Ernest Rhys.

The prelude to poetry; the English poets in the defence and praise of their own art online

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First Edition, October 1894.
'Second Edition^ Anarch rSq?.





Introduction .

CHAUCER, [1340-1400] ...

Invocation and Lines upon the Muse from
the third Book of " The Hous of Fame."

SPENSER, [1552-1599] .... 3

"The Perfecte Paterne of a Poete," from
" The Shepheards Calender," with Notes on
the First Invention of Poetry, and on Music.

SIR PHILIP SIDNEY, [1554-1586] . . n

" An Apologie for Poetry."

CAMPION, [1567-1620] .... 84

Two Passages from " Observations in the
Art of English Poesie."

DANIEL, [1562-1619] .... 86

Two Stanzas from " Musophilus.''

BEN JONSON, [1573-1637] ... 87

Two Passages upon Poetry trom the " Dis-
coveries upon Men and Matter."

MILTON, [1608-1674] ....

A Passage from u An Apology against a
Pamphlet called Smectymnuus, A Modest
Confutation," and a Passage from the Letter
to Hartlib,

i b v




DRYDEN, [1631-1700] .... 105

Two Passages from his " Author's Apology,
for Heroic Poetry and Poetic Licence."

POPE, [1688-1744] 107

Passages from the Preface to Homer's Iliad,
and from a Letter to Walsh.

GRAY, [1716-1771] . . . xiv.-xvi.
Passages upon the Lyric Style, and the
" Language of Poetry," from his Letters to

GOLDSMITH, [1728-1774] . . .108

Lines from " The Deserted Village."

BURNS, [1759-1796] . . . xii.-xvi.

Two Extracts from his Letters.

WORDSWORTH, [1770-1850] . . .109

Observations prefixed to the Second Edition
of " Lyrical Ballads" ; with an Appendix on
Poetic Diction.

COLERIDGE, [1772-1833] . . .153

A chapter from the " Biographia Literaria."

SHELLEY, [1792-1822] . 165

" A Defence of Poetry."

KEATS, [1795-1821] .... 215

Ode to the Poets.

LANDOR, [1775-1864] . . . .217

A Passage from " Imaginary Conversations."


IT* ROM the English poets, from Sidney and
Milton, Wordsworth and Shelley, and their
great compeers, we have brought together
here some of the famous arguments which
they have stated on behalf of their infinite
art. It is the natural opening to their
poetry ; it is the one confession of their
faith, which may fairly claim to be in-
spired ; and if it does not give us the whole
philosophy of the subject, it affords as much
of theory as is likely to be listened to profit-
ably within hearing of the lyric muse herself.

Otherwise, it is clear, the account might easily
have been added to. We might have turned
from the poets to the philosophers, and fol-
lowed the whole history of the discussion, from
Aristotle onwards. Or, we might have added
some striking passages from the European
masters of the art, such as Goethe. But we
have matter enough for our limits as it is ;
while a certain unity is gained by keeping a
volume intended as introductory to the English
poets, chiefly to their own writings in what is
virtually their own defence.

In this defence and praise of their art, thus
for the first time brought together, there are
some items that are, so to speak, inevitable,

The Prelude to Poetry.

and that carry their justification on the
face of them. The Apologie of Sidney, the
Defence of Shelley, the passages from
Milton, Wordsworth's preface to his Lyrical
Ballads, and Coleridge's complementary chap-
ter : these, it is clear, must have a place. But
when we turn to Dryden and Pope, or to less
known poets, like Campion and Daniel, the
ground is not so clear. With a larger volume
at command, it would have been simple to
include, for instance, the whole, both of
Campion's striking indictment of the use of
Rhyme in his Observations in the Art of
English Poesie, and of Daniel's admirable and
convincing retort in his Defence of Rhyme.
Again, out of the wealth of Dryden's prefaces
and Pope's various writing on the art of
poetry, out of Goldsmith and Gray, or Words-
worth and Coleridge, there is an endless store
of good things to be had, which we have not
found room for. Many such tempting oppor-
tunities, indeed, we have had to forego, con-
tenting us on occasion with just so much, a
sentence, a stanza or two, as might serve as a
bare reminder of the part that the vigorous
disputants who wrote them played from time
to time in the perennial dialectic of their calling.
At another time, with a quarto's opportunity,
and our anthology might conceivably be ex-
panded with great effect,; as we should like.
It may fairly serve, as it is, its function of
pocket-guide to Parnassus. It discourses easily
and never laboriously, on the pleasant fields to
be found there ; and teaches the haunting


nomenclature and the familiar associations of
the way thither. It takes a phrase from
Chaucer, an epigram from Ben Jonson, a lyric
word from Burns. It learns what the old
Welsh bards would call a Triad, a definition
in three terms, from Milton, and another from
Gray. It knits up the golden threads of these
poets, and shows their succession in fame and
time; especially, it shows whatever continuity
there is in what we may call the Lyric Line in
English Poetry, a line, really, as devious as
the divine accident of Burns and of Shelley
may suggest.

Accepting, then, its testimony in the most
liberal way, and reading a whole treatise on
occasion, into a single excerpt, there are
still some notable references which ought
not to be overlooked, whether in the other
writings of those who have already contributed
to its text, or elsewhere. Coleridge, as we
know, returned to the charge again and again
in his discursive eloquent way, and cast and
recast in particular his famous distinction
betwixt poetry and science. Wordsworth,
too, wrote other monumental prefaces than
that to the Lyrical Ballads; and Shelley's
Letters contain many a significant tribute in
be added to his formal confession of faith to
his Defence of Poetry. From these and other
sources, we wish to bring together what further
allusions we can, complementary to our main
text, with especial reference to the functions of
lyric poetry.

Fortunately, lyric poetry, notwithstanding

The Prelude to Poetry.

that some philosophers have tended to slight
it, is the most essential, as it is clearly the most
simple and obvious form of the art. It, at
least, is the exact antithesis to prose. Prose is
written speech ; lyric poetry is written song.
This is the beginning of the whole matter ; the
radical definition which we may elaborate, but
can hardly make more clear. With epic and
dramatic poetry the explanation is more diffi-
cult ; lyric poetry, happily, is so far simple.

We talk a great deal in these days about the
art and the technique of poetry, but less and
less about its inspiration. Partly for this very
reason, and partly because Plato is so often
referred to in the essays that follow, we should
like to quote the memorable passage in "Ion,"
where Socrates declares that poetry is an in-
spiration, and not an art. He says it, let us
admit, half with the idea of showing once
again, that the poets are an irresponsible race,
only noble when, and in so far as, they are
inspired by the gods. But the passage is re-
markable, and good to be remembered now
when we have strayed so far from the origins
of lyric poetry that its primitive inspiration has
become for the most of us a mere convention.

"All good poets," says Socrates, "epic as
well as lyric, compose their beautiful poems
not by art, but because they are inspired and
possessed. And as the Corybantian revellers
when they dance are not in their right mind 3
so the lyric poets are not in their right mind
when they are composing their beautiful strains ;
but when falling under the power of music and


metre they are inspired and possessed ; like
Bacchic maidens who draw milk and honey
from the rivers when they are under the in-
fluence of Dionysus, but not when they are in
their right mind. And the soul of the lyric
poet does the same, as they themselves say ;
for they tell us that they bring songs from the
honeyed fountains, calling them out of the
gardens and dells of the Muses ; they, like the
bees, winging their way from flower to flower.
And this is true, for the poet is a light and
winged and holy thing, and there is no inven-
tion in him until he has been inspired and is
out of his senses, and the mind is no longer in

Against this passage, set the historical pre-
face by Wordsworth, who best represents the
slow, deliberate, lyric method, which is become
a tradition of the English school. And in a
later preface than that in our text, the preface
to his volume of 1815, he speaks of these
things again, in a way worth recalling when we
attempt to decide the full measure of what we
may call the "lyric equivalent" in modern

" All poets," says Wordsworth, " except the
dramatic, have been in the practice of feigning
that their works were composed to the music of
the harp or the lyre : with what degree of
affectation this has been done in modern times,
I leave to the judicious to determine. For my
own part, I have not been disposed to violate
probability so far, or to make such a large
demand upon the Reader's charity. Some of

The Prelude to Poetry.

these pieces are essentially lyrical ; and, there-
fore, cannot have their due force without a
supposed musical accompaniment ; but, in
much the greatest part, as a substitute for the
classic lyre or romantic harp, I require nothing
more than an animated or impassioned recita-
tion, adapted to the subject. . . ."

Since Wordsworth, clearly, we have moved
still a step in this respect, for much that claims
to be lyric poetry to-day, is pictorial, rather than
lyrical, in its conception ; written for the eye,
and not for the ear. No doubt, as in Words-
worth's own case, some of the best lyric poetry
which we possess, has been written by poets
who have had no ear for music itself. There
is a harmony purely of words, a melody too ;
which may be enough for lyrics essentially
literary. To quote Mr Edmund Clarence Sted-
man's interesting volume, The Nature and
Elements of Poetry, ' ' Lyrical Beauty does not
necessarily depend upon the obvious repetends
and singing-bars of a song or regular lyric ; . . .
the stanzaic effect, the use of open vowel
sounds, and other matters instinctive with song-
makers," are not indispensable. But the true
lyric is still primarily a song, and the further
away we get from music as the companion of
poetry, the further we shall be from the well-
spring of the lyric muse. This is why, perhaps,
the Elizabethans, and Burns, and a few Scotch
song-writers, wrote songs so much more heart-
felt and musical, so much more singable, than
our too literary poets of this century. " If I
could hit on some glorious old Scotch air ! "


says Burns in a letter to Margaret Chalmers, of
Oct. 26, 1787 ; and the names of old tunes at
the head of most of his songs show us how
musically impulsive his inspiration was at all

But to return to Wordsworth, and the more
complex lyric forms. In the same preface of
1815, he attempts a classification of poetry,
in which the third of his six divisions is the
Lyrical. Under this head he includes "the
Hymn, the Ode, the Elegy, the Song, and the
Ballad," in all which, he adds, "for the pro-
duction of their full effect, an accompaniment
of music is indispensable." Even this shuts out
many kinds of poems which latterly we have
come to admit as lyrical to all intents and pur-
poses, but which Wordsworth ranks under his
next head of idyllic poetry ; such as the Sonnet,
and again poems like Milton's "L* Allegro"
and "II Penseroso." In the preface to the
Golden Treasury of Songs and Lyrics, Pro-
fessor Palgrave serves us with a wider definition,
which may fairly be accepted as a good working
one, accurate enough for ordinary purposes.
"Lyrical," he says, "has been here held
essentially to imply that each Poem shall turn
on some single thought, feeling, or situation.
In accordance with this, narrative, descriptive,
and didactic poems, unless accompanied by
rapidity of movement, brevity, and the colour-
ing of human passion, have been excluded. . . .
Blank verse and the ten syllable couplet, with
all pieces markedly dramatic, have been re-
jected as alien from what is commonly under-

The Prelude to Poetry.

recalled by way of commentary on Words-
worth's plea for the sufficiency of the common
speech, the common idiom, for poetic diction:
"The language of the age," says Gray, "is
never the language of Poetry. . . . Our poetry
has a language peculiar to itself, to which
almost every one, that has written, has added
something, by criticising it with foreign idioms
and derivations, nay, often with new words and
invented terms of their own."

The direct opposite to Gray in his tempera-
ment and method is his immediate successor
in the lyric purple, Burns. We have quoted
Burns already as a pre-eminent instance of the
virtue that lies in the old musical tradition of
lyric poetry. Let us add here a few lines con-
tributory to our formulary of the lyric creed
and the lyric art, from one of his letters, where,
after speaking of the "wild enthusiasm of
passion" aroused in him by the "old Scottish
airs," to which his songs were almost always
composed, he goes on to say: "When one
would compose to them, ' to sowth the tune,' as
our Scotch phrase is, over and over, is the
readiest way to catch the inspiration and raise
the bard into that glorious enthusiasm so
strongly characteristic of our old Scotch

Something of the same enthusiasm, it was,
that Shelley demanded of the poet in a memor-
able letter to Peacock, where he turns suo more
from the discussion of his friend's Nympholepsy
to the question of poetic inspiration :

' ' What a wonderful passage there is in


Phcedrus the beginning, I think, of one of
the speeches of Socrates in praise of poetic
madness, and in definition of what poetry is,
and how a man becomes a poet. Every man
who lives in this age and desires to write
poetry, ought, as a preservative against the
false and narrow systems of criticism which
every poetical empiric vents, to impress himself
with this sentence, if he would be numbered
among those to whom may apply this proud,
though sublime expression of Tasso ' Non
c'e in mondo chi merita nome di creatore, che
Dio ed il Poeta.' "

In a note to this letter of Shelley's, Pea-
cock adds the passage in question from the
"Phsedrus," which goes to corroborate our
previous passage from Plato: "There are
several kinds (says Socrates) of divine madness.
That which proceeds from the Muses taking
possession of a tender and unoccupied soul,
awakening, and bacchically inspiring it towards
songs and other poetry, adorning myriads of
ancient deeds, instructs succeeding generations.
But he who, without this madness from the
Muses, approaches the poetical gates, having
persuaded himself that by art alone he may
become sufficiently a poet, will find in the end
his own imperfection, and see the poetry of his
cold prudence vanish into nothingness before
the light of that which has sprung from divine

Shelley, following Plato's idea, develops it
in his Defence of Poetry ; and Sidney in his
Apologie maintains the same faith in the

The Prelude to Poetry.

"divine right" and the supernal inspiration
of the poet, as where he tells us, that the poets
" are so beloved of the Gods, that whatsoever
they write proceeds of a divine fury."

A later poet, and an even less fortunate, than
Shelley ; of a different calibre, and a less
magnanimous temper, but a true lover of his
art Edgar Poe, gave another turn to this
idea in his lecture on "The Poetic Principle."
With Plato and Shelley, the poet has already,
as it were, been in heaven, and drunk of the
immortal springs there. With Edgar Poe, the
poet is rather in the state of an impassioned
desire for " divine beauty," the poet's paradise,
which is his, as yet, only by prevision. The
passage in which he expounds this view is the
more interesting, because it bears evidence, as
do his poems indeed, that he had read his
Shelley to some purpose : " It is the desire,"
he says, "of the moth for the star. It is no
mere appreciation of the Beauty before us, but
a wild effort to reach the Beauty above. In-
spired by an ecstatic prescience of the glories
beyond the grave, we struggle by multiform
combinations among the things and thoughts
of time to attain a portion of that Loveliness
whose very elements perhaps appertain to
eternity alone." Browning, another great
lover of Shelley, in the remarkable essay in
which he expresses his own poetic creed, on the
ground of Shelley's art, also works out this
idea with a difference in profound and moving
terms, but we forbear to quote, where indeed a
passing quotation would not suffice for our


purpose. It is enough to refer any reader who
does not already know it, to what is the most
eloquent plea of the past mid century on behalf
of the exalted functions of the poet.

Having arrived at Browning, we have come
as far as, allowing for the proverbial diffi-
culty of dealing with contemporary poets
and critics, our subject may safely take
us. As it is, we have followed it to the
point, perhaps, where it may most safely be
left ; at the point of stimulus, and not of
exhaustion. If, indeed, it but provide the
stimulus to that finer sentiment and quicker
interest, upon which the last appreciation of
poetry depends, it is as much as we need
desire. And so, too, with the more formal
writings of the poets, which follow in our text.
We cannot expect, as we said, to find there the
comprehensive formulary, the whole philosophy,
of the subject, a subject which will never be
fully exploited until we have the impossible : a
perfect poet and a perfect philosopher rolled
into one. This, in spite of Coleridge, who has
said, "No man was ever yet a great poet,
without being at the same time a profound
philosopher." And in an un technical sense
this is true. But the outward and final
processes of the two are, and always must
be, different. The poet adopts the letter of
philosophy, as well as its spirit, it would
seem, witness Coleridge himself, with some
risk to his own proper art ; he cannot serve
two masters.

What we do find, then, in these contributions

The Prelude to Poetry.

by Sir Philip Sidney, Ben Jonson, Milton, and
their successors, is a set of testimonies not at
all scientific, but such as they are, making a
much more delightful and eloquent companion
to the poetic anthology than any more formal
body of criticism could do. Taken in them-
selves, severally, they are full of wise and fine
things, said in a way not readily to be forgotten.
Taken historically, they touch in the most
interesting and telling fashion the periods in
English poetry, from Chaucer to Spenser, and
on through the Elizabethan golden age to the
beginning of this century, when Wordsworth
and Coleridge were still in their heat of youth,
and when Shelley and Keats were still potential.
To those who love these poets most, who
care most for their ideals, this little book ought
to be the one indispensable book of devotion,
the credo of the poetic faith. It revives, like
nothing else in criticism, the superb belief of
youth in poetry and the other world of the
imagination. It gives us back our early faith
in the destiny and divine right of ' ' our Poet
the Monarch," as Sidney calls him. And it
sets up, once and again, the eternal standards,
by which alone English poetry can hope to
sustain the great traditions of Spenser and
Milton, Keats and Wordsworth, and the other
masters of its House of Fame.

E. R.

September i8Q4,



Invocation and Lines
upon the Muse
from the Third Book of
"The Hous of Fame/ 1 1383-4.

O GOD of science and of light,
Apollo, through thy grete might,
This litel laste book thou gye !
^J| Nat that I wilne, for maistrye,

Here art poetical be shewed ;
But, for the rym is light and lewed,
Yit make hit sumwhat agreable.
Though som vers faile in a sillable ;
And that I do no diligence,
To shewe crafte, but o sentence.
And if divyne vertu, thou
Wilt helpe me to shewe now
That in myn hede y-marked is,
Lo, that is for to menen this,
The Hous of Fame to descry ve,
Thou shalt see me go, as blyve,
Unto the nexte laure I see,
And kisse hit, for hit is thy tree.
* * * *

But in this riche lusty place,
That Fames halle called was,

t A x

The Prelude to Poetry.

Ful moche prees of folk ther nas,
Ne crouding, for to mochil prees.
But al on bye, above a dees,
Sitte in a see imperial,
That maad was of a rubee al,
Which that a carbuncle is y-called,
I saugh, perpetually y-stalled,
A feminyne creature ;
That never formed by nature
Nas swich another thing y-seye.
For altherfirst, soth for to seye,
Me thoughte that she was so lyte,
That the lengthe of a cubyte
Was lenger than she seemed be ;
But thus sone, in a whyle, she
Hir tho so wonderliche streighte,
That with hir feete she therthe reighte,
And with hir heed she touched hevene,
Ther as shynen sterres sevene.

* * * *

But, lord ! the perrie and the richesse
I saugh sitting on this goddesse !
And, lord ! the hevenish melody e
Of songes, ful of armonye,
I herde aboute her trone y-songe,
That al the paleys-walles ronge !
So song the mighty Muse, she
That cleped is Caliopee.
And hir eighte sustren eke,
That in hir face semen meke ;
And evermo, eternally,
They songe of Fame, as tho herde I :
" Heried be thou and thy name,
Goddesse of renoun and of fame I "



This Poem forms the
October Eclogue of the
Calendar. The Prose
Argument and Notes
were part of the Com*
mentary supposed to
be written by E. K.
But E. K., there is no
doubt now, was simply
Spenser himself.

"The Perfecte
Paterne of a
Poete," from
Calender," 1579:
with Notes on
the First
Invention of
Poetry, and
on Music.


In Cuddle is set out the perfecte pater ne of a Poete
ivhiche, finding no maintenaunce of his state and
studies, complayneth of the contempte of Poetrie,
and the causes tJiereof : Specially having bene in all
ages> and even amongst the most barbarous, alwayes
of singular accoumpt and honor > and being indede
so worthy and commendable an arte; or rather no
arte, but a divine gift and heavenly instinct not to
bee gotten by laboure and learning,but adorned with
both; and poured into the witte by a certain
'l&vOoVffiCLfffJibs and celestiall inspiration^ as the
A^tthor hereof els where at large discourseth in his

The Prelude to Poetry.

fookc called The English Poete, -which booke being
lately come to my hands, I mynde also by Gods grace,
upon further advisement to publish.


V-/UDDIE, for shame ! hold up thy heavye head,
And let us cast with what delight to chace,
And weary thys long lingring Phoebus race.
Whilome thou wont the shepheards laddes to


In rymes, in ridles, and in bydding base ;
Now they in thee, and thou in sleepe art dead.


Piers, I have pyped erst so long with payne,
That all mine Oten reedes bene rent and wore,
And my poore Muse hath spent her spared store,
Yet little good hath got, and much lesse gayne.
Such pleasaunce makes the Grashopper so

And ligge so layd, when Winter doth her straine.

The dapper ditties, that I wont devise
To feede youthes fancie, and the flocking fry,
Delighten much ; what I the bett for-thy ?
They han the pleasure, I a sclender prise ;
I beate the bush, the byrds to th'^m doe flye :
What good thereof to Cuddie can arise ?


Cuddie, the prayse is better then the price,
The glory eke much greater then the gayne :
O ! what an honor is it, to restraine
The lust of lawlesse youth with good ad vice ,


Or pricke them forth with pleasaunce of thy

Whereto thou list their trayned willes entice.

Soone as thou gynst to sette thy notes in frame,
O, how the rurall routes to thee doe cleave !
Seemeth thou dost their soule of sence bereave ;
All as the shepheard that did fetch his dame
From Plutoes balefull bowre withouten leave,
His musicks might the hellish hound did tame.


So praysen babes the Peacoks spotted traine,
And wondren at bright Argus blazing eye ;
But who rewards him ere the more for-thy.
Or feedes him once the fuller by a graine ?
Sike prayse is smoke, that sheddeth in the sky e ;
Sike words bene wynd, and wasten soone in


Abandon, then, the base and viler clowne ;

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