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- The Principles Of Aesthetics - 30/50 -


Plonge ses mains dans son manchon.

Et pour la saison, les bergeres De Coysevox et de Coustou, Trouvant leures echarpes legeres Ont des boas autour du cou.

Of course, poetic pictures can be painted--Gautier has painted them--but the standard for each art is set by what it can do uniquely well. If the poet works in the domain of the painter, we tend to judge him by the alien standards of another art, where he is bound to fall short; while if he works within his own province, we judge him by his own autonomous laws, under which he can achieve perfection.

Oftentimes, confessing the inability of the image to stand alone, these poets make it into a symbol of some mood or emotional thought. Yet the image remains the chief object of the poet's care; it was clearly the first thing in his mind; the interpretation is an afterthought. The poem therefore falls into two parts--a picture and an interpretation, with little organic relation between them. Another one of Gautier's poems will serve to illustrate what I mean.[Footnote: There are some good examples of this in Baudelaire's _Fleures du Mat_. See for one,_L'Albatros_.]

LES COLOMBES

Sur le coteau, la-bas ou sont les tombes, Un beau palmier, comme un panache vert, Dresse sa tete, ou le soir les colombes Viennent nicher et se mettre a couvert,

Mais le matin elles quittent les branches; Comme un collier qui s'egrene, on les voit

S'eparpiller dans Fair bleu, toutes blanches, Et se poser plus loin sur quelque toil.

Mon ame est l'arbre ou tous les soirs, comme elles, De blancs essaims de folles visions Tombent des cieux, en palpitant des ailes, Pour s'envoler des les premiers rayons.

Finally, the effort to detach poetry from the inner world and make it an expression of outer things, is incompatible with its musical character. For music is essentially subjective, an expression of pure mood unaffixed to objects. As rhythmical, poetry shares the inwardness of music; wherefore, unless its rhythm is to be a mere functionless, ornamental dress, whatever it expresses should have its source in the inner man. Of course, through their meanings, word-sounds indicate the causes and objects of emotion--and this differentiates music from poetry--but in poetry the emotion is still the primary thing, springing from inner strivings, and not from objects, as in painting and sculpture. It is therefore no accident that the contemporary imagists tend to abandon the forms of verse; their poetry has little or no regular rhythm; it approximates to prose. For in proportion as poetry becomes free, it ceases to be tied to musical expressiveness, and may become objective, without prejudice to its own nature. Prose poetry, and prose too, of course, may be highly emotional and subjective, for words can express emotions directly without any rhythmical ordering; yet prose need not be subjective, as poetry must be. There is no absolute difference between prose and poetry; for even prose has its rhythm and its euphony, its expressiveness of the medium; yet in prose the rhythm is irregular and accidental and the expressiveness of the medium incomplete, while in poetry the rhythm is regular and pervasive and ideally every sound-element, as mere sound, is musical. But this more complete musical expressiveness of the medium restricts poetry to a more inward world.

By abandoning the strict forms and restraints of regular rhythms, the writers of free verse think to gain spontaneity and something of the amplitude of prose; yet it is doubtful whether they gain as much as they lose. For, in the hands of the skillful poet, the form, having become second nature, ceases to be a bond; and the expression, by taking on regularity of rhythm, acquires a concentration and mnemonic value which free verse cannot achieve. In comparison with free verbal expressions, verse forms are, indeed, artifices; yet they are not artificial, in the bad sense of functionless, for they possess irreplaceable values. Nevertheless, it would be strange if they were not from time to time abandoned, the poet reverting to the freedom of ordinary speech; just as now and then, in civilized communities, we find vigorous and sincere men who tire of culture and take to the woods.

The triplicity of the word, as sound, image, meaning, provides a certain justification for the variety of tastes in poetry, and accounts for the difficulty of setting up a single universal standard. There is an unstable equilibrium between the three aspects of words; hence poetry tends to become predominantly music or painting or thought, yet can never succeed in becoming completely any one of these. And it is inevitable that some people should be more sensitive to one rather than to another of the aspects of words, preferring therefore the more musical, or the more thoughtful, or the more pictorial poetry. And so we have poems that would be music, and others that would be pictures, and still others that would be epigrams. And each kind has a certain right and beauty; but no kind has the unique beauty that is poetical. We do not ask their makers not to produce them, nor do we condemn the pleasures which they afford us, but we cannot commend them without reservation. For the best poems achieve a synthesis of the elements of words,--they are at once musical and imaginative and thoughtful. Yet with difficulty; for there is an antagonism among the elements: when the music is insistent, the thought is obscured; when the images are elaborate, their meaning is lost to sight; when the thought is subtle or profound, it rejects the image and is careless of sound. Swinburne's poetry is full of philosophy, but is so sensuous and musical that we miss its thoughts; Browning is too subtle a thinker to be a musician. The complexity of poetry is the source of its strength, lending it something of the inwardness of music and the plasticity of the pictorial arts; but is also the source of its weakness. Seldom does it achieve the technical purity and perfection of music and painting and sculpture. Music has a clear and simple medium, painting and sculpture work with colors and forms which almost are what they represent; but word-sounds are not what they mean, and what they mean is not precisely the same as the images which they evoke; too often the correspondence is factitious and artificial, rarely is there fusion. Yet, as I have tried to show, when meaning is made central, sound may fit it closely, and when the meaning is emotional, the music of sound may echo its cry, and the image, instead of rebelling, may serve. Emotional thought is the essence of poetry and the link between its music and its pictures.

Of the different modes of poetry, the lyric has rightly seemed the most typical. Being an expression of a single, simple mood, its subject-matter is most closely akin to the musical expressiveness of the rhythm and euphony of the medium. When, moreover, the mood is a common one, there occurs that identification of self with the passion expressed characteristic of music: the utterance becomes ours as well as the poet's; the "I" of the poem is the "I" who read. This is especially true when the setting and causes of the emotion are without name or place or date; the poem then shares the timelessness and universality of music. In such a lyric there is complete symmetry in the relation between speaker and hearer; the poet unburdens his heart to us, and we in receiving his message tell it back to him. When, on the other hand, in explaining his feelings, the poet relates them to events and persons which have been no part of our experience, this symmetry is lost; we no longer utter the poem ourselves, but merely hear the poet speak. Such poetry is already approaching the dramatic; for although still the expression of the poet's life, it is no longer an expression of the reader's life, and the poet also, as he lives past his experience, must come at length to view it as if it were another's.

And yet, paradoxical as it may sound, dramatic poetry is dramatic in proportion as it is lyrical--that is, according to the degree to which the poet has made the life of others his own. Dramatic poetry, when truly poetic, is a series of lyrics of the less universal type. In another respect, however, dramatic poetry is essentially different from the lyrical. For, in dramatic poetry, each utterance is a response or invitation to another utterance, while in lyric poetry, utterance is complete in itself. The one is social, the other personal: in the appreciation of the lyric, the reader is just himself; in the appreciation of dramatic poetry, he is a whole society, becoming now this man and now that. The unity of the one is the unity of a single mood; the unity of the other is the interaction of the dramatis person as it works itself out in the mind of the reader. And this difference, as we have seen, is imaged in the form. Being self-contained, the lyric is a harmonious whole, in which the parts may be repeated for emphasis; looking backward and forward, the dramatic utterance is a progressive and incomplete whole, which cannot stay for iteration. Lyric poetry is like a communication from friend to friend, intimate and meditative; dramatic poetry is like a passionate conversation which one overhears.

The life portrayed in the epic poem is even less direct than that which is portrayed in the drama; for there the poet does not impersonate the agents in the story, but describes them. His description is the first thing which we get; we get the action only indirectly through that. Hence the story-teller himself--his manner of telling, his reactions to what he tells, his sympathy, humor, and intelligence--are part of what he expresses. He himself is partly theme. No matter how hard he may try to do so, he cannot exclude himself; through his choice of words, through his illustrations, through his style, "which is the man," he will reveal himself. [Footnote: See Lipps: _Aesthetik_, Bd. 1, s. 495 et seq.] We inevitably apprehend, not merely his thoughts, but him thinking. In the epic form of poetry, the poet has, moreover, an opportunity for a more direct mode of self-revelation, an opportunity for comment and judgment upon the life which he portrays. And this we should accept, not in a spirit of controversy or criticism, but with sympathy, as a part of the total aesthetic expression, striving to get, not only the poet's story, but his point of view regarding it as well.

This duality in the life of the epic involves a two-foldness in its time. In both lyric and dramatic poetry, life moves before us as a single stream actual in the present; but in the epic there is the time of the story-teller, which is present, and the time of the events that he relates, which is past. And being past, these events appear as it were at a distance, at arms' length and remote; they lack the vivid reality of things present. Moreover, since the past is finished, unlike the present which is ever moving and creating itself anew, the epic, in comparison with the drama, comes to us with its parts as it were coexisting and complete, more after the manner of space than of time. And just as a spatial thing allows us to survey its parts by turn, since they are all there before we look; so, in reading an epic, we feel that we can proceed at our leisure and, despite the causal relation, take the incidents in any order. It is not so in the drama, where events move rapidly and make themselves in a determined sequence. This is what Goethe meant when he said that substantiality was the category of the epic, causality of the drama, although, of course, this distinction is not absolute.

Finally, the fact that the epic poet tells rather than impersonates his story, enables him to enlarge its scope; for by means of


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