Imágenes de páginas

and the specific qualities that distinguish it from prose, cannot avail" himself of the privileges which the consent of ages has granted to the poet. The poet is altogether governed by his feelings : the criticis confined to the humbler situation of watching the modes in which these feelings operate, while they accord with the original impulses and propensities of nature. In fact, it is his business to see whether the feelings, associations, and sentiments of the poet arise from those influences to which the heart is subject, while it yields to no impulse but the impulse of nature, or whether they be feelings arising from false impressions and unnatural associations, or, in a word, feelings that claim no kindred with the original propensities, sympathies, and affections of the heart. The critic and the poet are therefore governed by very different laws : the latter is an actor, the former a mere spectator, and consequently if he has not reason on his side, he cannot impute its absence to the impetuosity of that fire and tumultuous feeling which hurries the poet into the midst of scenes which the slow and cautious deliberations of reason could have never imagined.

That the critics have not succeeded in distinguishing poetry from prose will be easily granted, when it is known, that no definition has ever been given of it, that will not equally apply to some species or other of prose.

From a conviction of this truth, and from the difficulty of making the distinction, it is now become popular to think, that no such distinction exists in nature, and that poetry and prose “ run into each other like light and shade.”.

This is the opinion of Dr. Blair, who adds, that “it is hardly possible to determine the exact limit where eloquence ends and poetry begins.” In making this assertion, he does not seem to have analyzed the idea which he wishes to convey with that critical and minute accuracy which he has evinced in his examination of the style of Addison and Swift; for, if there be an “exact limit where eloquence ends and poetry begins,” there can be no reason why this limit should not be discovered. To say, however, that it is hardly possible to discover it, is, evidently, to admit its existence ; for if it do not exist, instead of its discovery being “hardly possible,” nothing can be more evident, than that it is perfectly impossible. His language is still more vague when he adds,

nor is there any occasion for being very precise about the boundaries as long as the nature of each is understood;" for who can understand the nature of a thing while he is ignorant of its boundaries? The most he can know is a part of its nature, and what is still worse, he cannot tell what proportion this


part bears to the whole, because he knows not how far the boundaries extend. It may happen, that the circle which he has traced, so far from approaching the boundaries, may not encircle one-third of the object, in which case, the nature of the other two-thirds lies totally concealed from him. The boundaries, therefore, which separate poetry from prose can be indifferent only to those who seek not to be acquainted with the nature of poetry, for with this nature they can never be fully acquainted while its boundaries are unknown, and, consequently, they can neither define it, nor tell the precise assemblage of qualities that distinguish it from prose. Indeed, the impossibility of discovering them, as we have already observed, seems now to be universally admitted. A popular periodical work* has lately offered a prize of one hundred pounds to any writer, who would define poetry so accurately as to distinguish it, in all cases, from prose, an offer which was tainly made under an impression that such a definition could never be given. If, then, the true nature of poetry be unknown, how absurdly have the critics undertaken to fix the number of species or classes to which it is reducible. These species, according to Dr. Blair, are the pastoral, the lyric, the didactic, the descriptive, the epic, the dramatic, and the comic. If there be only these seven, and if each has laws peculiar to itself, it is obvious that he who enters into what he considers a region of the poetical world different from either, and who observes none of those laws, except so far as they coincide with the nature of his subject, can be no poet; for to admit him one, we must class his productions with one or other of the acknowledged species of poetry. To do so, however, is evidently to take an erroneous view of his poetical merits, because wherever he falls off from the laws which govern that species of poetry to which we have referred his works, we necessarily condemn him, as we can admit no composition to be poetic which does not observe the laws of its own species.

These observations particularly apply to the Orlando Furioso. It evidently belongs to none of the acknowledged species of poetry; but the critics, finding it approached nearer to the heroic epic than to any other, have called it a heroic poem, not knowing what else to call it, as it evidently belongs to no other acknowledged species of poetry. have condemned it almost from beginning to end, because, from beginning to end, it transgresses every law of heroic poetry. This is as it ought to be : having admitted no spe

Hence they

Blackwood's Magazine.

cies of epic but the heroic, they had no choice but that of condemning the Orlando. The question then to be determined is, whether there be any thing in the nature of poetry that necessarily confines” it to the species fixed by the critics? or, can the poet, who has genius to do so, trace out a new line for himself, and invent a species of poetry unknown to his predecessors? If not, Ariosto has erred in attempting what should not be attempted ; but if this liberty be found consistent with the nature of poetry, Ariosto was justified in availing himself of it, as it opened to him a region of poetry which was more congenial' to the character of his mind, and presented him with more expanded, more luxuriant, and more diversified scenes than he could hope to find in the fixed, computed, and adjusted prospects of Homer and Virgil, both of whom measured their ground, and disposed of their scenery, before they set out. To determine this question, it is necessary to ascertain what poetry is, wherein it differs from prose, and what are its privileges. Let us first then briefly endeavour to ascertain its own nature, and afterwards point out the extent of its privileges.

If our idea of poetry be correct, it may be defined in a few words, a circumstance, however, which is rather for us than against us; for long definitions are generally the result of confined and complicated perceptions or potions of things. Poetry then is, or at least appears to us to be, that mode of expression which evinces itself to have been dictated by sume passion or internal emotion. The object of language, in general, is to express our perceptions of things, and of the relations and differences that exist between them, and the pleasures and pains, or modes of feeling, consequent upon these perceptions. This, we believe, embraces whatever is the object of our intellectual or sensitive faculties. All our primary perceptions are expressed in prose: if we describe a rose exactly as it exists in Nature, without any regard to the feelings which accompany our perceptions of its qualities, we express ourselves naturally in prose : if we describe our perceptions of its agreement or disagreement with any other object in nature, we still express ourselves in prose, provided our language be uninfluenced by any feelings arising from these perceptions. While, therefore, we describe our perceptions of things, or of their relations, uninfluenced by our feelings, we can never rise above the language of prose. It is the same when we describe the feelings excited in us by these perceptions, as a third person, or, to speak more plainly, as a person who is not affected by them, at the moment he describes them. Perhaps we may render ourselves more clearly understood by saying,

that the description of past feelings.--feelings that are extinct when the description is made, has nothing of poetry in it. It is difficult, however, to describe such feelings without being affected by them, while we are in the act of describing them, if they were either fondly cherished, or endured with pain and suffering; and therefore it is difficult to describe them without rendering the language poetical.

From these observations, we may define prose to be that species of expression which, while it communicates our thoughts, evinces no proof of its having been dictated under the influence of mental agitation or passion. A lover talks plain prose when he describes the beauties of his mistress, and the devotedness of his attachment to her, if he has completely forgot this attachment, and is totally insensible, at the moment, to the charms of her person; for in this case, his descrip. tion would not differ from that of a third person, who had laughed at his passion from the beginning. A third person can describe a passion poetically, only when he is himself affected by the passion which he describes. Prose, then, implies all absence of affection or disaffection, of love or hatred, for the object described. It describes its objects as they are in themselves, and as they stánd related to other things; but the moment we are affected by any thing, and describe it as it appears through the medium of this affection, we describe it poetically, if the description be marked with the impress of the affection which produces it; that is, if it be obvious, from the mode of expression, that it was the affection excited by the object, not the object itself, abstracted from the affection, that dictated the description. Hence, a description will not be poetic, even when it is suggested by passion, unless it be so expressed as to evince itself the offspring of this passion, unless it has some character that would render it absurd, if attered by him who feels no emotion or passion whatever. It is in conferring this character upon language, that the great secret of poetry consists; and as this can seldom be done without great art, poetry requires more contrivance and more art to conceal art, than would at first seem consistent with its passionate and energetic character. In general, it may be laid down as a rule, that no expression can be poetic which would be proper in the mouth of the man uninfluenced by passion. He who calls the man who has offended him a thief and a vagabond, speaks the language of passion; but as he only -says, what any man might say without passion, who knew the person to be a thief and a vagabond, the language is not poetic -because it bears no internal evidence in itself, whether it was dietated by passion or not. But when Othello says to lago,--

Villain, be sure thou prove my love a whore,”

the language is poetic, as it is very obvious that such an expression could not proceed from a person who was perfectly free from the influence of passion : instead of using “ villain," and “ my love,” he would have used Iago and Desdemona.To convert poetry into prose, we have therefore only to remove such terms, or such turns of expressions as indicate passion. When Belvidera says,

Lay me
By the dear ashes of my tender mother,"

she speaks not only what her feelings inspire, but the terms in which she expresses herself evince that she is agitated by these feelings, for the terms, “ dear, ashes,” and “ tender," prove her to have spoken under the influence of particular feelings, and prove also, that it was this influence that dictated the expression. Omit these terms, and the expression, “ Lay me by my mother,” is rigid prose. It is therefore to no purpose, that we express what our feelings or passions dictate, if the mode of expression is not impressed with the character of these feelings. Without this character, our language may be passionate, or at least dictated by passion, but it cannot be poetic. Hence poetry is not, according to Dr. Blair, “the language of passion,” for passion may express itself in language that is perfectly prosaic. It is only when the turn of expression, or the use of epithets, which passion only could suggest, indicates passion, that the language is poetical. So intimately, however, are poetry and passion connected with each other, that a prosaic form of expression will appear poetic, if we know antecedently, from the situation of the speaker, and the circumstances in which he is placed, that the expression he makes use of is dictated by mental agitation, though, of itself, it bears no internal evidence of passion. In making this observation, we believe we may claim the merit of originality, as well as in our definition of poetry; for we do not recollect to have seen the circumstance ever remarked by any writer. Its truth, however, requires only an example to render it manifest. If a goldsmith says to one of his customers, “ we will make thee chains of gold inlaid with silver,” the language is mere prose, because we know the goldsmith speaks what his interest dictates, and the expression in itself bears no evidence of passion; but when the spouse, in the canticle of canticles, addresses the same language to her beloved, it is highly poetical, because we know the language was prompted by the feelings of the spouse, though, in itself, it bears no evidence of these feelings. To render this sentence, however, perfectly poetical, or, in other words, to express it so as that we should acknowledge it poetical, were we even unacquaint

« AnteriorContinuar »