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The Works of Edgar Allan Poe Raven Edition Volume 5
The Poetic Principle
Though the rock of my last hope is shivered,
Though human, thou didst not deceive me,
Yet I blame not the world, nor despise it,
From the wreck of the past, which bath perished,
Although the rhythm here is one of the most difficult, the versification could scarcely be improved. No nobler _theme _ever engaged the pen of poet. It is the soul-elevating idea that no man can consider himself entitled to complain of Fate while in his adversity he still retains the unwavering love of woman.
From Alfred Tennyson, although in perfect sincerity I regard him as the noblest poet that ever lived, I have left myself time to cite only a very brief specimen. I call him, and _think _him the noblest of poets, _not _because the impressions he produces are at _all _times the most profound-- _not _because the poetical excitement which he induces is at _all _times the most intense--but because it is at all times the most ethereal--in other words, the most elevating and most pure. No poet is so little of the earth, earthy. What I am about to read is from his last long poem, "The Princess":--
Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail,
Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns
Dear as remember'd kisses after death,
Thus, although in a very cursory and imperfect manner, I have endeavored to convey to you my conception of the Poetic Principle. It has been my purpose to suggest that, while this principle itself is strictly and simply the Human Aspiration for Supernal Beauty, the manifestation of the Principle is always found in _an elevating excitement of the soul, _quite independent of that passion which is the intoxication of the Heart, or of that truth which is the satisfaction of the Reason. For in regard to passion, alas! its tendency is to degrade rather than to elevate the Soul. Love, on the contrary--Love--the true, the divine Eros--the Uranian as distinguished from the Diona~an Venus--is unquestionably the purest and truest of all poetical themes. And in regard to Truth, if, to be sure, through the attainment of a truth we are led to perceive a harmony where none was apparent before, we experience at once the true poetical effect; but this effect is referable to the harmony alone, and not in the least degree to the truth which merely served to render the harmony manifest.
We shall reach, however, more immediately a distinct conception of what the true Poetry is, by mere reference to a few of the simple elements which induce in the Poet himself the poetical effect He recognizes the ambrosia which nourishes his soul in the bright orbs that shine in Heaven--in the volutes of the flower--in the clustering of low shrubberies--in the waving of the grain-fields--in the slanting of tall eastern trees -- in the blue distance of mountains -- in the grouping of clouds-- in the twinkling of half-hidden brooks--in the gleaming of silver rivers --in the repose of sequestered lakes--in the star-mirroring depths of lonely wells. He perceives it in the songs of birds--in the harp of Bolos --in the sighing of the night-wind--in the repining voice of the forest-- in the surf that complains to the shore--in the fresh breath of the woods --in the scent of the violet--in the voluptuous perfume of the hyacinth--in the suggestive odour that comes to him at eventide from far distant undiscovered islands, over dim oceans, illimitable and unexplored. He owns it in all noble thoughts--in all unworldly motives--in all holy impulses--in all chivalrous, generous, and self-sacrificing deeds. He feels it in the beauty of woman--in the grace of her step--in the lustre of her eye--in the melody of her voice--in her soft laughter, in her sigh--in the harmony of the rustling of her robes. He deeply feels it in her winning endearments--in her burning enthusiasms--in her gentle charities--in her meek and devotional endurances--but above all--ah, far above all, he kneels to it--he worships it in the faith, in the purity, in the strength, in the altogether divine majesty--of her love.
Let me conclude by -- the recitation of yet another brief poem -- one very different in character from any that I have before quoted. It is by Motherwell, and is called "The Song of the Cavalier." With our modern and altogether rational ideas of the absurdity and impiety of warfare, we are not precisely in that frame of mind best adapted to sympathize with the sentiments, and thus to appreciate the real excellence of the poem. To do this fully we must identify ourselves in fancy with the soul of the old cavalier: --
Then mounte! then mounte, brave gallants all,