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1st. Every ornamental thought in poetry, should flow naturally out of the subject. It should not, in the hacknied phrase, "smell of the lamp." It should be a volunteer, not pressed into the service. In Virgil himself, whom as a poet I almost idolize, I seem sometimes to have discovered this fault. The beautiful lines, which on a former occasion I quoted from the 3d Georgic....
"Optima quæque dies," &c.
I have always thought misplaced, and much too good for the subject. But in inferior writers you will frequently find thoughts forcibly introduced as from a common place-book, which are very remotely connected with the subject.
In Shakspeare's Hamlet, the fine soliloquy "To be or not to be," &c. seems forced in, as there is no other part in the action where it is noticed that Hamlet entertained a notion of destroying himself, and it is altogether inconsistent with his engagements to the ghost of his father.
2d. Trite and common thoughts, or reflections, however moral they may be, instead of beauties are blemishes. In poetry we expect novelty and ingenuity both in thought and expression. When the poet says of Shakspeare....
"Each change of many colour'd life he drew,
We find not less of novelty than of grandeur in the image; and in this of Shakspeare....
"Cowards die many times before their deaths,
The sublimity of the thought is rather increased than diminished by the ingenious turn which is given to it
Satan's address to the Sun in Milton is finely imagined, and the turn which is given to it, while it is highly in character, enlivens by a kind of emotion of surprise....
"O thou that with surpassing glory crown'd,
To shew how vulgar and common images debase a subject, I need only quote the following lines from no less a poet than Dryden....
"The rage of jealousy then fir'd his soul,
Palamon and Arcite, Book I.
"Nought profits him to save abandon'd life,
No man excelled Mr. Pope in ingenuity of thought......
"Friend to my life (which did not you prolong
"How can I Pulteney, Chesterfield forget,
"Is that too little? Come then I'll comply,
Yet Mr. Pope could write this execrable couplet....
“Grac❜d as thou art with all the pow'r of words,
3dly. However we may prize ingenuity of thought, too much caution cannot be exerted in avoiding conceit or affectation. One of the worst conceits upon record is that of Cicero, happily ridiculed by Juvenal....
"O fortunatam natam, me Consuli, Romam !"
"Fortune fortun'd the happy day of Rome,
In the Troas of Seneca, which however contains some good passages, could we expect to find Hecuba lamenting the manner of her lord's death in two miserable puns....
"Ille tot regum parens
"Caret sepulchro Priamus, & flamma indiget
"The father of a race of kings
Among the conceits of modern poetry, I cannot but reckon a thought which has been admired, when the poet terms the evening dew
"The tears of the day for the loss of the sun."
You will find innumerable examples of this blemish in the learned criticisins of Martinus Scriblerus.
The LANGUAGE or dialect of poetry is essentially different from that of prose. This every person who reads it feels and acknowledges, though few are able to assign the reasons. They appear to me to result partly from poetry, being of a more durable character, and partly from whatever is addressed more to the passions than to the reason, requiring a higher colouring.
1st. The first remarkable difference between poetry and prose is, that the former admits of the use of words and expressions which in the latter would be accounted obsolete. This principally arises from the permanent
or stationary character of poetry. Milton, Shakspeare, and even Spencer may be still read with pleasure, while the prose writers of their time would scarcely be endured. The reason is plain....Prose in some measure imitates and depends on the style of conversation, and that is varying almost every day. We find expressions even in the Spectator, which from their having become colloquial would be accounted vulgar in any prose composition. Poetry survives these vicissitudes, and therefore many words in Shakspeare and Milton, which perhaps the age immediately succeeding would have regarded as low, are now consecrated by time.
A further reason why words almost obsolete are tolerated in poetry is, that they serve to raise it above common language, and therefore impart to it a kind of dignity and elevation. Mr. Gray, in one of his letters, selects from Dryden the following instances of poetical licence in the revival of old words and phrases....
"Full of museful mopings; unlike the trim of love; a pleasant beverages a roundelay of love; stood silent in his mood; with knights and knaves deformed; his boon was granted; wayward but wise; furbished for the field; doddered oaks; disherited; smouldering flames; retchless of law; crones, old and ugly; the beldam at his side; villainize his father's fame." Mr. Gray himself indeed affords us, through the whole of his poems, happy examples of this liberty when under the controul of taste, serving to elevate the diction of poetry....as “ruthless king; scatter'd wild dismay; shaggy steep; wound his toilsome march in long array.”
Dr. Beattie also notes the following expressions as being peculiar to poetry....amain, annoy (a noun), anon, aye (ever), behest, blithe, brand (sword), bridal, carol, dame (lady), fell (adj.), gore, host (army), lambkin, lay (poem), lea, glade, gleam, lore, meed, orisons, plod (to travel laboriously), ringlet, rue and ruth, spray (twig), steed, strain, strand, swain, thrall, thrill, troll, wail, welter, warble, wayward, woo, the while, yon, of yore.
He adds the following, as not being in so common use....appal, arrowy, attune, battailous, breezy, car, cla
rion, cates, courser, darkling, flow'ret, emblaze, circlet, impearl, shadowy, streamy, troublous, madning, viewless, clang, clangor, choral, bland, dire, ensanguin'd ire, ireful, lave (to wash), nymph (a lady), orient, philomel, jocund, rapt, redolent, refulgent, vernal, zone, sylvan, suffuse.
Yet there is a medium to be observed in the use of antiquated phraseology; and Mr. Pope's advice on this subject should be in the mind of every poet.....
"Be not the first by whom the new are try'd
Dr. Beattie observes, that " a word which the majority of readers cannot understand without a glossary, may be considered as obsolete." But this rule is too indefinite, and it would perhaps be better to draw a line of demarcation, and to say that a word or phrase which has not been in use since the time of Shakspeare inclusive, should be considered as inadmissible.
2dly. Some of our poetical words take an additional syllable, as dispart, distain, enchain, &c. While others are made shorter, as vale, trump, clime, submiss, drear, dread, helm, morn, mead, eve and even, 'gan, illume, ope, scape, &c.
3d. Certain abbreviations, and particularly the cæsura, by which a letter is cut off from the beginning and end of a syllable, are admissible in poetry, which are not allowable in prose....such as 'tis true, o'er, e'er ne'er, &c.
""Twas on a lofty vase's side."
The cæsura is instanced in the following line from the same exquisite poet....
"'T' alarm th' eternal midnight of the grave."
4th. Poetry admits of a bolder transposition of words than prose. This would be better exemplified from