Many verse forms that we normally think of every bit good poesy — and some. besides. that we neglect — have certain common characteristics that will let us to contrive. for their sharper apprehensiveness. the name of a individual quality. I shall name that quality tenseness. In abstract linguistic communication. a poetic work has distinguishable quality as the ultimate consequence of the whole. and that whole is the “result” of a constellation of intending which it is the responsibility of the critic to analyze and measure. In puting Forth this responsibility as my present process I am seeking to magnify a critical attack that I have used on other occasions. without entirely giving up the earlier method. which I should depict as the isolation of the general thoughts implicit in the poetic work. Mass linguistic communication is the medium of “communication. ” and its users are less interested in conveying to formal order what is sometimes called the “affective state” than in eliciting that province.
Once you have said that everything is One it is obvious that literature is the same as propaganda ; one time you have said that no truth can be known apart from the immediate dialectical procedure of history it is obvious that all modern-day creative persons must fix the same fashionplate. It is clear excessively that the One is limited in infinite every bit good as clip. and the no less Hegelian Fascists are right in stating that all art is loyal. What Mr. William Empson calls loyal poesy sings non simply on behalf of the State ; you will happen it every bit in a lady-like words and in much of the political poesy of our clip. It is the poesy of the mass linguistic communication. really different from the “language of the people” which interested the late W. B. Yeats. For illustration: What from the splendid dead
We have inherited—
Furrows Sweet to the grain. and the weed subdued—
See now the bullet and the mold loot.
Evil does overpower
The larkspur and the maize ;
We have seen them travel under.
From this stanza by Miss Millay we infer that her glorious ascendants made the Earth a good topographic point that has someway gone bad — and you get the ground from the rubric: “Justice Denied in Massachusetts. ” How Massachusetts could do a general dehydration. why ( as we are told in a footer to the verse form ) the executing of Sacco and Vanzetti should hold anything to make with the decomposition of the harvests. it is ne’er made clear. These lines are aggregate linguistic communication: they arouse an affectional province in one set of footings. and all of a sudden an object rather unrelated to those footings gets the benefit of it ; and this consequence. which is normally achieved. as I think it is here. without witting attempt. is mawkishness. Miss Millay’s verse form was admired when it foremost appeared about ten old ages ago. and is no uncertainty still admired. by individuals to whom it communicates certain feelings about societal justness. by individuals for whom the lines are the juncture of feelings shared by them and the poet. But if you do non portion those feelings. as I happen non to portion them in the images of dried-out nature. the lines and even the full verse form are impenetrably vague. I am assailing here the false belief of communicating in poesy. ( I am non assailing societal justice. )
It is no less a false belief in the authorship of poesy than of critical theory. The critical philosophy menus ill the further back you apply it ; I suppose one may state — if one wants a landmark — that it began to thrive after 1798 ; for on the whole nineteenth-century English poetry is a poesy of communicating. The poets were seeking to utilize poetry to convey thoughts and feelings that they in secret thought could be better conveyed by scientific discipline ( consult Shelley’s Defense ) . or by what today we call. in a significantly bad poetic phrase. the Social Sciences. Yet perchance because the poets believed the scientists to be tough. and the poets joined the scientists in believing the poets stamp. the poets stuck to versify. It may barely be said that we change this tradition of poetic futility by giving it a new name. Social Poetry.
May a poet hope to cover more adequately with sociology than with natural philosophies? If he seizes upon either at the degree of scientific process. has he non abdicated his place as poet? At a degree of lower historical consciousness than that exhibited by Mr. Edmund Wilson’s subsequently heroes of the Symbolist school. we find the sort of poetry that I have been citing. poetry long ago intimidated by the pseudo-rationalism of the Social Sciences. This sentimental bullying has been so complete that. nevertheless easy the poetry looked on the page. it gave up all claim to sense. ( I assume here what I can non now show. that Miss Millay’s verse form is vague but that Donne’s “Second Anniversarie” is not. ) As another illustration of this trade name of obscureness I have selected at random a nineteenth-century words. “The Vine. ” by James Thomson: The vino of love is music.
And the banquet of love is song:
When love sits down to feast.
Love sits long:
Sits long and rises drunken.
But non with the banquet and the vino ;
He reeleth with his ain bosom.
That great rich Vine.
The linguistic communication here entreaties to an bing affectional province ; it has no coherent intending either literally or in footings of ambiguity or deduction ; it may be entirely replaced by any of its several paraphrasiss. which are already latent in our heads. One of these is the baffled image of a self-intoxicating man-about-town. Now good poesy can bear the closest actual scrutiny of every phrase. and is its ain precaution against our sarcasm. But the more closely we examine this words. the more vague it becomes ; the more we trace the deductions of the imagination. the denser the confusion. The imagination adds nil to the general thought that it tries to prolong ; it even deprives that thought of the self-respect it has won at the custodies of a long sequence of better poets traveling back. I suppose. to Guinizelli: Al cor gentil ripara sempre Amore
Come alla tropical rain forest augello in La verdura
What I want to do clear is the peculiar sort of failure. non the grade. in a certain sort of poesy. Were we interested in grades we might give comfort to the 19th century by mentioning lines from John Cleveland or Abraham Cowley. bad lyric poetry no better than “The Vine. ” written in an age that produced some of the greatest English poesy. Here are some lines from Cowley’s “Hymn: to visible radiation. ” a hundred-line stock list of some of the offices performed by the topic in a existence that still seems to be on the whole Ptolemaic ; I should non care to think the length the verse form might hold reached under the Copernican system. Here is one of the interesting responsibilities
of visible radiation: Nor amidst all these Triumphs does thou contemn
The low glow-worm to decorate.
And with those populating sequins gild.
( O Greatness without Pride! ) the Bushes of the Field.
The Violet. springs small Infant. bases.
Girt in thy violet Swadling-bands:
On the just Tulip 1000 dost dote ;
Thou cloath’st it in a homosexual and party-colour’d Coat.
This. doubtless. is metaphysical poesy ; nevertheless bad the lines may be — they are reasonably bad — they have no qualities. bad or good. in common with “The Vine. ” Mr. Ransom has given us. in a singular essay. “Shakespeare at Sonnets” ( The World’s Body. 1938 ) . an first-class description of this sort of poesy: “The urge to metaphysical poetry…consists in perpetrating the feelings in the case…to their finding within the elective figure. ” That is to state. in metaphysical poesy the logical order is explicit ; it must be coherent ; the imagination by which it is sensuously embodied must hold at least the visual aspect of logical determinism: possibly the visual aspect merely. because the assortments of ambiguity and contradiction possible beneath the logical surface are endless. as Mr. Empson has demonstrated in his elucidation of Marvel’s “The Garden. ” Here it is adequate to state that the development of imagination by extension. its logical determiners being an Ariadne’s yarn that the poet will non allow us to lose. is the prima characteristic of the poesy called metaphysical. “The Vine” is a failure in indication. “Hymn: to light” is a failure in intension. The linguistic communication of “The Vine” lacks nonsubjective content.
Take “music” and “song” in the first two lines ; the context does non let us to grok the footings in extension ; that is. there is no mention to objects that we may separate as “music” and “song” ; the vino of love could hold every bit good been song. its feast music. In “Hymn: to visible radiation. ” a decrease to their intensions of the footings violet. swadling-bands. and light ( the last being represented by the pronoun 1000 ) yields a jumble of images that may be unified merely if we forget the steadfast indications of the footings. If we are traveling to have as valid the babyhood of the violet. we must disregard the metaphor that conveys it. for the metaphor renders the violet absurd ; by disregarding the nappy. and the two footings associated with it. we cease to read the transition. and get down for ourselves the edifice up of acceptable indications for the footings of the metaphor. Absurd: but on what concluding land I call these verse forms absurd I can non province as a rule. I appeal to the reader’s experience. and invite him to organize a judgement of my ain. It is easy plenty to state. as I shall state in item in a minute. that good poesy is a integrity of all the significances from the furthest extremes of connotation and extension.
Yet our acknowledgment of the action of this incorporate significance is the gift of experience. of civilization. or. if you will. our humanitarianism. Our powers of favoritism are non deductive powers. though they may be aided by them ; they wait instead upon the cultivation of our entire human powers. and they represent a particular application of those powers to a individual medium of experience — poesy. I have referred to a certain sort of poesy as the incarnation of the false belief of communicating: it is a poesy that communicates the affectional province. which ( in footings of linguistic communication ) consequences from the irresponsible indications of words. There is a obscure appreciation of the “real” universe. The history of this false belief. which is every bit old as poesy but which towards the terminal of the 18th century began to rule non merely poesy. but other humanistic disciplines as well–its history would likely demo that the poets gave up the linguistic communication of indication to the scientists. and kept for themselves a continually thinning flux of peripheral intensions.
The comrade false belief. to which I can give merely the actual name. the false belief of mere indication. I have besides illustrated from Cowley: this is the poesy which contradicts our most developed human penetrations in so far as it fails to utilize and direct the rich intension with which linguistic communication has been informed by experience. We return to the enquiry set for this treatment: to happen out whether there is non a more cardinal accomplishment in poesy than that represented by either of the utmost illustrations that we have been sing. I proposed as descriptive of that accomplishment. the term tenseness. I am utilizing the term non as a general metaphor. but as a particular 1. derived from discerping the prefixes off the logical footings extension and connotation. What I am stating. of class. is that the significance of poesy is its “tension. ” the full organized organic structure of all the extension and connotation that we can happen in it. The remotest nonliteral significance that we can deduce does non annul the extensions of the actual statement. Or we may get down with the actual statement and by phases develop the complications of metaphor: at every phase we may hesitate to province the significance so far appreciated. and at every phase the significance will be coherent.