After a passage of what we feel to be true poetry, there follows, inevitably, a passage of platitude which no critical pre-judgment can force us to admire; but if, upon completing the work, we read it again, omitting the first book — that is to say, commencing with the second — we shall be surprised at now finding that admirable which we before condemned — that damnable which we had previously so much admired. It follows from all this that the ultimate, aggregate, or absolute effect of even the best epic under the sun, is a nullity: — and this is precisely the fact.
In regard to the Iliad, we have, if not positive proof, at least very good reason for believing it intended as a series of lyrics; but, granting the epic intention, I can say only that the work is based in an imperfect sense of art. The modern epic is, of the supposititious ancient model, but an inconsiderate and blindfold imitation.
But the day of these artistic anomalies is over. If, at any time, any very long poem were popular in reality, which I doubt, it is at least clear that no very long poem will ever be popular again. Surely there can be nothing in mere size, abstractly considered — there can be nothing in mere bulk , so far as a volume is concerned, which has so continuously elicited admiration from these saturnine pamphlets! The fact is, that perseverance is one thing, and genius quite another; nor can all the Quarterlies in Christendom confound them.
By and by, this proposition, with many which I have been just urging, will be received as self-evident. In the mean time, by being generally condemned as falsities, they will not be essentially damaged as truths. On the other hand, it is clear that a poem may be improperly brief. Undue brevity degenerates into mere epigrammatism.
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A very short poem, while now and then producing a brilliant or vivid, never produces a profound or enduring effect. There must be the steady pressing down of the stamp upon the wax. A remarkable instance of the effect of undue brevity in depressing a poem — in keeping it out of the popular view — is afforded by the following exquisite little Serenade.
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Very few, perhaps, are familiar with these lines — yet no less a poet than Shelley is their author. Their warm, yet delicate and ethereal imagination will be appreciated by all — but by none so thoroughly as by him who has himself arisen from sweet dreams of one beloved, to bathe in the aromatic air of a southern midsummer night. Pure poetry is the target which Warren, the New Critic, attempts to destroy. I arise from dreams of thee In the first sweet sleep of night, When the winds are breathing low And the stars are shining bright. I arise from dreams of thee, And a spirit in my feet Hath led me—who knows how?
To thy chamber window, Sweet! Nature here strains out of nature, it wants to be called by another name. Of course this is imbecilic. But the metaphor does not fail here; the moon fails. Eliot , W. Because they hide from nothing, and all, on some level, break your heart. Poe was right when he said poetry appeals to the heart and not the head. Some poets may be puffed, but not all the puffed are poets. July 7, at am Edgar Allan Poe , F. The answers have hardened into unthinking cliche. American Revolution 2. American Civil War 3. Franco-Prussian War 4. Russo-Japanese War 5.
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Well, not really. The time has arrived to take a wider look at Anglo-American Letters and its ancillary ethnic writings : to connect theory and practice, theory and the human, theory and the world at large. Ralph Waldo Emerson traveled to London and wooed the English instead, bowing down before figures like Wordsworth and Carlyle —whom Poe, in good fun, had only insulted. Emerson turned his back on Poe, which established a long trend of Yankee aesthetes preferring the English to their own: T.
Eliot and Henry James come rapidly to mind. In so far as we have poetry at all, it is always pure poetry; that is, it is not non-poetry. The poetry of Shakespeare, the poetry of Pope, the poetry of Herrick, is pure, in so far as it is poetry at all. Then the question arises: what elements cannot be used in such a structure?
I should answer that nothing that is available in human experience is to be legislated out of poetry. Philosophy, when the poet is not mindless, enters inevitably into his poetry, since it entered into his life; or rather, the detail of things and the detail of ideas pass equally into his verse, when both alike lie in the path that has led him to his ideal.
To object to theory in poetry would be like objecting to words there; for words, too, are symbols without the sensuous character of the things they stand for; and yet, it is only by the net of new connections which words throw over things, in recalling them, that poetry arises at all. Marvell and Eliot, by their cutting away of frame, are trying to emphasize the participation of ideas in the poetic process. Southern Poe, according to Southern Warren, is wrong.
All sorts of ideas and things may be included in poetry. The sign and credentials of the poet are, that he announces that which no man foretold. He is the true and only doctor; he knows and tells; he is the only teller of news, for he was present and privy to the appearance which he describes. He is a beholder of ideas, and utterer of the necessary and casual.
For we do not speak now of men of poetical talents, or of industry and skill in metre, but of the true poet. I took part in a conversation the other day, concerning a recent writer of lyrics, a man of subtle mind, whose head appeared to be a music-box of delicate tunes and rhythms, and whose skill, and command of language, we could not sufficiently praise.
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But when the question arose, whether he was not only a Iyrist, but a poet, we were obliged to confess that he is plainly a contemporary, not an eternal man. Where is criticism now? In the s, F. Other topics arise: Islam v. Talk about the larger wilderness, and one is not really talking about poetry anymore. The two most popular poets in English-speaking poetry over the last years are William Wordsworth and Robert Frost. One celebrates the English landscape, the other the landscape of New England.
This is not insignificant. Nature, that hoary term, is used by poetry, as it is used by imperial design—Nature is a political trope. Wordsworth is Nature for the drawing-room and parlor. It is that feeling of fresh loneliness that impresses itself before any detail of the wild. The soul—or the personality—seems to have indefinite room to expand. There is no one else within reach, there never has been anyone; no one else is thinking of the lakes and hills you see before you.
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They have no tradition, no names even; they are only pools of water and lumps of earth, some day, perhaps, to be clothed with loves and memories and the comings and goings of men, but now dumbly waiting their Wordsworth or their Acropolis to give them individuality, and a soul. Here he writes on Niagra Falls:.
The human race, apt as a child to destroy what it admires, has done its best to surround the Falls with every distraction, incongruity, and vulgarity. Hotels, powerhouses, bridges, trams, picture post-cards, sham legends, stalls, booths, rifle-galleries, and side-shows frame them about. They advertise here, everywhere, and in all ways.
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They shout your most private and sacred wants at you. Partly, there is the difficulty of distinguishing your village from the others. It would be as bad as being married to a Jap. Population growth is a menace.
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English civilization is ideal. Americans are idiots. They spit all the time. No wonder they gave orders for the slaughter and the English enthusiastically heeded the call; their old world was rapidly fading before overpopulation, anyway. I travelled from Edmonton to Calgary in the company of a citizen of Edmonton and a citizen of Calgary. Hour after hour they disputed. Land in Calgary had risen from five dollars to three hundred; but in Edmonton from three to five hundred. They seemed perplexed and angry.
Hirschman bristled when asked if he intentionally courts controversy. Robert Penn Warren may be the most honored American poet after Robert Frost, and so far there has been no comment from the poet or his camp.
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