Skip to main content

Full text of "The Note Books Of Samuel Butler"

See other formats

192    The Enfant Terrible of Literature

and, not least, in complete victory of genuine internal zeal
over a scheme initially so faulty as to appear hopeless.

I read that part where Christian passes the lions which he
thought were free but which were really chained and it
occurred to me that all lions are chained until they actually
eat us and that, the moment they do this, they chain them-
selves up again automatically, as far as we are concerned.
It one dissects this passage it fares as many a passage in the
Odyssey does when we dissect it. Christian did not, after all,
venture to pass the lions till he was assured that they were
chained. And really it is more excusable to refuse point-
blank to pass a couple of lions till one knows whether they
are chained or notand the poor wicked people seem to have
done nothing more than this,than it would be to pass them.
Besides, by being told, Christian fights, as it were, with
loaded dice.


The greatest poets never write poetiy. The Homers and
Shakespeares are not the greatestthey are only the greatest
that we can know. And so with Handel among musicians.
For the highest poetry, whether in music or literature, is
ineffableit must be felt from one person to another, it
cannot be articulated.


Versifying is the lowest form of poetry; and the last
tiling a great poet will do in these days is to write verses.'

I have been trying to read Venus and Adonis and the Rape
of Lucrece but cannot get on with them. They teem with fine
things, but they are got-up fine things. I do not know
whether this is quite what I mean but, come what may, I find
the poems bore me. Were I a schoolmaster I should think I
was setting a boy a very severe punishment if I told him to
read Venus and Adonis through in three sittings. If, then,
the magic of Shakespeare's name, let alone the great beauty
of occasional passages, cannot reconcile us (for I find most
people of the same mind) to verse, and especially rhymed
verse as a medium of sustained expression, what chance has
any one else ? It seems to rne that a sonnet is the utmost
length to which a rhymed poem should extend.