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by suggestion the tickle-brain condition into which they decay, but we should have for ourselves a sounder estimate of the place and dignity of the poetic. It is not an attribute of special, exotic, or disordered types, but a universal quality of our nature. No live man is without an arbitrary passion for some experience. Indeed, the defect of many of those most scornful of poetry is not that they are strong in the practical life, but that the attachment to some single state of being has got the better of them. There are fifty thousand morphinetakers in Paris, and all over the face of the earth how many million chewers, and breathers, and swallowers of what, far from being of practical value, is both costly and deleterious, bearing unconscious witness to the poetry of human nature.
The greatly poetic differ from them only in the healthy variety of their loves, prevailing everywhere and always. They are those who live variously as well as vividly in the present. This alone distinguishes them from the millions. This alone distinguishes them from all those excluded by our experiment at the beginning, who confine their enjoyment to smoke while they are crossing the river. They are not without realization. But it is only the childlike and the poetic who make the innumerable intimate acquaintances that are to be made, who welcome all living qualities and perfect them, and finally, perhaps, in a supreme moment of morning sunshine and mist over the city, realize what we may call the essence of crossing a ferry. Their breast thrills, and their eyes drink with rapture the million moving and dancing details of that pageant of life
"_the white sails of schooners and sloops,-the ships at The sailors at work in the rigging, or out astride the spars, The round masts, the swinging motion of the hulls, the
slender serpentine pennants, The large and small steamers in motion, the pilots in their
pilot-houses, The white wake left by the passage, the quick tremulous
whirl of the wheels, The flags of all nations, the falling of them at sunset, The scallop-edged waves in the twilight, the ladled cups, the
frolicsome crests and glistening, The stretch afar growing dimmer and dimmer, the gray
walls of the granite storehouses by the docks, On the river the shadowy group, the big steam-tug closely
flank'd on each side by the barges—the hay-boat, the
belated lighter, On the neighboring shore the fires from the foundry chim
neys burning high and glaringly into the night, Casting their flicker of black, contrasted with wild red and
yellow light, over the tops of houses, and down into the clefts of streets.”
practical function. But that is not the chief reason why they are poetic; the chief reason is that they are not practical. They have not yet felt the necessity, or got addicted to the trick, of formulating a purpose and then achieving it. Therefore, this naive impulse of nature, the impulse toward realization, is free in them. Moreover, it is easy of satisfaction. It is easy for children to taste the qualities of experience, because experience is new, and its qualities are but loosely bound together into what we call “things.” Each is concrete, particular, unique, and without an habitual use.
Babies have no thought, we may say, but to feel after and find the world, bringing it so far as possible to their mouths where it becomes poignant. They become absorbed in friendship with the water they bathe in. The crumple noise of papers puts them in ecstasy, and later all smells and sounds, brightness, and color, and form, and motion, delight them. We can see them discover light by putting their hands before their eyes and taking them away quickly, and again, at a later age, discover sound by stopping their ears and opening them again.
Who does not remember in his own childhood testing the flavors of things—of words, perhaps, saying them over and over until he had defeated his own wish, for they became pulpy and ridiculous in his mouth? Anything which invades the sense like cinnamon, or sorrel, or neat flowers, or birds' eggs, or a nut, or a horn, is an object of peculiar affection. It is customary in books about children to say that they care little for the actual qualities of an object, and are able to deal with it as though it were anything that they choose to imagine. But I think only the positive part of this statement is true. Undoubtedly their imaginations are active in more
various directions, and they draw the distinction between the real and the ideal in perception less clearly than grown-up people do. But the most pronounced characteristic of children is that they are perfectly free to feel the intrinsic qualities of things as they merely are. What we call objects are for the most part practically determined coördinations of qualities. And what we call the actual quality of an object is usually the quality which indicates its vital use. When we say actual, therefore, we really mean practical. But so far as actuality from the standpoint of the things is concerned, the children come nearer to it, and care more about it, than we do. To us a derby hat is for covering the head, and that is about all it is; but to them it is hard, smooth, hollow, deep, funny, and may be named after the mixing-bowl and employed accordingly. And so it is with all things. The child loves a gem with its pure and serene ray, as the poet loves it, for its own sake.
Nor is it only such qualities as may be said to give pleasure that he seeks, unless pleasure be defined as seeking, for he wants all experience. He wants all that he can stand. He is exploring the whole world of sense, and not rarely upsets his stomach and his entire system in a zest for the reception of sensations that are instinctively abhorred. Two children of our neighborhood will wear to their graves the brand of a red-hot scarf-pin as a testimony to that first love of experience. They did not want torture, I suppose, but they wanted to see what it is to be tortured. And so it was in varying degrees with us all. It seems to me, when I look back, as if we were forever out behind the barn finding out what something or other was "like."
It has been a vast problem for those concerned with
A FREE MAN'S WORSHIP 1
To Dr. Faustus in his study Mephistopheles told the history of the Creation, saying:
“The endless praises of the choirs of angels had begun to grow wearisome; for, after all, did he not deserve their praise? Had he not given them endless joy? Would it not be more amusing to obtain undeserved praise, to be worshiped by beings whom he tortured? He smiled inwardly, and resolved that the great drama should be performed.
"For countless ages the hot nebula whirled aimlessly through space. At length it began to take shape, the central mass threw off planets, the planets cooled, boiling seas and burning mountains heaved and tossed, from black masses of cloud hot sheets of rain deluged the barely solid crust. And now the first germ of life grew in the depths of the ocean, and developed rapidly in the fructifying warmth into vast forest trees, huge ferns springing from the damp mold, sea monsters breeding, fighting, devouring, and passing away. And from the monsters, as the play unfolded itself, Man was born, with the power of thought, the knowledge of good and evil, and the cruel thirst for worship. And Man saw that all is passing in this mad, monstrous world, that all is struggling to snatch, at any cost, a few brief moments of life before Death's inexorable decree. And Man said:
Reprinted by permission of
1 From Mysticism and Logic. Longmans, Green & Company.