She calls this a poem, which I would disagree because my limited to my knowledge I feel that poems have a rhythmic flow and rhyming verses which were missing in this one. Shu rated it it was amazing Jul 16, Luna rated it did not like it Sep 05, Apr 18, Miss rated it did not like it Shelves: I'm usually a huge fan of poetry, but this was not for me.
I felt like every poem was the same style. There wasn't really anything new or fresh. Purvi Petal marked it as to-read Mar 09, Jamie Piper marked it as to-read Mar 31, Frederick Rotzien marked it as to-read Mar 31, Gazmend Kryeziu marked it as to-read Mar 31, Mitesh Jain marked it as to-read Mar 31, Cynthia Cisneros marked it as to-read Mar 31, Melly Mel marked it as to-read Mar 31, Ronald Smith marked it as to-read Mar 31, Cheryl Bradley marked it as to-read Mar 31, Aysha marked it as to-read Mar 31, Sebin Jose Attokaran marked it as to-read Mar 31, Micielle marked it as to-read Mar 31, Betty marked it as to-read Mar 31, Nicola Fantom marked it as to-read Mar 31, Emma McDougall marked it as to-read Mar 31, Edgar Connell marked it as to-read Mar 31, Jaideep marked it as to-read Mar 31, Stacia Chappell marked it as to-read Mar 31, Heather Cain marked it as to-read Mar 31, Brittany marked it as to-read Mar 31, Beverly marked it as to-read Mar 31, Now and Prologue 22 ] again, an exquisite minor work can make a master feel thoroughly ashamed of himself.
The poet is the father of his poem; its mother is a language: A poet has to woo, not only his own Muse but also Dame Philology, and, for the beginner, the latter is the more im- portant. As a rule, the sign that a beginner has a genuine original talent is that he is more interested in playing with words than in saying something original; his attitude is that of the old lady, quoted by E. Rhymes, meters, stanza forms, etc.
If the master is fair enough to win their affection and firm enough to command their respect, the result is an orderly happy house- hold. If he is too tyrannical, they give notice; if he lacks au- thority, they become slovenly, impertinent, drunk and dishonest. In a few exceptional cases, this manly independence produces something original and impressive, but more often the result is squalor — dirty sheets on the unmade bed and empty bottles on the unswept floor.
There are some poets, Kipling for example, whose relation to language reminds one of a drill sergeant: There are others, Swinburne, for example, who remind one more of Svengali: Writing [ Due to the Curse of Babel, poetry is the most provincial of the arts, but today, when civilization is becoming monoto- nously the same all the world over, one feels inclined to regard this as a blessing rather than a curse: It is both the glory and the shame of poetry that its medium is not its private property, that a poet cannot invent his words and that words are products, not of nature, but of a human society which uses them for a thousand different purposes.
In modem societies where language is continually being debased and reduced to nonspeech, the poet is in constant danger of having his ear cormpted, a danger to which the painter and the composer, whose media are their private property, are not exposed. On the other hand he is more protected than they from another modern peril, that of solipsist subjectivity; however esoteric a poem may be, the fact that all its words have meanings which can be looked up in a dictionary makes it testify to the existence of other people.
Even the language of Finnegans Wake was not created by Joyce ex nihilo; a purely private verbal world is not possible. The difference between verse and prose is self-evident, but it is a sheer waste of time to look for a definition of the difference between poetry and prose. In the first place, even in the most rarefied poetry, there are some elements which are translatable. The sound of the words, their rhythmical relations, and all meanings and association of meanings which depend upon sound, like rhymes and puns, are, of course, untranslatable, but poetry is not, like music, pure sound.
Any elements in a poem whicn are not based on verbal experience are, to some degree, translatable into another tongue, for example, images, similes and metaphors which are drawn from sensory experience. Moreover, because one characteristic that all men, whatever Prologue 24 ] their culture, have in common is uniqueness — every man is a member of a class of one — the unique perspective on the world which every gemiine poet has survives translation.
If one takes a poem by Goethe and a poem by Holderlin and makes literal prose cribs of them, every reader will recognize that the two poems were written by two different people. In the second place, if speech can never become music, neither can it ever become algebra. Ne pas se pencher au dehors has a different feeling tone from Nichthinauslehnen. A purely poetic language would be unleamable, a purely prosaic not worth learning. Valdry bases his definitions of poetry and prose on the differ- ence between the gratuitous and the useful, play and work, and uses as an analogy the difference between dancing and walking.
But this will not do either. A commuter may walk to his suburban station every morning, but at the same time he may enjoy the walk for its own sake; the fact that his walk is necessary does not exclude the possibility of its also being a form of play. Vice versa, a dance does not cease to be play if it is also believed to have a useful purpose like promoting a good harvest. If French poets have been more prone than English to fall into the heresy of thinking that poetry ought to be as much like music as possible, one reason may be that, in traditional French verse, sound effects have always played a much more important role than they have in English verse.
The English- speaking peoples have always felt that the difference between poetic speech and the conversational speech of everyday should be kept small, and, whenever English poets have felt that the gap between poetic and ordinary speech was grow- ing too wide, there has been a stylistic revolution to bring them closer again. But French poetry, both in the way it is written and the way it is recited, has emphasized and gloried in the difference between itself and ordinary speech; in French drama, verse and prose are different languages.
One can read Shakespeare to oneself without even mentally hearing the lines and be very moved; indeed, one may easily find a performance disappointing because almost anyone with an understanding of English verse can speak it better than the average actor and actress. But to read Racine to oneself, even, I fancy, if one is a Frenchman, is like reading the score of an opera when one can hardly play or sing; one can no more get an adequate notion of Phedre without having heard a great performance, than one can of Tristan und Isolde if one has never heard a great Isolde like Leider or Flagstad.
John Perse tells me that, when it comes to everyday speech, it is French which is the more monotonous and English which has the wider range of vocal inflection. I must confess that French classical tragedy strikes me as being opera for the unmusical. When I read the Hiffolytus, I can recognize, despite all differences, a kinship between the world of Euripides and the world of Shakespeare, but the world of Racine, like the world of opera, seems to be an- other planet altogether. It is impossible to imagine any of Racine's characters sneezing or wanting to go to the bath- room, for in his world there is neither weather nor nature.
In consequence, the passions by which his characters are Prologue 26 ] consumed can only exist, as it were, on stage, the creation of the magnificent speech and the grand gestures of the actors and actresses who endow them with nesh and blood. This is also the case in opera, but no speaking voice, however magnificent, can hope to compete, in expressiveness through sound, with a great singing voice backed by an orchestra.
Whenever -people talk to me about the weather, I always feel certain that they mean something else, oscar wilde. Owing to its superior power as a mnemonic, verse is superior to prose as a medium for didactic instruction. Those who condemn didacticism must disapprove a fortiori of didactic prose; in verse, as the Alka-Seltzer advertisements testify, die didactic message loses half its immodesty. Verse is also certainly the equal of prose as a medium for the lucid exposi- tion of ideas; in skillful hands, the form of the verse can parallel and reinforce the steps of the logic.
On the other hand, verse is unsuited to controversy, to proving some truth or belief which is not universally accepted, because its formal nature cannot but convey a certain skepti- cism about its conclusions. Thirty days hath September, April, June and November is valid because nobody doubts its truth. Were there, however, a party who passionately denied it, the lines would be power- less to convince him because, formally, it would make no difference if the lines ran: Poetry is not magic. In so far as poetry, or any other of the arts, can be said to have an ulterior purpose, it is, by telling the truth, to disenchant and disintoxicate.
Catharsis is properly effected, not by works of art, but bv religious rites. It is also effected, usually improperly, by bull- fights, professional football matches, bad movies, military bands and monster rallies at which ten thousand girl guides form themselves into a model of the national The condition of mankind is, and always has been, so miser- able and depraved that, if anyone were to say to the poet: But nobody says this.
The self- appointed unqualified nurse says: If you succeed, I will give you a penthouse in New York or a ranch in Arizona. I should at least be working in the medium to which I am accustomed. But these are not his duties. One of his secondary duties is to deliver every other year an oration in Latin. You have chosen a barbarian who cannot write in that tongue and does not know how to pronounce it. But it is my primary duty which I must attempt to do this afternoon.
If I am in any way to deserve your extraordinary choice for what one of the noblest and most learned of my predecessors so aptly called The Siege Perilous, then I must find some topic about which I cannot help knowing something simply because I have wnritten some poems, and, for an inaugural lecture, this topic should be of general and, if possible, central concern to the verbal Art of Numbers.
Many years ago, there appeared in Punch a joke which I have heard attributed to the scholar and poet A. The cartoon showed two middle-aged English examiners tak- ing a country stroll in spring. And the caption ran: O cuckoo shall I call thee bird Or but a wandering voice? State the alternative preferred With reasons for your choice.
At first reading this seems to he a satire on examiners. The moment I try to answer the question, I find myself thinking: His inner exaipiner roust have been asleep at the time. They cannot claim oracular immunity. It has, of course, extraordinary poetic merits, but Coleridge was not being falsely modest. He saw, I think, as a reader can see, that even the fragment that exists is disjointed and would have had to be worked on if he ever completed the poem, and his critical conscience felt on its honor to admit this. It seems to me, then, that this might be a possible topic.
Anyone who writes poetry ought to have something to say about this critic who is only interested in one author and only concerned with works that do not yet exist. To dis- tinguish him from the critic who is concerned with the al- ready existing works of others, let us call him the Censor. How does the Censor get his education?
How does his at- titude towards the literature of the past differ from that of the scholarly critic? If a poet should take to writing criticism, what help to him in that activity are the experiences of his Censor? In trying to answer these questions, I shall be compelled, frmn time to time, to give autobiographical illustrations.
This is regrettable but unavoidable. I have no other guinea pig. Most of my reading had been related to a private world of Sacred Objects. At the time, therefore, the suggestion that I write poetry seemed like a revelation from heaven for which nothing in my past could account. Looking back, however, I now realize that I had read the technological prose of my favorite books in a peculiar way.
A word like -pyrites, for example, was for me, not simply an indicative sign; it was the Proper Name of a Sacred Being, so that, when I heard an aunt pronounce it pirrits, I was shocked. Her pronunciation was more than wrong, it was ugly. Here Adam plays the role of the Proto-poet, not the Proto-prosewriter. A Proper Name must not only refer, it must refer aptly and this aptness must be publicly recognizable. The power of verse [writes VaUry] is derived from ah indefinable harmony between what it says and what it is.
Indefinable is essential to the definition. The harmony ought not to be definable; when it can be defined it is imitative harmony and that is not good. Philology, the study of lan- guage in abstraction from its uses, so that words become, as it were, litde lyrics about themselves. Since Proper Names in the grammatical sense refer to unique objects, we cannot judge their aptness without per- sonal acquaintance with what they name. A line of poetry like A drop of water in the breaking gulf is a name for an experience we all know so that we can judge its aptness, and it names, as a Proper Name cannot, re- lations and actions as well as things.
But Shakespeare and Lear are both using language in the same way and, I believe, for the same motive, but into that I shall go later. A bad poem has this or that fault which can be pointed out; an imitative poem is a recognizable imitation The Dyer's Hand 36 ] of this or that poem, this or that poet. But about an imaginary poem no criticism can be made since it is an imitation of poetry-in-general. Never again will a poet feel so inspired, so certain of genius, as he feels in these first days as his pencil flies across the page.
Yet something is being learned even now. As he scribbles on he is beginning to get the habit of noticing metrical quantities, to see that any two- syllable word in isolation must be either a ti-tum, a tum-ti or, occasionally, a tum-tum, but that when associated with other words it can sometimes become a ti-ti; when he discovers a rhyme he has not thought of before, he stores it away in his memory, a habit which an Italian poet may not need to acquire but which an English poet will find useful.
And, though as yet he can only scribble, he has started reading real poems for pleasure and on purpose.
Many things can be said against anthologies, but for an adolescent to whom even the names of most of the poets are unknown, a good one can be an invaluable instructor. I had the extraor- dinary good fortune to be presented one Christmas with the De la Mare anthology Come Hither. This had, for my pur- poses, two great virtues. Firstly, its good taste.
Reading it today, I find very few poems which I should have omitted and none which I should think it bad taste to admire. Sec- ondly, its catholic taste. Given the youthful audience for which it was designed, there were certain kinds of poetry which it did not represent, but within those limits the variety was extraordinary. Particularly valuable was its lack of literary class consciousness, its juxtaposition on terms of equality of unofficial poetry, such as counting-out rhymes, and official poetry such as the odes of Keats.
It taught me at the start that poetry does not have to be great or even serious to be good, and that one does not have to be ashamed of moods in which one feels no desire whatsoever to read The Divine Comedy and a great desire to read When other ladies to the shades go down. Still Flavia, Chloris, Celia stay in town. And haunt the places where their Honour died. A poet who wishes to improve himself should certainly keep good company, but for his profit as well as for his comfort the company should not be too far above his station.
Even for readers, when one diinks of the attention that a great poem demands, there is some- thing frivolous about the notion of spending every day with one. Masterpieces should be kept for High Holidays of the Spirit. I am not trying to defend the aesthetic heresy that one subject is no more important than any other, or that a poem has no subject or that there is no difference between a great poem and a good one — a heresy which seems to me contrary to human feeling and common sense — but I can understand why it exists.
Nothing is worse than a bad poem which was intended to be great. So a would-be poet begins to learn that poetry is more various than he imagined and that he can like and dislike different poems for different reasons. His Censor, however, has still not yet been born. Before he can give birth to him, he has to pretend to be somebody else; he has to get a literary transference upon some poet in particular. If poetry were in great public demand so that there were overworked professional poets, I can imagine a system under which an established poet would take on a small number of apprentices who would begin by changing his blotting paper, advance to typing his manuscripts and end up by ghostwriting poems for him which he was too busy to start or finish.
The apprentices might really learn something for, knowing that he would get the blame as well as the credit for their work, the Master would be extremely choosy about his apprentices and do his best to teach them all he knew. In fact, of course, a would-be poet serves his apprentice- ship in a library. This has its advantages. Though the Master 38 ] The Dyer's Hand is deaf and dumb and gives neither instruction nor criticism, the apprentice can choose any Master he likes, living or dead, the Master is available at any hour of the day or night, lessons are all for free, and his passionate admiration of his Master will ensure that he work hard to please him.
To please means to imitate and it is impossible to do a recognizable imitation of a poet without attending to every detail of his diction, rhythms and habits of sensibility. In imitating his Master, the apprentice acquires a Censor, for he learns that, no matter how he finds it, by inspiration, by potluck or after hours of laborious search, there is only one word or rhythm or form that is the right one. The right one is still not yet the real one, for the apprentice is ventriloquizing, but he nas got away from poetry-in-general; he is learning how a poem is written.
Later in life, incidentally, he will realize how important is the art of imitation, for he will not infrequently be called upon to imitate himself. He was a good poet, perhaps a great one, but not too good. Much as I loved him, even I could see that his diction was often clumsy and forced and that a lot of his poems were plain bad. This gave me hope where a flawless poet might have made me despair. He was modern without being too modern. If I looked through his spectacles, at least I was conscious of a certain eyestrain.
Lasdy, his metrical variety, his fondness for com- plicated stanza forms, were an invaluable training in the craft of making. I am also thankful that my first Master did not write in free verse or I might then have been tempted to believe that free verse is easier to write than stricter forms, whereas I now know it is infinitely more difficult. Let us call it The Gathering of the Apprentices.
There are gods whom it is blasphemy to criticize and devils whose names may not be mentioned without execrations. The apprentices have seen a great light while their tutors sit in darkness and the shadow of death. Really, how do the dons stand it, for I'm sure this scene repeats itself year after year.
When I recall the kindness of my tutors, the patience with which they listened, the courtesy with which they hid their boredom, I am overwhelmed by their sheer goodness. I suppose that, having arrived there, they knew that the road of excess can lead to the palace of Wisdom, though it frequently does not. He will never know what he himself can write until he has a general sense of what needs to he written. And this is the one thing his elders cannot teach him, just because they are his elders; he can only learn it from his fellow apprentices with whom he shares one thing in common, youth.
The discovery is not wholly pleasant. If the youpg speak of the past as a burden it is a joy to throw off, behind their words may often lie a resentment and fright at realizing that the past will not carry them on its back. If an undergraduate announces to his tutor one morning that Gertrude Stein is the greatest writer who ever lived or that Shakespeare is no good, he is really only saying something like this: Regardless of their quality, it is dways better to read a few books carefully than skim through many, and, short of a personal taste which cannot be formed over- night, snobbery is as good a principle of limitation as any other.
I am eternally grateful, for example, to the musical fashion of my youth which prevented me from listening to Italian Opera until I was over thirty, by which age I of really appreciating a world so beautiful and so to my own cultural heritage. The apprentices do each other a further mutual service which no older and sounder critic could do. At this age a fellow apprentice has two great virtues as a critic. When he reads your poem, he may grossly overestimate it, but if he does, he redly believes what he is saying; he never flatters or praises merely to en- courage.
Secondly, he reads your poem with that passionate attention which grown-up critics only give to masterpieces and grown-up poets only to themselves. When he finds fault, his criticisms are intended to help you to improve. He really wants your poem to be better. It is just this kind of persond criticism which in later life, when the band of apprentices has dispersed, a writer often finds it so hard to get.
The verdicts of reviewers, however just, are seldom of any use to him. Why should they be? Yet this is the only kind of criticism from which an author was capaoie challenging Making, Knowing and Judging [41 can benefit. TTiose who could do it for him are generally, like himself, too elsewhere, too busy, too married, too selfish.
We must assume that our apprentice does succeed in be- coming a poet, that, sooner or later, a day arrives when his Censor is able to say truthfully and for the first time: He will never be able to say: In his own he is only a poet at the moment when he is making his last revision to a new poem. The mo- ment before, he was still only a potential poet; the moment after, he is a man who has ceased to write proetry, perhaps forever.
If he does, then, either he is also a scholar in the making, or he is a very good boy indeed. A medical student knows that he must study anatomy in order to become a doctor, so he has a reason for study. A future scholar has a reason, because he knows more or less what he wants to know. But there is nothing a would-be poet knows he has to know. He is at the mercy of the immediate moment because he has no concrete reason for not yielding to its de- mands and, for all he knows now, surrendering to his im- mediate desire may turn out later to have been the best thing he could have done.
His immediate desire can even be to attend a lecture. I remember one I attended, delivered by Professor Tolkien. I do not remember a single word he said but at a certain point he recited, and magnificently, a long passage of Beowulf. This poetry, I knew, The Dyer's Hand 42 ] was going to be my dish. I became willing, therefore, to work at Anglo-Saxon because, unless I did, I should never be able to read this poetry.
I learned enough to read it, however sloppily, and Anglo-Saxon and Middle English poetry have been one of my strongest, most lasting influences. But this was something which neither I nor anybody else could have foreseen. No other critic whom I have subsequently read could have granted me the same vision of a kind of literary All Souls Night in which the dead, the living and the unborn writers of every age and in every tongue were seen as engaged upon a common, noble and civilizing task. No other could have so instantane- ously aroused in me a fascination with prosody, which I have never lost.
You must not imagine, however, that being a bad boy is all fun. During my three years as an undergraduate, I had a high old time, I made some lifelong friends and I was more un- happy than I have ever been before or since. Nor must you think that, because he fails to study, a young poet looks down his nose at all the scholarly investigations going on around him. Unless he is very young indeed, he knows that these lines by Yeats are rather silly.
Bald heads forgetful of their sins. Old, learned, respectable bald heads Edit and annotate the lines That young men, tossing on their beds. All shuffle there; all cough in ink; All wear the carpet with their shoes; All think what other people think; All know the man their neighbour knows. Ignoring the obvious libel — that all dons are bald and respect- able — the sentiments are still nonsense.
Edit indeed; Thank God they do. If it had not been for scholars working them- selves blind copying and collating manuscripts, how many poems would be unavailable, including those of Catullus, and how many others full of lines that made no sense? Nor has the invention of printing made editors unnecessary. Lucky the poet whose collected works are not full of misprints. Even a young poet knows or very soon will realize that, but for scholars, he would be at the mercy of the literary taste of a past generation, since, once a book has gone out of print and been forgotten, only the scholar with his unselfish courage to read the unreadable will retrieve the rare prize.
How much Donne, even, would he have read, had it not been for Pro- fessor Grierson? Blunden, Grigson, Force- stead and Bond? Nor is editing all that scholars have already done for him. There is that blessed combination of poet and scholar, the translator. How, for example, without the learning and talent of Sir Arthur Waley, could he have discovered, and without the slightest effort on his part, an entirely new world of poetry, that of the Chinese? No, what prevents the young poet from academic study is not conceited ingratitude but a Law of mental growth.
Except in matters of life and death, temporal or spiritual, questions must not be answered until they have been asked, and at present he has no questions. At present he makes little distinc- tion between a book, a country walk and a kiss. All are equally experiences to store away in his memory. Could he look into a memory, the literary historian would find many members of that species which he calls books, but they are curiously changed from the books he finds in his library.
The dates are all different. In Memoriam is written before The Dunciad, the thirteenth century comes after the sixteenth. He always thought Robert Burton wrote a big book about melancholy. He is accustomed to the notion that a book can only be written once. Here some are continually rewritten. In his library books are related to each other in an orderly way by genre or subject. Here the com- monest principle of association seems to be by age groups. Most puzzling of all, instead of only associating with members of their own kind, in this extraordinary democ- racy every species of being knows every other and the closest friend of a book is rarely another book.
War and Peace never leaves the side of a penniless Christmas in a foreign city, the tenth The Winters Tale exchanges greetings with the first complete recording of La Favorita. Yet this is the world out of which poems are made. In so reading to stock his memory with images upon which later he may be able to draw in his own work, there is no critical principle by which a poet can select his books.
The safest guide, there- fore, is the naive uncritical principle of personal liking. A per- son at least knows one thing about his future, that however different it may be from his present, it will be his. However he may have changed he will still be himself, not somebody else.
What he likes now, therefore, whether an impersonal judgment approve or disapprove, has the best chance of be- coming useful to him later. A poet is all the more willing to be guided by personal liking because he assumes, I think with reason, that, since he wants to write poetry himself, his taste may be limited but it will not be so bad as to lead him astray.
The chances are that most Meting, Knowing and Jtidging [ 45 of the books he likes are such as a critic would approve of. Should it come to a quarrel between liking and approving, however, I think he will always take the side of liking, and, he enjoys baiting the critic with teasers like the problem of the comically bad poem.
Go, Mary, to the summer house And sweep the wooden floor. And light the little fire, and wash The pretty varnished door; For there the London gentleman. Who lately lectured here. Will smoke a pipe with Jonathan, And taste our home-brewed beer. Go bind the dahlias, that our guest May praise their fading dyes; But strip of every fading bloom The flower that won the prize! And take thy father's knife, and prune The roses that remain. And let the fallen hollyhock Peep through the broken pane. And feel how grand it is! John Betjeman, would it be good?
Since it was not written by Mr. Betjeman as a comic dramatic monologue but by Mr. Elliott himself as a serious lyric, is it bad? What difference do the inverted commas make?
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In judging a work of the past, the question of the historical critic — "What was the author of this work trying to do? How far did he succeed in doing it? Will it help or hinder them in what they are trying to do? Wherewith Love to the harts forest he fleeth Leaving the enterprise with pain and cry, And there him hideth and not appeareth.
What may I do? When my master feareth, But in the field with him to live and die, For good is the life ending faithfully. I found the rhythm of these lines strangely beautiful, they haunted me and I know that they have had an influence upon the rhythm of certain lines of my own. Of course I know that all the historical evidence suggests that Wyatt was trying to write regular iambics, that the rhythm he was after would have his lines run thus: Since they cannot be read this way without sounding mon- strous, one must say that Wyatt failed to do what he was try- ing to do, and a literary historian of the sixteenth century w'ill have to censure him.
Luckily I am spared this duty and can without reservation approve. Between Wyatt and the present day lie four hundred Making, Knowing and Judging [ 47 years of prosodic practice and development. Thanks to the work of our predecessors any schoolboy can today write the regular iambics which Wyatt, struggling to escape from the metrical anarchy of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, found so difficult.
Our problem in the twentieth century is not how to write iambics but how not to write in them from automatic habit when they are not to our genuine purpose. What for Wyatt was a failure is for us a blessing. Must a work be censored for being beautiful by accident? I suppose it must, but a poet will always have a sneaking regard for luck because he knows the role which it plays in poetic composition. Some- thing unexpected is always turning up, and though he knows that the Censor has to pass it, the memory of the lucky dip is what he treasures.
A young poet may be conceited about his good taste, but he is under no illusions about his ignorance. He is well aware of how much poetry there is that he would like but of which he has never heard, and that there are learned men who have read it. His problem is knowing which learned man to ask, for it is not just more good poetry that he wants to read, but more of the kind he likes.
Like Matthew Arnold I have my Touchstones, but they are for testing critics, not poets. Many of them concern taste in other matters than poetry or even literature, but here are four ques- tions which, could I examine a critic, I should ask him: It is one of his main sources of income. He may even find him- self lecturing. In such chores he has little to offset his lack of scholarship, but that little he has. His lazy habit of only reading what he likes will at least have taught him one lesson, that to be worth attacking a book must be worth reading.
The greatest critical study of a single figure that I know of. The Case of Wagner, is a model of what such an attack should be. Savage as he often is, Nietzsche never allows the reader to forget for one instant that Wagner is an extraordinary genius and that, for all which may be wrong with it, his music is of the highest importance. Indeed it was this book which first taught me to listen to Wagner, about whom I had previously held silly preconceived notions. Another model is D. I remember my disappointment, when, after reading the essay on Fenimore Clooper which is highly critical, I hurried off to read him.
Unfortunately, I did not find Cooper nearly as exciting as Lawrence had maae him sound. The second advantage which a poet possesses is that such satisfactions to the ego as the writing of poetry can provide have been taken care of in his case. By the prig, I mean the critic for whom no actual poem is good enough since the only one that would be is the poem he would like to write himself but can- not. Reading his criticism, one gets the impression that he would rather a poem were bad than good. He, too, one suspects, has a secret grievance. He finds it unfortunate and regrettable that before there can be criticism there has to be a poem to criticize.
For him a poem is not a work of art by somebody else; it is his own discovered document. The romantic novelist is a much jollier figure. His happy hunting ground is the field of unanswerable questions, par- ticularly if they concern the private lives of authors. Since the questions to which he devotes his life — he is often an ex- tremely learned gentleman — can never be answered, he is free to indulge his fancies without misgivings.
How much duller the Variorum edition of the Shakespeare sonnets would be without him. Jolliest of all is the maniac. The commonest of his kind is the man who believes that poetry is written in cyphers — but there are many other kinds. My favorite is the John Bellendon Ker who set out to prove that English nursery rhymes were originally written in a form of Old Dutch invented by himself. Whatever his defects, a poet at least thinks a poem more important than anything which can be said about it, he would rather it were good than bad, the last thing he wants is that it should be like one of his own, and his experience as a maker should have taught him to recognize quickly whether a critical question is important, unimportant but real, unreal because unanswerable or just absurd.
His experience as a maker of poems will make him reason some- thing like this: The feeling that all is well with the world at large can be produced in many ways. The same feeling can be aroused by a fine day. The figures employed in the lines The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured And the sad augurs mock their own presage. Incertainties now crown themselves assured And peace proclaims olives of endless age come from literature and contain no specific historical refer- ence.
They could have been suggested to Shakespeare by some historical event, but he could have written them without one. Further, even if they were so prompted, the date of the event does not have to be contemporary with the occasion celebrated in the sonnet. A present instance of a feeling always recalls past instances and their circumstances, so that it is possible, if the poet chooses, to employ images suggested by the circum- stances of a past occasion to describe the present if the feeling is the same.
What Shakespeare has written contains no his- torical clue. He may have something sensible to say about woods, even about leaves, but you should never trust him on trees. Speaking for myself, the questions which interest me most when reading a poem are two. The first is technical: How does it work? What is his notion of the good life or the good place? His notion of the Evil One? What does he conceal from the reader?
What does he conceal even from himself? We must assume that it was not. Twenty years have gone by. Down at the far end, some of those who used to be so amusing have turned into crashing bores or fallen asleep, a sad change which has often come over later guests after hold- ing forth for a few years. Boredom does not necessarily imply disapproval; I still think Rilke a great poet though I cannot read him any more. Many of the books which have been most important to him have not been works of poetry or criticism but books which have altered his way of looking at the world and himself, and a lot of these, probably, are what an expert in their field would call "unsound.
And among the experiences which have influenced his writing, a number may have been experiences of other arts. I know, for example, that through listening to music I have learned much about how to organize a poem, how to obtain variety and contrast through change of tone, tempo and rhythm, though I could not say just how.
The more one loves another art, the less likely it is that one will wish to trespass upon its domain. During these twenty years, one thing has never changed since he wrote his first poem. Every time he writes a new one, the same question occurs to him: At first he may think this means no more than keeping a sharper look out for obsessive rhythms, tics of expression, privately numinous words, but presently he discovers that the command not to imitate himself can mean something harder than that.
It can mean that he should refrain from writing a poem which might turn out to be a good one, and even an admired one. He learns that, if on finishing a poem he is con- vinced that it is good, the chances are that the poem is a self- imitation. The most hopeful sign that it is not is the feeling of complete uncertainty: Discovering oneself is a passive process because the self is already there. Time and attention are all that it takes. But changing oneself means changing in one direction rather than another, and towards one goal rather than another.
The goal may be unknown but movement is impossible without a hypothesis as to where it lies. It is at this poirit, therefore, that a poet often begins to take an interest in theories of poetry and even to develop one of his own.
I am always interested in hearing what a poet has to say about the nature of poetry, though I do not take it too seri- ously. As objective statements his definitions are never ac- curate, never complete and always one-sided. Not one would stand up under a rigorous analysis. In unkind moments one is almost tempted to think that all they are really saying is: Baudelaire has given us an excellent account of their origin and purpose. I pity the poets who are guided solely by instinct; they seem to me incomplete. In the spiritual life of the former there must come a crisis when they would think out their art, discover the obscure laws in consequence of which they have produced, and draw from this study a series of precepts whose divine purpose is infallibility in poetic production.
The evidence, that is to say, upon which the poet bases his conclusions consists of his own experiences in writing and his private judgments upon his own works. Looking back, he sees many occasions on which he took a wrong turning or walked up a blind alley, mistakes which, it seems to him now, he could have avoided, had he been more conscious at the time of the choice he was making.
Looking over the poems he has written, he finds that, irrespective or their merits, there are some which he particularly dislikes and some which are his favorites. Of one he may think: But there is a difference between a project which may fail and one which must. In trying to formulate principles, a poet may have another motive which Baudelaire does not mention, a desire to justify his writing poetry at all, and in recent years this motive seems to have grown stronger.
The Rimbaud Myth — the tale of a great poet who ceases writing, not because, like Coleridge, he has nothing more to say, but because he chooses to stop 54 ] 'The Dyer's Hand — may not be true, I am pretty sure it is not, but as a myth it haunts the artistic conscience of this century. Knowing all this, and knowing that you know it, I shall now proceed to make some general statements of my own. I hope they are not nonsense, but I cannot be sure.
At least, even as emotive noises, I find them useful to me. The only verifiable facts I can offer in evidence are these. Some cultures make a social distinction between the sacred and the profane, certain human beings are publicly regarded as numinous, and a clear division is made between certain actions which are regarded as sacred rites of great importance to the well-being of society, and everyday profane behavior. In such cultures, if they are advanced enough to recognize poetry as an art, the poet has a public — even a professional status — and his poetry is either public or esoteric.
There are other cultures, like our own, in which the dis- tinction between the sacred and the profane is not socially recognized. Either the distinction is denied or it is regarded as an individual matter of taste with which society is not and should not be concerned. In such cultures, the poet has an amateur status and his poetry is neither public nor esoteric but intimate.
That is to say, he writes neither as a citizen nor as a member of a group of professional adepts, but as a single person to be read by other single persons. Intimate poetry is not necessarily obscure; for someone not in the know, ancient esoteric poetry can be more obscure than the wildest modern. Nor, needless to say, is intimate poetry necessarily inferior to other kinds. In what follows, the terms Primary and Secondary Imagina- tion are taken, of course, from the thirteenth chapter of Biogru'phia Literaria.
Herewith, then, what I might describe as a literary dog- matic psalm, a kind of private Quicunque vult. The concern of the Primary Imagination, its only concern, is with sacred beings and sacred events. The sacred is that to which it is obliged to respond; the profane is that to which Making, Knowing and Judging [ 55 it cannot respond and therefore does not know. The profane is known to other faculties of the mind, but not to the Primary Imagination.
A sacred being cannot be anticipated; it must be encountered. On encounter the imagination has no option but to respond. Tne impression made upon the imagination by any sacred being is of an over- whelming but undehnable importance — an unchangeable quality, an Identity, as Keats said: I-am-that-I-am is what every sacred being seems to say. The impression made by a sacred event is of an overwhelming but undehnable signihcance.
In his book Witchcraft, Mr. Charles Williams has described it thus: One is aware that a phenomenon, being wholly itself, is laden with universal meaning. A hand lighting a ciga- rette is the explanation of everything; a foot stepping from the train is the rock of all existence. Two light dancing steps by a girl appear to be what all the School- men were trying to express. Or the other way round.
The response of the imagination to such a presence or significance is a passion of awe. This awe may vary greatly in intensity and range in tone from joyous wonder to panic dread. The realm of the Primary Imagination is without freedom, sense of time or humor. Whatever determines this response or lack of response lies below consciousness and is of concern to psychology, not art. The Moon, for example, Fire, Snakes and those four important beings which can only be defined in terms of nonbeing: Darkness, Silence, Nothing, Death.
Some, like kings, are only sacred to all within a certain culture; some only to members of a social group— the Latin language among humanists — and some are only sacred to a single imagination. Many of us have sacred landscapes which probably all have much in common, but there will almost certainly be details which are peculiar to each.
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An imagination can acquire new sacred beings and it can lose old ones to the profane. Sacred beings can be acquired by social contagion but not consciously. One cannot be taught to recognize a sacred being, one has to be converted.
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As a rule, perhaps, with advancing age sacred events gain in importance over sacred beings. A sacred being may also be an object of desire but the imagination does not desire it. A desire can be a sacred being but the imagination is without desire. The Secondary Imagination is of another character and at another mental level. It is active not passive, and its cate- gories are not the sacred and the profane, but the beautiful and ugly.
Our dreams are full of sacred beings and events — indeed, they may well contain nothing else, but we cannot distinguish in dreams — or so it seems to me, though I may be wrong — between the beautiful and the ugly. Beauty and ugliness pertain to Form not to Being. The Primary Imagination only recognizes one kind of being, the sacred, but the Secondary Imagination recognizes both beautiful and ugly forms. To the Primary Imagination a sacred being is that which it is.
To the Secondary Imagination a beautiful form is as it ought to be, an ugly form as it ought not to be. Observing the beautiful, it has the feeling of satisfaction. McMng, Knowing and Judging [ 57 pleasure, absence of conflict; observing die ugly, the contrary feelings. It does not desire the beautiful, but an ugly form arouses in it a desire that its ugliness be corrected and made beautiful. It does not worship the beautiful; it approves of it and can give reasons for its approval.
The Secondary Imag- ination has, one might say, a bourgeois nature.
It approves of regularity, of spatial symmetry and temporal repetition, of law and order: Lastly, the Secondary Imagination is social and craves agreement with other minds. If I think a form beautiful and you think it ugly, we cannot both help agreeing that one of us must be wrong, whereas if I think something is sacred and you think it is profane, neither of us will dream of arguing the matter. Both kinds of imagination are essential to the health of the mind. This rite has no magical or idolatrous intention; nothing is expected in return.
Nor is it, in a Christian sense, an act of devotion. If it praises the Creator, it does so indirectly by praising His creatures — among which may be human no- tions of the Divine Nature. With God as Redeemer, it has, so far as I can see, little if anything to do. In poetry the rite is verbal; it pays homage by naming. I suspect that the predisposition of a mind towards the poetic medium may have its origin in an error.
The notion of writing poetry cannot occur to him, of course, until he has realized that names and things are not identical and that there cannot be an intelligible sacred language, hut I wonder if, when he has discovered the social nature of language, he would attach such importance to one of its uses, that of naming, if he had not previously made this false identihcation. The pure poem, in the French sense of la poSsie pure would be, I suppose, a celebration of the numinous-in-itself in abstrac- tion from all cases and devoid of any profane reference what- soever — a sort of sanctus, sanctus, sanctus.
If it could be written, which is doubtful, it would not necessarily be the best poem. A poem is a rite; hence its formal and ritualistic character. Its use of language is deliberately and ostentatiously different from talk. Even when it employs the diction and rhythms of conversation, it employs them as a deliberate informality, pre- supposing the norm with which they are intended to contrast. The form of a rite must be beautiful, exhibiting, for exam- ple, balance, closure and aptness to that which it is the form of.
It is over this last quality of aptness that most of our aesthetic quarrels arise, and must arise, whenever our sacred and profane worlds differ. Blake, it will be noticed, does not accuse the Miser of lacking imagination. The value of a profane thing lies in what it usefully does, the value of a sacred thing lies in what it is: The apt name for a profane being, therefore, is the word or words that accurately describe his function — a Mr. The apt name for a sacred being is the word or words which worthily express his importance — Son of Thunder, The Well-Wishing One.
Making, Knowing and Judging [ 59 Great changes in artistic style always reflect some, alteration in the frontier between the sacred and profane in the imag- ination of a society. Thus, to take an architectural example, a seventeenth-century monarch had the same function as that of a modern State official — he had to govern. Thanks to the social nature of language, a poet can relate any one sacred being or event to any other.