Books Should Be Free is now
Loyal Books
Free Public Domain Audiobooks & eBook Downloads
Search by: Title, Author or Keyword

The Lyric An Essay   By: (1882-1937)

Book cover

First Page:





What is Poetry

The Best Words in the Best Order

The Degrees of Poetry

Paradise Lost

What is Lyric

The Classification of Poetry

Lyric Forms


The Popularity of Lyric



If you were to ask twenty intelligent people, "What is the Thames?" the answer due to you from each would be "a river." And yet this would hardly be matter to satisfy your enquiring mind. You would more probably say, "What do you know of the Thames?" or, "Describe the Thames to me." This would bring you a great variety of opinions, many dissertations on geological and national history, many words in praise of beauty, many personal confessions. Here would be the revelation of many minds approaching a great subject in as many manners, confirming and contradicting each other, making on the whole some impression of cumulative judgment, giving you many clues to what might be called the truth, no one of them by itself coming near to anything like full knowledge, and the final word would inevitably be left unsaid.

The question, "What is poetry?" has been answered innumerable times, often by the subtlest and clearest minds, and as many times has it been answered differently. The answer in itself now makes a large and distinguished literature to which, full as it is of keen intelligence and even of constructive vision, we can return with unstaling pleasure. The very poets themselves, it is true, lending their wits to the debate, have left the answer incomplete, as it must not in the least unhappily always remain. And yet, if we consider the matter for a moment, we find that all this wisdom, prospering from Sidney's Apology until to day, does not strictly attempt to answer the question that is put. It does not tell us singly what poetry is, but it speculates upon the cause and effect of poetry. It enquires into the impulse that moves the poet to creation and describes, as far as individual limitations will allow, the way in which the poet's work impresses the world. When Wordsworth says "poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge," he is, exactly, in one intuitive word, telling us how poetry comes into being, directing us with an inspired gesture to its source, and not strictly telling us what it is; and so Shelley tells us in his fiery eloquence of the divine functions of poetry. But poetry is, in its naked being and apart from its cause and effect, a certain use of words, and, remembering this simple fact, there has been one perfect and final answer to the question, "What is poetry?" It was Coleridge's: "Poetry the best words in the best order."


This is the fundamental thing to be remembered when considering the art of poetry as such. The whole question of what causes a poet to say this or that and of the impression that is thence made upon us can be definitely narrowed down to the question "How does he say it?" The manner of his utterance is, indeed, the sole evidence before us. To know anything of a poet but his poetry is, so far as the poetry is concerned, to know something that may be entertaining, even delightful, but is certainly inessential. The written word is everything. If it is an imperfect word, no external circumstance can heighten its value as poetry. We may at times, knowing of honourable and inspiriting things in a poet's life, read into his imperfect word a value that it does not possess. When we do this our judgment of poetry is inert; we are not getting pleasure from his work because it is poetry, but for quite other reasons. It may be a quite wholesome pleasure, but it is not the high ├Žsthetic pleasure which the people who experience it generally believe to be the richest and most vivid of all pleasures because it is experienced by a mental state that is more eager and masterful than any other. Nor is our judgment acute when we praise a poet's work because it chimes with unexpected precision to some particular belief or experience of our own or because it directs us by suggestion to something dear to our personal affections... Continue reading book >>

eBook Downloads
ePUB eBook
• iBooks for iPhone and iPad
• Nook
• Sony Reader
Kindle eBook
• Mobi file format for Kindle
Read eBook
• Load eBook in browser
Text File eBook
• Computers
• Windows
• Mac

Review this book

Popular Genres
More Genres
Paid Books