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Though versification be one of the criteria that distinguish poetry from prose, yet it is not the sole mark of distinction. Were the histories of Polybius and Livy simply turned into verse, they would not become poems; because they would be destitute of those figures, embellishments, and flights of imagination, which display the poet's art and invention. On the other hand, we have many productions that justly lay claim to the title of poetry, without having the advantage of versification; witness the Psalms of David, the Song of Solomon, with many beautiful hymns, descriptions, and rhapsodies, to be found in different parts of the Old Testament, some of them the immediate production of divine inspiration; witness the Celtic fragments* which have lately appeared in the English language, and are certainly replete with poetical merit. But though good versification alone will not constitute poetry, bad versification alone will certainly degrade and render disgustful the sublimest sentiments and finest flowers of imagination. This humiliating power of bad verse appears in many translations of the ancient poets; in Ogilby's Homer, Trapp's Virgil, and frequently in Creech's Horace. This last indeed is not wholly devoid of spirit; but it seldom rises above mediocrity, and, as Horace says,
Mediocribus esse poetis
But God and man, and letter'd post denies,
How is that beautiful ode, beginning with Justum et tenacem propositi virum, chilled and tamed by the following translation:
He who by principle is sway'd,
Is neither of the crowd afraid,
Though civil broils the state inflame;
Nor to a haughty tyrant's frown will stoop,
Nor to a raging storm, when all the winds are up.
Should nature with convulsions shake,
That long Alexandrine-" Nor to a raging storm, when all the winds are up," is drawling, feeble, swoln with a pleonasm or tautology, as well as deficient in the rhyme; and as for the "dreadful crack," in the next stanza, instead of exciting terror, it conveys a low and ludicrous idea. How much more elegant and energetic is this paraphrase of the same ode, inserted in one of the volumes of Hume's History of England:
The man whose mind, on virtue bent,
Serene beholds the angry crowd;
Nor the proud tyrant's fiercest threat,
Nor Jove's dread bolt, that shakes the pole,
With all its power can shake.
Should nature's frame in ruins fall,
His courage chance and fate defies,
If poetry exists independent of versification, it will naturally be asked, how then is it to be distinguished ? Undoubtedly by its own peculiar expression: it has a language of its own, which speaks so feelingly to the heart, and so pleasingly to the imagination, that its meaning cannot possibly be misunderstood by any person of delicate sensations. It is a species of painting with words, in which the figures are happily conceived, ingeniously arranged, affectingly expressed, and recommended with all the warmth and harmony of colouring: it consists of imagery, description, metaphors, similes, and sentiments, adapted with propriety to the subject, so contrived and executed as to sooth the ear, surprise and delight the fancy, mend and melt the heart, elevate the mind, and please the understanding. According to Flaccus :
Aut prodesse volunt, aut delectare poetæ ;
Poets would profit or delight mankind,
Omne tulit punctum, qui miscuit utile dulci,
Profit and pleasure mingled thus with art,'
Tropes and figures are likewise liberally used in rhetoric; and some of the most celebrated orators have owned themselves much indebted to the poets. Theophrastus expressly recommends the poets for this purpose. From their source, the spirit and energy of the pathetic, the sublime, and the beautiful, are derived.* But these figures must be more sparingly used in rhetoric than in poetry, and even then mingled with argumentation, and a detail of facts altogether different from poetical narration. The poet, instead of simply relating the incident, strikes off a glowing picture of the scene, and exhibits it in the most lively colours to the eye of the imagination. "It is reported that Homer was blind," says Tully in his Tusculan Questions, "yet his poetry is no other than painting. What country, what climate, what ideas, battles, commotions, and contests of men, as well as of wild beasts, has he not painted in such a manner, as to bring before our eyes those very scenes which he himself could not behold!"+ We cannot, therefore, subscribe to the opinion of some ingenious critics, who have blamed Mr Pope for deviating in some instances from the simplicity of Homer, in his translation of the Iliad and Odyssey. For example, the Grecian bard says simply, the sun rose; and his translator gives us a beautiful picture of the sun rising. Homer mentions a person who played upon the lyre; the translator sets him before us warbling to the silver strings. If this be a deviation, it is at the same time an improvement. Homer himself, as Cicero observes above, is full of this kind of painting, and particularly fond of description, even in situations where the action seems to require haste. Neptune,
*Namque ab his (scilicet poetis) et in rebus spiritus, et in verbis sublimitas, et in affectibus motus omnis, et in personis decor petitur. QUINTILIAN. l. x.
+ Quæ regio, quæ ora, quæ species formæ, quæ pugna, qui malus hominum, qui ferarum, non ita expictus est, ut quæ ipse non viderit, nos ut videremus, effecerit !
observing from Samothrace the discomfiture of the Grecians before Troy, flies to their assistance, and might have been wafted thither in half a line: but the bard describes him, first, descending the mountain on which he sat; secondly, striding toward his palace at Ægæ, and yoking his horses thirdly, he describes him putting on his armour; and, lastly, ascending his car, and driving along the surface of the sea. Far from being disgusted by these delays, we are delighted with the particulars of the description. Nothing can be more sublime than the circumstance of the mountain's trembling beneath the footsteps of an immortal :
-Τρέμε δ' οὐρέα μακρά καὶ ὕλη
Ποσσὶν ὑπ ̓ ἀθανάτοισι Ποσειδάωνος όντος.
But his passage to the Grecian fleet is altogether transporting.
He mounts the car, the golden scourge applies,
With great veneration for the memory of Mr Pope, we cannot help objecting to some lines of this translation. We have no idea of the sea's exulting and crowning Neptune, after it had subsided into a level plain. There is no such image in the original. Homer says, the whales exulted, and knew, or owned their king; and that the sea parted with joy : γηθοσύνη δὲ θαλάσσα διίσατο. Neither is there a word of the wondering waters: we therefore think the lines might 'be thus altered to advantage:
They knew and own'd the monarch of the main :
The sea subsiding spreads a level plain;
The curling waves before his coursers fly;
The parting surface leaves his brazen axle dry.
Besides the metaphors, similes, and allusions of poetry, there is an infinite variety of tropes, or turns of expression, occasionally disseminated through works of genius, which serve to animate the whole, and distinguish the glowing effusions of real inspiration from the cold efforts of mere science. These tropes consist of a certain happy choice and arrangement of words, by which ideas are artfully disclosed in a great variety of attitudes; of epithets, and compound epithets : of sounds collected in order to echo the sense conveyed; of apostrophes; and, above all, the enchanting use of the prosopopoeia, which is a kind of magic, by which the poet gives life and motion to every inanimate part of nature. Homer, describing the wrath of Agamemnon, in the first book of the Iliad, strikes off a glowing image in two words: ὄσσε δ ̓ οἱ πυρὶ λαμπετόυντι ἐΐκτην.
and from his eyeballs flash'd the living fire.
This indeed is a figure which has been copied by Virgil, and almost all the poets of every age,―oculis micat acribus ignis ―ignescunt iræ : auris dolor ossibus ardet. Milton, describing Satan in hell, says,
With head uplift above the wave, and eye
-He spake and to confirm his words out flew
Far round illumined hell.
There are certain words in every language particularly adapted to the poetical expression; some from the image or idea they convey to the imagination, and some from the effect they have upon the ear. The first are truly figurative; the others may be called emphatical. Rollin observes, that Virgil has, upon many occasions, poetized (if we may be allowed the expression) a whole sentence by means of the same word, which is pendere.
Ite meæ, felix qondam pecus, ite capellæ,
Non ego vos posthac, viridi projectus in antro,