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In the same manner Shakspere, with the reverse conception writes:
"To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
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 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."
The ideas and tastes of the eighteenth century in these matters were somewhat different from our own. Johnson, for instance, in The Vanity of Human Wishes, contents himself in his enumeration of the things that make up the pomp and splendor of a king's life, with such vaguely outlined elements as "the regal palace," "the luxurious board." Almost equally generalized is Pope's description of the happy man,
"Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In marked contrast to this are such lines as
"The seven elms, the poplars four,
Each poet pursues his purpose consistently. The "flocks" and "trees" of Pope are as appropriate to his generalized landscape as the "elms" and "poplars" of Tennyson are to his particular one. All we can say is that there is a preference on the part of probably the larger class of poets for specific themes and methods-a preference sometimes so marked that a poet like Keats will swell the description of even an imaginary bower with a wealth of “botanical circumstance.”
These differences are really but differences of emphasis which help us to define more exactly the limits of poetry. We may agree with Dr. Johnson in the main, yet feel that he went too far in his restrictions. That which is obvious to "vigilance" only, should certainly be as good poetic material as that which is obvious to "carelessness" merely. But it should always be obvious, not necessarily to the whole world, for that would sink poetry to the level of the commonplace, but obvious to the alert, the discerning, and the imaginative, in a word, to the poet himself. Things that are recondite, that can be discovered and set forth only by abstract reasoning, are not proper material for poetry. Neither are those natural phenomena which reveal themselves only to microscopic examination or which require the test of scientific analysis. Such things are the material of the philosopher and the scientist, and should be handled through the medium of prose.
To state the principle broadly then, the poet may safely generalize only up to the point where perception readily follows, and he may be specific only down to the same point. Such a general truth as
"Slow rises worth by poverty depressed
is poetic material because it is based upon
observation of the more immediate kind, and is readily verified by most men's experience. But such a scientific generalization as, "In animal life the ascent of the scale of creation is a process of differentiation of functions," goes beyond the proper realm of poetry. So with particularization. The poet may number the streaks of a tulip provided he can do it with a glance of the eye. If the streaks are too faint or too numerous for that, the numbering becomes a scientific and not a poetic process. Even the numbering with a glance of the eye may be unpoetic if done for other purposes than delight. On the whole, it is plain what Dr. Johnson would have excluded-very minute details, accidental peculiarities, methodically precise description and classification. In further illustration, take Byron's description of the Lake of Geneva as viewed from the castle of Chillon:
"A thousand feet in depth below
The massy waters meet and flow."
This might seem to be a violation of our principle. But a second thought shows that it is not. "Nine hundred and fifty-five feet" would be such a violation, because we should then have an exact reference to an abstract standard of measurement. The round number makes no pretence to accuracy, even though the poet goes