Classic Writings on Poetry

Classic Writings on Poetry

Edited by William Harmon
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 560
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/harm12370
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    Classic Writings on Poetry
    Book Description:

    The poet is the sayer, the namer, and represents beauty. He is a sovereign, and stands on the centre. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson, from "The Poet"

    "[The poet] is a seer.... he is individual... he is complete in himself.... the others are as good as he, only he sees it and they do not. He is not one of the chorus. " -- Walt Whitman, from the preface to Leaves of Grass

    Poetry has always given rise to interpretation, judgment, and controversy. Indeed, the history of poetry criticism is as rich and varied a journey as the history of poetry itself. But classic writings such as Emerson's essay "The Poet" and Whitman's preface to Leaves of Grass serve as more than a critical "call and response": the works are striking examples of how the finest poets themselves have written on poetics and the works of their peers and predecessors -- revealing, in the process, much about the theory and passion behind their own works.

    Spanning thousands of years and including thirty-three of the most influential critical essays ever written, Classic Writings on Poetry is the first major anthology of criticism devoted exclusively to poetry. Beginning with a survey of the history of poetics and providing an introduction and brief biography for each reading, esteemed poet and critic William Harmon takes readers from Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Poetics to the Norse mythology of Snorri Sturluson's Skáldskaparmál. John Dryden's An Essay of Dramatic Poesy and Shelley's A Defence of Poetry are included, as is an excerpt from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's verse novel Aurora Leigh, arriving, finally, at the modernist sensibility of "Poetic Reality and Critical Unreality," by Laura (Riding) Jackson. For anyone interested in the art and artifice of poetry, Classic Writings on Poetry is a journey well worth taking.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50322-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. ix-xvi)

    In the beginning, let us say, people used language for practical purposes exclusively. Then these literal ancestors of ours discovered that they could augment the practical with the aesthetic, and poetry was born—poetry defined loosely as language used in a special way and for a special purpose beyond immediate practicalities. It remains possible, however, that the order of evolution was reversed, and that poetry came first and practicality second; some speculate that even pottery was first ornamental or ritual in purpose and only later found to be useful for cooking and storage.

    Whatever the order of the first two...

  4. 1 PLATO (?427–348 B.C.)
    (pp. 1-2)

    Plato’s work survives chiefly in the form of dialogues involving Socrates and other citizens of Athens interrogating each other about the nature of truth, love, justice, education, and other topics that continue to engage us. The Socratic dialogue, whatever the topic, is a demonstration, first, of a brilliantly effective educational device, wherein the teacher leads the pupil by a series of questions in a discussion, and, second, of an equally brilliant rhetorical device, wherein one makes a point by step-by-step reasoning and not by mere assertion.

    Plato’s complex philosophy usually assumes that we live in a layered world, with mutable...

  5. THE REPUBLIC (CA. 360 B.C.; EXCERPT)
    (pp. 3-30)
    Plato

    Such then, I said, are our principles of theology—some tales are to be told, and others are not to be told to our disciples from their youth upwards, if we mean them to honor the gods and their parents, and to value friendship with one another.

    Yes; and I think that our principles are right, he said.

    But if they are to be courageous, must they not learn other lessons besides these, and lessons of such a kind as will take away the fear of death? Can any man be courageous who has the fear of death in him?...

  6. 2 ARISTOTLE (384–322 B.C.)
    (pp. 31-32)

    W. B. Yeats’s “Among School Children,” which has to do with schools and teachers, calls Aristotle “solider”—solider than Plato, that is: “Solider Aristotle played the taws / Upon the bottom of a king of kings,” spanking a young pupil who would soon become Alexander the Great. Aristotle’s philosophy is no respecter of persons, only of ideas, and only of ideas in their practical, technical, and more solid manifestations.

    Aristotle spent twenty years as a student of Plato, and when Plato died in 347 B.C., Aristotle established himself as a teacher and writer in schools of his own in various...

  7. POETICS (CA. 350 B.C.)
    (pp. 33-62)
    Aristotle

    I propose to treat of Poetry in itself and of its various kinds, noting the essential quality of each, to inquire into the structure of the plot as requisite to a good poem; into the number and nature of the parts of which a poem is composed; and similarly into whatever else falls within the same inquiry. Following, then, the order of nature, let us begin with the principles which come first.

    Epic poetry and Tragedy, Comedy also and Dithyrambic poetry, and the music of the flute and of the lyre in most of their forms, are all in their...

  8. 3 HORACE [QUINTUS HORATIUS FLACCUS](65–8 B.C.)
    (pp. 63-63)

    Horace was educated at Rome and Athens and spent some years in his twenties in military and civil posts during and after the civil war between Caesar and Pompey. Eventually, he was recognized as a poet by Virgil, five years older, and given patronage by Maecenas. Horace is one of the greatest writers of satires, odes, and epistles, which were especially influential in England during the eighteenth century.

    His most important work of criticism—called variously “Epistle to the Pisos,” “Ars Poetica,” “De Arte Poetica”—is the practical result of a lifetime of work. Horace is much less systematic than...

  9. ARS POETICA (CA. 15 B.C.) (EPISTLE TO THE PISOS)
    (pp. 64-74)
    Horace

    If a painter should wish to unite a horse’s neck to a human head, and spread a variety of plumage over limbs [of different animals] taken from every part [of nature], so that what is a beautiful woman in the upper part terminates unsightly in an ugly fish below; could you, my friends, refrain from laughter, were you admitted to such a sight. Believe, ye Pisos, the book will be perfectly like such a picture, the ideas of which, like a sick man’s dreams, are all vain and fictitious: so that neither head nor foot can correspond to any one...

  10. 4 PUBLIUS CORNELIUS TACITUS (A.D. ?55-?117)
    (pp. 75-75)

    Tacitus was one of the most distinguished of Roman historians. He served in various governmental positions: military tribune, quaestor, praetor, consul, and pro-consul. His speeches were celebrated for their eloquence. His Germania, written around A.D. 100, contains one of the earliest accounts of the poetry of Northern Europe. Tacitus clearly viewed the Germans as barbarians, but he was willing to concede that they cultivated at least some of the arts. For them, however, poetry was practical and instrumental, charged with civic, military, and religious significance.

    His history resembles earlier works on foreign cultures, such as those in Greek by Herodotus...

  11. GERMANIA (CA. A.D. 100; excerpt)
    (pp. 76-78)
    Publius Cornelius Tacitus

    The Germans, I am apt to believe, derive their original from no other people; and are nowise mixed with different nations arriving amongst them: since anciently those who went in search of new buildings, travelled not by land, but were carried in fleets; and into that mighty ocean so boundless, and, as I may call it, so repugnant and forbidding, ships from our world rarely enter. Moreover, besides the dangers from a sea tempestuous, horrid and unknown, who would relinquish Asia, or Africa, or Italy, to repair to Germany, a region hideous and rude, under a rigorous climate, dismal to...

  12. 5 LONGINUS (?)
    (pp. 79-79)

    Nothing is known about the author or the exact date of the treatise that comes from antiquity as “Dionysius Longinus on the Sublime” or “Dionysius or Longinus on the Sublime.” It is too early to be the work of Cassius Longinus (ca. A.D. 220–273), a Neo-Platonist who wrote a surviving treatise on rhetoric. “On the Sublime” is incomplete. “The Argument of Longinus’ On the Sublime” by Elder Olson brilliantly reconstructs a likely outline for the whole (See Critics and Criticism, ed. R.S. Crane. [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952]).

    The treatise was admired by John Dryden, Joseph Addison, Alexander...

  13. “ON THE SUBLIME” (CA. A.D. 100; excerpt)
    (pp. 80-106)
    Longinus

    First of all, we must raise the question whether there is such a thing as an art of the sublime or lofty. Some hold that those are entirely in error who would bring such matters under the precepts of art. A lofty tone, says one, is innate, and does not come by teaching; nature is the only art that can compass it. Works of nature are, they think, made worse and altogether feebler when wizened by the rules of art. But I maintain that this will be found to be otherwise if it be observed that, while nature as a...

  14. 6 SNORRI STURLUSON (1178–1241)
    (pp. 107-108)

    In 2002, a tourist could sign up for a “Snorri Sturlusson Saga Tour—History and Horses,” described in seductive terms as “a mix of history and natural wonder on a ride through an area that is also important to the ancient arts of Icelandic writing.” (His name appears variously as Snorri or Snorre, Sturluson, Sturlusson, or Sturlason.)

    Snorri is the most valuable personage in Old Icelandic literature, and it is thanks to him that many texts were preserved. He was a conscientious historian and antiquarian. The Prose Edda includes the “Skáldskaparmál” (on poetic diction, especially as applied to divine beings)...

  15. SKÁLDSKAPARMÁL (POETIC DICTION; CA. A.D. 1225)
    (pp. 109-114)
    Snorri Sturluson

    There was a man called Ægir or Hlér, who lived on the island now known as Hlésey [or Læsö]. He was very skilled in magic. He went on an expedition to Asgarð to visit the Æsir, who foresaw his journey and made him welcome, although they also worked a good many spells for him. When drinking-time in the evening came round, Óðin had swords brought into the hall and they were so bright that they illuminated it, and no other lights were used while the drinking went on.

    Then the Æsir held festival, and twelve, that is those Æsir who...

  16. 7 SIR PHILIP SIDNEY (1554–1586)
    (pp. 115-116)

    Sidney was born at Penshurst Place, in Kent, which can still be visited today, 450 years after Sidney’s birth. He attended Oxford briefly during his mid-teens and then traveled as a courtier, soldier, and diplomat. He belonged to a most distinguished family of public servants and was himself an up-and-coming member of Queen Elizabeth’s court until a difference of religious opinion in 1580 resulted in his temporary banishment from the royal circle. In a brief but concentrated burst of creativity, he wrote dozens of poems as well as the first important critical text in English (it bore two titles in...

  17. THE DEFENCE OF POESY (CA. 1583)
    (pp. 117-152)
    Philip Sidney

    When the right virtuous Edward Wotton and I were at the Emperor’s [Maximilian II] court together, we gave ourselves to learn horsemanship of John Pietro Pugliano, one that with great commendation had the place of an esquire in his stable; and he, according to the fertileness of the Italian wit, did not only afford us the demonstration of his practice, but sought to enrich our minds with the contemplations therein which he thought most precious. But with none I remember mine ears were at any time more loaded, than when—either angered with slow payment, or moved with our learner-like...

  18. 8 JOHN MILTON (1608–1674)
    (pp. 153-154)

    Despite occasional attacks—notably by Samuel Johnson in the eighteenth century and by Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot in the twentieth—Milton is securely in place as the second-greatest poet in English, surpassed only by Shakespeare. The son of a prosperous scrivener, Milton was born in London and educated at Cambridge. After spending several years in seclusion, studying and preparing himself for great things, he traveled on the Continent and met, among many other notables, Galileo. Such meetings affected his concept of the solar system and enlarged the scope of his references and metaphors. For about the middle twenty...

  19. “OF EDUCATION” (1645; EXCERPT)
    (pp. 155-156)
    John Milton

    For the studies, first they should begin with the chief and necessary rules of some good grammar, either that now used, or any better: and while this is doing, their speech is to be fashioned to a distinct and clear pronunciation, as near as may be to the Italian, especially in the vowels. For we Englishmen being far northerly, do not open our mouths in the cold air, wide enough to grace a southern tongue; but are observed by all other nations to speak exceeding close and inward: So that to smatter Latin with an English mouth, is as ill...

  20. 9 JOHN DRYDEN (1631–1700)
    (pp. 157-158)

    During the quarter-century between Milton’s death in 1674 and his own death in 1700, Dryden was the most important and accomplished poet in England. (Samuel Johnson and others report that Milton regarded Dryden as “a good rhymist, but no poet.”) A product of Westminster and Cambridge, Dryden was brilliant as a dramatist, a critic, a translator, and a satirist. Now and then he looked back to the work of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Jonson, occasionally attempting modernizations of earlier writing, but he also looked ahead to the public poetry that dominated the first half of the eighteenth century in the forms...

  21. AN ESSAY OF DRAMATIC POESY (1668)
    (pp. 159-206)
    John Dryden

    It was that memorable day, in the first Summer of the late War, when our Navy engaged the Dutch: a day wherein the two most mighty and best appointed Fleets which any age had ever seen, disputed the command of the greater half of the Globe, the commerce of Nations, and the riches of the Universe. While these vast floating bodies, on either side, moved against each other in parallel lines, and our Country men, under the happy conduct of his Royal Highness, went breaking, by little and little, into the line of the Enemies; the noise of the Cannon...

  22. 10 ALEXANDER POPE (1688–1744)
    (pp. 207-208)

    Pope was the greatest English poet for a third of the eighteenth century, from about 1711, when he wrote his “Essay on Criticism,” until his death thirty-three years later. He was most successful as a translator of Homer, but his reputation rests largely on his genius as a satirist, especially in the mock-epic mode displayed in “The Rape of the Lock” and The Dunciad. As the “Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot” demonstrates, Pope was among the finest epistolary poets in English. Dr. John Arbuthnot (1667–1735) was the physician to Queen Anne. A friend of Swift and Pope, Arbuthnot was a...

  23. AN ESSAY ON CRITICISM (1711)
    (pp. 209-228)
    Alexander Pope
  24. EPISTLE TO DR. ARBUTHNOT (1735)
    (pp. 229-242)
    Alexander Pope
  25. 11 SAMUEL JOHNSON (1709–1784)
    (pp. 243-244)

    If Thomas Gray wants to conclude his “Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat, Drowned in a Tub Of Gold Fishes” with an instructive moral—

    Not all that tempts your wand’ring eyes

    And heedless hearts, is lawful prize;

    Nor all, that glisters, gold—

    then ninety-nine readers out of ninety-nine will applaud and go on. The poem is very famous, and at any hour of the day or night somewhere in the English-speaking world somebody is saying something like “all that glisters is not gold.” And that is without doubt a true and useful piece of information. But wait: whoever...

  26. Lives of the Poets (excerpts)
    (pp. 245-268)
    Samuel Johnson

    He was at this time [1624, aged fifteen] eminently skilled in the Latin tongue; and he himself by annexing the dates to his first compositions, a boast of which the learned Politian [Angelo Poliziano (1454–94), poet and scholar—ed.] had given him an example, seems to commend the earliness of his own proficiency to the notice of posterity; but the products of his vernal fertility have been surpassed by many, and particularly by his contemporary Cowley. Of the powers of the mind it is difficult to form an estimate; many have excelled Milton in their first essays who never...

  27. 12 THOMAS GRAY (1716–1771)
    (pp. 269-270)

    Like John Milton, Thomas Gray was the son of a scrivener (someone involved in the legal and financial care of documents and investments). Gray was born in London and educated at Eton and Cambridge. Although he had a law degree, he never practiced, choosing instead to devote his life to the study of literature and antiquities. Toward the end of his life he was awarded the Professorship of Modern History at Cambridge.

    Gray was a wonderfully versatile poet, and, though he may not rank among the topmost superstars, his “ Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” is probably better known...

  28. THE PROGRESS OF POESY (1758)
    (pp. 271-276)
    Thomas Gray
  29. 13 WILLIAM WORDSWORTH (1770–1850)
    (pp. 277-278)

    After being raised in Cumberland (in the Lake District of northwest England) and educated at Cambridge, Wordsworth spent some time in France at the height of the Revolution. There, also, he and Annette Vallon became the parents of a daughter, Caroline, but for complex reasons they did not marry. A succession of legacies, settlements, and sinecures permitted Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy to live simply without needing to work. They occupied dwellings in Dorset, then in Somerset, near Coleridge, at Grasmere back in the Lake District, and finally—in 1813, after he had married Mary Hutchinson—at Rydal Mount a...

  30. OBSERVATIONS PREFIXED TO LYRICAL BALLADS (1800)
    (pp. 279-296)
    William Wordsworth

    The first volume of these Poems has already been submitted to general perusal. It was published, as an experiment, which, I hoped, might be of some use to ascertain, how far, by fitting to metrical arrangement a selection of the real language of men in a state of vivid sensation, that sort of pleasure and that quantity of pleasure may be imparted, which a Poet may rationally endeavor to impart.

    I had formed no very inaccurate estimate of the probable effect of those Poems: I flattered myself that they who should be pleased with them would read them with more...

  31. 14 SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE (1772–1834)
    (pp. 297-298)

    Coleridge belongs in the company of the great collaborators, the great poetcritics, and, paradoxically, the great popular poets. The paradox is that the most philosophical of philosophical critics, fit for the company of Plato and Bacon, should also be the least philosophical, fit for the company of the anonymous authors of “Sir Patrick Spens” and “Edward, Edward.”

    The son of a vicar, Coleridge received a sporadic but stimulating education and led a peculiarly vexed life, which included dependency on opium. He was in and out of school, and interrupted his stay at Cambridge to spend a short time in the...

  32. BIOGRAPHIA LITERARIA (1817)
    (pp. 299-304)
    Samuel Taylor Coleridge

    Occasion of the Lyrical Ballads, and the objects originally proposed—Preface to the second edition—The ensuing controversy, its causes and acrimony—Philosophic definitions of a poem and poetry with scholia. During the first year that Mr. Wordsworth and I were neighbors, our conversations turned frequently on the two cardinal points of poetry, the power of exciting the sympathy of the reader by a faithful adherence to the truth of nature, and the power of giving the interest of novelty by the modifying colors of imagination. The sudden charm, which accidents of light and shade, which moon-light or sun-set diffused...

  33. 15 FRANCIS JEFFREY (1773–1850)
    (pp. 305-306)

    Francis Jeffrey, a Scot, rose to become Lord Jeffrey, a judge and a member of Parliament. He is best known in literature as one of the founders and editors of The Edinburgh Review, which endured robustly from 1802 until 1929. In its early years, the magazine often published reactionary attacks against the Romantic poets. One of Jeffrey’s colleagues, Henry Peter Brougham, wrote the article which caused Lord Byron to write his early satire, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers. Jeffrey himself is known for his disparagement of Wordsworth and others among the “Lake Poets.” Jeffrey gained immortality by the opening sentence...

  34. THE STATE OF MODERN POETRY (1828, EXCERPT)
    (pp. 307-312)
    Francis Jeffrey

    We have been rather in an odd state for some years, we think, both as to Poets and Poetry. Since the death of Lord Byron there has been no king in Israel; and none of his former competitors now seem inclined to push their pretensions to the vacant throne. Scott, and Moore, and Southey, appear to have nearly renounced verse, and finally taken service with the Muses of prose:—Crabbe, and Coleridge, and Wordsworth, we fear, are burnt out:—and Campbell and Rogers repose under their laurels, and, contented each with his own elegant little domain, seem but little disposed...

  35. 16 WILLIAM HAZLITT (1778–1830)
    (pp. 313-314)

    Hazlitt packed an extraordinary amount of work into his fifty-two years. He was accomplished enough as a painter to have his portrait of his father exhibited at the Royal Academy, and he later painted a portrait of Charles Lamb. Hazlitt was a gifted historian; he wrote a Life of Napoleon not long after Napoleon’s death in 1821. He was conversant with all the subtleties of political and philosophical discourse at a time when such matters were dramatically in play all across Europe. He was a brilliant reader of books and watcher of plays, and he also made it his business...

  36. ON POETRY IN GENERAL (1818, EXCERPT)
    (pp. 315-316)
    William Hazlitt

    Poetry, then, is an imitation of nature, but the imagination and the passions are a part of man’s nature. We shape things according to our wishes and fancies, without poetry; but poetry is the most emphatical language that can be found for those creations of the mind “which ecstasy is very cunning in.” Neither a mere description of natural objects, nor a mere delineation of natural feelings, however distinct or forcible, constitutes the ultimate end and aim of poetry, without the heightenings of the imagination. The light of poetry is not only a direct but also a reflected light, that,...

  37. 17 THOMAS LOVE PEACOCK (1785–1866)
    (pp. 317-317)

    Peacock, a brilliant wit, revived a classical model of criticism in several works wherein a typical group of people gather to eat and talk (along the lines of Plato’s Symposium). Headlong Hall (1816) presents an optimist, a pessimist, a glutton, and so forth. Melincourt (1817) makes fun of literary personages: Southey (Mr. Feathernest), Coleridge (Mr. Mystic), Wordsworth (Mr. Paperstamp), and others. The fun continues in Nightmare Abbey (1818), with a caricature of Coleridge again (Mr. Flosky), Byron (Mr. Cypress), and Shelley (Scythrop Glowry). Crotchet Castle (1831) travesties Coleridge one more time (Mr. Skionar) along with a medievalist named Chainmail. Peacock...

  38. THE FOUR AGES OF POETRY (1820, EXCERPT)
    (pp. 318-330)
    Thomas Love Peacock

    Poetry, like the world, may be said to have four ages, but in a different order: the first age of poetry being the age of iron; the second, of gold; the third, of silver; and the fourth, of brass.

    The first, or iron age of poetry, is that in which rude bards celebrate in rough numbers the exploits of ruder chiefs, in days when every man is a warrior, and when the great practical maxim of every form of society, “to keep what we have and to catch what we can,” is not yet disguised under names of justice and...

  39. 18 GEORGE GORDON, LORD BYRON (1788–1824)
    (pp. 331-332)

    Lord Byron still shines among the great Romantic writers who flourished during the first quarter of the nineteenth century—maybe more for his personality than for his poetry, although he is widely regarded as a very great writer indeed, especially as a wit and a satirist. Byron was not only a genius; he was also a millionaire, a hero, a nobleman, a sinner, and a beauty. The world is still learning how to catch up with him.

    He was born into a tormented and tempestuous family; his father, who died when Byron was three, was nicknamed “Mad Jack.” Byron was...

  40. ENGLISH BARDS AND SCOTCH REVIEWERS (EXCERPT, 1809)
    (pp. 333-348)
    George Gordon and Lord Byron
  41. 19 PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY (1792–1822)
    (pp. 349-350)

    Born into a substantial Sussex family, Shelley was educated at Eton and Oxford. During his first year at Oxford he was expelled for authoring a pamphlet favoring atheism. His life was complex and turbulent, with an early marriage to the sixteen-year-old Harriet Westbrook, whom he subsequently abandoned to take up with Mary, the daughter of the radical thinker William Godwin and his first wife, Mary Wollstonecraft. When Harriet committed suicide in 1816, Shelley and Mary were married. (In 1818 she published Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus.) Shelley fathered two children by Harriet and three by Mary.

    Shelley resembles William Blake...

  42. A DEFENCE OF POETRY (1821)
    (pp. 351-374)
    Percy Bysshe Shelley

    According to one mode of regarding those two classes of mental action, which are called reason and imagination, the former may be considered as mind contemplating the relations borne by one thought to another, however produced, and the latter, as mind acting upon those thoughts so as to color them with its own light, and composing from them, as from elements, other thoughts, each containing within itself the principle of its own integrity. The one is the τò πoιĩν, or the principle of synthesis, and has for its objects those forms which are common to universal nature and existence itself;...

  43. 20 WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT (1794–1878)
    (pp. 375-376)

    Bryant established himself as a poet while still in his teens and was generally regarded as the leading American poet from about 1825 until his death more than fifty years later. During the same period, he was an editor of the New York Evening Post. His most admired poem has always been “Thanatopsis,” which he published in 1817 but began much earlier. He was trained as a lawyer and employed as a journalist. Originally a Democrat, he later became one of the founders of the Republican Party. Late in life he published translations of Homer’s epics: the Iliad (1870) and...

  44. THE POET (1863)
    (pp. 377-378)
    William Cullen Bryant
  45. 21 JOHN KEATS (1795–1821)
    (pp. 379-380)

    It is probable that John Keats produced more great poetry at an earlier age than any other major poet in English. Readers can play a game that asks, “What would Shakespeare’s (or Milton’s, or anyone else’s) reputation be if he or she had died, like Keats, at twenty-five?” In almost every case the answer is “Zilch.”

    Keats’s father, who kept a livery stable, died in a mishap in 1804; his mother died of consumption a few years later, when Keats was fourteen. As a teenager Keats was apprenticed to a surgeon and was qualified as a “dresser” and subsequently as...

  46. POEMS
    (pp. 381-384)
    John Keats
  47. 22 RALPH WALDO EMERSON (1803–1882)
    (pp. 385-386)

    Known chiefly as a thinker and writer, Emerson began as a clergyman, ordained as a Unitarian minister and established as a popular preacher. In 1832, after a crisis of conscience involving the sacrament of the Eucharist, he resigned his position at the Second Church of Boston. He studied classical philosophy, particularly Plato, Platonists, and Neo-Platonists, along with Eastern religions, empirical philosophers such as Berkeley, Hume, and Locke, and mystics such as Swedenborg. He was also deeply conversant with history, language, and literature. In 1832 and 1833 he toured Europe and managed to establish a lasting and mutually influential friendship with...

  48. THE POET (1844, EXCERPT)
    (pp. 387-404)
    Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Those who are esteemed umpires of taste, are often persons who have acquired some knowledge of admired pictures or sculptures, and have an inclination for whatever is elegant; but if you inquire whether they are beautiful souls, and whether their own acts are like fair pictures, you learn that they are selfish and sensual. Their cultivation is local, as if you should rub a log of dry wood in one spot to produce fire, all the rest remaining cold. Their knowledge of the fine arts is some study of rules and particulars, or some limited judgment of color or form,...

  49. 23 ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING (1806–1861)
    (pp. 405-406)

    Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her husband Robert are the only married couple among English writers who have any claim to genuine distinction as poets. One can speculate about what that unique fact means for poetry and for matrimony, but it says something about the great distinction and durability of both Brownings as poets. Elizabeth was some years older than Robert, and, when they first met, she was the more famous poet. Her first book, Essay on Mind, with Other Poems, was published in 1826, when she was barely twenty and he was still in his teens. She died twenty-eight years...

  50. AURORA LEIGH, FIFTH BOOK (EXCERPT)
    (pp. 407-422)
    Elizabeth Barrett Browning
  51. 24 HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW (1807–1882)
    (pp. 423-423)

    Longfellow was a great teacher in two senses: he was an innovator in the teaching of modern languages at Harvard and elsewhere, and he graciously subjected his art to what he perceived to be the duty of poetry: to deliver academic and moral lessons. He was probably the most distinguished and most effective didactic poet ever to write in the United States; people who know almost no other poems will know “Listen, my children, and you shall hear. . . .” Longfellow is also notable as an innovator in developing a long unrhymed measure that was not blank verse; he...

  52. POEMS
    (pp. 424-428)
    Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  53. 25 EDGAR ALLAN POE (1809–1849)
    (pp. 429-430)

    Poe’s life was short; he was evidently an undiagnosed diabetic, on whom alcohol had a terrible effect (although, as one sympathetic student of his life has remarked, the sad thing is less a matter of Poe’s drinking too much as of eating too little). He was born in Boston but, having been orphaned at an early age, raised in Virginia. Between 1811 and 1815 he lived in Richmond, then he went with his adoptive family to England until 1820. He spent a short period at the University of Virginia, then left to join the Army, eventually attending the United States...

  54. THE PHILOSOPHY OF COMPOSITION
    (pp. 431-440)
    Edgar Allan Poe

    Charles Dickens, in a note now lying before me, alluding to an examination I once made of the mechanism of “Barnaby Rudge,” says—“By the way, are you aware that Godwin wrote his ‘Caleb Williams’ backwards? He first involved his hero in a web of difficulties, forming the second volume, and then, for the first, cast about him for some mode of accounting for what had been done.”

    I cannot think this the precise mode of procedure on the part of Godwin—and indeed what he himself acknowledges, is not altogether in accordance with Mr. Dickens’ idea—but the author...

  55. 26 WALT WHITMAN (1819–1892)
    (pp. 441-442)

    Whitman wrote a lot about himself—or about a self called “Walt Whitman”—so that most readers are familiar with the outlines of his history: born on Long Island, worked as a printer and journalist, especially for Democrat organs, traveled to New Orleans, served as a wound-dresser during the Civil War, stayed on in Washington for some years thereafter, moving finally to Camden, New Jersey, where he spent the last nineteen years of his life. Whitman was extraordinarily susceptible to influences of every sort. In creating his prodigiously capacious idiom for American poetry, he used slang, opera, phrenology, all religions...

  56. PREFACE TO LEAVES OF GRASS, FIRST EDITION (EXCERPT; 1855)
    (pp. 443-460)
    Walt Whitman

    America does not repel the past or what it has produced under its forms or amid other politics or the idea of castes or the old religions . . . accepts the lesson with calmness . . . is not so impatient as has been supposed that the slough still sticks to opinions and manners and literature while the life which served its requirements has passed into the new life of the new forms . . . perceives that the corpse is slowly borne from the eating and sleeping rooms of the house . . . perceives that it waits...

  57. 27 MATTHEW ARNOLD (1822–1888)
    (pp. 461-462)

    Matthew Arnold was one son of the famous Dr. Thomas Arnold, headmaster of Rugby and later professor of modern history at Oxford. (Another son, called Thomas Arnold the Younger [1823–1900], was also an eminent scholar and writer.) The Arnolds collectively exerted a potent influence over intellectual life in England for much of the nineteenth century.

    Matthew Arnold formed a lasting friendship with Arthur Hugh Clough while both were at Oxford and wrote a memorable elegy, “Thyrsis,” when Clough died. In 1851 Arnold was appointed an inspector of schools and for the next thirty-five years, on and off, traveled throughout...

  58. THE STUDY OF POETRY
    (pp. 463-484)
    Matthew Arnold

    “The future of poetry is immense, because in poetry, where it is worthy of its high destinies, our race, as time goes on, will find an ever surer and surer stay. There is not a creed which is not shaken, not an accredited dogma which is not shown to be questionable, not a received tradition which does not threaten to dissolve. Our religion has materialised itself in the fact, in the supposed fact; it has attached its emotion to the fact, and now the fact is failing it. But for poetry the idea is everything; the rest is a world...

  59. 28 EMILY DICKINSON (1830–1886)
    (pp. 485-486)

    We know so little about Emily Dickinson that the recent discovery of what may be a photograph of her has been front-page news. Although she wrote almost 1,800 poems (they are usually published with numbers for titles and sometimes referred to by their first lines), very few were published in her lifetime, and the only reliable information we have about her outward life is that she was reclusive and eccentric. About her inward life, however, we know a good deal, since her poems deal obsessively with the interior world of a brilliant, passionate, extravagant, absolutely honest and original poet. She...

  60. POEMS
    (pp. 487-492)
    Emily Dickinson
  61. 29 RUDYARD KIPLING (1865–1936)
    (pp. 493-494)

    Rudyard Kipling, who was born in India, emerged very early as a prodigiously versatile and extremely popular journalist, novelist, poet, and children’s writer. His popular appeal is still attested by the sales of his books, and over the years many excellent movies have been made from his poems and tales (including Gunga Din, Captains Courageous, Kim, The Jungle Book, and The Man Who Would Be King). In 1907 Kipling became the first British writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

    Kipling also endures as an important figure in the development of Scouting. Kipling wrote “The Scout’s Patrol Song.”...

  62. “PROOFS OF HOLY WRIT”
    (pp. 495-506)
    Rudyard Kipling

    They seated themselves in the heavy chairs on the pebbled floor beneath the eaves of the summer-house by the orchard. A table between them carried wine and glasses, and a packet of papers, with pen and ink. The larger man of the two, his doublet unbuttoned, his broad face blotched and scarred, puffed a little as he came to rest. The other picked an apple from the grass, bit it, and went on with the thread of the talk that theymust have carried out of doors with them.

    “But why waste time fighting atomies who do not come up to...

  63. 30 EZRA POUND (1885–1972)
    (pp. 507-507)

    The cosmopolitan Pound, born in Idaho, raised and educated in the American northeast, spent most of his adult years in Europe, with the exception of a twelve-year hiatus (1945–1957) when he was confined to the prison wing of a federal mental hospital inWashington, D.C. (A zealous adherent of Mussolini, he had made such provocative radio broadcasts before and during World War II that he was accused of treason in wartime; judged too insane to stand trial and too dangerous to release, he was detained until he had grown so old that he was freed on the condition that he...

  64. A RETROSPECT
    (pp. 508-518)
    Ezra Pound

    There has been so much scribbling about a new fashion in poetry, that I may perhaps be pardoned this brief recapitulation and retrospect.

    In the spring or early summer of 1912, “H. D.,” Richard Aldington and myself decided that we were agreed upon the three principles following:

    1. Direct treatment of the “thing” whether subjective or objective.

    2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.

    3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.

    Upon many points of taste and of predilection we differed, but...

  65. 31 T. S. ELIOT (1888–1965)
    (pp. 519-520)

    Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on the banks of the Mississippi River, and he later spoke of himself as a Southwesterner or Midwesterner. Even so, his deeper loyalty seems to have been to New England, where he was a Harvard student and where his family kept a summer home, and later to Old England, to which he emigrated in 1914 and stayed, taking on British citizenship in 1927.

    His education was more in philosophy than in literature, and he did everything for a doctoral degree but pick up the diploma itself. He worked for some years...

  66. THE POSSIBILITY OF A POETIC DRAMA
    (pp. 521-526)
    T. S. Eliot

    The questions—why there is no poetic drama to-day, how the stage has lost all hold on literary art, why so many poetic plays are written which can only be read, and read, if at all, without pleasure—have become insipid, almost academic. The usual conclusion is either that “conditions” are too much for us, or that we really prefer other types of literature, or simply that we are uninspired. As for the last alternative, it is not to be entertained; as for the second, what type do we prefer?; and as for the first, no one has ever shown...

  67. 32 LAURA (RIDING) JACKSON (1901–1991)
    (pp. 527-528)

    Very few American writers have had a longer or more productive life than that of the woman who began with the name Laura Reichenthal. She was born in New York City and spent three years at Cornell University, where she met Louis Gottschalk, whom she married in 1920. Convinced that Laura Reichenthal Gottschalk was too much to say—and possibly too Germanic—she used “Laura Riding Gottschalk” as a writing name when her first poems and articles were published, beginning in 1923. Poems were published in The Fugitive, the periodical managed by John Crowe Ransom and others of the Fugitive...

  68. POETIC REALITY AND CRITICAL UNREALITY
    (pp. 529-538)
    Laura (Riding) Jackson

    The critical problem, then, is not so much a matter of the proper subjects or style-modes by which to ensure the integrity of poetry, as the determining of where the true reality of the poem lies, whether in the gross contemporary mind of which the poet is supposed to be possessed, or in the non-contemporary poetic mind—for poetic must mean non-contemporary if contemporary is understood as anything more than a historically descriptive phrase, if it is used, for example, to describe the mind as shaped by contemporary influences. If the distinction between these two minds is carefully drawn, it...