.

    The sort of persons whom not merely in books, but in their lives, we find perpetually engaged in hunting for excitement from without, are invariably those who do not possess, either in the vigor of their intellectual powers or in the depth of their sensibilities, that which would enable them to find ample excitement nearer home. The most idle and frivolous persons take a natural delight in fictitious narrative: the excitement it affords is of the kind which comes from without.

    Such persons are rarely lovers of poetry, though they may fancy themselves so because they relish ovals in verse. But poetry, which is the delineation of the deeper and more secret workings of human emotion, is interesting only to those to whom it recalls what they have felt, or whose imagination it stirs up to conceive what they could feel, or what they might have been able to feel, had their outward circumstances been different. Poetry, when it is really such, is truth; and fiction also, if it is good for anything, is truth: but they are different truths.

    The truth of poetry is to paint the human soul truly: the truth of fiction is to give a true picture of life. The two kinds of knowledge are different, and come by different ways, come mostly to different persons. Great poets are often proverbially ignorant of life. What they know has come by observation of themselves: they have found within them one highly delicate and sensitive specimen of human nature, on which the laws of emotion are written in large characters, such as can be read off without much study.

    Other knowledge of mankind, such as comes to men of the world by outward experience, is not indispensable to them as poets; but, to the novelist, such knowledge is all in all; he as to describe outward things, not the inward man; actions and events, not feelings; and it will not do for him to be numbered among those, who, as Madame Roland said of Bristol, know man, but not men.

    All this is no bar to the possibility of combining both elements, poetry and narrative or incident, in the same work, and calling it either a novel or a poem; but so may red and white combine on the same human features or on the same canvas. There is on order of composition which requires the union of poetry and incident, each in its highest kind -the dramatic.

    Even there, the two elements are perfectly extinguishable, and may exist of unequal quality and in the most various proportion The incidents of a dramatic poem may be scanty and ineffective, though the delineation of passion and character may be of the highest order, as in Goatee’s admirable “Torque Taos”; or, again, the story as a mere story may be well got up for effect, as is the case with some of the most trashy productions of the Minerva Press: it may even be, what those are not, a coherent and probable series of events, though there be scarcely a feeling exhibited which is not represented falsely, or in a manner absolutely commonplace. The combination of the two excellences is what renders Shakespeare so generally acceptable, each sort of readers finding in him what is suitable to their faculties. To the many, he is great as a storyteller; to the few, as poet.

    In limiting poetry to the delineation of states of feeling, and denying the name where nothing is delineated but outward objects, we may be thought to have done what we promised to avoid to have not found, but made, a definition in opposition to the usage of language, since it is established by common consent that there is a poetry ailed descriptive. We deny the charge. Description is not poetry because there is descriptive poetry, no more than science is poetry because there is such a thing as a didactic poem. But an object which admits of being described, or a truth which may fill a place in a scientific treatise, may also furnish an occasion for the generation of poetry, which we thereupon choose to call descriptive or didactic. The poetry is not the object itself, nor in the scientific truth itself, but in the state of mind in which the one and the other may be contemplated.

    The mere delineation of the dimensions ND colors of external objects is not poetry, no more than a geometrical ground-plan whom it recalls what they have they could feel, or what they r circumstances been different Poetry, when It Is really such, truth: but they are different t’ truly: the truth of fiction is to are different, and came by dif poets are often proverbially of themselves: they have four spec. Men of human nature, o characters, such as can be ere mankind, such as comes TA urn Indispensable to them as Poe has to describe outward thing and it will not do for him to b’ of Barista, knops. ‘ man, but not All this is no bar to the possible r incident, In the same work, and thee combine on the sat order of composition which re highest kind ;the dramatic. E’. extinguishable, and may exes The Incidents of a dramatic p delineation of passion and chi admirable “Torque Taos”; for effect, ads is the case With Press: It me)’ even be. What the though there he scarcely a fell manner absolutely commons renders Shakespeare so gene .NET suitable to their factual In limiting poetry to the deli nothing is delineated but out’ promised to avoid to have r usage tot language, since it Is called descriptive, We deny descriptive poetry, no more try didactic PC? N_ taut an object’ fill d place in d scientific treats poetry, which en thereupon c the object itself, nor In the sic one and the other may be cord and colors of external objects of SST. Pewter’s or Westminster Abbey is painting.

    Descried in description, but in description of things as they appear, not as they are; and it paints the natural lineaments, but seen through the medium and imagination set in action by the feelings. If a poet des describe him as a naturalist would, nor even as a travel upon stating the truth, the whole truth, and nothing buy by imagery, that is, by suggesting the most striking like eight occur too mind contemplating a lion, in the stats which the spectacle naturally excites, or is, on the coca this is describing the lion professedly, but the state of really. The lion may be described falsely or with gage the better: but, if the human emotion be not painted WI poetry is bad poetry, I. E. Is not poetry at all, but a fail Thus far, our progress towards a clear view of the sees very close to the last two attempts at a definition of Poe seen in print, both of them by poets, and men of genius Elliott, the author of “Corn-law Rhymes,” and other Poe Poetry,” says he, “is impassioned truth. ” The other is b Magazine,” and comes, we think, still nearer the mark. Thoughts tinged by his feelings. ” There is in either defy what we are in search of. Every truth which a human b thought, even every outward impression, which can en become poetry, when shown through any impassioned the coloring of Joy, or grief, or pity, or affection, or admit even hatred or terror; and, unless so colored, nothing, poetry. But both these definitions fail to discriminate b Eloquence, as well as poetry, is impassioned truth; else thoughts colored by the feelings.

    Yet common prepare criticism alike recognize a distinction between the two: would call eloquence, which no one would think of class sometimes arise, whether some particular author is a p the negative commonly allow, that though not a poet, h The distinction between poetry and eloquence appears fundamental, with the distinction between poetry and and description, while it is still farther from having bee than either of the others. Poetry and eloquence are both alike the expression or may be excused the antithesis, we should say that else overheard. Eloquence supposes an audience. The peck o lie in the poet’s utter unconsciousness of a listener. Itself to itself in moments of solitude, and embodying it nearest possible representations of the feeling in the e the poet’s mind. Eloquence is feeling pouring itself out of SST. Pewter’s or Westminster Babe in description, but in description things as they appear, not as the} natural lineaments, but seen throw imagination set in action by the fee describe him as a naturalist wool( upon stating the truth. The whole by imagery, that is, by suggesting might occur to a mind contemplate which the spectacle naturally excrete this is describing the lion profess ally. The lion may be described the better: but. If the human emote poetry is bad poetry. I. E. Is not pop Thus far, our progress towards a c very close to the last two attempts seen in print, both of them by Poe Elliott, the author of “Corn;lava Rub “Poetry,” says he, “is impassioned Magazine,” and comes, we think, s thoughts tinged by his feelings. ” T what we are in search of. Every TN thought, even every outward impair become poetry, when shown thro the coloring of joy, or grief, or pity, even hatred or terror; and, unless poetry. But both these definitions Eloquence, as Nell as poetry, IS Im Houghton colored by the feelings. Criticism alike recognize a distinct would call eloquence, which no or sometimes arise, whether some p’ the negative commonly allow, that The distinction between poetry an fundamental, math the distinction and description, While It is still tar than either tot the others.

    Poetry and eloquence are both all may be excused the antithesis, we overheard. Eloquence supposes a to lie in the poets utter unconscious itself to itself in moments of solitude nearest possible representations the poet’s mind. Eloquence Is feel’ sympathy, or endeavoring to influence their belief, action. All poetry is of the nature of soliloquy. It may be s Whitehorse paper, and sold at a bookseller’s shop, the stage. It is so; but there is nothing absurd in the guillotining. What we have said to ourselves we m we have said or done in solitude we may voluntarily other eyes are upon us. But no trace of conscious must be visible in the work itself. The actor know t but, if he act as although he know it, he acts ill.

    A p the intention of printing it, but for the express purr should be poetry, being written under such influence impossible; but no otherwise possible than if he ca work every vestige of such looking-forth into the o an express his emotions exactly as he has felt the that he should feel them, thought they were to ERM lowest) as he knows that others feel them in similar when he turns round, and addresses himself to an utterance is not itself the end, but a means to an e himself expresses, to work upon the feelings, or up when the expression of his emotions or of his thou tinged also by that purpose, by that desire of make mind-then it ceases to be poetry, and becomes ell natural fruit of solitude and meditation; eloquence The persons who have most feeling of their own, if them a language in which to express it, have the hi est. understand the feelings of others are the moss nations who commonly excel in poetry are those w them least dependent upon the applause or sump general. Those to whom that applause, that sympathy necessary, generally excel most in eloquence. And are the least poetical of all great and intellectual n eloquent; the French also being the most sociable, dependent. If the above be, as we believe, the true commonly admitted between eloquence and poet if, as we cannot doubt, the distinction above stated will be found to hold, not merely in the language o and to intersect the whole domain of art. Take, for example, music.

    We shall find in that art, passion, two perfectly distinct styles–one of which other the oratory, of music. This difference, being s musical sectarianism. There has been much content modern Italian school, that of Rossini, and his such Without doubt, the passion it expresses is not the pathos or grief of Mozart or Beethoven; yet is passion, but garrulous passion, the passion which pours itself into other ears, and therein the better calculated for dramatic effect, having a natural adaptation for dialogue. Mozart also is great in musical oratory; but his most couching compositions are in the opposite style, that of soliloquy. Who can imagine “Dove son” heard? We imagine it overheard. Purely pathetic music commonly partakes of soliloquy.

    The soul is absorbed in its distress and, though there may be bystanders, it is not thinking of them. When the mind is looking within, and not without, its state does not often or rapidly vary; and hence the even, uninterrupted flow, approaching almost to monotony, which is a good reader or a good singer will give to words or music of a pensive or melancholy cast. But grief, taking the form of a prayer or of a complaint, becomes oratorical: no anger low and even and subdued, it assumes a more emphatic rhythm, a more rapidly returning accent; instead of a few slow, equal notes, following one after another at regular intervals, it crowds note upon note, and often assumes a hurry and bustle like Joy.

    Those who are familiar with some of the best of Rosin’s serious compositions, such as the air “Tu ache I misers confront,” in the opera of “Attained,” or the duet “Been per MIM memoriam,” in “La Gaza Ladder,” will at once understand and feel our meaning. Both are highly tragic and passionate: the passion of both is that of oratory, not poetry. The like may be said of that most moving invocation in Beethoven’s “Fidel,” > > > > “Zoom, Huffing, lass ads latte Stern > > > > Deer M;De night reversible” in which Madame Schroeder Deviant exhibited such consummate powers of pathetic expression. How different from Winter’s beautiful “Pagan FBI,” the very soul of melancholy exhaling itself in solitude! Fuller of meaning, and therefore more profoundly poetical, than the words for which it was composed; for it seems to express, not simple melancholy, but the melancholy of remorse.

    If from vocal music we now pass to instrumental, we may have a specimen of musical oratory in any fine military symphony or march; while the poetry of music seems to have attained its consummation in Beethoven’s “Overture to Segment,” so wonderful in its mixed expression of grandeur and melancholy. In the arts which speak to the eye, the same distinctions will be found to hold, not only between poetry and oratory, but between poetry, oratory, narrative, and simple imitation or description. Pure description is exemplified in a mere portrait or a mere landscape, productions of art, it is true, but of the mechanical rather than of the fine arts; being works of impel imitation, not creation.

    We say, a mere portrait or a mere landscape; because it is possible for a portrait or a landscape, without ceasing to be such, to be also a picture, like Turner’s landscapes, and the great portraits by Titian or Vandals. Whatever in painting or sculpture expresses human feelings–or character, which is only a certain state of feeling grown habitual–may be called, according to circumstances, the poetry or the eloquence of the painter’s or the sculpture’s art: the poetry, if the feeling declares itself by such signs as escape from us when we are unconscious of being en; the oratory, if the signs are those we use for the purpose of voluntary communication.

    The narrative style answers to what is called historical painting, which it is the fashion among connoisseurs to treat as the claims of the pictorial art. That it is the most difficult branch of the art, we do not doubt, because, in its perfection, it includes the perfection of all the other branches; as, in like manner, an epic poem though, in so far as it is epic (I. E. Narrative), it is not poetry at all, is yet esteemed the greatest effort of poetic genius, because there is no kind whatever of otter which may not appropriately find a place in it. But an historical picture as such, that is, as the representation of an incident, must necessarily, as it seems to us, be poor and ineffective.

    The narrative powers of painting are extremely limited. Scarcely any picture, scarcely even any series of pictures, tells its own story without the aid of an interpreter. But it is the single figures, which, to us, are the great charm even of an historical picture. It is in these that the power of the art is really seen. In the attempt to narrate, visible and permanent signs are too far behind the fugitive audible ones, which follow so fast one after another; while the faces and figures in a narrative picture, even though they be Titan’s, stand still. Who would not prefer one “Virgin and Child” of Raphael to all the pictures which Rueben, with his fat, frowzy Dutch Avenues, ever painted? -though Rueben, besides excelling almost everyone in his mastery over the mechanical parts of his art, often shows real genius in grouping his figures, the peculiar problem of historical painting. But then, who, except a mere student of drawing and coloring, ever cared to look twice at any of the figures themselves? The poser of painting lies in poetry, of which Rueben had not the slightest tincture, not in narrative, wherein he might have excelled. The single figures, however, in an historical picture, are rather the eloquence of painting than the poetry. They mostly (unless they are quite out of place in the picture) express the feelings of one person as modified by the presence of others. Accordingly, the minds whose bent leads them rather to eloquence than to poetry rush to historical painting.

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