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Wordsworth is at one with Milton in to the poet; it requires, in a word, fixing upon passion
the es- genius. One could hardly expect Milsence of poetry, which he in one place ton to point this out; having genius defines as “the spontaneous overflow himself he would assume that every of powerful feelings," It does not one else had genius; he would assume matter for poetry what the emotion is that we all had the power of looking that overflows; it may be love or hate, at the world not only frankly but pity or, fear, awe or indignation, joy freshly, because he would not underor sorrow; what matters for poetry is stand any other way of looking at it. that some passion there should be, for Now, it is this fresh outlook and insome particular object, and that it sight, this power of viewing things should be sincerely and deeply felt. and people out of the associations in
Essential, however, as passion is, so which the rest of mankind habitually that where there is no passion there view them, that is the root of the can be no poetry, in saying passion we whole matter. In the world of nature have not said the last word. Any one we find the poets moved even to pasmay prove this to himself by a simple
sion by objects that we hardly notice, reminiscence. He may at some time
or from long familiarity have come to have been in love, for, according to
ignore. Their strong emotion arises Patmore, "Love wakes men once a from their fresh vision. By means of lifetime each;" and, perhaps, in that fresh vision the world mood of exaltation he may have taken
ceases to be an interesting place to pen and paper for a sonnet to his mis
them. tress' eyebrow; but the poetry did not come; or, if something
By the murmur of a spring, calmer mood he recognized that it Or the least bough's rustling, was not poetry. Or we may illustrate By a daisy whose leaves spread from other passions. At the Queen's
Shut when Titan goes to bed, Jubilee a few years since we were all
Or a shady bush or tree,
She could more infuse in me passionately loyal, and the morning
Than all Nature's beauties can newspapers vied with each other in
In some other wiser man. producing odes; but no one could mistake any one of them for poetry. Or,
So sang Wither of the Poetic Muse; the other day, again, when the Rennes
and Blake expresses the same truth verdict was announced, the intelli
in his inspired doggerel: gence of England was roused to passion of indignation. I took up my What to others a trifle appears weekly gazette the next Saturday Fills me full of smiles and tears. morning and found that indignation . had made a good many verses, in none The converse of the proposition also of which was there a tincture of po- holds true: what to others inay appear etry. There was much cursing and facts of the highest importance, may swearing, and appealing to Heaven to the poet appear trifles. Similarly for vengeance; but the point of view in the world of men we find the poets was merely that of the man in the as much interested in the least as in street.
the greatest, and we find them unconThese simple examples will surice cerned by many of the distinctions te show that poetry requires a manner which to mankind in general appear of viewing things which is not that vital. We find, for example, Andrew of the average man, but is individual Marvell introducing into his panegyric
of Oliver Protector a picture of King or interprets, or idealizes, is what is Charles at his execution, which em- meant by Poetical Imagination. balms the secret of all the cavalier But now that that most terrifying loyalty, and is to-day the oftenest of technical terms has been mentioned, quoted passage of his poem.
it may be well to make a short sumThe poet's subjects, then, are bor- mary of the various senses in which rowed from any quarter in the whole the word is habitually employed, in range of nature and human experi- order to observe what all, or any, of ence; "the world is all before him them have in common, and how they where to choose;" anything that ex- connect one with another. cites any deep emotion in him is a (a.) When a psychologist speaks of fit topic for his verse, and it is our imagination he is not thinking of poprivilege for the moment, so far as etry;
he means by the word the that one experience is concerned, to power of summoning again before the look through his eyes. In this way
mind's eye vivid images of what has the poets interpret the world to us. been once seen. He bids us look careThey also interpret us to ourselves. fully at our breakfast-table, and then, They make adventurous voyages into closing our eyes, notice how much of hitherto unsounded seas of the human it we can recall, how clear or dim an spirit, and bring us word of their dis- image. Whether skill in this memorycoveries. And what they thus win picturing has any link with poetical becomes an inalienable possession to imagination it would be hard to say; the race; the boundaries of humanity certainly to no one would a power of are pushed back. This power of in- vividly recalling images be of greater terpreting the world and human life service. The faculty seems to be enis sometimes spoken of as an idealiz- tirely distinct from the power of ating faculty, and no exception can be tention and close observation. taken to the term so long as it is not (6.) A more familiar usage of the explained to mean that the poet tricks word is that which makes it almost a up what he sees in false lights in or- synonym for sympathy-the power of der to please us. For any one who projecting self into the circumstances considers the best poetry, whether
of others. We know to our cost that about the universe or man's heart,
many men and women are sadly to and it is only the best that nust de- seek in this faculty, and it seems to termine the genus-will admit that, be no especial prerogative of poets, so far as he has trusted himself to it, though Shelley thought so. He speaks it has convinced him of its entire
of the poet asveracity. It is idealized only in the sense that a landscape is idealized by ·
A nerve o'er which do creep the removal of the accidental and The else unfelt oppressions of the commonplace details, which sufficed to earth. blind others to the beauty that the painter distinguished. The artist, poet And in his prose essay he says: “A or painter, sees the light that never man to be greatly good must imagine was on sea or land until he saw it; intensely and comprehensively; he but when he has once seen it and must put himself in the place of an. shown it us, we can all see that it is other, and of many others; the pains there, and is not merely a figment of and pleasures of his species must behis fancy. This mode of viewing come his own;" and he continues, things, which by its freshness reveals, "The great instrument of moral good
is imagination, and poetry administers sight seem the opposite of this-a facto the effect by acting upon the cause." ulty of seeing people and objects not (Essays, i, 16.)
as they are in themselves, but col. Shelley in this passage is no doubt ored by the atmosphere of joy theorizing too much from his own per- gloom through which they are seen. sonal feelings; for it has often been The truth, however, probably is that remarked that poets have been singu- nothing at all is, or ever can be, seen larly lacking in imagination of this out of some atmosphere, a thing in moral sort, and have been conspicuous itself being merely an abstraction; but for an intense selfishness in their do- the greater a poet is, the more various. mestic relations.
are his moods, while with lesser men (c.) But the word is also used not of a particular mood may cover all the moral, but of intellectual sympathy; a objects in their poetical world. power of appreciating, by an act of in- (e.) Again, the word has a narrower tuition, the characteristic qualities of and more technical sense; namely, the things and people, so as to be able to power of detecting resemblances in set out a train of consequences.
A nature for the purpose of poetical ilcelebrated novelist was once congratu- lustration. This use of the term is lated upon the admirable drawing in not merely freakish, but connects pith. one of her books of a particular school that broader and more fundamental or Dissenters, and she was asked what sense to which I have so many times. opportunities she had enjoyed of referred, the power and habit of seestudying them. Her reply was that ing the "common things that round us she had once caught sight of a group lie" out of their commonplace assoof them through a half-opened door ciations, of seeing them in more subtle. as she mounted a staircase. That is and original associations. For it is no doubt an extreme case, but it is the power of bringing together two all the more useful as an illustration. objects or events that the ordinary It helps us to realize how potent a person would never dream of connectfaculty is the endowment of the dra- ing, but in which the poet's eye has matist, which can pierce through hu- detected similarity, and which he man appearance to its essential quali- therefore places side by side so that ties, can conceive by a sure instinct one may throw light upon the other. how, in given circumstances, the given Our thinking, it will be admitted, is character must act, and can repre- largely associational; one thing recalls sent it to us, because it is vivid to another; but it is the prerogative of him, in all the verisimilitude of es- poets that the tracks between idea and sential detail. Such imagination is idea in their minds are not those of plainly one large and special side of common trade. Recur for a moment the faculty of seeing things out of to Wither's reference to a daisy. We their commonplace associations. As a know beforehand what a daisy will branch of the same head would rank suggest to a child, what to a gardener, the still rarer power of conceiving what to a botanist; we do not know types of character, that for certain beforehand what it will suggest to a reasons have no actual existence in poet. It may be, as it was to Chaucer, the world we know, such types as a crowned queen:Shakespeare's Ariel and Caliban and Puck.
A fret of gold she haddë next her hair, (d.) The word imagination is also And upon that a white corown she used of a faculty which may at first bare
With flourouns smallë, and (I shall not not at all mean Imagination to be dislie)
tinguished from Fancy as the percepFor all the world right as a daisy tion of deeper from that or more suYcrowned is with whitë leaves light,
perficial resemblances; he wished the So were the flourouns of her corown
term Fancy to be kept for the use of white.
poetical imagery of all kinds, and the How utterly different from this is
term Imagination to be used of the the feeling of Burns! To him the daisy poet's faculty as a creative artist. He is the type of humble cheerfulness,
speaks of it as a unifying power,
bringing together whatever will help sweet neighbor and meet companion
his purpose, and rejecting all that is of the humble and cheerful lark.
impertinent and unessential. He How different, again,
speaks of it also as a vivifying power, feeling it inspired in Wordsworth!
turning "bodies to spirits by sublimaThe point to strike home to him was
tion strange." That is to say he ses the touch of kinship between the sim
Imagination not so much of a quality julest flower and man in the fact that
of the poet's mind as of an artistic loth are alive:
power which he exercises, the power Sweet silent creature
of imposing living form upon dead That breathest with me in sun and air.
matter,- he calls it in the "Ode to De
jection" "my shaping spirit of imaginaImagination, used in this restricted tion;"—but it is not hard to see that sense of the interpretation of phenom. this unifying and vitalizing power deena by comparison, is often contiasteel pends upon what is the characteristic with a weaker form of itself tu which essence of imagination, the unanalyzthe name of l'ancy is given. The dis- able power of seeing things freshly. tinction
introduced into these and in new and harmonious associ:dislands by Coleridge, who endeavored tions. The idea must precede the exeto teach it to Wordsworth; it
cution, and it is a small matter then popularized by Leigh Hunt and whether the term Imagination be emafterwards by Ruskin. It has played ployed of the idea or the embodiment. in the last half century so prominent Between Imagination and Fancy, a part in the criticism of poetry, that therefore, Coleridge conceived it is perhaps worth while to look it them, there could be no confusion. for once fairly in the face. Coleridge The trouble began with Wordswas always promising to give a diz- worth. By Imagination, as by Fancy, quisition upon Poetical Imagination. Wordsworth practically means the but he never kept his word; he did, use of poetical imagery; but he ashowever, what was almost better; in cribes to the higher faculty the images the “Biographia Literaria" he illus- which occur to the poet, not in his sutrated his meaning from some pas- perficial moods, but under the sages in his friend's poems; and we fiuence of deeper emotion.? Leigh gather from his comments that he did Hunt preserved and illustrated this
2 Characteristically Wordsworth, in his celebrated preface, illustrated what he meant by Imagination, not from his friend's poetry, but his own.
l'pon the line "Over his own sweet voice the stock-dove broods," he thus comments: **The stock-dove is said to coo, a sound well imitating the note of the bird; but by the intervention of the metapbor broods, the affec
tions are called in by the imagination to assist in marking the manner in which the bird reiterates and prolongs her soft note, as if berself delighting to listen to it, and participatory of a still and quiet satisfaction, like that which may be supposed inseparable from the continuous process of incubation."
And then comes this criticism:
distinction from a wide range of poets. Mr. Ruskin, in the second volume of "Modern Painters” (p. 163), turned aside from an elaborate disquisition upon Imagination in painting to speak of poetry. “The Fancy,” he says, "sees the outside, and so is able to give a portrait of the outside, clear, brilliant, and full of detail; the Imagination sees the heart and inner nature, and makes them felt, but it is often obscure, mysterious, and interrupted in its giving of outer detail. And then follows a remarkable parallel between the flower passage in “Lycidas”. and that in the "Winter's Tale,” greatly to the disadvantage of the former.
It will be remembered that the passage from "Lycidas" is printed with marginal notes, as follows:
Observe how the imagination in these last lines goes into the very inmost soul of every flower, after having touched them all at first with that heavenly timidness, the shadow of Proserpine's, and gilded them with celestial gathering, and never stops on their spots or their bodily shape; while Milton sticks in the stains upon them and puts us off with that unbappy freak of jet in the very flower that, without this bit of paper-staining, would have been the most precious to us of all. “There is pansies, that's for thoughts."
Bring the rathe primrose that forsaken dies,
Imagination. The tufted crow-toe, and pale jessamine,
Nugatory. The white pink, and the pansy freaked with jet,
Fancy. The glowing violet, Imagination. The musk-rose, and the well
attir'd woodbine, Fancy and vulgar. With cowslips wan that hang the pensive head,
Imagination. And every flower that sad embroidery wears.
I do not know whether this comparison has ever been the subject of adverse comment: I have often heard it praised. To me, I confess it seems a compendium of all the faults that a critic of poetry should avoid: way. wardness, preciosity, inattention, and the uncritical use of critical labels. In the first place the critic has ignored what is of the first consequence, the inotive of the two pieces, and has treated them as parallel flower-passages from a volume of elegant extracts; whereas no criticism can be to the point that does not recognize that Milton's flowers are being gathered for a funeral, and Shakespeare's are not to be gathered at all; they are visionary spring flowers, seen in glory through the autumn haze. Without going at length through each passage it is worth noticing that Shakespeare's lines about the primrose are open to precisely the same censure, no more and no less, as Mr. Ruskin accords to Milton's pansy. The epithet "pale" is very far from "going into the very inmost soul" of the primrose, which is a hardy flower, and not in the least anæmic; it "sticks in the stains” upon the surface as much the "freaked with jet;" and this, again, so far from being “unhappy," gives the reason why the pansy was chosen for
Then follows the passage from the “Winter's Tale":
O Proserpina, For the flowers now, that, frighted,
thou let'st fall From Dis's wagon! daffodils, That come before the swallow dares,
and take The winds of March with beauty;
violets, dim, But sweeter than the lids of Juno's
eyes, Or Cytherea's breath; pale primroses, That die unmarried, ere they can be
hold Bright Phoebus in his strength, a
malady Most incident to maids.
LIVING AGL. VOL. VIII. 409