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The hour had come. From all he saw, he turned
And now they rose to part. The soul of Paul
C. W. D.
A FEW PLAIN THOUGHTS ON POETRY.
BY A BUSINESS MAN.
When man was banished from the garden of Eden, he received the dread sentence that the ground should be cursed for his sake, and that in sorrow should he eat of it all the days of his life. We are all aware that this language, however true in its general application, is not to be understood in a literal and exclusive sense. Man was told that the earth should bring forth thorns and thistles; but it also produces flowers to delight, and fruits to nourish him. The Infinite Being has said that the days of our life shall be marked with sorrow, and they are ; but the afflictions to which we are subject are attended with blessed antidotes: moral sources of enjoyment are given us, as fruits and flowers for the soul, and the teachings of interest, as well as the impulses of gratitude, should lead us to consider with attention those gifts which enlarge the capacities of the spirit, and call forth the affections of the heart. And such a gift is Poetry.
If it be asked, “What is poetry ? we must confess ourselves unable to afford a minute definition; for, like the unearthly visitants which the fears of superstition have occasionally summoned to the world, she fascinates the senses, but eludes the grasp of the beholder, VOL. IX.
and stands before him, visible, powerful, yet impalpable. The various occupations and pursuits of life may be explained with clearness and accuracy, for they have been created and divided by man; but poetry is above, and not of man, and he cannot, by any array of words, set forth its subtlety, its peculiarities, its perfection, its loveliness, and its universal power. Can the painter place the arched rainbow, or the glittering dew-drop on the canvass? Can the sculptor invest his image with a soul ? Can the sympathies that mysteriously connect us, the unfledged thoughts that rush tumultuously through the brain, be subjected to the process of analysis, and the power of demonstration ?
It seems equally impossible to define poetry. We may pile word upon word, and sentence upon sentence, to attain the object, but the result of our labors, like that of the builders of the tower of Babel, will be discomfiture and confusion ; and poetry will still exist, defying the power of language, and soaring above the reach of description. It may naturally be inquired, then, 'Cannot poetry be defined ? Do we know of what we speak, when we allude to it ?
We do ; for many of its definitions, to a certain extent, are correct : they tell us what poetry is, in a peculiar aspect, but fail to give us sufficiently comprehensive views. We may safely assume the position, that poetry always addresses itself either to the imagination, or the feelings, or to both.
The word poet is derived from the Greek 2010, I create,' and its etymological signification is, therefore, the Creator.
Shakspeare has adopted this meaning in his · Midsummer Night's Dream :'
"The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
A local habitation, and a name.' But even the definition of Shakspeare falls far short of conveying to the mind a complete idea of the poet : indeed, the inventor of unnatural or supernatural characters, the poet of ghosts, witches, and fairies, is neither the most useful, nor the most fascinating of his class. The poet of nature stands prëeminent — not the one who · bodies forth the forms of things unknown,' but he who takes known and familiar subjects, and presents them to the eye with such beauty, delicacy, and force, that we view them in a new light, and connect them with delightful associations. It is the province of Poetry, by some beautiful thought, some apt comparison, some fine illustration, some well-woven fiction, or eloquent exclamation, to fix on the memory the subject of which she speaks; and if it be one connected with the cause of truth, if it be a correct sentiment, or a moral or religious precept, poetry makes it sink deeper into the heart, and take a stronger hold on the feelings. Thus we have often heard that it is right to love our enemies, but the bard adds, like a sandal tree that sheds perfume on the axe that fells it.'
It is not our intention to speak particularly of the conventional classifications and divisions of poetry, but merely to offer a few
general remarks on the subject, intended, in some slight degree, to set forth its value and its interest.
Its mechanical part is a useful subject for the poet himself, but it is only a medium, and not a necessary one, for the conveyance of ideas, since poetry may be expressed in what is called prose ; and its peculiar eloquence need not of necessity be communicated to the world in accordance with the rules of versification.
''Tis not the chime and flow of words that move
But although poetry is not unavoidably dependent upon arbitrary rules, it is not to be denied, that it is verse, in its general acceptation; and it is perfectly natural that it should be : the laws which govern poetry are evidently useful in their operation ; they tend to preserve a general harmony of expression, which is itself a part of poetry; for those passages in prose works which are classed with the productions of the muse, certainly possess this melodious flow; and to the position assumed with regard to the meaning of poetry, we may add, that it is connected with harmony of expression. Here, then, we see the utility of the restrictions by which the poet chooses to be bound, and perceive that the laws of poetry facilitate its composition, and maintain its distinctiveness.
If a writer's ear be so delicate and accurate, that he can pen his sentences with the same harmony which the rules of versification tend to produce, the absence of the arbitrary divisions and accentuations would not prevent his compositions from deserving the name of poetry. But this has been seldom attempted, as there are very few who do not find the laws of metre convenient. All those most distinguished as poets, have written in verse; and although poetry may occasionally appear, without its distinctive peculiarities, the utility of these mechanical arrangements will be seen at a glance.
There is a mysterious relationship between poetry and music: there is melody in the reading of poetry; and the feelings aroused by the breathings of music, are kindred to those which poetry excites; and when they unite their peculiar attractions, the combined spell opens a new source of enchantment, enthralling alike the senses and the soul. But poetry may well hold a higher place in our estimation than music. Unlike the latter, it can distinctly relate the facts of history, and the fancies of fiction, and can summon to our view figures and scenes, with a truth and vividness defying the skill of the limner. The faculty of composing poetry is a gift peculiar to a few; but the power of appreciating it, is open to all. We can all love and admire it, because it addresses the common feelings of humanity : its spirit is universal; it can affect, arouse, inspire, delight, and improve us all.
However powerful the influence of education, it can never make
a poet : we may feel the want of one, and look anxiously for the appearance of some Homer, or Shakspeare, or Milton; but no means within the power of man can bring him forth, if the spirit is wanting : and perhaps, at the same time, independent of factitious aid, and ignorant of those who are willing to exert it, a poet may arise to wake and warm the world,' and exist in the sympathies and affections of its inhabitants, as long as that world shall last.
Poetry is emphatically a gift, but as we have already remarked, it is not for an initiated few only to receive the advantages to be derived from it. Like the source of light, it may be a wonder and a mystery, but it is made for all mankind, and sends its rays alike
"On palace couch and cottage bed.' It may rouse the admiration and the sympathy of the learned and the unlearned, the rich and the poor, and of all those who have the common feelings, passions, and desires of humanity.
It is chiefly to this universal power of poetry, that we shall call the reader's attention in this essay - a power that
'Liyes through all life, extends through all extent,
Spreads undivided, operates unspent.' We know there are many who, influenced by some prejudice, or ignorant of their own capabilities of enjoyment, will think, and perhaps say, that poetry has no charms for them; and who, guided by the operation of an ill-formed opinion, studiously close their eyes to its fascinating and permanent attractions. We ask but of such, that before they finally abjure poetry, they place themselves in a situation to feel its influence : they would not fail soon to acknowledge that they had despised only because they had neglected it; they would exclaim, with a voice of exultation : We have discovered an everliving fountain of crystal waters, where angels might wash, and be purer.'
Whatever may be our skuation in life, we may all be benefitted by encouraging an attachment to poetry. It opens to us new sources of pleasure and enjoyment, not such as can only be purchased by immense wealth, and severe application, but such as are available to the humblest and the poorest : it
'Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.' In truth,
The world is full of poetry; the air
There is an objection to poetry, very generally prevalent, which debars many from a participation in its pure and elevated enjoyments. • Poetry,' it is often said, 'is not practical !'.
And here let us observe, that this word. practical, is too often used in a limited sense, and represents only that which, at very first view, is palpably and incontrovertibly useful. Indeed, to go farther, it is sometimes an‘ignus fatuus,' and means merely an array of figures,
or a collection of facts, without any very minute reference to the demonstrative character of the figures, or the conclusive tendency of the facts. A practical man, of this latter class, to use BULWER'S language, ‘hates both poets and philosophers. He has a great love for facts. If you could speak to him out of the multiplication-table, he would think you a great orator. He does not observe how the facts are applied to the theory; he only wants the facts themselves. If you were to say to him thus : · When abuses arise to a certain pitch, they must be remedied,' he would think you a shallow fellow, a mere theorist ; but if you were to say to him : One thousand pauper children are born in London; in 1823, wheat was forty-nine shillings, hop grounds let from ten to twelve shillings per acre, and you must therefore confess that, ' when abuses arise to a certain pitch, they must be remedied;' the practical man would nod his wise head, and say of you to his next neighbor, “That's the man for my money : you see what a quantity of facts he puts into his speech. Alas! for such practical men! They confine themselves within a narrow circle, and look upon all beyond as idleness and folly. They do not pause to view the ultimate results of things; they do not see the softening, the refining, the exalting effects of poetry; they do not perceive its influence on national character, and its connection with morals and religion; they only look to the facts, that it does not tell them how to keep accounts - to buy, to sell, to manufacture, nor to speculate — that it is not always profitable, as a trade, and that it does not add to one's reputation on 'Change ; and thus they come to the conclusion that it is undeserving of encouragement. Such men are willing to drag all' who are above them down to their own level; to make the whole world one great arena of selfishness; to root with barbarous hand from our pathway every fruit and flower, and leave nothing but thorns and thistles' behind. There is too much intellect in the world, for the general success of such narrow views of utility; and the human mind is not always nor every where to be bound by fetters that disgrace and pollute it. .
Neele, in the commencement of his Lectures on English Poetry, says : 'In introducing poetry to your notice, I am constrained to confess, that it is a mere superfluity and ornament. With all deference, we must question the truth of the poet's remark : indeed, in the course of a few succeeding lines, he himself contradicts his previous * confession,' and observes that, “there is a mental appetite, which is as necessary to satisfy, as the corporeal one. There are maladies of the mind which are even more destructive than those of the body; and which, as the sound of the sweet harp of David drove the demon out of Saul, have been known to yield to the soothing influence of poetry. Nations the most illustrious in arts and arms, have also been the most celebrated for their cultivation of letters ; and when the monuments of those arts, and the achievements of those arms, have passed away from the face of the earth, they have transmitted their fame to the remotest ages, through the medium of literature alone.
The canvass fritters into shreds, and the column moulders into ruin; the voice of music is mute, and the beautiful expression of sculpture is a blank and a gloomy void ; the right hand of the mechanist forgets its cunning, and the arm of the warrior becomes powerless in the grave; but the lyre of the poet still vibrates. Ages