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a peculiar, property of poetry. And this again can be no other than the property of exciting a more continuous and equal attention, than the language of prose aims at, whether col
' loquial or written.
My own conclusions on the nature of poetry, in the strictest use of the word, have been in part anticipated in the preceding disquisition on the fancy and imagination. What is poetry? is so nearly the same question with, what is a poet? that the answer to the one is involved in the solution of the other. For it is a distinction resulting from the poetic genius itself, which sustains and modifies the images, thoughts, and emotions of the poet's own mind. The poet, described in ideal perfection, brings the whole soul of man into activity, with the subordination of its faculties to each other, according to their relative worth and dignity. He diffuses a tone, and spirit of unity, that blends, and (as it were) fuses, each into each, by that synthetic and magical power, to which we have exclusively appropriated the name of imagination. This power, first put in action by the will and understanding, and retained under their irremissive, though gentle and unnoticed, controul (laxis effertur habenis) reveals itself in the balance or reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities : of sameness, with difference ; of the general, with the con
crete ; the idea, with the image ; the individual,
Bodies to spirit by sublimation strange,
From their gross matter she abstracts their forms,
Thus does she, when from individual states
Steal access through our senses to our minds." Finally, GOOD SENSE is the body of poetic genius, Fancy its DRAPERY, MOTION its life, and imagination the soul that is every where,
IMAGINATION and in each ; and forms all into one graceful and intelligent whole.
The specific symptoms of poetic power elucidated
in a critical analysis of Shakspeare's Venus and Adonis, and Lucrece.
In the application of these principles to purposes of practical criticism as employed in the appraisal of works more or less imperfect, I have endeavoured to discover what the qualities in a poem are, which may be deemed promises and specific symptoms of poetic power, as distinguished from general talent determined to poetic composition by accidental motives, by an act of the will, rather than by the inspiration of a genial and productive nature. In this investigation, I could not, I thought, do better, than keep before me the earliest work of the greatest genius, that perhaps human nature has yet produced, our myriad-minded* Shakspear. I mean the “ Venus and Adonis,” and the “ Lucrece;" works which give at once strong promises of the strength, and yet obvious
* A'me pvgrověs, a phrase which I have borrowed from a Greek monk, who applies it to a Patriarch of Constantinople. I might have said, that I have reclaimed, rather than borrowed it: for it seems to belong to Shakespear, de jure singulari, et ex privilegio naturæ.
proofs of the immaturity, of his genius. From these I abstracted the following marks, as characteristics of original poetic genius in general.
1. In the “ Venus and Adonis,” the first and most obvious excellence is the perfect sweetness of the versification ; its adaptation to the subject; and the power displayed in varying the march of the words without passing into a loftier and more majectic rhythm, than was demanded by the thoughts, or permitted by the propriety of preserving a sense of melody predominant. The delight in richness and sweetness of sound, even to a faulty excess, if it be evidently original, and not the result of an easily imitable mechanism, I regard as a highly
I favorable promise in the compositions of a young man. " The man that hath not music in his soul" can indeed never be a genuine poet. Imagery (even taken from nature, much more when transplanted from books, as travels, voyages, and works of natural history) affecting incidents ; just thoughts; interesting personal or domestic feelings; and with these the art of their combination or intertexture in the form of a poem; may all by incessant effort be acquired as a trade, by a man of talents and much reading, who, as I once before observed, has mistaken an intense desire of poetic reputation for a natural poetic genius ; the love of the arbitary end for a possession of the peculiar
means. But the sense of musical delight, with the power of producing it, is a gift of imagination; and this together with the power of reduc
; ing multitude into unity of effect, and modifying a series of thoughts by some one predominant thought or feeling, may be cultivated and improved, but can never be learnt. It is in these that “ Poeta nascitur non fit.”
2. · A second promise of genius is the choice of subjects very remote from the private interests and circumstances of the writer himself. At least I have found, that where the subject is taken immediately from the author's personal sensations and experiences, the excellence of a particular poem is but an equivocal mark, and often a fallacious pledge, of genuine poetic power. We may perhaps remember the tale of the statuary, who had acquired considerable reputation for the legs of his goddesses, though the rest of the statue accorded but indifferently with ideal beauty ; till his wife elated by her husband's praises, modestly acknowledged, that she herself had been his constant model. In the Venus and Adonis, this proof of poetic power exists even to excess. It is throughout as if a superior spirit more intuitive, more intimately conscious, even than the characters themselves, not only of every outward look and act, but of the flux and reflux of the wind in all its subtlest thoughts and feelings, were placing the