Book of the Poets: The Modern Poets of the Nineteenth Century (Classic Reprint)

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Excerpt from Book of the Poets: The Modern Poets of the Nineteenth Century

As might have been expected from such a mechanical state of poetry, a set of conventional phrases was formed by which the process of verse-making was rendered still more easy and unin tellectual. Thus, if the poet wished to write a pastoral, the snowy fleeces, the verdant lawns, and purling streams, were all at hand, and might be arranged without an effort. Like the canvas scenes of a panorama, they might be made to revolve before the on-lookers by the turning of a winch. If he commenced a production of some length, it was necessary, in the first place, to invoke his Muse, without which the poem would have looked like a sermon without a text; and after he had done this, to talk of his harp or his lyre, at decent intervals, to remind his reader that he was singing in tuneful numbers. The figments of the classical mythology, which had no meaning but in the classical ages, were also as sedulously pressed into the service of the poet as if they were still matters of public faith; and passions were attempted to be excited, and sympathies moved, by continual appeals to Jove, Mars, Apollo, the Fates, and the Furies, Venus, Cupid, and Minerva A mere nounsubstantive made a pitiful figure by itself in orthodox verse, and required to be propped by an adjective, and therefore the rhymer was supplied with some epithet for every object in nature: a mead was invariably a flowery mead; the rose must always be blushing, and the zephyr sighing. There were also certain every-day objects, the names of which it was thought necessary to aggrandise, before they could be fitted for the purposes of poetry. Thus, the sun could not shine in verse but under the name of Phcebus, nor the evening star arise unless it twinkled as Hesperus: even the sweet nightingale required to become Philomel, before she could be musical. Such was the manner in which sound was substituted for sense, and poetry itself was stifled, and buried under a mass of ver biage. So strong, also, was the enthralment of this established language, that the talented, as well as the inane, were obliged to succumb to it; and thus the finest poetry of this century, equally with the trash of Magazines and Miscellaneous Poems, is composed upon these established models. But what strength however great could have moved easily under such restrictions 1? What genius however brilliant could have shone through such a cloud? The most accomplished scholars, and even the poets of Nature's own creation, were born and nurtured in one common perversity; and, therefore, they were obliged to weave the web and weave the woof, according to the scale of manufac ture that had been decreed in the poetical market.

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