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VIII

INSPIRATION

You will, perhaps, remember that in opening these lectures a few general principles were suggested with regard to the nature of poetic power, and from time to time I have directed your attention to the presence of some of these principles in the six poets whose genius we have examined. Poetic energy was defined as, in essence, shared and controlled emotion; in its being shared emotion lies its social principle; in its being controlled emotion lies its artistic principle. I have dwelt less, however, on these two subsidiary aspects, and have sought rather to bring out clearly the primary fact that emotion is the base of poetry, and that capacity for it is the radical power of genius, and that the poetic life so led is naturally one of unrest and misfortune. In Marlowe the emotion was an aspiration of all the faculties, the individual making out toward the infinite in all ways; in Camoens it was emotion closely joined with action in a national epic; in Tasso it was emotion disjoined from action and tending to the condition of music, in Byron it was emotion of the heart; in Lucretius it was emotion of the intellect. It was noticed, too, in accordance with the general principle that great literatures arise along the lines of fracture in human progress, that Marlowe was the child of the Renaissance in England, that Camoens was the poet of world-discovery, that Byron was the star of the revolutionary spirit on the

Continent, and Tasso foretold the age of music, and Lucretius stood in the dawn of scientific reason; each occupied a point of vantage, and was, as it were, a mountain crag that caught and flashed on a moment of morning light. Each represented some mood of the world at a culminating point, and with intensity.

The prevailing trait of the poetic temperament in action its free and lawless nature has also been exemplified. These poets have left upon our minds, I am persuaded, a sense of their extraordinary vital power, of their strange difference from men in general, and of something that awes us in their genius as if a miraculous element entered into it. The sense of the mystery of spiritual power is felt in connection with these men. It is under the influence of such thoughts as these that men speak of poetic energy as an inspiration; they convey thus their sense that the faculty is something "above man,” that it partakes of the mystery of all power in the universe, that it is kindred with what they call the divine. Something they know not what - but something greater than the man speaks through the man, and there is a virtue in his works that his own unaided power never placed there. I think I describe the feeling fairly in these words. Inspiration is a natural conviction of men with respect to poetry; and to the greater poets themselves it is as natural, for their own works and their states of mind in composing seem beyond and above themselves. This sense of possession, of being caught up into a sphere of greater power, is the true poetic madness, which is so familiar an idea in Greek thought, and is not yet extinct. I have thought it appropriate to close this various survey of the poets with some final remarks on this old mystery, so ineradicable; not with

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any idea of solving it at all, but merely to offer some few considerations with regard to it, which have occurred to me from time to time. Let us return, therefore, to that gulf which we found in the first lecture between the primitive dancing and singing horde and the divine poet, and look more closely at the phenomena.

It has been said that "the mental condition of the lower races is the key to poetry"; and you may recall that I defined the poet as "under excitement presenting the phenomenon of a highly developed mind working in a primitive way." Primitive psychology is a subject beyond my ken; but there are a few obvious facts that a modern reader can hardly escape. You will remember that in the dance of the primitive horde the rhythm is very simple, and the cry is perhaps one sound, interminably repeated. Monotony is, in fact, characteristic of primitive life. The repetition has certain uses easily seen. In all thought of primitive conditions. it is hardly possible for us to exaggerate the feebleness of the human mind in its emergence from brute conditions. The first use of monotonous repetition is to fasten attention, a difficult thing for the savage mind; power of memory, the power of brain-cells to retain the mental image of a thing or an event, must have been greatly indebted to such a monotonous habit. Again, the repetition assists in labor: songs of labor are not a relaxation but an aid; the Egyptian workmen sing when they are tired; again, the well-known law that every mental idea of an action tends to realize itself in that action is sufficient to account for one definite utility there is in the repeated utterance of such a word as "strike," say, in rhythm before each blow. On the passive side, also, it will be readily understood that monotone has an hyp

notic and preparatory influence on the mind. Indeed the monotone may be the basis, the exciting cause, or nervous predisposition of the wild passion which breaks forth and possesses the participants in the dance. Any of you who have ever witnessed such performances must have been struck by the singular coexistence in them of monotone and of excitement; the two are linked together wild excitement such as we never dream of, together with monotony so insistent and prolonged as to seem incredible. I have never heard Tennyson read, but I have heard his reading precisely imitated, and I was struck in it by the same combination - namely, that as the passion grew, the chanted monotony of the lines stood more rigidly. It has been noticed, too, that poets naturally thus chant their lines. Wordsworth did so, and I have heard his reading also imitated with precision. These two elements, monotony and excitement, are faithfully reflected in the Mohometan religion, which is near to primitive habits in all ways. Thus in the several sects of North Africa one is distinguished from another in various ways, and among others by the formula or verse which is repeated by each member a certain number of times daily. Thus the brotherhood of Abd-er-Rahman must recite their formula, seven words, three thousand times a day; the Tsidjani must pray at morning the two words "God pardon" two hundred times, followed by a longer prayer one hundred times repeated, and then one hundred times the formula of seven words. At three o'clock in the afternoon are other similar prayers, and at sunset the same as at morning. In Moslem mosques I have myself sometimes taken the beads from the priest and repeated the formulas as I wandered about, to see what it was like to live in that way. On the

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