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nounced any change in his poetic creed. At all events, considering it as the source of a controversy, in which. I have been honored more than I deserve by the frequent conjunction of my name with his, I think it expedient to declare once for all, in what points I coincide with the opinions supported in that preface, and in what points I altogether differ. But in order to render myself intelligible I must previously, in as few words as possible, explain my views, first, of a Poem; and secondly, of Poetry itself, in kind, and in essence.
The office of philosophical disquisition consists in just distinction; while it is the privilege of the philosopher to preserve himself constantly aware, that distinction is not division. In order to obtain adequate notions of any truth, we must intellectually separate its distinguishable parts; and this is the technical process of philosophy. But having so done, we must then restore them in our conceptions to the unity in which they actually coexist; and this is the result of philosophy. A poem contains the same elements as a prose composition; the difference, therefore, must consist in a different combination of them, in consequence of a different object being proposed. According to the difference of the object will be the difference of the combination. It is possible, that the object may be merely to facilitate the recollection of any given facts or observations by artificial arrangement; and the composition will be a poem, merely because it is distinguished from prose by metre, or by rhyme, or by both conjointly. In this, the lowest sense, a man might attribute the name of a poem to the well known enumeration of the days in the several months;
“Thirty days hath September,
and others of the same class and purpose.
And as a particular
exposition, slight and imperfect as it is, of the feelings which had determined the choice of the subjects, and the principles which had regulated the composition of these Pieces, I have transferred it to the end of the second volume, to be attended to, or not, at the pleasure of the Reader.” Pref. to edition of 1815.
This preface is now to be found in Vol II., p. 303, of the edition of 1840. Ed.]
pleasure is found in anticipating the recurrence of sounds and quantities, all compositions that have this charm super-added, whatever be their contents, may be entitled poems.
So much for the superficial form. A difference of object and contents supplies an additional ground of distinction. The immediate purpose may be the communication of truths; either of truth absolute and demonstrable, as in works of science; or of facts experienced and recorded, as in history. Pleasure, and that of the highest and most permanent kind, may result from the attainment of the end ; but it is not itself the immediate end. In other works the communication of pleasure may be the immediate purpose ; and though truth, either moral or intellectual, ought to be the ultimate end, yet this will distinguish the character of the author, not the class to which the work belongs. Blest indeed is that state of society, in which the immediate purpose would be baffled by the perversion of the proper ultimate end ; in which no charm of diction or imagery could exempt the BATHYLLUS even of an Anacreon, or the Alexis of Virgil, from disgust and aversion !
But the communication of pleasure may be the immediate ob ject of a work not metrically composed; and that object may have been in a high degree attained, as in novels and romances. Would then the mere superaddition of metre, with or without rhyme, entitle these to the name of poems? The answer is, that nothing can permanently please, which does not contain in itself the reason why it is so, and not otherwise. If metre be superadded, all other parts must be made consonant with it. They must be such, as to justify the perpetual and distinct attention to each part, which an exact correspondent recurrence of accent and sound are calculated to excite. The final definition then, so deduced, may be thus worded. A poem is that species of composition, which is opposed to works of science, by proposing for its immediate object pleasure, not truth; and from all other species —(having this object in common with it)—it is discriminated by proposing to itself such delight from the whole, as is compatible with a distinct gratification from each component part.
Controversy is not seldom excited in consequence of the disputants attaching each a different meaning to the same word;
and in few instances has this been more striking, than in dis. putes concerning the present subject. If a man chooses to call every composition a poem, which is rhyme, or measure, or both, I must leave his opinion uncontroverted. The distinction is at least competent to characterize the writer's intention. If it were subjoined, that the whole is likewise entertaining or affecting, as a tale, or as a series of interesting reflections, I of course admit this as another fit ingredient of a poem, and an additional merit. But if the definition sought for be that of a legitimate poem, I answer, it must be one, the parts of which mutually support and explain each other; all in their proportion harmonizing with, and supporting the purpose and known influences of metrical arrangement. The philosophic critics of all ages coincide with the ultimate judgment of all countries, in equally denying the praises of a just poem, on the one hand, to a series of striking lines or distiches, each of which, absorbing the whole attention of the reader to itself, becomes disjoined from its context, and forms a separate whole, instead of a harmonizing part; and on the other hand, to an unsustained composition, from which the reader collects rapidly the general result, unattracted by the component parts. The reader should be carried forward, not merely or chiefly by the mechanical impulse of curiosity, or by a restless desire to arrive at the final solution ; but by the pleasurable activity of mind excited by the attractions of the journey itself. Like the motion of a serpent, which the Egyptians made the emblem of intellectual power; or like the path of sound through the air ; at every step he pauses and half recedes, and from the retrogressive movement collects the force which again carries him onward. Præcipitandus est liber spiritus, says Petronius most happily. The
8 [These words occur in the passage in which Petronius is supposed to attack Lucan. Cæteri enim, aut non viderunt viam qua irietur ad carmen, aut visam timuerunt calcare. Ecce, belli civilis ingens opus quisquis attigerit, nisi plenus literis, sub onere labetur. Non enim res gesta versibus comprehendendæ sunt, quod longe melius Historici faciunt; sed per ambages, Deorumque ministeria, et fabulosum sententiarum tormentum præcipitandus est liber spiritus ; ut potius furentis ainimi vaticinatio appareat, quam religiosa orationis sub testibus fides : tanquam si placet hic impetus, etiamsi nondum recepit ultimam manum. Satyric., p. 63, edit. Lug. Bat., 1623. And then follows a specimen of a new Pharsalia, which
epithet, liber, here balances the preceding verb; and it is not easy to conceive more meaning condensed in fewer words.
But if this should be admitted as a satisfactory character of a poem, we have still to seek for a definition of poetry. The writ. ings of Plato, and Jeremy Taylor, and Burnet's Theory of the Earth, furnish undeniable proofs that poetry of the highest kind may exist without metre, and even without the contradistinguishing objects of a poem. The first chapter of Isaiah—indeed a very large proportion of the whole book)—is poetry in the most enphatic sense; yet it would be not less irrational than strange to assert, that pleasure, and not truth, was the immediate object of the prophet. In short, whatever specific import we attach to the word, Poetry, there will be found involved in it, as a necessary consequence, that a poem of any length neither can be, nor ought to be, all poetry. Yet if an harmonious whole is to be produced, the remaining parts must be preserved in keeping with the poetry ; and this can be no otherwise effected than by such a studied selection and artificial arrangement, as will partake of one, though not 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 colloquial or written.
My own conclusions on the nature of poetry, in the strictest use of the word, have been in part anticipated in some of the remarks on the Fancy and Imagination in the first volume of this work. What is poetry ?—is so nearly the same question with, a great many learned critics, to the confusion of ordinary readers, prefer to Lucan’s. Douza says, se hunc impetum pluris facere, quam trecenta Cordubulensis illius volumina. Ed.]
Petronius !-all the muses weep for thee,
But every tear shall scald thy memory.So speaks Cowper in a strong passage upon this “ polish'd and high finish'd foe to truth,” in his poem called The Progress of Error. Southey's edit., vol. iii., p. 155–6. S. C.]
9 [Telluris Theoria Sacra. London, 1681: by Thomas Burnett, D.D. The work was translated into English by order of King Charles, and was in a sixth edit. in 1726. The author, a native of Scotland, and Master of Sutton's Hospital, London, wrote also De Statu Mortuorum et Resurgentium, and several other books, died Sep. 27, 1715. S. C.]
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, cach into each, by that synthetic and magical power, to which I would exclusively appropriate the name of Imagination. This power, first put in action by the will and understanding, and retained under their irremissive, though gentle and unnoticed, control, laxis effertur habenis, reveals itself in the balance or reconcilement of opposite or discordant qualities; of sameness, with difference; of the general with the concrete ; the idea with the image ; the individual with the representative; the sense of novelty and freshness with old and familiar objects; a more than usual state of emotion with more than usual order; judgment ever awake and steady self-possession with enthusiasm and feeling profound or vehement; and, while it blends and harmonizes the natural and the artificial, still subordinates art to nature; the manner to the matter; and our admiration of the poet to our sympathy with the poetry. Doubtless, as Sir John Davies observes of the soul and his words may with slight alteration be applied, and even more appropriately, to the poetic Imagination)
Doubtless this could not be, but that she turns
Steal access through the senses to our minds.10 10 [Of the Soul of Man, s. 4. Mr. Coleridge's alterations are printed in italics. Ed.]