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The Works of Edgar Allan Poe Raven Edition Volume 5
The Poetic Principle
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.
The Poetic Sentiment, of course, may develop itself in various modes --in Painting, in Sculpture, in Architecture, in the Dance -- very especially in Music -- and very peculiarly, and with a wide field, in the com position of the Landscape Garden. Our present theme, however, has regard only to its manifestation in words. And here let me speak briefly on the topic of rhythm. Contenting myself with the certainty that Music, in its various modes of metre, rhythm, and rhyme, is of so vast a moment in Poetry as never to be wisely rejected -- is so vitally important an adjunct, that he is simply silly who declines its assistance, I will not now pause to maintain its absolute essentiality. It is in Music perhaps that the soul most nearly attains the great end for which, when inspired by the Poetic Sentiment, it struggles -- the creation of supernal Beauty. It _may _be, indeed, that here this sublime end is, now and then, attained in _fact. _We are often made to feel, with a shivering delight, that from an earthly harp are stricken notes which _cannot _have been unfamiliar to the angels. And thus there can be little doubt that in the union of Poetry with Music in its popular sense, we shall find the widest field for the Poetic development. The old Bards and Minnesingers had advantages which we do not possess -- and Thomas Moore, singing his own songs, was, in the most legitimate manner, perfecting them as poems.
To recapitulate then: -- I would define, in brief, the Poetry of words as _The Rhythmical Creation of Beauty. _Its sole arbiter is Taste. With the Intellect or with the Conscience it has only collateral relations. Unless incidentally, it has no concern whatever either with Duty or with Truth.
A few words, however, in explanation. _That _pleasure which is at once the most pure, the most elevating, and the most intense, is derived, I maintain, from the contemplation of the Beautiful. In the contemplation of Beauty we alone find it possible to attain that pleasurable elevation, or excitement _of the soul, _which we recognize as the Poetic Sentiment, and which is so easily distinguished from Truth, which is the satisfaction of the Reason, or from Passion, which is the excitement of the heart. I make Beauty, therefore--using the word as inclusive of the sublime -- I make Beauty the province of the poem, simply because it is an obvious rule of Art that effects should be made to spring as directly as possible from their causes: -- no one as yet having been weak enough to deny that the peculiar elevation in question is at least _most readily _attainable in the poem. It by no means follows, however, that the incitements of Passion' or the precepts of Duty, or even the lessons of Truth, may not be introduced into a poem, and with advantage; for they may subserve incidentally, in various ways, the general purposes of the work: but the true artist will always contrive to tone them down in proper subjection to that _Beauty _which is the atmosphere and the real essence of the poem.
I cannot better introduce the few poems which I shall present for your consideration, than by the citation of the Proem to Longfellow's "Waif": --
The day is done, and the darkness
I see the lights of the village
A feeling of sadness and longing,
Come, read to me some poem,
Not from the grand old masters,