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A Defense of Edgar Allan Poe’s Poetic Principle: Poetry’s Struggle in a “Contemporary” World

October 7, 2018

 

Edgar Allan Poe laid down the principles of poetic composition in several of his essays, notably “The Poetic Principle.” For some, the shocking news will be that the principle has not changed. Poe did not write the Poetic Principle for the 19th century or for the 13th century or for the 6th century BC. The same “Poetic Principle” that he elaborated in his essay is expressed in the great poetic traditions of cultures throughout history, from ancient Greek and Chinese poetry, the many classical Arabic and Persian bards, the Italian school of Dante and Petrarch, to Shakespeare, Keats and Poe, just to name a few.

 

Today, many 20th and 21st century writers and literary critics regard classical poetry as a thing of the past. Any poetry which still exhibits that same principle which Poe identified as the “Poetic Principle” is considered irrelevant i.e. “old,” “dated,” or “unconvincing” and therefore not acceptable in 2018.

 

But why?

 

Has the world really run out of "contemporary" examples of the kinds of souls we find abounding in Dante's Inferno? Does Homer’s “olden and ever youthful song”[1] no longer touch on the timeless questions of mortality and fate, which still confront each mortal human being today? 

 

While this paper is about Poe’s poetic principle, in our current times, with modern poetry in such a decrepit state, one must ask the question “what happened to poetry?” This should first be addressed if we are to truly place the meaning and value of the “Poetic Principle” in the context in which Poe intended it. It will allow us to appreciate what Poe’s poetic principle means for poetry today. We therefore take a moment to do what Poe would have done a long time ago, were he still alive today.

 

The “Contemporary” Syndrome

 

The 20th and 21st century saw a vast proliferation of poetry which relies on the use of novel effects such as stylized language, obfuscation of meaning and prose masquerading as poetry, as a substitute for genuine poetic effect. In order to demonstrate this, we shall be looking at several different kinds of examples and see wherein lies the poetry. So let us ask the question: what is the poetic principle? What is it about great poetry that makes it great?

 

According to Poe, the poetic principle which has been universally recognized and expressed by cultures throughout history is the effect of Beauty:

 

That pleasure which is at once the most intense, the most elevating, and the most pure is, I believe, found in the contemplation of the beautiful. When, indeed, men speak of Beauty, they mean, precisely, not a quality, as is supposed, but an effect — they refer, in short, just to that intense and pure elevation of soul — 

 

Edgar Allan Poe — The Philosophy of Composition

 

However, the opinions of several 20th century critics and publishers have managed to declare centuries and millennia of classical poetry, which has always accomplished this effect, as the poetry of the past. It is to be seen as nothing more than something of bygone times. Those who wish to write genuine classical poetry in our modern times are to be simply waived off with a “we don’t do things like that anymore.” The reasoning is no different than one who argues democracy is a very old concept and that “things have changed since then.” 

 

Extreme currents have become popularized declaring writers like Shakespeare, Homer, Dante, Keats etc… as “Dead White European Males.” They are said to not have been regarded as great because of their talent, but rather because of some ethnic, racial and/or gender bias. It is a convenient way of avoiding any actual discussion of the merits of a work and instead, ironically, dismissing it based on gender and ethnicity. Art is no longer judged based on the power and effect it can generate, but on whether it is “in style.” While many may still pay lip service in admiring the work of these “Dead White European Males”, those who would seek to defend and compose new modern poetry based on the universal principles expressed by such timeless works are considered unacceptable: their poetry must bend under the yoke of modern conventions or they shall be condemned to a life of obscurity. There is no possibility of putting into question the value or merits of “contemporary” tastes and those making such judgements. 

 

While this thinking is systemic in the world of arts, academia and political institutions, it should stand out as a glaring example of hypocrisy. Such self-avowed “inclusive” and “open” movements, which are supposed to have an aversion to anything that smells of tyranny, discrimination or suppressing freedom of expression, happen to run the vast majority of poetry and literary journals, and will not accept or publish poets are able to successfully demonstrate the Poetic Principle.

 

We are fortunate therefore that Poe, seeing the urgency even in his time, wrote several pieces addressing the different questions of what makes great poetry great. Since contemporary ideas are ideas, just like any other idea, and they are subject to reason and investigation like any other idea, using the guide of Edgar Poe’s poetic principle, let us take some examples and revisit the question of what makes great poetry great, and then see how contemporary poetry measures up.

 

For as long as it wishes to be called poetry, it is subject to the Poetic Principle, which all poetry has been subject to. The discussion on merit is no less subject to reason and questioning than is the work of a Shakespeare, Homer, or Dante. And were any argument to be refuted, on what other grounds other than reason could they be refuted?

 

We such refutations are welcomed and encouraged.

 

The Poetic Principle

 

The soul and ideas of a language culture are imparted through its poetry. Poetry is that vehicle through which we are able to develop and express that which otherwise escapes all literal and direct attempts at being captured; it is defined by what Shelley referred to as “profound and impassioned conceptions concerning man and nature.[2]” As a result, each language has its own unique discoverable characteristics, such as meter, musicality, rhyme, etc… which allows one to communicate the breadth and depth of beauty hidden within a culture’s soul.

 

This brings us to the question of strophic poetry, one of the oldest forms of poetry, where seeming repetition is used to unfold an idea lurking somewhere below the surface, and which like any true idea, cannot be captured by simply stating it literally in a prose-like fashion, or by simply repeating it, but must be revealed through a process of transformation — a process of revelation. The process itself is what allows us to experience a distinct and well-intended effect on the part of the successful poet, who develops a distinct thought object or sentiment that no literal reading of a piece can capture.

 

In the words of Poe:

 

Just as the lily is repeated in the lake, or the eyes of Amaryllis in the mirror, so is the mere oral or written repetition of these forms, and sounds, and colors, and odors, and sentiments, a duplicate source of delight. But this mere repetition is not poetry. He who shall simply sing, with however glowing enthusiasm, or with however vivid a truth of description, of the sights, and sounds, and odors, and colors, and sentiments, which greet him in common with all mankind — he, I say, has yet failed to prove his divine title. There is still a something in the distance which he has been unable to attain. We have still a thirst unquenchable, to allay which he has not shown us the crystal springs. This thirst belongs to the immortality of Man. It is at once a consequence and an indication of his perennial existence. It is the desire of the moth for the star. It is no mere appreciation of the Beauty before us, but a wild effort to reach the Beauty above. Inspired by an ecstatic prescience of the glories beyond the grave, we struggle, by multiform combinations among the things and thoughts of Time, to attain a portion of that Loveliness whose very elements, perhaps, appertain to eternity alone.

 

Take the example of one of Poe’s more simple yet dense poems, written shortly before his death.

 

El Dorado

 

Gaily bedight,
A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,
Had journeyed long,
Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.

 

But he grew old — 
This knight so bold — 
And o’er his heart a shadow — 
Fell as he found
No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado.

 

And, as his strength
Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow — 
‘Shadow,’ said he,
‘Where can it be — 
This land of Eldorado?’

 

‘Over the Mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,’
The shade replied, — 
‘If you seek for Eldorado!’

 

How is the meaning of this poem being communicated? Is it simply by rousing the senses with some peculiar word choice or imagery? Is this effect simply the result of a finely written set of lines, of rhyme or meter? Wherein lays the poetry? Each element plays a part in carrying the idea forward, but only in so much as they lend themselves to the development of the poet’s idea. Look at how the words “shadow” and “Eldorado” are repeated? Are they simply being repeated, or is something happening between the lines? In a word: is the land of Eldorado which the knight sings of the same as what the shade refers to as Eldorado?

 

By not addressing his subject directly, Poe communicates the meaning through a process of development: a tension is built up as the theme moves from stanza to stanza (from “room” to “room” in Italian). By not directly stating his idea, the meaning is developed in a way which is not arbitrary, which allows the reader to discover for themselves what is happening behind the lines, in the poet’s mind.

See what occurs when the poem is read again.

 

How does the nature of the word “shadow” change? At first it refers to a simple literal shadow, but then it takes on a qualitatively higher order of meaning with each successive stanza. Now, how does the seeming literal idea of Eldorado become elevated, and changed, such that it no longer has the simple literal meaning of some fabled land of riches and lost treasure, but takes on a metaphorical idea suggesting a completely different kind of world. The process itself becomes the self-conscious object of our attention, such that the meaning of the lines is not understood through the individual parts, but instead is seen from the standpoint of the process as a whole, of the change. That process as a whole is what lawfully imbues the individual lines and images with their rightful meaning.

While it is a simple piece, it allows us to see how a finely written poem can not only be unpacked, but also crafted.

 

Poe referred to this successful creation of such poetry as:

The struggle to apprehend the supernal Loveliness — this struggle, on the part of souls fittingly constituted — has given to the world all that which it (the world) has ever been enabled at once to understand and to feel as poetic.

 

Now let us take the example of a different kind of piece. Let us take a closer look at one of the poems of John Ashbury whose “delicate, soulful lines made him one of the most influential figures of late-20th and early-21st-century American literature,” according to the NY times.

 

They also provided an approach for gleaning his poetry:

One way to read his poetry, Mr. Ashbury suggested in a 1991 interview, was to think of it as music. “Words in proximity to one another take on another meaning,” he said. “What you hear at a given moment is a refraction of what’s gone before or after.”

According to the NY Times, Ashbury’s 1974 poem “Grand Galop” is representative of his method:

 

All things seem mention of themselves

 

And the names which stem from them branch out to other referents.

 

Hugely, spring exists again. The weigela does its dusty thing

 

In fire-hammered air. And garbage cans are heaved against

 

The railing as the tulips yawn and crack open and fall apart.

 

And today is Monday. Today’s lunch is: Spanish omelet, lettuce and tomato salad,

 

Placing words next to each other to create an effect, may titillate the reader’s senses, but simply toying with language and sentiment to create effects is not poetry. In the words of Poe:

 

He who shall simply sing, with however glowing enthusiasm, or with however vivid a truth of description, of the sights, and sounds, and odors, and colors, and sentiments, which greet him in common with all mankind — he, I say, has yet failed to prove his divine title. There is still a something in the distance which he has been unable to attain.

 

While Mr. Ashbury has succeeded in generating an effect which causes certain sensations, "there is still something in the distance which has has been able to attain."

 

Let us be clear, we are not attacking any writer personally. We are treating the question of contemporary poetry in the same way we would genuinely approach any valid idea, using reason. Poetry must do more than induce feelings as we are both sensual beings and cognitive beings.

 

The issue is that there are not many kinds of poetry in the same way there are not many kinds of Justice. There may be different categories of justice: civil justice, criminal justice, social justice, but none of these individual kinds of justices lies outside the bounds of Justice. It is likewise for poetry and its diverse forms found across cultures throughout history.

 

This brings us to the next point, which is that each language represents a distinctive language culture, whose language adheres to its respective metrical, sonoric, syllabic and other qualities, such that each language’s poetry will have its own natural musicality and related characteristics. As a result, the forms found throughout classical poetry take their form as a question of necessity, as a question of finding the adequate vehicle needed to convey their idea. In his "Rational of Verse," Poe explored many historical examples of this going to back to the ancient Greeks. [3]

 

English

 

Take English for example, which is a monosyllabic language. The famous iambic pentameter, which Shakespeare composed all of his great tragedies with, was introduced by Christopher Marlowe. It is in line with the rhythm of the thumping of the heart and reflects the way English generally behaves. Just think of what the average length of word is in this line.

 

Italian

 

Contrary to English, which is monosyllabic where vowels all have a more or less fixed value, Italian functions with short and long vowel stresses or sounds, as opposed to actual short and long vowels like classical Greek and Arabic. As a result, rather than the common iambic pentameter or trochaic meters, Italian poetry uses the Hendecasyllable line, which does not have a particularly fixed metrical scheme as such, but rather is spaced out in 11 syllables, where certain parts of the line will generally be stressed over others.

 

Take the case of Dante’s Commedia:

 

Nel — me — zzo — del — ca — min — di — nos — tra — vi — ta

Mi — ri — tro — vai — per — un — a se l- va — os — cu — ra

Che — la — dir — i — tta — via — era — smarr — i — ta

 

 

The stress is on the 6th and 10th syllable. This is in line with the general “behavior” and metrical characteristics of Italian with short and long vowels sounds largely defined by the length of word or tense of a word.

 

Andare (to go) stresses the “ar”, which is the penultimate syllable, while imparare (to learn), which has four syllables in total, stresses the “ra”, which is the third and therefore penultimate syllable of that word.

 

While Italian does not have long vowels as such like classical Greek or Arabic, it is able to accomplish a fair amount of the same thing, using the stressing of some vowels more than others depending on the construction and length of a word. As a result, it’s these stresses, which define the metrical boundaries of the language. Based on these metrical characteristics, Dante said the poet should make the lines and vowels dance.

 

Arabic

 

Arabic poetry prides itself on the virtuosity of the Arabic language, where a basic root word can be transformed and expressed in myriad different ways, such that rather than simply rhyming, it is the shape of the verb and word patterns, and how these are played with and transformed musically to carry an oda, or idea, that the poet and his art are most exulted. Even color, to redden something for example, has its own category and family of verbs, as does each color.

 

The simple root ق-ط-ع is the basis for the verb “cutting.” It belongs to 9 different categories of verbs: from cutting off a relationship, to chopping a small piece of something, to mathematical division, and depending on who is saying it i.e. singular, dual, groups, gender etc... it can be expressed in hundreds of different ways! Each has its appropriate and particular expression, using the three root letters in concert with the different stressing of the short and long vowels. All this along with more guttural sounds gives the language a significant degree of freedom for expressing ideas.

 

Greek

 

Ancient Greek similarly shares the same quality of short and long vowels. Thus we have the famous Greek dactylic hexameters used by Homer in his epics.

 

When George Chapman, a contemporary of Shakespeare, translated Homer, he wrote in iambic hexameters for the Iliad, and then used iambic pentameters for the Odyssey. This was in line with crossing the poetry over from the mode of one language to that of another. Given the monosyllabic nature of English, rendering it all into dactylic hexameter would have been near impossible.

Let us return to the English now:

 

Annabel Lee

 

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling — my darling — my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea — 
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

 

In this more complex meter, Poe uses Anapests, which in Greek comes from a word meaning “struck back”. With that in mind, how might this line be recited?

 

(For — the — moon/ ne — ver — beams/with — out — bring/ ing me dreams)

 

In Poe’s Annabel Lee, the combination of anapests and iambs presents a brilliant example of Poe bending the English language. He makes everything seem to dance just as Dante Alighieri said it should — and he succeeds in a language with many more limitations. Even simple Italian, well spoken, cannot help but dance as it falls off the tongue of its native speakers. Thus in the case of Annabel Lee, the effect is truly remarkable and gives us an idea of the potentialities of the language, which he only begun to develop with his few compositions!

 

Just as the number of orbits in any solar system is defined by the boundaries of the solar system as a whole, Poe explains in his “Rationale of Verse” that the metrical feet by which any language will be expressed are in like fashion bounded by the limits of the spoken language, all of which was already known in ancient times[2]. While different languages have their own particular mode, the principle of language, which determines how each language will organize itself, does not change. There is a hypothesis, which underlies the higher hypothesis of language — the principle of beauty. It is not irrational. Each language will organize itself in such a way that it has the greatest potential to express beauty. Such conceptions may sound foreign in a world of contemporary poetry where writers often aim to simply create effects by using novel word choices or weaving a series of words or images together simply for the effect they create, this principle has been known throughout history. The proof: the records of timeless poetry written over centuries and spanning across not only millennia, but across cultures from all corners of the globe.

 

We don’t wish to prate on any of these details, or to discuss all this for the sake of people who will go home and produce some contrived piece composed according to some formula. The metrical feet and lines of poetry are simply the tools which aid the poet in conveying a musical idea, just in the same way a word is nothing more than a vehicle by which to convey an idea. In a word: an intimate understanding of the nature of one’s own native tongue allows a poet to naturally use the language in order to communicate some profound and beautiful idea, in order to help “attain a portion of that Loveliness whose very elements, perhaps, appertain to eternity alone.”

 

St. Augustine, in his De Musica, formulated this question of poetry as such:

 

The purpose of it is to lead young people of ability, and perhaps older people too, gradually, with Reason for our guide, from the things of sense, to God, in order that they may cling to Him who rules all and governs our intelligence, with no mediating Nature between. … It is the ascent from rhythm in sense, to the immortal rhythm which is in truth.

 

Thus we are not saying the essence of poetry lies in the form, in Poe's words: this thirst belongs to the immortality of Man. As he says further on in his essay, The Poetic Principle:

 

This Principle itself is, strictly and simply, the Human Aspiration for Supernal Beauty. […] And thus when by Poetry — or when by Music, the most entrancing of the Poetic moods — we find ourselves melted into tears not as the Abbate Gravia supposes through excess of pleasure, but through a certain petulant, impatient sorrow at our inability to grasp now, wholly, here on earth, at once and forever, those divine and rapturous joys, of which through the poem, or through the music, we attain to but brief and indeterminate glimpses.

 

Let us take another example, this time from German, the Lerchengesang (Lark Song) by Carl August Candidus, famously set to music by Johannes Brahms:

 

Ethereal, distant voices,
Heavenly greetings of larks,
How sweetly you move men’s hearts
With your enchanting voices.

 

As my eyes begin opening,
Each memory takes its flight
Into the gentle twilight

Wafted by the breath of spring.

 

Translation © David B. Gosselin

 

In the opening stanza, the poet is greeted by the songs of larks, which rouse him from his seeming slumber. There is a change from a dormant state to one of being stirred by distant “ethereal” voices — the poet is waking up.

 

In the second stanza, a new world is introduced:

 

As my eyes begin opening
The memories take their flight[…]

 

As his eyes open, the world in which memories exist begins to vanish and the world outside begins to appear through the eyes: one world opens as another one closes. One is the inner world of thoughts and the other is the external world. There is a tension created by these two worlds: two seemingly unbridgeable worlds are existing at the same time — one as the poets eyes are closed, the other when they are open. So how is this paradox resolved?

 

The memories take their flight
Into the gentle twilight
Wafted by the breath of spring.

 

The memories fade as the poet is greeted by the springtime air, they are “wafted by the breath of spring.” Here, the image of twilight serves to reinforce the tension created by the first two lines. It is a meeting of both day and night, yet not quite either, as the light from the set sun is still lingering. Yet, there is a beautiful transition, which has the quality of a discovery, where the spring’s “breath” is the thing that carries these memories. While the ethereal world of thought seems to fade, the poet is greeted by the youthful spring, which heralds the promise of a new day — the past fades, but he is greeted by the future.

 

What we are dealing with here is not a series of disparate parts and images. Each image is an integral part which serves to augment the tension and further elaborate the idea of the whole. There is neither a stylized approach of simply using images to induce sentiments without any rhyme or reason nor is there simply finely written prose which the poet hopes to woo us with or trick us into thinking “perhaps I just don’t get it and this poet is just very profound?”

Modernists and contemporary thinkers will tend to feel that because there is such a high requirement of rigor, this means the poet is somehow being constrained and formulaic about composition; the idea of a poet becomes one of someone who is coldly calculating his every step. Thus the artist is bounded by rules, thus it is not “free verse”, thus they just want to “free verse.” 

 

The poetic genius Goethe, in his humble poem “Kunst und Natur” (Nature and Art) said the following:

 

[…]the unfettered mind,
The boundless spirit’s mere imagination,
Will strive in vain for pure perfection’s heights. 

 

In the same way there is only one universe, the ability to accomplish some good in that universe requires us to discover and know something truthful about it. The universe is free, but in order to discover this freedom, one must have a desire for discovering how it works. In a word: one does not gain a greater freedom to fly, without first knowing something about the laws of gravity. 

 

In even such a simple yet beautiful little poem like the Lerchengesang, we can see how the poet uses the tension that he creates through the juxtaposition of different images in a way that reflects the movement of the idea itself; the twilight, the distant voices, the spring air all help further the tension between the transition of two different worlds. The poet is guided by his creative instincts which provide the images for elaborating the creative process existing within his mind. As a result the reader can partake in this same subjective process, through a series of objective steps — the poet has created a true poetic metaphor. The gulf between the subjective and objective magically flies away.

 

Such things are not a question of taste.

 

Through the metaphorical development of imagery, the world of unconscious conceptions is bridged from the unspoken world of ideas into an utterable form, which can then be assimilated as a new intelligible idea in the minds of readers across the world. This defines the nature of all scientific discoveries as well. The successful process on the part of the poet, of an idea being communicated from one mind to another, becomes that universally recognized feeling of beauty, “that pure elevation of the soul.” Keats referred to it as a “greeting of the spirit.”

 

Such a longing for beauty can be found in the high points of cultures throughout all of history and across all parts of the globe. We have the great traditions of ancient Chinese poetry, which even took on the task of combining their poetry with painting, such that their paintings could sing! We have the sublime cross fertilization of music and poetry with the rich history of German Lieder, Schubert's, Schumann's and Brahms' most emphatically. One finds it in the great oral traditions of classical Arabic, which had reached dizzying heights even before any of the modern European languages had had a chance to unleash the likes of a Dante Alighieri, a Shakespeare or a Victor Hugo. Moreover, this classical Arabic tradition did not stay hidden in the tents and sandy dunes of the desert, but migrated through European lands into Andalusia, the product of which was a new flourishing renaissance in Europe, a renaissance which managed to preserve and revive the great ideas and antiquity through projects of Arabic translation. This also lead of necessity to a great cross fertilization in the poetic traditions, where much of the influences of Arab themes of courtly love and praise of a beautiful maiden, had been adopted by the Italian and Provencal troubadour poets. They in turn inspired the likes of Dante Alighieri and his school with their Dolce Stil Novo (The Sweet New Style). It had been sparked by the sea of Arab poetry, supplanted and nurtured in the new lush climes of southern Spain, and therefore infused with the experiences of southern European life and that uncanny Arab pathos and sensibility, which the Arabs had, for “lifting the veil from the hidden beauty of the world.”

 

Take but a small example:

 

A palm tree stands in the middle of Rusafa
Born in the West, far from the land of palm:
I said to it, “How like me you are, far away and in exile!
In long separation from family and friends
You have sprung from soil in which you are a stranger
And I, like you, am far away from home:
May the morning clouds refresh you at this distance,
And may abundant rains comfort you forever!

 

Nykl, Hispano-Arabic Poetry and its Relations with the Old Provençal Troubadors, p. 18 & — Abd al-Rahman (??? ?????? ??????), The Palm Tree (770 CE)(transl. D. F. Ruggles, Gardens, Landscape, and Vision in the Palaces of Islamic Spain (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999))

 

Here we have an Andalusian poem, with a theme of exile. It is rather straight forward, but the poet uses a very effective metaphor in order to capture the idea of distance between the poet’s homeland, his past, and the new reality of a life exiled from the paradise which had been created by the Arabs in Southern Spain.

 

The poet chose the image of a palm tree grown in a foreign land, and through the development of this metaphorical image is able to communicate his state of mind to the reader, which is defined by the tension between the two distinct lands in which the palm is found. The poet transcends the limitations of the sensual world through the ironic juxtaposition of these images, and thus a new thought is generated.

 

Creating such a successful poetic metaphor means developing an imagery which keeps readers on track towards that idea and avoids anything which would distract the mind from unearthing this hidden meaning, the irony of this palm tree. It means the poet must have a very acute sensibility such that they can successfully induce this apparent subjective state, in an objective manner.

 

If we only go back a little while, when Robert Frost’s name still lingered on the air, John F. Kennedy delivered this eulogy for him at Amherst College:

 

If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him. We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth. And as Mr. MacLeish once remarked of poets, there is nothing worse for our trade than to be in style.

 

The beauty and musicality which has remained timeless throughout the centuries was always based on the idea of the nature of man, because art is a form of truth; its beauty and musicality remained timeless because it was a form of truth. What has been rejected by the contemporary view is that universal nature of man, which has been present at the apex of each blooming culture; from the poetry of Ibykus and Sappho in ancient Greece to the poet’s of China’s Tang Dynasty, to the flourishing of Andalusia’s Moorish kingdoms, to Shakespeare England, and the seeds that lay for all the great English bards.

 

We know we shall be telling this with a sigh, but perhaps it is time poets revisit the road which for a long time, has been not taken.

New forms and worlds of imagery may appear, just as new solar systems and galaxies will surely be generated in the future, but those universal laws, which the universe uses to make such new creations, such laws are unchanging.

 

Those who write beautiful poetry, the poets, become that universal mirror by which to mirror the ideal perfection within ourselves, and the universe. As Shelley wrote:

 

They measure the circumference and sound the depths of human nature with a comprehensive and all-penetrating spirit, and they are themselves perhaps the most sincerely astonished at its manifestations; for it is less their spirit than the spirit of the age. Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present; the words which express what they understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle, and feel not what they inspire; the influence which is moved not, but moves. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world[4].

 

Many contemporary poets have chosen to reject these principles. They wish to communicate something fundamental about the human experience and paradoxes of human nature, and yet reject those principles by which any creative idea is lawfully expressed or communicated. They prefer the dalliance of self-referential writing and the obscurity of contemporary verses, rather than the pursuit of that supernal quality, which lies beyond the lines.

 

Poe’s principle has not changed.

 

Notes

 

[1]Heine's "Poseidon"

 

[2]In Defense of Poetry — Percy Bysshe Shelley

 

[3][…]employing from among the numerous “ancient” feet the spondee, the trochee, the iambus, the anapæst, the dactyl, and the cæsura alone, I will engage to scan correctly any of the Horatian rhythms, or any true rhythm that human ingenuity can conceive. And this excess of chimerical feet is, perhaps, the very least of the scholastic supererogations. Ex uno disce omnia. The fact is that Quantity is a point in whose investigation the lumber of mere learning may be dispensed with, if ever in any. Its appreciation is universal. It appertains to no region, nor race, nor æra in especial. To melody and to harmony [page 222:] the Greeks hearkened with ears precisely similar to those which we employ for similar purposes at present, and I should not be condemned for heresy in asserting that a pendulum at Athens would have vibrated much after the same fashion as does a pendulum in the city of Penn.

 

[4]In Defense of Poetry — Percy Byssche Shelley

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