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most playful effusions, and from imagination to fancy through all their degrees ;—from Homer and Dante, to Coleridge and Keats ;—from Shakspeare in King Lear, to Shakspeare himself in the Midsummer Night's Dream; from Spenser's Faerie Queene, to the Castle of Indolence ; nay, from Ariel in the Tempest, to his somewhat presumptuous namesake in the Rape of the Lock. And passages, both from Thomson's delightful allegory, and Pope's paragon of mock-heroics, would have been found in this volume, but for that intentional, artificial imitation, even in the former, which removes them at too great a distance from the highest sources of inspiration.
With the great poet of the Faerie Queene the Editor has taken special pains to make readers in general better acquainted; and in furtherance of this purpose he has exhibited many of his best passages in remarkable relation to the art of the Painter.
For obvious reasons no living writer is included; and some, lately deceased, do not come within the plan. The omission will not be thought invidious in an Editor, who has said more of his contemporaries than most men; and who would gladly give specimens of the latter poets in future volumes.
One of the objects indeed of this preface is to state, that should the Public evince a willingness to have more such books, the Editor would propose to give them, in succession, corresponding volumes of the Poetry of Action and Passion (Narrative and Dramatic Poetry), from Chaucer to Campbell (here mentioned because he is the latest deceased poet); the Poetry of Contemplation, from Surrey to Campbell ;--the Poetry of Wit and Humor, from Chaucer to Byron ; and the Poetry of Song, or Lyrical Poetry,
from Chaucer again (see in his Works his admirable and only song, beginning
Hide, Absalom, thy gilded tresses clear),
to Campbell again, and Burns, and O'Keefe. These volumes, if he is not mistaken, would present the Public with the only selection, hitherto made, of none but genuine poetry; and he would take care, that it should be unobjectionable in every other respect.*
KENSINGTON, Sept. 10, 1844.
* While closing the Essay on Poetry, a friend lent me Coleridge's Biographia Literaria, which I had not seen for many years, and which I mention, partly to notice a coincidence at page 31 of the Essay, not otherwise worth observation; and partly to do what I can towards extending the acquaintance of the public with a book containing masterly expositions of the art of poetry.
AN ANSWER TO THE QUESTION
WHAT IS POETRY?
REMARKS ON VERSIFICATION.
Poetry, strictly and artistically so called, that is to say, considered not merely as poetic feeling, which is more or less shared by all the world, but as the operation of that feeling, such as we see it in the poet's book, is the utterance of a passion for truth, beauty and power, embodying and illustrating its conceptions by imagination and fancy, and modulating its language on the principle of variety in uniformity. Its means are whatever the universe contains; and its ends, pleasure and exaltation. Poetry stands between nature and convention, keeping alive among us the enjoyment of the external and spiritual world : it has constituted the most enduring fame of nations; and, next to Love and Beauty, which are its parents, is the greatest proof to man of the pleasure to be found in all things, and of the probable riches of infinitude.
Poetry is a passion,* because it seeks the deepest impressions; and because it must undergo, in order to convey them.
It is a passion for truth, because without truth the impression would be false or defective.
It is a passion for beauty, because its office is to exalt and refine by means of pleasure, and because beauty is nothing but the loveliest form of pleasure.
* Passio, suffering in a good sense,-ardent subjection of one's self to emotion