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but in a sense which includes the whole range emotional satisfaction. This view of it is not universal. The traditional Greek view made delight incidental, or a means only, regarding as the end of poetry the teaching of action and character. But poetry in which this end is deliberately sought is invariably characterized as philosophic or didactic; and the terms imply an inferior degree of poetic quality. The highest poetry will no doubt teach, but that poetry which teaches directly is never the highest, while that which does nothing but teach is not, properly speaking, poetry at all. The direct aim of great poetry is to stir the nobler emotions, leaving them to work out their own purposes in the moral world; the ends of morality may be served, but they are served best only when nothing lessens the purity of the imparted delight. The cry of “art for art's sake" becomes thus “art for art's sake because that is also art for morality's sake.”
So much for the general nature and function of poetry. Let us now pass to a consideration of certain incidental attributes which further distinguish it from prose—the ordinary prose of science, of record, and communication. Here our first guide shall be Milton, who, in differentiating poetry from logic, declared it to be “less subtle and fine but more simple, sensuous, and passionate.”
"Simple, Sensuous, and Passionate." The direct way to the heart is not through the reason, but through the senses and emotions and the language of the senses and emotions. Matterof-fact exposition, long-drawn argument, refinements of logic, are manifestly out of place in poetry. It must keep mainly to the things with which all men are familiar, and it must put those things in the language of experience. Love and death, for instance, are themes of this kind, and while it is true that few things could be made the subjects of subtler logic or profounder speculation, when poetry approaches them it prefers to do so in the attitude of the simplest human being who enjoys and suffers. In Wordsworth's poem, "She dwelt among the untrodden ways," there is not a thought or an image that cannot be grasped immediately by the most untutored reader. Nor does it seem that any elaboration of thought or expression could convey more vividly the sorrow of bereavement than the simple concluding lines,
But she is in her grave, and oh
The difference to me!”. The prevailing sensuousness of poetry is well shown by the fact that the poet draws a large
proportion of his images from the world of sense -of eye and ear, of taste and smell and feeling. So true is this of early epic poetry that in all the Iliad there is but a single figure drawn from the operations of the mind.* Note how Keats's Eve of St. Agnes, one of the most widely known and admired of modern poems, abounds in pictures and images of sense. Mark in the more ethereal To a Skylark of Shelley the same concreteness of imagery—“Like a cloud of fire,” “Like a star of heaven,” “Like a rose embowered,” “Like a high-born maiden in a palace tower.” Could winter be more vividly portrayed than in Shakspere's lines:
“When icicles hang by the wall
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And milk comes frozen home in pail?”.
Moreover, in poetry abstract conceptions are constantly put into concrete form. When we are conscious that time is rapidly passing, the poetic faculty within us leaps at once to an image and says, “Time flies;” and Scott, in his stiring Hunting Song, exclaims:
“Time, stern huntsman! who can baulk,
*Iliad, XV., 80.
In the same manner Shakspere, with the reverse conception writes:
“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
The way to dusty death." It must not, however, be assumed that simplicity and sensuousness are necessary and universal attributes of poetry, nor that the test of great poetry lies in its appeal to the untutored mind. To maintain this would be to limit poetry at once to the simplest lyrics or ballads and to set the concert hall song above the Shaksperian drama. Milton was merely drawing a distinction, not proposing a precise definition. There are many kinds of poetry; and there are varying degrees of simplicity and sensuousness, as there are varying degrees of intelligence to be reached. What is simple to one man to-day might not have been so yesterday and may never be so to another. The poet cannot sink always to the level of babes. He may, indeed, address himself to most select audiences, basing his appeals upon less familiar experiences and involving them at times in subtle webs of thought. Only, he will keep more on the side of sensuousness and simplicity than if he were writing philosophical prose.
Moreover, there is in Milton's statement a third element to be considered, namely, that poetry is marked by passion. Perhaps this is the most important of the three. We have already remarked how essential it is that poetry be based upon feeling. The “noble emotions” of which Ruskin makes so much in all art, the “spiritual excitement” which Arnold considers a necessary condition of lofty style, must be present in some degree; and no doubt if they are present in sufficient degree, if only the poet be impassioned enough, his emotional intensity and elevation will lift his thoughts, however abstruse, into the region of poetry.
Generic, or specific? - Is the generic or the specific the better suited to the poet's purpose? The fact that poetry shows a preference for the simple, sensuous, and concrete, might seem to decide the question at once in favor of the specific. Dr. Johnson, however, has recorded in Rasselas a somewhat different opinion:
“The business of a poet,” said Imlac, “is to examine, not the individual, but the species; to remark general properties and large appearances. He does not number the streaks of the tulip, or describe the different shades in the verdure of the forest. He is to exhibit in his portraits of nature such prominent and striking features as recall the original to every mind, and must neglect the minuter discriminations, which one may have remarked and another have neglected, for those characteristics which are alike obvious to vigilance and carelessness.”