« PoprzedniaDalej »
ence of poetic and prose fiction. Still, the mere fact that poetry is fictitious, does not distinguish it from prose.
Nor is it thus distinguished from prose by its ideal representations of life—by “ accommodating the shows of things in this respect to the desires of the mind,” as Lord Bacon has described it. This sort of fiction, for it is properly fiction, which consists in representing not what is, but what we might wish, and which undoubtedly is a natural and useful exercise of the imagination, is not confined to poets. The politician creates Utopian states, and the orator, while he laments the golden age of ancestral happiness, paints the future in the bright colors of his own glowing hopes. On the other hand, poetry sometimes descends to the description of life as it is. The muse of Crabb is fond of the homely incident, and every day occurrences of the ordinary world. Cowper and Wordsworth afford examples of the same kind.
Poetry and prose are not essentially discriminated by their objects. In both, either the understanding or the feelings may be addressed. In both, we reason or inform, instruct or please. In both, we awaken the imagination or arouse the passions.
What writer of prose reasons more conclusively than Young on the immortality of the soul ? Who is more instructive than Akenside in the Pleasures of the Imagination, or Cowper in the Task? What poet, on the other hand, is more evidently pleasing than Irving in the Sketch Book, or Addison in the Spectator, or Johnson in Rasselas, or Fouqué in Undine ?
Again, poetry is not distinguished from prose by the figures or the words which it uses. There is scarcely a simile, or a metaphor, employed by the poet, which would be absolutely inadmissible in elonuence, or prose fiction. At least, the difference, in this respect, is so inconsiderable as to go but very little way in discriminating these great departments of letters. The real language of life is sometimes stronger and bolder than poetry admits of. The conceptions we form of passion fall often below reality. Probably, no audience would endure on the stage, the expressions of emotion which we occasionally hear uttered by the living subjects of grief or despair. Eloquence, the language of real life, assumes, therefore, in its most impassioned strains, a diction more vivid and glowing than poetry itself.
Words, for the most part, are common to poetry and prose. The number of words in our language, utterly excluded from either, is extremely small. In general, those most fit for the idea in the one, are the very same which would be most suitable in the other.
Finally, it cannot even be said that metre itself is altogether peculiar to poetry. The ancient critics undertook to point out the measure of prose; and modern rhetoricians speak of the numerous prose of Cicero, the harmonious flow of Burke, the measured pomp of Johnson's period. There is as marked a difference in what may be called the music of prose composition, between McPherson's Ossian, or Fenelon's Telemachus, and John Bunyan’s Pilgrim's Progress, or Bishop Butler's Analogy, as there is between the most melodious prose and the loosest verse. It is not always easy to determine, where verse ends and prose begins.
We seem then to have arrived at the conclusion, that there is, in truth, NO essential difference between poetry and prose; and that what have been taken to be two distinct styles of composition, so different, that a child might distinguish them, are much the same thing! No, by no means. They are as unlike as singing and speaking; as unlike as dancing and walking. A man may sing or speak on the same subject; may utter fact or fiction; may represent real life, or life refined and ideal; may instruct or please; may in both cases use, for the most part, the same figures and the same words. Yet, who does not see the difference between singing and speaking? Who ever mistakes the one for the other, even though one may sometimes sing as if he were speaking, or speak as if he were singing ?
In dancing the same instruments of locomotion are used, the same change of place may be produced, as in walking. Yet, who ever mistakes the one for the other ? Who does not see it and complain, if one walks as he would dance, or dances as he would walk ? · Dancing may be called the poetry of walking; singing, the poetry of speaking. That is, dancing is an art, in which the instruments of locomotion, ordinarily used for purposes of convenience or utility, and no farther thought of than as they subserve such purposes, have come to be used in an entirely different way, and for an entirely different effect; that is, for the gratification of a taste, for the display of skill, of grace, of beauty in attitude and motion. Singing, in like manner, is the employment of the organs of the voice for the production of that peculiar effect, which sounds, as such, are capable of producing, and especially when connected with appropriate thought and emotion. In walking and speaking the action is merely instrumental to some end; in dancing and singing the action is the principal end in itself. They are expressions of certain states of mind, which find satisfaction in that expression. Hence the fact, that when, in walking or speaking, a man ardently thinks of his own motion or utterance, he runs the hazard of disgusting; whereas in dancing, or singing, we are not displeased, if, within certain limits, he evidently studies to move with dignity and grace, or to prolong and vary the pleasing and fascinating tones of his voice. He is but fixing his attention on the proper end of his performance; he does no more than the orator in sudying to persuarle, or the philosopher in laboring to instruct.
In speaking it is not, indeed, a matter of indifference what tones a man uses, or what sounds he utters. A clear, full, smooth voice, an easy, various, musical modulation are points of excellence in eloquence, or familiar discourse, and contribute to the general effect. And instances may occur of such extreme delicacy and beauty of elocution, in these respects, as to approach very near, in character and effect, to music itself; not, however, probably without some sacrifice of the variety and energy which belong to efficient speaking. Singing also may, as in chants and in the “ Schoolmaster," and other similar pieces, so far sacrifice the flow and melody of music to distinct conversational variety and freedom, as to approach almost to elevated and harmonious discourse. Dancing and walking, too, may be widely different in the extremes, and yet almost run into each other, and be scarcely distinguishable, if the appropriate character of each is but imperfectly marked.
To what has thus been described as the poetry of motion and the poetry of elocution, the poetry of composition corresponds. Prose is ordinary, free, familiar, inartificial composition ; employed in the business of life ; for the ends of life; and, in its spirit and character, business-like. The aspects in which it considers objects are their SCIENTIFIC, COMMON SENSE aspects. The style it adopts is perspicuous, unstudied, efficient. It has an end, beyond itself, to attain, and to that end it looks and adapts itself. It demands attention for no other purpose; it desires means for no other object. It never seeks to place a thought in a striking light, for the sake of that light, saying, as it were,
“ How beautiful, how grand, how wonderful this is!" It attracts not attention to itself. It studies not effect; it asks not to be admired. It knows nothing about selecting and grouping and coloring, to create a picture for the delight and wonder of the beholder. It is a “plain blunt personage,” who “speaks right on the things which he doth know."
Poetry, on the other hand, is art, skill, taste, displayed in presenting, from the real world, or the world of fancy, the selectest things, in their most perfect forms, their best attitudes, their loveliest attire, their most suggestive and affecting relations. Thus it endeavors to awaken the imagination to throw a spell over the scenes it portrays; to create about the reader a kind of faery world, in which he is himself, after all, the greatest wonder to himself.
Here COMPOSITION-in its literal sense putting together-emphatically takes place. Here are the best ideas, in the best order, and in the best expressions. While the intellect is tasked, the heart is touched, and the ear is charmed. Here are combined all the resources of beauty, which can be supposed to meet and unite in literature—beauty of thought, beauty of association and beauty of sound. Here reason, imagination and the senses are united. Poetry is ARTIFICIAL COMPOSITION ; artificial, in the sense of exhibiting the highest art. Nothing imperfect in matter, or form, or circumstance is tolerated in our idea of perfection here. Nothing is too true; nothing is too great to be treated by the poet. Nothing is too trifling to be regarded by him. Much may depend on a word, on the very order of the words, on their sound even. Throughout there must be harmony; harmony of subject, of philosophy, of spirit, of arrangement, of illustration, of expression. Here all the laws of thought, of feeling, of language are observed and fulfilled. I speak of poetry, in the abstract, not of individual specimens. The question is sometimes asked, whether metre is essential to poetry. Poetry, it must be replied, is not usually applied to any but metrical composition; though no one thing belonging to it is essential, in this sense, that there cannot be any thing poetical without it. There is what may be called the poetical in the subject, in the fact, in the fiction, in the figures, in the language, and in the measure; and one or more of these may exhibit it more strikingly than the rest. Some of them may be wholly wanting; and yet the poetical may preponderate over the prosaic in the composition. But the beau ideal of poetry implies the union of them all. Are a beautiful face and a sweet voice essential to a fine woman? Certainly, they do not constitute a fine woman, and would not be first named in the description of her. Yet, who ever separates these qualities from his idea of female perfection? What painter ever represented Eve as ugly? What poet does not give her a voice of music? At the prince's levee, is it essential to put our best apparel on? Men and women are much the same sort of beings in their every day attire and in their Sunday suit. But, for them to appear, on a gala day, in the costume of the counting room or the nursery, would seem not a little odd. For the business of life composition wears its sturdy, practical air and its working-dress; on gala days it comes forth, with a joyful heart, and in robes wrought by the graces, from the rainbow and the pearls of the sea.
The distinction here made between Prose and Poetry will be rendered more palpable by examples. It should be premised, however, that examples of the poetical are scattered through the orators, and historians, and other classes of writers not called poets. And a great deal that has the form of poetry is, nevertheless, prosaic. The poetical sometimes so prevails, under the forms of prose, that we are puzzled to give it a name. Ossian is an instance. The Psalms and other portions of the Old Testament are instances. Passages may have the spirit of poetry without rhythm ; or, rhythm without the spirit of poetry. Or, they may have both in very unequal degrees. The prosaic is often introduced by the poet, to furnish relief, by contrast, to the poetical. The mind does not bear a continued stretch of thought. An incessant blaze of lightning would lose all its sublimity. It owes half its brightness to the dark bosom of the cloud from which it flashes. Good prose, also, borrows rays from poetry. When a fine writer is warmed with his subject, and his fancy kindles, the poetry of his thoughts, as Montgomery has beautifully said, “ comes out as naturally as a blush or a smile over a beautiful countenance.”
“Love your enemies," is a plain precept in prose. “Love your enemies,” says Menou,“ like the sandal-tree, which sheds perfume on the axe that fells it.” This, though in the form of prose, is the poetry of the precept; it is the same precept in a striking light.
“ It is noon,” says the writer of prose. How says the poet the same thing ?
Whenea, the portes out
in a plain be sandaligh in