A Study of Poetry
By Bliss Perry

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Notes and Illustrations

I add here some suggestions to teachers who may wish to use this book in the classroom. In connection with each chapter I have indicated the more important discussions of the special topic. There is also some additional illustrative material, and I have indicated a few hints for classroom exercises, following methods which have proved helpful in my own experience as a teacher.

I have tried to keep in mind the needs of two kinds of college courses in poetry. One of them is the general introductory course, which usually begins with the lyric rather than with the epic or the drama, and which utilizes some such collection as the Golden Treasury or the Oxford Book of English Verse. Any such collection of standard verse, or any of the anthologies of recent poetry, like those selected by Miss Jessie B. Rittenhouse or Mr. W. S. Braithwaite, should be constantly in use in the classroom as furnishing concrete illustration of the principles discussed in books like mine.

The other kind of course which I have had in mind is the one dealing with the works of a single poet. Spenser, Milton, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Browning, are among the poets most frequently chosen for this sort of study. I have found it an advantage to carry on the discussion of the general principles of poetic imagination and expression in connection with the close textual study of the complete work of any one poet. It is hoped that this book may prove helpful for such a purpose.

Chapter I

This chapter aims to present, in as simple a form as possible, some of the fundamental questions in aesthetic theory as far as they bear upon the study of poetry. James Sully’s article on “Aesthetics” in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Sidney Colvin’s article on “The Fine Arts,” afford a good preliminary survey of the field. K. Gordon’s Aesthetics, E. D. Puffer’s Psychology of Beauty, Santayana’s Sense of Beauty, Raymond’s Genesis of Art Form, and Arthur Symons’s Seven Arts, are stimulating books. Bosanquet’s Three Lectures on Aesthetic is commended to those advanced students who have not time to read his voluminous History of Aesthetic, just as Lane Cooper’s translation of Aristotle on the Art of Poetry may be read profitably before taking up the more elaborate discussions in Butcher’s Aristotle’s Theory of Poetry and Fine Art. In the same way, Spingarn’s Creative Criticism is a good preparation for Croce’s monumental Aesthetics. The student should certainly make some acquaintance with Lessing’s Laokoon, and he will find Babbitt’s New Laokoon a brilliant and trenchant survey of the old questions.

It may be, however, that the teacher will prefer to pass rapidly over the ground covered in this chapter, rather than to run the risk of confusing his students with problems admittedly difficult. In that case the classroom discussions may begin with chapter II. I have found, however, that the new horizons which are opened to many students in connection with the topics touched upon in chapter I more than make up for some temporary bewilderment.

Chapter II

The need here is to look at an old subject with fresh eyes. Teachers who are fond of music or painting or sculpture can invent many illustrations following the hint given in the Orpheus and Eurydice passage in the text. Among recent books, Fairchild’s Making of Poetry and Max Eastman’s Enjoyment of Poetry are particularly to be commended for their unconventional point of view. See also Fairchild’s pamphlet on Teaching of Poetry in the High School, and John Erskine’s paper on “The Teaching of Poetry” (Columbia University Quarterly, December, 1915). Alfred Hayes’s “Relation of Music to Poetry” (Atlantic, January, 1914) is pertinent to this chapter. But the student should certainly familiarize himself with Theodore Watts-Dunton’s famous article on “Poetry” in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, now reprinted with additions in his Renascence of Wonder. He should also read A. C. Bradley’s chapter on “Poetry for its Own Sake” in the Oxford Lectures on Poetry, Neilson’s Essentials of Poetry, Stedman’s Nature and Elements of Poetry, as well as the classic “Defences” of Poetry by Philip Sidney, Shelley, Leigh Hunt and George E. Woodberry. For advanced students, R. P. Cowl’s Theory of Poetry in England is a useful summary of critical opinions covering almost every aspect of the art of poetry, as it has been understood by successive generations of Englishmen.

Chapter III

This chapter, like the first, will be difficult for some students. They may profitably read, in connection with it, Professor Winchester’s chapter on “Imagination” in his Literary Criticism, Neilson’s discussion of “Imagination” in his Essentials of Poetry, the first four chapters of Fairchild, chapters 4, 13, 14, and 15 of Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria, and Wordsworth’s Preface to his volume of Poems of 1815. See also Stedman’s chapter on “Imagination” in his Nature and Elements of Poetry.

Under section 2, some readers may be interested in Sir William Rowan Hamilton’s account of his famous discovery of the quaternion analysis, one of the greatest of all discoveries in pure mathematics:

  “Quaternions started into life, or light, full grown,
  on Monday, the 16th of October, 1843, as I was walking
  with Lady Hamilton to Dublin, and came up to
  Brougham Bridge, which my boys have since called the
  Quaternion Bridge. That is to say, I then and there
  felt the galvanic circuit of thought close, and the sparks
  which fell from it were the fundamental equations between
  i, j, k; exactly such as I have used them ever since.
  I pulled out on the spot a pocket-book, which still exists,
  and made an entry on which, at the very moment, I felt
  that it might be worth my while to expend the labor of
  at least ten (or it might be fifteen) years to come. But
  then it is fair to say that this was because I felt a problem  to have been at that moment solved–an intellectual
  want relieved–which had haunted me for at least
  ifteen years before. Less than an hour elapsed before I
  had asked and obtained leave of the Council of the
  Royal Irish Academy, of which Society I was, at that
  time, the President–to read at the next General Meeting  a Paper on Quaternions; which I accordingly did, on
  November 13, 1843.”

The following quotation from Lascelles-Abercrombie’s study of Thomas Hardy presents in brief compass the essential problem dealt with in this chapter. It is closely written, and should be read more than once.

  “Man’s intercourse with the world is necessarily formative. His
  experience of things outside his consciousness is in the manner of a
  chemistry, wherein some energy of his nature is mated with the energy
  brought in on his nerves from externals, the two combining into
  something which exists only in, or perhaps we should say closely around,
  man’s consciousness. Thus what man knows of the world is what has been
  formed by the mixture of his own nature with the streaming in of the
  external world. This formative energy of his, reducing the in-coming
  world into some constant manner of appearance which may be appreciable
  by consciousness, is most conveniently to be described, it seems, as an
  unaltering imaginative desire: desire which accepts as its material, and
  fashions itself forth upon, the many random powers sent by the world to
  invade man’s mind. That there is this formative energy in man may easily
  be seen by thinking of certain dreams; those dreams, namely, in which
  some disturbance outside the sleeping brain (such as a sound of knocking
  or a bodily discomfort) is completely formed into vivid trains of
  imagery, and in that form only is presented to the dreamer’s
  consciousness. This, however, merely shows the presence of the active
  desire to shape sensation into what consciousness can accept; the dream
  is like an experiment done in the isolation of a laboratory; there are
  so many conflicting factors when we are awake that the events of sleep
  must only serve as a symbol or diagram of the intercourse of mind with
  that which is not mind–intercourse which only takes place in a region
  where the outward radiations of man’s nature combine with the
  irradiations of the world. Perception itself is a formative act; and all
  the construction of sensation into some orderly, coherent idea of the
  world is a further activity of the central imaginative desire. Art is
  created, and art is enjoyed, because in it man may himself completely
  express and exercise those inmost desires which in ordinary experience
  are by no means to be completely expressed. Life has at last been
  perfectly formed and measured to man’s requirements; and in art man
  knows himself truly the master of his existence. It is this sense of
  mastery which gives man that raised and delighted consciousness of self
  which art provokes.”

Chapter IV

I regret that Professor Lowes’s brilliant discussion of “Poetic Diction" in his Convention and Revolt did not appear until after this chapter was written. There are stimulating remarks on Diction in Fairchild and Eastman, in Raleigh’s Wordsworth, in L. A. Sherman’s Analytics of Literature, chapter 6, in Raymond’s Poetry as a Representative Art, and in Hudson Maxim’s Science of Poetry. Coleridge’s description of Wordsworth’s theory of poetic diction in the Biographia Literaria is famous. Walt Whitman’s An American Primer, first published in the Atlantic for April, 1904, is a highly interesting contribution to the subject.

No theoretical discussion, however, can supply the place of a close study, word by word, of poems in the classroom. It is advisable, I think, to follow such analyses of the diction of Milton, Keats and Tennyson by a scrutiny of the diction employed by contemporary poets like Edgar Lee Masters and Carl Sandburg.

The following passages in prose and verse, printed without the authors’ names, are suggested as an exercise in the study of diction:

1. “The falls were in plain view about a mile off, but very distinct,
   and no roar–hardly a murmur. The river tumbling green and white, far
   below me; the dark, high banks, the plentiful umbrage, many bronze
   cedars, in shadow; and tempering and arching all the immense
   materiality, a clear sky overhead, with a few white clouds, limpid,
   spiritual, silent. Brief, and as quiet as brief, that picture–a
   remembrance always afterward.”

2. “If there be fluids, as we know there are, which, conscious of a
   coming wind, or rain, or frost, will shrink and strive to hide
   themselves in their glass arteries; may not that subtle liquor of the
   blood perceive, by properties within itself, that hands are raised to
   waste and spill it; and in the veins of men run cold and dull as his
   did, in that hour!”

3. “On a flat road runs the well-train’d runner,
   He is lean and sinewy with muscular legs,
   He is thinly clothed, he leans forward as he runs,
   With lightly closed fists and arms partially rais’d.”

4. “The feverish heaven with a stitch in the side, Of lightning.”

5. “Out of blue into black is the scheme of the skies, and their dews are the wine of the bloodshed of things.”

6. “Dry clash’d his harness in the icy caves
   And barren chasms, and all to left and right
   The bare black cliff clang’d round him, as he based
   His feet on juts of slippery crag that rang
   Sharp-smitten with the dint of armed heels.”

7. “As for the grass, it grew as scant as hair
    In leprosy; their dry blades pricked the mud
    Which underneath looked kneaded up with blood.
  One stiff blind horse, his every bone a-stare,
  Stood stupefied, however he came there:
    Thrust out past service from the devil’s stud.”

8. “For the main criminal I have no hope
   Except in such a suddenness of fate.
   I stood at Naples once, a night so dark
   I could have scarce conjectured there was earth
   Anywhere, sky or sea or world at all:
   But the night’s black was burst through by a
   Thunder struck blow on blow, earth groaned and
   Through her whole length of mountain visible:
   There lay the city thick and plain with spires,
   And, like a ghost disshrouded, white the sea.
   So may the truth be flashed out by one blow,
   And Guido see, one instant, and be saved.”

Chapter V

A fresh and clear discussion of the principles governing Rhythm and Metre may be found in C. E. Andrews’s Writing and Reading of Verse. The well-known books by Alden, Corson, Gummere, Lewis, Mayor, Omond, Raymond and Saintsbury are indicated in the Bibliography. Note also the bibliographies given by Alden and Patterson.

I have emphasized in this chapter the desirability of compromise in some hotly contested disputes over terminology and methods of metrical notation. Perhaps I have gone farther in this direction than some teachers will wish to go. But all classroom discussion should be accompanied by oral reading of verse, by the teacher and if possible by pupils, and the moment oral interpretations begin, it will be evident that “a satisfied ear” is more important than an exact agreement upon methods of notation.

I venture to add here, for their suggestiveness, a few passages about Rhythm and Metre, and finally, as an exercise in the study of the prevalence of the “iambic roll” in sentimental oratory, an address by Robert G. Ingersoll.

1. “Suppose that we figure the nervous current which corresponds to consciousness as proceeding, like so many other currents of nature, in waves–then we do receive a new apprehension, if not an explanation, of the strange power over us of successive strokes.... Whatever things occupy our attention–events, objects, tones, combinations of tones, emotions, pictures, images, ideas–our consciousness of them will be heightened by the rhythm as though it consisted of waves.”
EASTMAN, The Enjoyment of Poetry, p. 93.

2. “Rhythm of pulse is the regular alternation of units made up of beat and pause; rhythm in verse is a measured or standardized arrangement of sound relations. The difference between rhythm of pulse and rhythm in verse is that the one is known through touch, the other through hearing; as rhythm, they are essentially the same kind of thing. Viewed generally and externally, then, verse is language that is beaten into measured rhythm, or that has some type of uniform or standard rhythmical arrangement.”
FAIRCHILD, The Making of Poetry, p. 117.

3. “A Syllable is a body of sound brought out with an independent, single, and unbroken breath (Sievers). This syllable may be long or short, according to the time it fills; compare the syllables in merrily with the syllables in corkscrew. Further, a syllable may be heavy or light (also called accented or unaccented) according as it receives more or less force or stress of tone: compare the two syllables of treamer. Lastly, a syllable may have increased or diminished height-of tone,–pitch: cf. the so-called ’rising inflection’ at the end of a question. Now, in spoken language, there are infinite degrees of length, of stress, of pitch....

“It is a well-known property of human speech that it keeps up a ceaseless change between accented and unaccented syllables. A long succession of accented syllables becomes unbearably monotonous; a long succession of unaccented syllables is, in effect, impossible. Now when the ear detects at regular intervals a recurrence of accented syllables, varying with unaccented, it perceives Rhythm. Measured intervals of time are the basis of all verse, and their regularity marks off poetry from prose; so that Time is thus the chief element in Poetry, as it is in Music and in Dancing. From the idea of measuring these time-intervals, we derive the name Metre; Rhythm means pretty much the same thing,–’a flowing,’ an even, measured motion. This rhythm is found everywhere in nature: the beat of the heart, the ebb and flow of the sea, the alternation of day and night. Rhythm is not artificial, not an invention; it lies at the heart of things, and in rhythm the noblest emotions find their noblest expression." GUMMERE, Handbook of Poetics, p. 133.

4. “It was said of Chopin that in playing his waltzes his left hand kept absolutely perfect time, while his right hand constantly varied the rhythm of the melody, according to what musicians call tempo rubato,’stolen’ or distorted time. Whether this is true in fact, or even physically possible, has been doubted; but it represents a perfectly familiar possibility of the mind. Two streams of sound pass constantly through the inner ear of one who understands or appreciates the rhythm of our verse: one, never actually found in the real sounds which are uttered, is the absolute rhythm, its equal time-intervals moving on in infinitely perfect progression; the other, represented by the actual movement of the verse, is constantly shifting by quickening, retarding, strengthening or weakening its sounds, yet always hovers along the line of the perfect rhythm, and bids the ear refer to that perfect rhythm the succession of its pulsations." ALDEN, An Introduction to Poetry, p. 188.

5. “Many lines in Swinburne cannot be scanned at all except by the Lanier method, which reduces so-called feet to their purely musical equivalents of time bars. What, for instance, can be made by the formerly accepted systems of prosody of such hexameters as

’Full-sailed, wide-winged, poised softly forever asway?’

The usual explanation of this line is that Mr. Swinburne, carelessly, inadvertently, or for some occult purpose, interjected one line of five feet among his hexameters and the scansion usually followed is by arrangement into a pentameter, thus:

’Full-sailed | wide-winged | poised softly | forever | asway,’

the first two feet being held to be spondees, and the third and fourth amphibrachs. It has also been proposed to make the third foot a spondee or an iambus, and the remaining feet anapaests, thus:

’Full-sailed | wide-winged | poised soft- | ly forev- | er asway.’

“The confusion of these ideas is enough to mark them as unscientific and worthless, to say nothing of the severe reflection they cast on the poet’s workmanship. We have not so known Mr. Swinburne, for, if there be anything he has taught us about himself it is his strenuous and sometimes absurd particularity about immaculate form. He would never overlook a line of five feet in a poem of hexameters. But–as will, I think, appear later and conclusively–the line is really of six feet, and is not iambic, trochaic, anapaestic, the spurious spondaic that some writers have tried to manufacture for English verse, or anything else recognized in Coleridge’s immortal stanza, or in text-books. It simply cannot be scanned by classical rules; it cannot be weighed justly, and its full meaning extracted, by any of the ’trip-time’ or ’march-time’ expedients of other investigators. It is purely music; and when read by the method of music appears perfectly designed and luminous with significance. Only a poet that was at heart a composer could have made such a phrase, based upon such intimate knowledge of music’s rhythmical laws." C. E. RUSSELL, “Swinburne and Music” North American Review, November, 1907.

6. Dr. Henry Osborn Taylor has kindly allowed me to quote this passage from his Classical Heritage of the Middle Ages, pp. 246, 247:

“Classic metres expressed measured feelings. Hexameters had given voice to many emotions beautifully, with unfailing modulation of calm or storm. They had never revealed the infinite heart of God, or told the yearning of the soul responding; nor were they ever to be the instrument of these supreme disclosures in Christian times. Such unmeasured feelings could not be held within the controlled harmonies of the hexameter nor within sapphic or alcaic or Pindaric strophes. These antique forms of poetry definitely expressed their contents, although sometimes suggesting further unspoken feeling, which is so noticeable with Virgil. But characteristic Christian poetry, like the Latin mediaeval hymn, was not to express its meaning as definitely or contain its significance. Mediaeval hymns are childlike, having often a narrow clearness in their literal sense; and they may be childlike, too, in their expressed symbolism. Their significance reaches far beyond their utterance; they suggest, they echo, and they listen; around them rolls the voice of God, the infinitude of His love and wrath, heaven’s chorus and hell’s agonies; dies irae, dies illa–that line says little, but mountains of wrath press on it, from which the soul shall not escape.

“Christian emotion quivers differently from any movement of the spirit in classic measures. The new quiver, the new shudder, the utter terror, and the utter love appear in mediaeval rhymed accentual poetry:

  Desidero te millies,
  Mê Jesu; quando venies?
  Me laetum quando facies,
  Ut vultu tuo saties?

  Quo dolore
  Quo moerore
  Deprimuntur miseri,
  Qui abyssis
  Pro commissis
  Submergentur inferi.

  Recordare, Jesu pie,
  Quod sum causa tuae viae;
  Ne me perdas ilia die.
       *       *       *       *       *
  Lacrymosa dies illa
  Qua resurget ex fa villa,
  Judicandus homo reus;
  Huic ergo parce, Deus!
    Pie Jesu, Domine,
    Dona eis requiem.

“Let any one feel the emotion of these verses and then turn to some piece of classic poetry, a passage from Homer or Virgil, an elegiac couplet or a strophe from Sappho or Pindar or Catullus, and he will realize the difference, and the impossibility of setting the emotion of a mediaeval hymn in a classic metre.”

7. ’Friends: I know how vain it is to gild a grief with words, and yet I wish to take from every grave its fear. Here in this world, where life and death are equal things, all should be brave enough to meet what all the dead have met. The future has been filled with fear, stained and polluted by the heartless past. From the wondrous tree of life the buds and blossoms fall with ripened fruit, and in the common bed of earth, the patriarchs and babes sleep side by side.

“Why should we fear that which will come to all that is?

“We cannot tell, we do not know, which is the greater blessing–life or death. We do not know whether the grave is the end of this life, or the door of another, or whether the night here is not somewhere else at dawn. Neither can we tell which is the more fortunate–the child dying in its mother’s arms, before its lips have learned to form a word, or he who journeys all the length of life’s uneven road, painfully taking the last slow steps with staff and crutch.

“Every cradle asks us, ’Whence?’ and every coffin, ’Whither?’ The poor barbarian, weeping above his dead, can answer these questions as intelligently as the robed priest of the most authentic creed. The tearful ignorance of the one is just as consoling as the learned and unmeaning words of the other. No man, standing where the horizon of a life has touched a grave, has any right to prophesy a future filled with pain and tears. It may be that death gives all there is of worth to life. If those we press and strain against our hearts could never die, perhaps that love would wither from the earth. Maybe this common fate treads from out the paths between our hearts the weeds of selfishness and hate, and I had rather live and love where death is king, than have eternal life where love is not. Another life is naught, unless we know and love again the ones who love us here.

“They who stand with aching hearts around this little grave need have no fear. The larger and the nobler faith in all that is and is to be tells us that death, even at its worst, is only perfect rest. We know that through the common wants of life–the needs and duties of each hour–their griefs will lessen day by day, until at last this grave will be to them a place of rest and peace–almost of joy. There is for them this consolation. The dead do not suffer. And if they live again, their lives will surely be as good as ours. We have no fear. We are all children of the same mother, and the same fate awaits us all.

“We, too, have our religion, and it is this: Help for the living, hope for the dead.”
ROBERT G. INGERSOLL, “Address over a Little Boy’s Grave.”

Chapter VI

I have not attempted in this chapter to give elaborate illustrations of the varieties of rhyme and stanza in English poetry. Full illustrations will be found in Alden’s English Verse. A clear statement of the fundamental principles involved is given in W. H. Carruth’s Verse Writing.

Free verse is suggestively discussed by Lowes, Convention and Revolt, chapters 6 and 7, and by Andrews, Writing and Reading of Verse, chapters 5 and 19. Miss Amy Lowell has written fully about it in the Prefaces to Sword Blades and Poppy Seed and Can Grande’s Castle, in the final chapter of Tendencies in Modern American Poetry, in the Prefaces to Some Imagist Poets, and in the North American Review for January, 1917. Mr. Braithwaite’s annual Anthologies of American Verse give a full bibliography of special articles upon this topic.

An interesting classroom test of the difference between prose rhythm and verse rhythm with strongly marked metre and rhyme may be found in comparing Emerson’s original prose draft of his “Two Rivers,” as found in volume 9 of his Journal, with three of the stanzas of the finished poem:

“Thy voice is sweet, Musketaquid, and repeats the music of the ram, but sweeter is the silent stream which flows even through thee, as thou through the land.

“Thou art shut in thy banks, but the stream I love flows in thy water, and flows through rocks and through the air and through rays of light as well, and through darkness, and through men and women.

“I hear and see the inundation and the eternal spending of the stream in winter and in summer, in men and animals, in passion and thought. Happy are they who can hear it.”

  “Thy summer voice, Musketaquit,
    Repeats the music of the rain;
  But sweeter rivers pulsing flit
    Through thee, as thou through Concord plain.

  “Thou in thy narrow banks are pent;
    The stream I love unbounded goes
  Through flood and sea and firmament;
    Through light, through life, it forward flows.

  “I see the inundation sweet,
    I hear the spending of the stream
  Through years, through men, through nature fleet,
    Through love and thought, through power and dream.”

I also suggest for classroom discussion the following brief passages from recent verse, printed without the authors’ names:

1. “The milkman never argues; he works alone and no one speaks to him; the city is asleep when he is on his job; he puts a bottle on six hundred porches and calls it a day’s work; he climbs two hundred wooden stairways; two horses are company for him; he never argues.”

2. “Sometimes I have nervous moments–
   there is a girl who looks at me strangely
   as much as to say,
   You are a young man,
   and I am a young woman,
   and what are you going to do about it?
   And I look at her as much as to say,
   I am going to keep the teacher’s desk
     between us, my dear,
   as long as I can.”

3. “I hold her hands and press her to my breast.

“I try to fill my arms with her loveliness, to plunder her sweet smile with kisses, to drink her dark glances with my eyes.

“Ah, but where is it? Who can strain the blue from the sky?

“I try to grasp the beauty; it eludes me, leaving only the body in my hands.

“Baffled and weary, I came back. How can the body touch the flower which only the spirit may touch?”

4. “Child, I smelt the flowers,
   The golden flowers ... hiding in crowds like fairies at my feet,
   And as I smelt them the endless smile of the infinite broke over me,
     and I knew that they and you and I were one.
   They and you and I, the cowherds and the cows, the jewels and the
     potter’s wheel, the mothers and the light in baby’s eyes.
   For the sempstress when she takes one stitch may make nine unnecessary;
   And the smooth and shining stone that rolls and rolls like the great
     river may gain no moss,
   And it is extraordinary what a lot you can do with a platitude when you
     dress it up in Blank Prose.
   Child, I smelt the flowers.”

Chapter VII

Recent criticism has been rich in its discussions of the lyric. John Drinkwater’s little volume on The Lyric is suggestive. See also C. E. Whitmore’s article in the Pub. Mod. Lang. Ass., December, 1918. Rhys’s Lyric Poetry, Schelling’s English Lyric, Reed’s English Lyrical Poetry cover the whole field of the historical English lyric. A few books on special periods are indicated in the “Notes” to chapter ix.

An appreciation of the lyric mood can be helped greatly by adequate oral reading in the classroom. For teachers who need suggestions as to oral interpretation, Professor Walter Barnes’s edition of Palgrave’s Golden Treasury (Row, Petersen & Co., Chicago) is to be commended.

The student’s ability to analyse a lyric poem should be tested by frequent written exercises. The method of criticism may be worked out by the individual teacher, but I have found it useful to ask students to test a poem by some or all of the following questions:

(a) What kind of experience, thought or emotion furnishes the basis for this lyric? What kind or degree of sensitiveness to the facts of nature? What sort of inner mood or passion? Is the “motive” of this lyric purely personal? If not, what other relationships or associations are involved?

(b) What sort of imaginative transformation of the material furnished by the senses? What kind of imagery? Is it true poetry or only verse?

(c) What degree of technical mastery of lyric structure? Subordination of material to unity of “tone”? What devices of rhythm or sound to heighten the intended effect? Noticeable words or phrases? Does the author’s power of artistic expression keep pace with his feeling and imagination?

Chapter VIII

For a discussion of narrative verse in general, see Gummere’s Poeticsand Oldest English Epic, Hart’s Epic and Ballad, Council’s Study of Poetry, and Matthew Arnold’s essay “On Translating Homer.”

For the further study of ballads, note G. L. Kittredge’s one volume edition of Child’s English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Gummere’s Popular Ballad, G. H. Stempel’s Book of Ballads, J. A. Lomax’s Cowboy Songs and other Frontier Ballads, and Hart’s summary of Child’s views in Pub. Mod. Lang. Ass., vol. 21, 1906. The Oxford Book of English Verse, Nos. 367-389, gives excellent specimens.

All handbooks on Poetics discuss the Ode. Gosse’s English Odes and William Sharp’s Great Odes are good collections.

For the sonnet, note Corson’s chapter in his Primer of English Verse, and the Introduction to Miss Lockwood’s collection. There are other well-known collections by Leigh Hunt, Hall Caine and William Sharp. Special articles on the sonnet are noted in Poole’s Index.

The dramatic monologue is well discussed by Claude Howard, The Dramatic Monologue, and by S. S. Curry, The Dramatic Monologue in Tennyson and Browning.

Chapter IX

The various periods of English lyric poetry are covered, as has been already noted, by the general treatises of Rhys, Reed and Schelling. Old English lyrics are well translated by Cook and Tinker, and by Pancoast and Spaeth. W. P. Ker’s English Literature; Mediaeval is excellent, as is C. S. Baldwin’s English Mediaeval Literature. John Erskine’s Elizabethan Lyric is a valuable study. Schelling’s introduction to his Selections from the Elizabethan Lyric should also be noted, as well as his similar book on the Seventeenth-Century Lyric. Bernbaum’s English Poets of the Eighteenth Century is a careful selection, with a scholarly introduction. Studies of the English poetry of the Romantic period are very numerous: Oliver Elton’s Survey of English Literature, 1780-1830, is one of the best. Courthope’s History of English Poetry and Saintsbury’s History of Criticism are full of material bearing upon the questions discussed in this chapter.

Professor Legouis’s account of the change in atmosphere as one passes from Old English to Old French poetry is so delightful that I refrain from spoiling it by a translation:

“En quittant Beowulf ou la Bataille de Maldon pour le Roland, on a l’impression de sortir d’un lieu sombre pour entrer dans la lumière. Cette impression vous vient de tous les côtés à la fois, des lieux décrits, des sujets, de la manière de raconter, de l’esprit qui anime, de l’intelligence qui ordonne, mais, d’une façon encore plus immédiate et plus diffuse, de la différence des deux langues. On reconnaît sans doute généralement à nos vieux écrivains ce mérite d’être clairs, mais on est trop habitué à ne voir dans ce don que ce qui découle des tendances analytiques et des aptitudes logiques de leurs esprit. Aussi plusieurs critiques, quelques-uns français, ont-ils fait de cet attribut une manière de prétexte pour leur assigner en partage la prose et pour leur retirer la faculté poétique. Il n’en est pas ainsi. Cette clarté n’est pas purement abstraite. Elle est une véritable lumière qui rayonne même des voyelles et dans laquelle les meilleurs vers des trouvères–les seuls qui comptent–sont baignés. Comment dire l’éblouissement des yeux longtemps retenus dans la pénombre du Codex Exoniensis et devant qui passent soudain avec leurs brillantes syllables ’Halte-Clerc,’ l’épée d’Olivier, ’Joyeuse’ celle de Charlemagne, ’Monjoie’ l’étendard des Francs? Avant toute description on est saisi comme par un brusque lever de soleil. Il est tels vers de nos vieilles romances d’où la lumière ruisselle sans même qu’on ait besoin de prendre garde à leur sens:

  “’Bele Erembors a la fenestre au jor
  Sor ses genolz tient paile de color,’
[Footnote: “Fair Erembor at her window in daylight
    Holds a coloured silk stuff on her knees."]

ou bien

  “’Bele Yolanz en chambre coie
  Sor ses genolz pailes desploie
  Coust un fil d’or, l’autre de soie...."
[Footnote: “Fair Yoland in her quiet bower
    Unfolds silk stuffs on her knees
    Sewing now a thread of gold, now one of silk."]

C’est plus que de la lumière qui s’échappe de ces mots, c’est de la couleur et de la plus riche." [Footnote: Emile Legouis, Défense de la Poésie Française, p. 44.]

Chapter X

While this chapter does not attempt to comment upon the work of living American authors, except as illustrating certain general tendencies of the lyric, I think that teachers of poetry should avail themselves of the present interest in contemporary verse. Students of a carefully chosen volume of selections, like the Oxford Book, should be competent to pass some judgment upon strictly contemporary poetry, and I have found them keenly interested in criticizing the work that is appearing, month by month, in the magazines. The temperament and taste of the individual teacher must determine the relative amount of attention that can be given to our generation, as compared with the many generations of the past.


Preface  •  Part I: Poetry in General  •  Chapter II  •  Chapter III  •  Chapter IV  •  Chapter V  •  Chapter VI  •  Part II: The Lyric in Particular  •  Chapter VIII  •  Chapter IX  •  Chapter X  •  Notes and Illustrations  •  Appendix  •  Bibliography  •  Index

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