Edmond Holmes What Is Poetry?

ISBN 13: 9781508899433

What Is Poetry?

9781508899433: What Is Poetry?
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Mr. Edmond Holmes has set himself a greatly daring task in this very suggestive little book. From Aristotle downwards men have attempted to answer the question, "What is poetry?" and have met with hut indifferent success. We will not say that Mr. Holmes succeeds where they failed; but he does describe the modus operandi of poetry in a novel and stimulant way. At first sight the motto of his book, taken from Carlyle, seems to be in direct conflict with his thesis. "Poetic creation, what is this but seeing the thing sufficiently? The word that will describe the thing follows of itself from such intense clear sight of it." So speaks Carlyle, as quoted by Mr. Holmes. Yet the first postulate laid down by Mr. Holmes is that "Poetry is the expression of strong and deep feeling." The two appear irreconcilable, if either be laid down singly. The truth is, that neither should be laid down singly. The basis of the poetic faculty is neither intuition alone, nor emotion alone. (For, be it observed, Mr. Holmes is really investigating rather the poetic faculty than poetry itself: he is inquiring into the operation of poetry in the mind of the poet.) The basis of the poetic gift is intellectual insight, or intuition, combined with emotional sensibility. The union is so subtle, that the poet may be said in a manner to see through his sensitive nature. "I see it feelingly," he might enounce with Lear. Mr. Holmes had done better to take as his postulate: "Poetry is the expression of truth seen feelingly." For that, indeed, is the foundation, the modus operandi, of the poetic faculty. But, in fact, this is Mr. Holmes's basis, and his failure to enunciate it distinctly exemplifies a lack of precision in thought which somewhat mars a deeply conceived and mainly right essay.

He implicates sight in feeling—the very union which we have ourselves postulated. The more pity that his position is not made water-tight by being logically announced, instead of illogically implied. He arrives at it in this way: the poet's feelings, he truly observes, are not different from those of other men; or else they could awaken no sympathy in others. But what the poet possesses in a highly developed state is latent in other men. Now where there is feeling there is something to be felt. The poet's higher range of feelings, therefore, correspond to a higher range of truth (or realities, as Mr. Holmes prefers to say, curiously discriminating reality from truth—in which we refuse to follow him) latent or invisible to others as these higher feelings are latent in others. Through these intense and subtle feelings he is led to discern these higher truths, which in turn beget emotion, and emotion leads on to further truth, in perpetual interaction. It is justly and delicately apprehended. But here we have assumed that union of intuition and feeling, of intuition in feeling, which should explicitly have been postulated.

The Academy, Volume 58 [1900]

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