GONE are those unblest times...
When Genius, trembling with unmanly fear,
Claim'd not the wreath, which he deserv'd to wear,
Till nine long years had lent their tedious aid,
To touch the forms his magic hand pourtray'd;
Leigh Hunt. The Modern Parnassus or the New Art of Poetry, A Poem. 1814.
It remains the honourable characteristic of the poetic arts that its materials are to be found in every subject which can interest the human mind. The following poems are to be considered as experiments. They were written chiefly with a view to ascertain how far the circumstance of the underclass of today’s society is adapted to the pleasure of traditional poetry; that finds precedents, for example, in the Enclosure Act of the Parliament of the Kingdom of Great Britain, passed during the reign of King George III, which removed the right of access to common lands that had been the labourer’s heritage and source of income for ages past.
An English poet, William Wordsworth, extolled the virtues of old Michael and his wife, in their struggle to maintain their patrimonial fields, while the unenclosed commons became largely restricted to rough pasture in mountainous areas and to relatively small parts of the lowlands. The result was an upheaval, about which much poetry was written in the Romantic era, that was preserved in a language of conversation idiomatic of the middle and lower classes of society. Compared with today’s colloquial expressions, this language is archaic and unnatural, but perhaps the lenient public will excuse the inclusion in my verse of anachronisms, if it nevertheless contains a natural delineation of human passions, human characters, and human incidents found in twenty-first century dependency culture.
Yet even if the public will excuse me for the inclusion of anachronisms, it is now generally admitted that the Greek and Roman poets, together with those of the Classical tradition in English, who have copied their manner, should no longer be considered as examples for poets of the present day. Those critical compositions, therefore, which in an earlier age were drawn up, either in prose or verse, for the direction of the novitiate in poetry, inasmuch as the precepts, which they contain, are derived from the outdated models, must now be entirely useless, or, what is worse, must mislead the pupil into a style of writing, which will defeat his or her purpose of gaining the applause of all countrymen.
Still, it becomes very desirable, that a new set of rules should be arranged, suited to the improvements and corrected taste of the present day; in order that they, whose genius or inclination leads them to cultivate the art, may not only enjoy having models to imitate, in the plentiful poetry by which literature is distinguished, but may also have a kind of manual, to which they may easily refer in cases of doubt and difficulty. This task I have ventured to undertake; and I assure the reader, that however imperfectly in other respects it may be executed, he or she will find its precepts to be fairly and legitimately deduced from the most popular authorities of the tradition.
For, there remains one maxim of the critics, which we still admit to be just; that the rules for writing in verse cannot be laid down by dint of previous reasoning, or as the metaphysicians express it, a priori, but must be drawn from poems before, which have been crowned with the greatest success, and which, therefore, we conclude to be the best. Thus Aristotle, in the first art of poetry that was ever written, derives his maxims from the works of Homer; and an English classical poet, Alexander Pope, admits the propriety of this plan in the following lines of his Essay on Criticism,
Just precepts thus from great examples given,
She drew from them what they deriv’d from Heav’n.
Waving therefore all claim to the invention of the new poetic art, I merely take to myself the credit of collecting and imitating some models, which lie scattered here and there throughout the successful poems of the past remarkable eras. As a postmodern writer, I abandon much of my claim to authority, and, with a predilection for nostalgia, suppress the satirical impulse for parody, in preference of a pastiche of "dead" styles, in order to pay homage to famous poets, who are perpetually present, hence even our contemporaries.
Whereas in the schools of our universities every sentiment is no longer discoursed in a learned language, but presently, in our own mother tongue, there remains a well known fact, that in the school of traditional poets, it was customary to use only the language of verse, even upon prosaic subjects. And so they threw into a metrical form their critique of poetry, which might perhaps have been more explicitly and methodically described in prose; and they preferred the didactic strains of Horace to the critical discourses of Aristotle. Hence it is, that, although a discussion in prose, upon principles and rules of what constitutes the postmodern, has already been laid before the public many times, I thought it due the dignity of the newly-endowed school of poets, that, like the English classical poets, they should have (if I may so express myself) some examples of pastiche, in which the pupil may learn the elements of his or her art.
It was to be expected, that my verse should have been itself an illustration of contemporaneity in the rules which it prescribes, after the manner of Longinus, who “is himself the great sublime he draws.” But, as the reader will find in the examples, not being able to root entirely from my mind a lingering fondness for the models upon which my youthful judgement was formed, I thought, that the lenient public, if I resembled the English classical age in the spirit of my compositions, would excuse me for giving my verse an old fashioned form.
Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
Readers familiar with both 18th-century poetry and 20th-century poverty will appreciate this moving reminiscence in verse.
-Publisher's Weekly (February 25, 2020)
Fans of 18th-century poetry will be thrilled to see a present-day writer accurately and vibrantly employ their flowery verse style.
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