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POETRY OF LIFE.
CHARACTERISTICS OF POETRY.
That the quality of modern Poetry is a subject of general complaint with those who would purchase—that the price affixed to it by the judgment of the public is equally complained of by those who would sell—in short, that Poetry is at present “a drug in the market,” is a phrase too hackneyed, too vulgar, and too frequently assented to, to need repetition here; except as an established fact, the nature, cause, and consequence of which, I propose endeavouring to point out in the following pages.
Wherever a taste for Poetry exists, there will be a desire to read as well as to write; to receive as well as to impart that enjoyment
which poetic feeling affords. In other cases of marketable produce, the supply is found to keep pace with the demand, except when physical causes operate against it. If the poets of the present day have written themselves out,” as the common and unmeaning expression is, what, with a rapidly-increasing population, should hinder the springing up of fresh poets to delight the world? The fact is, that most of the living poets have betaken themselves to Prose as a more lucrative employment, thus proving, that the taste for Poetry is lamentably decreasing in the public mind; and while on one hand, genius is weeping over her harvest
whitening in the sun,” without hope of profit to repay the toil of gathering in the golden store; on the other, criticism is in arms against less sordid adventurers, and calls in no measured terms upon the mighty minstrels of past ages to avenge Parnassus of her wrongs.
Three different motives operate in stimulating men to write Poetry: the love of fame, the want of money, and an internal restlessness of feeling, which is too indiscriminately called genius. The first of these ceases with the second, for without the means of circulation there can be no hope of fame. The third alone operates in the present day, and small indeed is the recompense bestowed in these ungrateful times upon the poets who write because they cannot help it. Yet after all, is not this the true and legitimate method by which the genuine coin of genius is moulded ? The love of fame is a high and soul-stirring principle, but still it is degraded with the stigma of selfish aggrandisement, and who does not feel that a shade is cast upon those expressions of noble sentiment, which bear the impress of having been prepared and set forth solely for public approbation. The want of money is indeed a potent stimulus. How potent let the midnight labours of the starving poet testify. The want of money may, it is true, urge onward towards the same goal as the love of fame, but the one operates as it were from behind, by the painful application of a goad; while the other attracts, and fascinates by the brightness of some object before, which too often proves to be an ignis fatuus in the distance. But there is within the human mind an active and powerful principle, that awakens the dormant faculties, lights up the brain, and launches forth imagination to gather up from the wide realm of nature the very essence of what every human bosom pines for, when it aspires to a higher state of existence, and feels the insufficiency of this. It is this heaven-born and ethereal principle, not inaptly personified as the Spirit of Poesy, that weaves a garland of the flowers which imagination has culled; and from the fervency of its own passion, to impart as well as to receive enjoyment, casts this garland at the feet of the sordid and busy multitude, who pause, not to admire, but trample its vivid beauty in the dust. It is this principle that will not let the intellectual faculties remain inactive, but is for ever working in the laboratory of the brain, combining, sublimating, and purifying. It is this principle, when under the government of right reason, which is properly called genius. It is this principle, when perverted from its high purpose, and made the minister of base passions, which produces the most splendid and most melancholy ruin. It is this principle, when devoted to the cause of holiness, which scatters over the path of desolation flowers of unfading loveliness; pours floods of light upon our distant prospects of the celestial city; and inspires the harps of heaven-taught minstrels with undying melody.
This principle, in less figurative phraseology, I would describe as the Poetry of Life; because it pervades all things either seen, felt, or understood, where the associations are sublime, beautiful, tender, or refined. In short, where the ideas which naturally connect themselves with our contemplation of such subjects, are most exclusively intellectual, and separate from sense.
That there is much Poetry in real life, with all its sorrows, and pains, and sordid anxieties and that “all is not vanity and vexation of spirit under the sun,” to him who can honestly and innocently enjoy the commonest blessings of Providence,” has been already proved by one in whose steps I feel that I am unworthy to 'walk; but since, in his admirable lectures on Poetry, he has treated the subject as a science, rather than a principle; I am .emboldened to take up the theme, to which he, above all men (more especially above all women) would have done justice, had he chosen to launch forth into more abstruse and speculative notions respecting the nature and influence of poetic feeling.
That the poetry of the present times is an unsaleable article needs then no farther proof