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Gbe 3, <L Saul Collection 

or 

nineteenth Century 
English Xttcrature 

DMivcbasefc in part 
tbrouob a contribution to tbe 
Xibrarp jfunOs maDe b^ tbe 
Department of JEnglfsb in 
College. 



SHAKESPEARE'S TREATMENT 
OF LOVE AND MARRIAGE 

AND OTHER ESSAYS 



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SHAKESPEARE'S 

TREATMENT OF 
LOVE & MARRIAGE 

AND OTHER ESSAYS 
By C. H. HERFORD 

HONORARY PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH LITERA- 
TURE IN THE UNIVERSITY OF MANCHESTER 



T. FISHER UNWIN LTD 
LONDON: ADELPHI TERRACE 



FtVsf published in 1921 



(All rights reserved) 



TO 

MY STUDENTS, 

PAST AND PRESENT, 

IN THE UNIVERSITY OF MANCHESTER 

1901-1921 



PREFACE 

THE following essays, mainly concerned with 
famous and familiar names, are less hetero- 
geneous, and it is hoped less hackneyed, than 
some of the titles may suggest. They are all 
occupied ultimately with some aspect of a single 
problem in what I would call the psychology 
of poetic experience, did not the phrase imply 
a scientific rigour of method hardly as yet 
achieved, in this region, by psychological science 
itself, and in any case beyond the reach of 
the present writer. How is the gift of imagina- 
tive creation affected by the presence in the 
same mind of one or other of the spiritual 
energies which have a different, even an alien, 
perhaps incompatible, aim or goal ; or simply 
by a bias of ingrained ethical habitudes or 
ideals ? What terms does poetry make with philo- 
sophy, or religion, or patriotism, or politics, or 
love, when one of these is urgent, also, in the 
mind of a poet ? I say * terms ' advisedly, for 
nothing is more certain than that the outcome is 
determined by a process of give and take. Every 
complex experience involves a certain compromise 
among its disparate or contending factors ; a 
compromise in great part, indeed, involuntary, 
resulting from the fact that, even in the le 



8 PREFACE 

integrated personalities, the field of consciousness 
is a continuous unity, into which no fresh element 
enters without modifying, and being itself modified 
by, the rest. In the class of cases with which we 
are here concerned the modification may be loss 
or gain, or both together. We think of Dante or 
Lucretius as great philosophical poets, and many 
people assume, because there are longueurs in the 
Paradiso, and tough blocks of versified mechanics 
in the De Rerum Natura, that these great poets 
would have produced better poems had they 
pursued poetry ' for its own sake.' What is 
certain is that, without the passion for truth, 
without the passionate desire to understand the 
universe, without, too, the missionary passion to 
save souls by communicating their own uplifting 
and fortifying faith, each would have been less 
occasionally tedious, doubtless, but also would have 
missed some of those heights in poetry which they 
in fact achieved. A chorus of critics denounce 
the ' didactic poem,' and clearly the impulse to 
instruct is more likely to act as slag than as fuel 
upon the flame of poetic creation. But the prophet 
is only the schoolmaster writ large, and votes is one 
of the oldest names of the poet. Matthew Arnold 
made fun of the educational theorizing in The 
Excursion, but no one better understood the 
grandeur of Wordsworth the prophet, and he and 
Goethe are doubtless chiefly accountable for the 
Arnoldian definition of poetry as ' criticism of 
life.' 

Analogous problems are touched in the essays on 
Keats and on d'Annunzio. These two very dis- 
similar poets, both recently invested with topical 



PREFACE 9 

interest by the hazards of a centenary and of a poli- 
tical adventure, have this in common, that into the 
life of both came, at a certain moment, an experi- 
ence of grandeur, which told decisively, though in 
utterly different ways, upon the scale and contents 
of their imaginative vision. Keats in 1818 for the 
first time looked upon ' grand mountains ' (his 
own phrase) ; d'Annunzio, in the early nineties, 
was captivated by the Nietzschean revelation of 
the Superman. Upon Keats, the effect, compli- 
cated as we know, with other influences, was 
wholly astringent and bracing ; it concurred with 
the strenuous art of Milton to wean him from the 
4 luxury ' of his earlier song and inspire the 
colossal imaginings of Hyperion. Upon d'Annunzio 
the effect was less entirely happy. The fiery 
declamations of the Destroyer (as his Italian 
disciple called Nietzsche), who aspired to rear an 
ideally potent and perfect race upon the ruins 
of present-day humanity, enlarged his intellectual 
horizons and quickened his patriotic ambition, but 
also tinged his thinking and his action, whether 
as a poet or as a publicist, henceforth, with a 
megalomania hazardous for him in both capacities. 
Shake may seem to offer little foothold for 

this kind of study, or at least to illustrate aspects 
of it too familiar to be discussed. No one now 
imagines him a passionless artist, holding up the 
mirror to a world in which he had no further 
concern. He was in any case a devoted lover of 
his country, and patriotism contributed vitally to 
the making of one, not the least splendid or 
memorable, division of his drama. National pride 
has occasionally impaired the poetry of the English 



10 PREFACE 

Histories, though the vulgar Joan of Arc scenes in 
1 Henry VI be no misdeed of his ; it has again and 
again caught the poet up to towering heights. But 
in some other, perhaps less obvious, ways Shake- 
speare's mentality, as we divine it, seems to stand 
in a like double relation to his poetry ; here tribu- 
tory and creative, there, if not impairing its quality, 
limiting its scope. With all his apparent spon- 
taneity, and the thousand unblotted lines which 
astonished his editors and offended Ben, he was 
hardly pure poet, hardly * of imagination all com- 
pact ' ; the man of ' sovran alchemy ' had his share 
of the still untransmuted stuff. His poetry, com- 
pared with Spenser's or Shelley's, is in intimate 
touch with fact, far richer and deeper than theirs, 
but also nearer to the temper which is the negation 
of poetry. His glorious humanity is not without 
preferences and exclusions ; and these are largely 
of a kind which he shares with the respectable 
citizen rather than with the finer and rarer spirits. 
He has not Browning's taste for eccentric or 
exceptional types, his interest is not on the 
dangerous edge of things ; and if each of his great 
creations is in some sense unique, they are rich 
beyond all others in traits which make them seem 
our kin. He unmistakably prefers order to turmoil ; 
6 degree, priority and place ' to the romance and 
heroics of revolution ; observance of custom, other 
things being the same, to the breach of it; the 
normal to the irregular. His temperament was 
thus of a type which has affinities with some great 
and with some less estimable things : it is allied 
on the one side to the noble harmonies and sym- 
metries of classical art, on the other to unreflecting 



PREFACE 11 

habit and dull routine. It is the aim of the 
opening essay to trace the effects of what I may 
then call Shakespeare's bias for normality in a 
single sphere of his art his treatment of Love and 
Marriage. His ideal of love is a state in which 
passion and sense and intellect are united in happy 
balance, and we owe to it a series of creations of 
incomparable loveliness, from Rosalind and Portia 
to Imogen and Perdita. But it is plain that Shake- 
speare has sounded only a few notes of the gamut 
of love poetry. He gives us a few exquisite simple 
melodies ; he rarely hints its complex music, the 
difficult harmonies extorted from dissonance and 
conflict. He rather conspicuously avoids, save for 
special dramatic purposes, irregular, illicit, or 
criminal passion. It is not merely accident or 
stage fashion that has prevented our having from 
Shakespeare more than occasional approximations 
to a Vittoria Corombona or a Francesca da Rimini, 
a Gretchen or a Rebekka West. 

The fifth essay, finally, asks a question which 
may appear futile, or academic, but at least arises 
very naturally for the student in this field. Does 
the creative activity of poetry, so readily fed and 
fanned, or obstructed and impaired, by philosophical 
or religious preoccupation, itself react upon the 
poet's beliefs, his outlook upon the world, in any 
definable way ? We may be inclined to reply, with 
the young Tennyson, that the poet stands apart 
from beliefs, ' holding no form of creed, but con- 
templating all ' ; or to object, on the contrary, that 
poets are the most sensitive of men, apt to be 
rather less than others exempt from subjection to 
the idols of their place and time. Certainly tl 



12 PREFACE 

is no ' poet's creed.' But there may be a common 
bent or bias which poetic creation tends to impress 
upon creeds and convictions otherwise derived ; and 
a survey of the modifications actually undergone 
by philosophies and theologies in the crucible of 
poetry suggests that this bent will be towards the 
faith which, in one guise or another, exalts the 
place and function of spirit in the universe, and in 
the last resort finds in spiritual energy the heart 
of reality. 



I desire to express my acknowledgments to the 
Council of the British Academy, for permission to 
reprint the fifth Essay; to the Keats' Memorial 
Committee, for permission to reprint the third; 
to the Council of the Rylands Library, for 
permission to reprint the second and fourth ; 
and to the proprietors of Edda (Christiania) for 
permission to reprint the first. Most of them 
have been extensively revised and in part re- 
written for the present volume. I am indebted 
to my colleagues, Prof. E. Gardner and Signer A. 
Valgimigli, for kindly reading the fourth essay. 
Neither is in any way responsible for the opinions 
expressed. The translations throughout the volume, 
unless the contrary is stated, are original. 



CONTENTS 

PAOB 

PREFACE ....... 7 

I. SHAKESPEARE'S TREATMENT OP LOVE AND 

MARRIAGE . . . . . .17 

II. THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS . . .47 

III. MOUNTAIN SCENERY IN KEATS . . .83 

IV. GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO . . .101 
V. IS THERE A POETIC VIEW OF THE WORLD? . 147 



SHAKESPEARE'S TREATMENT 
OF LOVE AND MARRIAGE 



SHAKESPEARE'S TREATMENT 
OF LOVE AND MARRIAGE 

THE Shakesperean world is impressed, as a 
whole, with an unmistakable joy in healthy 
living. This tells habitually as a pervading spirit, 
a contagious temper, not as a creed put forward, 
or an example set up. It is as clear in the present- 
ment of Falstaff or lago, as of Horatio or Imogen. 
And nowhere is it clearer than in his handling of 
the relations between men and women. For here 
Shakespeare's preferences and repugnances are 
unusually transparent ; what pleased him in the 
ways of lovers and wedded folks he drew again 
and again, and what repelled him he rarely and 
only for special reasons drew at all. Criminal 
love, of any kind, holds a quite subordinate place 
in his art ; and, on the other hand, if ideal figures 
are to be found there, it is among his devoted, 
passionate, but arch and joyous women. 

It is thus possible to lay down a Shakesperean 
norm or ideal type of love-relations. It is most 
distinct in the mature Comedies, where he is shaping 
his image of life with serene^ freedom ; but also 
in the Tragedies, where a Pnrjjp nr n Dcsdcmona 
innocently perishes in the web of death. Even in 

2 



18 SHAKESPEARE'S TREATMENT 

the Histories it occasionally asserts itself (as in 
Richard IPs devoted queen, historically a mere 
child) against the stress of recorded fact. In the 
earlier Comedies it is approached through various 
stages of erratic or imperfect forms. And both in 
Comedy and Tragedy he makes use, though not 
largely, of other than the 'normal' love for 
definitely comic or tragic ends. 

The present study will follow the plan thus 
indicated. The first section defines the ' norm.' 
The second describes the kinds of appeal and 
effect, in Comedy and Tragedy, to which the 
drama of * normal ' love lent itself. The third 
traces the gradual approach to the norm in the 
early Comedies. The fourth and fifth sections, 
finally, discuss the treatment, in Comedy and 
Tragedy, of Love-types other than the norm. 



The Shakesperean norm of love, 1 thus under- ' 
stood, may be described somewhat as follows. 
Love is a passion, kindling heart, brain, and senses 
alike in natural and happy proportions ; ardent 
but not sensual, tender but not sentimental, pure 
but not ascetic, moral but not puritanic, joyous 
but not frivolous, mirthful and witty but not 
cynical. His lovers look forward to marriage as a 
matter of course, and they neither anticipate its 
rights nor turn their affections elsewhere. They 
commonly love at first sight and once for all. 
Love-relations which do not contemplate marriage 
occur rarely and in subordination to other dramatic 

1 The characteristics of this norm are well set forth by Wetz, 
Shakespeare, ch. v. 



OF LOVE AND MARRIAGE 19 

purposes. Tragedy like that of Gretchen does 
not attract him. Romeo's amour with Rosalind is 
a mere foil to his greater passion, Cassio's with 
Bianca merely a mesh in the network of lago's 
intrigue; Claudio's with Juliet is the indispensable 
condition of the plot. The course of love rarely 
runs smooth ; but rival suitors proposed by parents 
are quietly resisted or merrily abused, never, even 
by the gentlest, accepted. Crude young girls like 
Hermia, delicate-minded women like Desdemona 
and Imogen, the rapturous Juliet and the homely 
Anne Page, the discreet Silvia and the naive 
Miranda, are all at one on this point. And they all 
carry the day. The dramatically powerful situations 
which arise from forced marriage as when Ford's 
Penthea (The Broken Heart) or Corneille's Chimene 
(Le Cid) is torn by the conflict between love and 
honour lie, like this conflict in general, outside 
Shakespeare's chosen field. And with this security 
of possession his loving women combine a capacity 
for mirth and jest not usual in the dramatic 
representation of passion. Rosalind is more inti- 
mately Shakesperean than Juliet. 

Married life, as Shakespeare habitually repre- 
sents it, is the counterpart, mutatis mutandis, of his 
representation of unmarried lovers. His husbands 
and wives have less of youthful abandon; they 
rarely speak of love, and still more rarely with lyric 
ardour, or coruscations of poetic wit. But they 
are no less true. The immense field of dramatic 
motives based upon infringements of marriage, so 
fertile in the hands of his successors, and in most 
other schools of drama, did not attract Shakespeare, 
and he touched it only occasionally and for par- 



20 SHAKESPEARE'S TREATMENT 

ticular purposes. Heroines like Fletcher's Evadne 
(A Maid's Tragedy), who marries a nominal husband 
to screen her guilty relations with the King, or 
Webster's Vittoria Corombona (The White Devil), 
who conspires with her lover to murder her husband, 
or Chapman's Tamyra (Bussy d'Ambois), whose 
husband kills her lover in her chamber ; even 
Hey wood's erring wife, whom her husband elects 
to * kill with kindness,' are definitely un-Shake- 
sperean. 

II 

The norm of love lent itself both to comic and to 
tragic situation, but only within somewhat narrow 
limits. The richness, depth and constancy of the 
passion precluded a whole world of comic effects. 
It precluded the comedy of the coquette and the 
prude, of the affected gallant and the cynical roue, 
of the calf-lover and the doting husband ; the 
comedy of the fantastic tricks played by love under 
the obsession of pride, self-interest, meticulous 
scruple, or superstition. Into this field Shakespeare 
made brilliant incursions, but it hardly engaged his 
rarest powers, and to large parts of it his ' uni- 
versal ' genius remained strange. We have only 
to recall, among a crowd of other examples, Moreto's 
Diana (El Desden con el Desden), Moliere's Alceste 
and Celimne, Congreve's Millamant, in Shake- 
speare's century ; or, in the modern novel, a long 
line of figures from Jane Austen to The Egoist 
and Ibsen's Love's Comedy to recognize that 
Shakespeare, with all the beauty, wit and charm 
of his work, touched only the fringes of the Comedy 
of love. 



OF LOVE AND MARRIAGE 21 

The normal love, not being itself ridiculous, 
could thus yield material for the comic spirit only 
through some fact or situation external to it. 
It may be brought before us only in ludicrous 
parody. We laugh at the 4 true love ' of Pyramus 
and Thisbe in the * tedious brief ' play of the 
Athenian artisans, or at that of Phoebe and 
Silvius, because Shakespeare is chaffing the literary 
pastoral of his day. Hamlet's love, itself moving, 
even tragic, becomes a source of comedy in the 
solemn analysis of Polonius. Or again, the source 
of fun lies in the wit and humour of the lovers 
themselves. Some of them, like Rosalind and 
Beatrice, virtually create and sustain the wit- 
fraught atmosphere of the play single-handed. 
But Shakespeare habitually heightens this source 
of fun by some piquancy of situation almost 
always one arising from delusion, particularly 
through confusion of identity. It is a mark of 
the easy-going habits of his art in comedy that he 
never threw aside this rather elementary device, 
though subjecting it, no doubt, to successive 
refinements which become palpable enough when 
we pass from the Two Gentlemen to Cymbeline. 
But his genius made perennially delightful even 
the crude forms of confusion which create 
grotesque infatuations like those of Titania, Mal- 
volio, Phoebe, Olivia. More refined, and yet more 
(I* -light ful, are the confusions which bring true 
and destined lovers together, like the arch make- 
believe courtship with which Rosalind's wit amuses 
and consoles her womanhood, and that other which 
liberates the natural congeniality of Beatrice and 
Benedict from their 4 merry war.' In cases like 



22 SHAKESPEARE'S TREATMENT 

these, Shakespeare's humour has the richer and 
finer effluence which derives from a hidden ground 
of passion or tears. Rosalind's wit is that of a 
woman many fathoms deep in love ; Beatrice's 
ears tingle with remorse at the tale of Benedick's 
secret attachment ; Viola's gallant bravado to 
Olivia conceals her own unspoken maiden love. 
And Portia crowns her home-coming to her husband 
and her splendid service to his friend with the 
madcap jest of the rings. Such jesting is in 
Shakespeare a part of the language of love ; and 
like its serious or lyrical speech, is addressed with 
predilection to love's object. 

Again, the normal love offered in itself equally 
little promise of tragedy. No deformed or morbid 
passion, but the healthy and natural self-fulfilment 
of man and woman, calling heart and wit and 
senses alike into vigorous play, it provided equally 
little hold for the criminal erotics in which most 
of Shakespeare's contemporaries sought the tragic 
thrill, and for the bitter disenchantment and 
emotional decay which generate the subtle tragedy 
of Anna Karenina or Modern Love. Tragic these 
healthy lovers of themselves will never become ; 
they have to be led into the realm of pity and 
fear, as into that of laughter and mirth, by the 
incitement or the onthrust of alien forces. Here, 
too, Shakespeare's habitual instrument is delusion ; 
only now it is not the delusion which deftly 
entangles and pleasantly infatuates, but that which 
horribly perplexes and rends apart. The blindness 
of Claudio, of Othello, of Posthumus, of Leontes, 
is provoked by circumstances of very various 
cogency, but in each case it wrecks a love relation 



OF LOVE AND MARRIAGE 23 

in which we are allowed to see no flaw. The 
situation of innocent, slandered, heart -stricken 
womanhood clearly appealed strongly to him, and 
against his wont he repeated it again and again. 
Even after leaving the stage, he was allured by 
the likeness of the story of Henry VIII's slandered 
queen to his Hermione, to reopen the magic * book ' 
he had * drowned.' He was no sentimentalist ; 
his pathos is never morbid ; but it is in imagining 
souls of texture fine and pure enough to be wrought 
upon to the most piteous extreme by slander from 
the man they love, that Shakespeare found most 
of his loveliest and most authentically Shake- 
sperean characters of women. Hermione and Hero, 
Desdemona and Imogen, are to his graver art 
what Rosalind and Beatrice and Portia are to his 
comedy. 

But while the tragic issue is directly provoked 
by the alien intervention, it is clear that almost 
all its tragic quality springs, not from the operations 
of lachimo or lago, but from the wonderful present- 
ment of the love they wreck. Shakespeare's supreme 
command of pity springs from his exalted faith in 
love. The poet of the Sonnets is implicit in the 
poet of Othello. And the dramas themselves abound 
in lyric outbursts, often hardly called for by the 
situation, in which his ideal of wedded love is 
uttered with the poignant insight of one who was 
probably far from having achieved or observed it 
himself. One need but think of France's reply to 
Burgundy (King Lear, I, i. 241) : 

Love's not 1< 

When it i, i u mi:!. -.1 uith regards that stand 
Aloof from the entire point. 



24 SHAKESPEARE'S TREATMENT 

Or of Imogen, blind to all but the path of light 
and air that divides her from Milford Haven : 



I see before me, man ; nor here, nor here, 
Nor what ensues, but have a fog in them, 
That I cannot look through. 

Even Adriana, in the Comedy of Errors, expresses 
the unity of married love with an intensity which 
we expect neither from this bustling bourgeoise 
nor in this early play : 

For know, my love, as easy mayst thou fall 

A drop of water in the breaking gulf 

And take unmingled thence that drop again 

Without addition or diminishing, 

As take from me thyself and not me too ; (II, ii. 127.) 

an utterance which in its simple pathos anticipates 
the agonized cry of Othello the most thrilling 
expression in Shakespeare of the meaning of wedded 
unity : 

But there, where I have garnered up my heart, 
Where either I must live, or bear no life, 
The fountain from the which my current runs, 
Or else dries up : to be discarded thence ! 

The husband in these cases, it is true, neither 
forgives nor condones, and Shakespeare (unlike 
Hey wood) gives no hint that he would have 
dissented from the traditional ethics on which 
Othello and Posthumus and Leontes acted, had 
their wives in fact been guilty. The wives, on 
the other hand, encounter the husband's unjust 
suspicions, or brutal slanders, without a thought 
of revenge or reprisal. Desdemona, Imogen, 



OF LOVE AND MARRIAGE 25 

Hermione, alike beautifully fulfil the ideal of 
love presented in the great sonnet : 

Love is not love 

Which alters when it alteration finds, 
Or bends with the remover to remove. 

In one drama only did he represent ideal love 
brought to a tragic doom without a hint of inner 
severance. The wedded unity of Romeo and 
Juliet is absolute from their first meeting to their 
last embrace ; it encounters only the blind onset 
of outer and irrelevant events ; nothing touches 
their rapturous faith in one another. This earliest 
of the authentic tragedies thus represents, in 
comparison with its successors, only an elementary 
order of tragic experience ; set beside Othello, it 
appears to be not a tragedy of love, but love's 
triumphal hymn. Yet it is only in this sense 
immature. If Shakespeare had not yet fathomed 
the depths of human misery, he understood com- 
pletely the exaltation of^assion, and Romeo and 
Juliet, though it gives few glimpses beyond the 
horizons of his early world, remains the con- 
summate flower of his poetry of ideal love. 



Ill 

The beauty and insight of Shakespeare's finest 
portrayals of the comedy and the tragedy of love 
were not reached at once. His conception of love 
If was still, at tin- opining of his career, 
relatively slight and superficial ; his mastery of 
technique was equally incomplete. The early plays 
accordingly abound with scenes and situations 



26 SHAKESPEARE'S TREATMENT 

where from either cause or both the dramatic 
treatment of love is not yet in the full sense 
Shakesperean. It will suffice in this sketch to 
specify two types of each. 

The young Shakespeare, as is well known, showed 
a marked leaning to two apparently incongruous 
kinds of dramatic device paradox and symmetry. 
In the riotous consciousness of power he loved 
to take up the challenge of outrageous situa- 
tions, to set himself dramaturgical problems, 
which he solves by compelling us to admit that 
the impossible might have happened in the way 
he shows. A shrew to be ' tamed ' into a model 
wife. A widow following her murdered father's 
coffin, to be wooed, there and then, and won, by 
his murderer. A girl of humble birth, in love 
with a young noble who scorns her, to set herself, 
notwithstanding, to win him, and to succeed. 
Paradoxical feats like these were foreign to the 
profound normality under whatever romantic dis- 
guiseof Shakespeare's mature art. Richard and 
Petruchio and Helen carry into the problems of 
love-making the enterprising audacity of the young 
Shakespeare in the problems of art. But the 
audacity of the young Shakespeare showed itself in 
another way. His so-called taste for ' symmetry ' 
had nothing in common with the classical canons 
of balance and order. It was nearer akin to the 
boyish humour of mimicry. If he found a pair 
of indistinguishable twins producing amusing con- 
fusion in a Roman play, he capped them with a 
second pair, to produce confusion worse confounded 
in the English Comedy of Errors. And so with 
love. Navarre (in Love's Labour's Lost) and his 



OF LOVE AND MARRIAGE 27 

three lords, like the four horses of an antique 
quadriga, go through the same adventure side by 
side. All four have forsworn the sight of women ; 
all four fall in love, not promiscuously but in 
order of rank, with the French princess and her 
ladies, whose numbers, by good fortune, precisely 
go round. 

But love itself is not, as yet, drawn with any 
power. Berowne's magnificent account of its attri- 
butes and effects (IV, iii., mainly re-written in 1597) 
is not borne out by any representation of it in the 
play. The * taffeta phrases ' and c silken terms 
precise,' the pointed sallies and punning repartees, 
full of a hard crackling gaiety, neither express 
passion nor suggest, like the joyous quips of the 
later Rosalind, that passion is lurking behind. We 
are spectators of a rather protracted flirtation, a 
* way of love ' which was to occupy a minimal 
place in his later drama. Armado's dramatically 
unimportant seduction of Jaquenetta is likewise 
a symptom of his ' apprentice ' phase. 

Equally immature is the representation of fickle 
love in the Two Gentlemen. Proteus is Shakespeare 's 
only essay in the Don Juan type, but it falls far 
short in psychological and dramatic force of his 
portrait of the faithful Julia. Proteus's speeches 
oft< n rhetorical analyses of his situation rather 
than dramatic expressions of it. His threat to 
outrage Sylvia (V, iv. 58) is, as he naively declares, 
4 'gainst the nature of love,' and it clashed no less 
violrntly with Shakespeare's ivml< ring of the passion 
<-Ise\vhrre. Kven the apparent liekleness produced 
by delusion flourishes only in the magical world 
of the young ShakesjK Midsummer Dream. 



28 SHAKESPEARE'S TREATMENT 

The inconstancy of the Athenian lovers attests 
only the potency of the faery juice. No doubt 
Shakespeare's denouements, even in some of the 
maturest comedies, show his lovers accepting with 
a singular facility a fate in love other than that 
they had chosen. Olivia accepts Sebastian in 
default of Viola, and the Duke Viola when Olivia 
is out of the question. Still less defensible 
artistically is Isabel's renunciation of the convent 
to marry the Duke. But these acquiescences, even 
if they were not touched with the frequent per- 
functoriness of Shakespeare's finales, are not to be 
classed with deliberate inconstancy. 

A second mark of unripeness in the conception 
of love JLS extravagant magnanimity. This, like 
other kinds of unnatural virtue, was a part of the 
heritage from mediaeval romance, fortified with 
Roman legend. The antique exaltation of friend- 
ship concurred with the Germanic absoluteness of 
faithful devotion, and for the mediaeval mind the 
most convincing way of attesting this was by the 
surrender of a mistress. In the tenth book of the 
Decamerone Boccaccio collects the most admired 
examples of ' things done generously and magnifi- 
cently,' chiefly in matters of love ; one of them 
is the tale of Tito and Gisippo (Decamerone, X, 8), 
where, Tito having fallen in love with his friend's 
bride, Gisippo ' generously ' resigns to him all 
but the name of husband. The story, quoted in 
Sir T. Elyot's Governour (1531), was well known 
in Elizabethan England, and fell in with the 
fantastical world of Fletcher's Romanticism. But 
the humanity and veracity of the mature Shake- 
speare rejected these extravagances as the cognate 



OF LOVE AND MARRIAGE 29 

genius of the mature Chaucer had done before 
him. Chaucer lived to mock at the legendary 
magnanimity of Griselda, so devoutly related in 
the Clerkes Tale ; and it was only the young 
Shakespeare who could have made Valentine's 
astounding offer, in the Two Gentlemen, to resign 
* all his rights ' in his bride to the 4 friend ' from 
whose offer of violence he has only a moment 
before rescued her (V, vi. 83). 1 

A second variety of extravagant magnanimity 
was the recurring situation of the girl, who, deserted 
by her lover, follows him in disguise, takes service 
as his page, and in that capacity is employed by 
him to further his suit to a new mistress. This 
motive was of the purest romantic lineage ; having 
first won vogue in Europe through Montemayor's 
Diana (1558, trans. 1588), and in England by 
Sidney's Arcadia (1581, publ. 1590). On the 
London stage it profited by the special piquancy 
attaching to the roles of girls in masculine disguise 
when the actors were boys, and its blend of 
audacious adventure and devoted self-sacrifice gave 
the Elizabethan auditor precisely the kind of com- 
posite thrill he loved. 

For some forms of sex-confusion Shakespeare 
throughout his career retained an unmistakable 
liking. But the finer instincts of his ripening art 

1 The conflict of friendship with love was in general treated in 
m<l with a livelier sense of the power of love than in Italy. 
Boccaccio's Palemone and A mi a. n \als fo r the hand of Emilia, 
courteously debate their claims (Teseidc, V, 86, 89 f.) ; Cha 
makc.s them r.L'ht in . Spenser in the spirit t : 

Renascence makes friendship an ideal virtue, but exposes it to 
more legitimate trials, as I Squire of low degree repels 

the proffered favours of his friend's bride. (Faerie Queen, iv. 9, 2.) 



30 SHAKESPEARE'S TREATMENT 

gradually restricted its scope. Viola, in the original 
story (Bandello, II, 36) follows a faithless lover ; 
in Twelfth Night, wrecked on the Illyrian coast, she 
disguises herself merely for safety, takes service 
with the Duke as a complete stranger, and only 
subsequently falls in love with him. The change 
indicates with precision Shakespeare's attitude at 
this date (c. 1600) to this type of situation. He 
was still quite ready to exploit the rather ele- 
mentary comedy arising out of sex-confusion -to 
paint with gusto Viola's embarrassments as the 
object of Olivia's passion and Sir Andrew's challenge, 
or the brilliant pranks of Rosalind in a like 
position. But he would not now approach these 
situations by the romantic avenue of a love-sick 
woman's pursuit. In his latest plays he shows 
disrelish even for the delightful fun evolved from 
sex-confusion in Twelfth Night and As you like it. 
The adventures of Imogen in disguise are purely 
pathetic. Pisanio indeed proposes, and Imogen 
agrees, to follow her husband to Italy in disguise ; 
but this opening is significantly not followed up. 
(Cymbeline, III, iv. 150 f.) 

But in the Two Gentlemen, the entire motive 
without curtailment or qualification is presented in 
the adventures of Julia. Abandoned by Proteus, 
she follows him in disguise, takes service as his 
page, and is employed as go-between in his new 
courtship of Silvia. To the young Shakespeare the 
situation was still wholly congenial, and he availed 
himself of its opportunities of pathos without 
reserve, though with incomplete power. His riper 
technique, fortified probably by a closer acquain- 
tance with the spirited and high-bred womanhood 



OF LOVE AND MARRIAGE 31 

of the Portias and Rosalinds of his time, withdrew 
his interest, perhaps his belief, from the risky 
psychology of Julia's self-assertion and self- 
abnegation. Like other strained situations sug- 
gested by ' golden tongued romance,' it fell 
away before the consolidated experience, the 
genial worldliness, the poetized normality, of his 
riper art. 

The case of another devoted pursuer of an 
unwilling man is more complicated, and calls for 
closer examination. AIVs Well That Ends Well has 
already been referred to as an example of the 
paradox-plotting congenial to the young Shake- 
speare. But Helena's passion and her sacrifices for 
the man whose love she seeks ally her also with 
the Julia type. Yet internal evidence leaves no 
doubt that this play, though originally written, 
and therefore planned, in the early nineties, was 
revised by Shakespeare at a date not far remote 
from that of Hamlet. If the paradox-subject was 
the apprentice's eager choice, the artist at the 
height of his power did not reject its challenge. In 
the original story (Decamerone, III, 9) the flavour 
of paradox was even more pronounced. Like the 
other tales of the Third Day, it describes one who 
alcuna cosa molto da lui desiderata con industria 
acquistasse. Giletta of Narbonne succeeds in effect 
by sheer audacity and enterprise ; and Boccaccio's 
lers doubtless enjoyed this inversion of the 
usual roles, where a masterful girl captures a 
reluctant man. Shakespeare's earlier version was 
probably the lost Love's Labour's Won mentioned 
by Meres, and the title emphasizes the element of 
resolute and unhesitating pursuit which marks the 



32 SHAKESPEARE'S TREATMENT 

original, and was probably more pronounced in 
the earlier than in the revised play. 

For it is plain that precisely the resolute pursuit 
of a resisting man was uncongenial to Shakespeare's 
riper art, because unnatural in the type of high- 
bred and refined womanhood whose ways in love 
reflected his ideal of healthy love-making. Helena, 
as the heroine and predominant figure of the play, 
had to be of the sisterhood of Portia and Rosalind 
and Beatrice and Viola. But if the plot forbad 
this ? And clearly, the most hazardous incident 
of all (the substitution of Helen for Diana) could 
not be eliminated without breaking up the plot 
altogether. Why then take up the old play at 
all ? Plainly there must have been in the funda- 
mental theme something which Shakespeare was 
unwilling to lose as well as something that he 
would have wished away. This something that 
attracted him was evidently Helen's clear-sighted 
resolution in itself; in this she is, in fact, a true 
sister of Portia and Rosalind, though her seriousness 
is not, like theirs, irradiated with laughter. Could 
she be visibly endowed with this grace of clear 
sight and will, yet at the same time be rather 
drawn on by circumstances to the final conquest 
of Bertram than herself the active agent in it ? 
Somewhat thus must the problem have presented 
itself to Shakespeare. Did he completely solve it ? 
I think not. But we can to some extent follow 
his procedure. 

Strength and delicacy are from the first blended 
in Helen. Her famous lines (I, i. 231) : 

Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie 
Which we ascribe to heaven. 



OF LOVE AND MARRIAGE 33 

strike the keynote of her resolute temper. Yet 
her love, a maiden's idolatry, is content without 
possession ; with her, ' Dian ' is ' both herself and 
love ' (I, iii. 218). If she forms plans for showing 
her merit and thus commending herself in Bertram's 
eyes, she takes no step herself; it is the Countess 
who, having discovered her love, welcomes her 
prospective daughter-in-law and sends her with all 
proper convoy to court to 4 cure the king.' Her 
choosing of Bertram (II, iii. 109) is an offer of 
life-long service, not the appropriation of a well- 
won prize. And when Bertram bluntly declares 
that he * cannot love her nor will strive to do it,' 
she proposes, turning to the king, to withdraw 
her whole claim : 

That you are well restored, my lord, I'm glad ; 
Let the rest go. 

The crucial situation, however, for her (and for 
Shakespeare) begins only with Bertram's definite 
departure, and scornful intimation of the conditions 
on which he will be her husband. Giletta, on 
receiving the corresponding message, had made 
up her mind at once what to do ; had arranged 
her affairs and set out on the soi-disant pilgrimage 
to Florence, where Beltramo she knows will be 
found. Helena's procedure is less clear. Two 
distinct courses were open to her. She might, 
like Giletta, make direct for Bertram at Florence, 
under the pretext of going on a pilgrimage. Or she 
might finally surrender the pursuit of a husband 
who had <1 ly shown he did not love her, as 

she had already proposed to do when he had only 
declared that he did not. The stvoml was un- 

3 



34 SHAKESPEARE'S TREATMENT 

questionably more in keeping with Helen's character. 
But the first was more in keeping with the plot. 
It might well be that Shakespeare's Helen would 
hesitate between the two. But it is in any case 
probable that Shakespeare hesitated, and that 
the marks of his hesitation have not been effaced 
from the text. 

On reading Bertram's letter she is, like Imogen 
when she reads Posthumus's, for the moment 
overwhelmed. c This is a dreadful sentence.' She 
hardly speaks, and gives no hint to the Countess 
of her thoughts. But when she is alone she breaks 
out in the great passionate monologue of renuncia- 
tion (III, ii. 102 f.) . . . 

No, come thou home, Rousillon, 
Whence honour but of danger wins a scar, 
As oft it loses all : I will be gone ; 
My being here it is that holds thee hence : 
Shall I stay here to do't ? no, no, although 
The air of paradise did fan the house, 
And angels office' d all : I will be gone. . . . 

This can only imply, since she is alone, that she 
sincerely proposes to give up all claim to her 
nominal husband. 

Nevertheless, in Scene iv., the Countess is seen 
reading a letter from Helen which declares that she 
has gone as a pilgrim to Saint Jaques, in Florence. 
She begs the Countess, it is true, to summon Bertram 
home to live there in peace while she in the far 
land does penance for her ' ambitious love.' Was 
this a subterfuge, like Giletta's, or was it her 
sincere intention as we should infer from the 
previous monologue ? If it is the first, Helena 
comes nearer to the crafty duplicity of Giletta 
than anywhere else in the play, and this towards 



OF LOVE AND MARRIAGE 35 

the Countess who has just indignantly renounced 
her stubborn son, and taken Helena to her heart 
as her sole child (III, ii. 71). But if it is the second, 
we cannot but ask why then, if Helena means 
bona fide to avoid Bertram and leave him free, 
she chooses for her pilgrimage precisely the one 
place in the world in which she knows he will be 
found ? And this awkward question remains un- 
answered, notwithstanding the evident effort to 
allow us to believe in Helena's innocent good faith. 
Giletta, on arriving at Florence, takes up her 
abode at an inn, ' eager to hear news of her lord.' 
Helena arrives, apparently concerned only to learn 
the way to St. Jacques, and where the pilgrims 
bound thither found lodging. Then Bertram is men- 
tioned ; she learns that he is known, and has made 
advances to Diana ; presently he passes by, and 
now at length Helen deliberately and unhesitatingly 
takes measures to fulfil his * impossible ' conditions. 

Helena's conduct appears, then, to fluctuate, 
without clear explanation, between resolute pursuit 
and dignified renunciation. 

There can be no doubt that the former type of 
procedure represents the earlier, the latter the 
riper, mind of Shakespeare, in the treatment of 
love. The letter to the Countess, of III, iv., is, 
like all his verse-letters, early work ; the great 
preceding monologue is in the richly imaginative 
phrase and daringly yet harmoniously moulded 
>e of the Hamlet period. He set out to fit a 
eharaeter based upon a nobler type of love into 
a plot based upon a grosser ; and even he could 
not effect this without some straining of the 
stuff, and here and there a palpable rent. 



36 SHAKESPEARE'S TREATMENT 



/ft! 



f 



IV 

What I have called the norm of love must 
'thus rank high among the determining forces of 
// his mature drama. Obscured and disguised at 
[ the outset by crude conceptions and immature 
technique, it gradually grew clear, and provided 
I I the background of passion, faith, and truth out 
I of which, aided by misunderstandings, pleasant or 
1 grave, his most delightful comedy and his most 
\ poignant tragedy were evolved. And other Jyges 
1 of love whether_they made for comedy^ _PJL.for 
y tragedy, heJW_a^relatively slight place in his^work. 
1 In particular he concerns himself only in a quite 
\exceptional or incidental way either with the high 
jomedy of love or with guilty passion. 

His comedy of love outside the norm for the 
most part resembles burlesque. In other words, 
the * ways of love ' which he treats as comic 
material are not plausible or subtle approximations 
to romantic passion, but ludicrously absurd counter- 
feits of it. The fun is brilliant, but it does not 
strike deep ; it provokes the loud laugh rather 
than the * slim feasting smile.' It commonly 
springs from some grotesque infatuation ; as when, 
in Bottom and Titania, human grossness and fairy 
fantasticality are brought together for the eternal 
joy of gods and men. Ridicule of such infatuations 
was soon to find its peculiar home in the Humour 
comedy of the later nineties, in the prosaic satirical 
air of which the romantic or normal love had no 
place at all. It is hardly an accident that the plays 
in which this Shakesperean comedy of grotesque 



OF LOVE AND MARRIAGE 37 

infatuation in love runs riot were produced when the 
Humour comedy was at the height of its vogue, or 
that they bear clear traces of its influence. Twelfth 
Night is far from being as a whole a Comedy of 
Humours. Viola's maiden passion is touched with 
a charm wholly alien to it. The Duke, with his 
opal and taffeta mind, a self-pleasing artist in 
emotion, who feeds his languid passion on music, 
and does his wooing by proxy, is perhaps Shake- 
speare's only serious study of love as a humour. 
Of still more laughable futility is the love-making 
of Malvolio, with his smiles and yellow stockings, 
and Sir Andrew, who gets no further than learning 
an assortment of fine words for an interview that 
never comes off a comic counterpart to lago's 
miserable dupe, Roderigo. The Merry Wives also 
shows the influence of the Humour comedy. 
Slender is a true * country-gull,' nowhere more 
obviously than in his wooing, or preparations to 
woo, sweet Anne Page. The adventures of Falstaff 
in pursuit of Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Page are brilli- 
antly executed examples of a kind of comic effect 
which Shakespeare's riper art elsewhere disdained. 
Officially required to represent ' Falstaff in love,' 
he turned the laugh against the lover by represent- 
ing his ill-luck in pursuing the only ' way of love ' 
he knew. 



Finally, as Shakespeare recognized for purposes ] 
of comedy certain types of love-making alien to ; 
the ideal norm, so too, more rarely, for the purposes I 
of tragedy. Ideal love, as has b< < n s< en, occurs \ 
constantly in the tragedies even where it does not 



38 SHAKESPEARE'S TREATMENT 

directly affect or participate in the tragic issues ; 
as with France and Cordelia, Brutus and Portia, 
Richard II and his queen, Coriolanus and Virgilia. 
But the more penetrating sense of evil which 
becomes apparent in his tragic period contributed 
to draw more prominently into the sphere of his art 
the disastrous aspects of the relations between men 
and women. That he refrained from exploiting 
in drama the more sinister forms of passion, we 
have seen. But in some^of his ripest and greatest 
work jie jireMLUoye with implications^ aruLjunder 
cQngjtJQjis, whichsharply mark it off^ from the 

* marriage of _true minds.' It is junstable, or 

lawless, or grounded^on illusion ; and thus not 
merely succumbs easily to assault from without, 
but directly breeds and fosters tragic ruin within. 
Even the union of Othello and Desdemona, in 
every other respect a ' marriage of true minds ' 
which reaches for a moment (ii. 1) incomparable 
intensity and beauty, is rendered fatally precarious 
by their ignorance of each other. 

Love, like everything else which grows in Hamlet's 
Denmark, is touched with insidious disease. 
Ophelia is wonderfully imagined in keeping with 
the tragic atmosphere, an exquisite but fragile 
flower of the unweeded garden where evil things 
run to seed and good things wither. And her 
love, wholly un-Shakesperean as it is, and there- 
fore irritating to many readers, bears within it 
the seed of tragedy both for Hamlet and herself. 
It is 'a power girt round with weakness.' She 
never falters in faithful devotion to him ; but 
the c sweet bells,' her father has told her, are 

* jangled,' and she consents both to be the instru- 



OF LOVE AND MARRIAGE 39 

ment of the king and Polonius's ' lawful espial ' 
(which may, please heaven, restore him), and to 
deny his access and return his gifts. She stands 
alone among Shakesperean heroines in renouncing 
her love at a father's bidding. We seem to 
approach for once the heroic renunciations of love 
in the name of principle or country which impress 
us in Corneille and Racine in Polyeucte or Berenice. 
But no halo of sublime self-sacrifice surrounds 
Ophelia's renunciation, for her or for us. It is 
merely a piteous surrender, which breaks her 
heart, overthrows her delicately poised reason, and 
removes one of the last supports of Hamlet's trust 
in goodness. 

On the other hand, Shakespeare occasionally 
found his tragic love in violent and lawless passion. 
We need not dwell on episodic incidents like the 
rivalry in the love of Edmund which crowns and 
closes the criminal careers of Goneril and Regan. 
In this case there was little scope for the undoing 
of soul which is the habitual theme of Shakesperean 
tragedy. But in Measure for Measure an inrush of 
sensual passion instantly shatters the imposing but 
loosely built edifice of Angelo's morality, and 
though the play was meant for comedy, and the 
tragic point is thus (rather clumsily) blunted or 
broken off, the spiritual undoing of him is dis- 
cernible enough. Without a thought of resistance 
he proceeds to act out the whole merciless catalogue 
of vices which the poet of sonnet cxxix saw 
attending upon lust. 1 At the same time it is 
clear that Isabel, with her cold austerity, is an 

1 4 Perjured, murderous, . . . savage, extreme . . . rude, cruel, 
not to trust. 1 



40 SHAKESPEARE'S TREATMENT 

even greater anomaly among Shakespeare's women. 
Their purity is not that of a negative abstinence, 
but of whole-hearted devotion to the man they love. 
In Cressida he drew a kind of tragic love as 
lawless as Angelo's and as sensual, but insidious 
and seductive instead of violent. Compared with 
the profligate women of Restoration Comedy she 
has a certain girlish air of grace and innocence. 
If she betrays Troilus for Diomede it is with a 
sigh and a half wistful glance back at the deserted 
lover : ' Troilus, farewell ! one eye yet looks on 
thee ' (V, ii. 107). Though classed by the Folio 
editors hesitatingly it would seem with the 
Tragedies, this play seems to set at nought the 
whole scheme of Shakesperean tragedy. Neither 
Troilus nor Cressida has the grandeur without 
which ruin is not sublime ; and their love has not 
the heroic intensity of those (like Heine's Asra) 
welche sterben wenn sie lieben. The only imposing 
figures are those of the great captains of the Greek 
and Trojan camps, who are but slightly concerned 
with their love. Nevertheless, the whole effect of 
the play is tragic, or falls short of tragedy only 
because the gloom is more unrelieved. There are 
no colossal disasters, plots, crimes, or suffering, 
nor yet the stormy splendour which agony beats 
out of the souls of Othello, Hamlet, Antony, or Lear, 
and which leaves us at the close rather exultant 
than depressed. This tragedy is purely depressing 
because it strikes less deep ; the harms do not rend 
and shatter, but secretly undermine and insidiously 
frustrate. Cressida is a symbol of the love which 
may kindle valour for a moment, but in the end 
saps heroism and romance at once, and which 



OF LOVE AND MARRIAGE 41 

strikes the magnificent champions of Homeric 
story themselves with a futility more tragic than 
death, the futility hinted savagely in the Horatian 
Troiani cunnus teterrima belli Causa, and superbly 
in Faustus's great apologue to ' the face that 
launched the thousand ships.' 

In Antony and Cleopatra, on the other hand, a 
type of love not in its origin loftier or purer than 
that of Troilus and Cressida is seen dominating 
two souls of magnificent compass and daemonic 
force. Antony is held by his serpent of old Nile 
in the grip of a passion which insolently tramples 
on moral and institutional bonds, private and 
public alike ; which brings the lovers to ruin and 
to death ; and which yet invests their fall with a 
splendour beside which the triumph of their con- 
queror appears cold and mean. There is no 
conflict, no weighing of love and empire, as great 
alternatives, against each other, in the manner of 
Corneille ; nor does Shakespeare take sides with 
either ; he neither reprobates Antony, likr 
Plutarch, for sacrificing duty to love, nor glorifies 
him, like the author of the Restoration drama, 
All for Love, or the World Well Lost ; still less does 
he seek to strike a balance between these views. 
He is no ethical theorist trying exactly to measure- 
right or wrong, but a great poet whose compre- 
hensive soul had room, together, for many kinds 
of excellence incompatible in the experience of 
ordinary men. That Antony's passion for Cleopatra 
not only ruins his colossal power in the state but 
saps his mental and moral strength is made as 
in- Kikssly clear in Shakespeare as in Plutarch. 
He is 4 the noble ruin of her magic.' But it is 



42 SHAKESPEARE'S TREATMENT 

equally clear that this passion enlarges and enriches 
his emotional life ; in a sense other than that 
intended by the sober Enobarbus, 

A diminution in our captain's brain 
Restores his heart ; (III, xiii, 198) 

and enlarged feeling opens up new regions of imagi- 
nation and lifts him to unapproached heights of 
poetry, as in the unarming-scene with Eros (IV, xiv.) 
and the farewell speeches to Cleopatra ('I am 
dying, Egypt, dying,' IV, xv.). And Cleopatra 
too, in the c infinite variety ' of her moods, has 
momentary flickerings of genuine devotion of which 
she was before incapable. Momentary only, it is 
true ; the egoist, the actress, the coquette, are 
only fitfully overcome ; in her dying speech itself 
the accent of them all is heard. The ' baser 
elements ' are not expelled, but the nobler ' fire 
and air ' to which she dreams that she is resolved, 
gleam for a fitful instant in her cry ' Husband, I 
corne^' to yield a moment later to jealous alarm 
lest Lear should have Antony's kiss, and vindictive 
satisfaction at having outwitted Caesar. 

Shakespeare's poetry takes account of so vast a 
number of other things, of so many other ways 
of living and aspects of life, that we hardly think 
even of the author of Romeo and Juliet as in any 
special sense the poet of Love. Nor is he, if we 
mean by this that he thinks or speaks of Love 
in the transcendent way of Dante, or Lucretius, 
or Spenser, or Shelley. Love with them is part 
of the vital frame of the universe. Lucretius (in 
spite of his atomist creed) saw it pervading ' all 



* / 1 

- 



OF LOVE AND MARRIAGE 43 

that moves below the gliding stars, the sea and 
its ships, the earth and its flocks and flowers.' 
Dante saw it as the force which not only draws 
men and women together, but ' moves the Sun 
and the other stars.' Spenser saw it as ' the 
Lord of all the world by right, that rules all 
creatures by his powerful saw.' Shelley $aw it 
as the sustaining force blindly woven through the 
web of Being. For such heights of poetic meta 
physic we do not look in Shakespeare. He is one 
of the greatest of poets, and his poetry has less 
almost than any other the semblance of myth 
and dream ; its staple is the humanity we know, 
its basis the ground we tread ; what we call the 
prose world, far from being excluded, is genially 
taken in. And precisely where he is greatest, in 
the sublime ruin of the tragedies, love between 
the sexes has on the whole a subordinate place, 
and is there_most^often fraught, as we have seen, 
with disaster and frustration. So it seemed to 
Keats when he turned from ' golden-tongued 
Romance ' to * burn through ' the strife of ' dam- 
nation with impassioned clay ' in King Lear. 
Shakespeare certainly did not, so far as we can 
judge, regard sexual love (like some moderns) as 
either tin- clue to human life or as in any way 
related to the structure of the universe. But if, 
instead of these abstract questions, we ask whether 
any poet has united in a like degree veracious 
appreciation of love in its existing conditions with 
apprehension of all its ideal possibilities, we shall 
not dispute Shuk< sp< -arc's place among the foremost 
of the poets of love. 



II 

THE POETRY 
OF LUCRETIUS 



II 

THE POETRY 
OF LUCRETIUS 



4 Lucretius stands alone in the controversial force and energy 
with which the genius of negation inspires him, and transforms 
into sublime reasons for firm act, so long as living breath is ours, 
the thought that the life of a man is no more than the dream of 
a shadow.' LORD MORLEY'S Recollections. 



THERE was a time when the title of this essay 
would have been received as a paradox, if 
not as a contradiction in terms. Lessing, as is 
well known, declared roundly that Lucretius was 
'a versifier, not a poet,' and Lessing is one of 
the greatest of European critics. It is easy, indeed, 
to explain in part his trenchant condemnation. 
It reflects his implicit acceptance of Aristotle's 
Poetics which he said was for him as absolutely 
valid as Euclid, and therefore of Aristotle's doc- 
trine that poetry is imitation of human action. 
Lessing's insistence on this doctrine was extra- 
ordinarily salutary in his day, and definitely 
lowered the status of the dubious kinds known as 
descriptive, allegorical, satirical, and didactic poetry, 
in a century too much given to them all. That 



48 THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 

phrase of his about the imitation of human action 
marked out a correct, well-defined, and safe channel 
for the stream of poetry to pursue, and some of the 
slender poetic rills of his generation improved their 
chance of survival by falling into it and flowing 
between its banks. But Lessing did not reckon 
with the power of poetic genius to force its own 
way to the sea through no matter how tangled and 
tortuous a river-bed, nay, to capture from the very 
obstructions it overcomes new splendours of foam 
and rainbow unknown perhaps to the well-regu- 
lated stream. In plain language, he did not reckon 
with the fact that a prima facie inferior form, such 
as satire or didactic, may not only have its in- 
feriority outweighed by compensating beauties, but 
may actually elicit and provoke beauties not other- 
wise to be had, and thus become not an obstacle, 
but an instrument of poetry. Nor did he foresee 
that such a recovery of poetic genius, such an 
effacement of the old boundaries, such a with- 
drawal of the old taboos, was to come with the 
following century, nay, was actually impending 
when he wrote. Goethe, who read the Laokoon 
entranced, as a young student at Leipzig, honoured 
its teaching very much on this side of idolatry 
when he came to maturity. As a devoted investi* 
gator of Nature, who divined the inner continuity 
of the flower and the leaf with the same penetrating 
intuition which read the continuity of a man, or 
of a historic city, in all the phases of their growth, 
Goethe was not likely to confine poetry within the 
bounds either of humanity or of the drums and 
tramplings, the violence, passion, and sudden 
death, for which human action in poetic criticism 



THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 49 

has too commonly stood. He himself wrote a 
poem of noble beauty on the Metamorphosis of 
Plants (1797) a poem which suffices to show that 
it is possible to be poetically right while merely 
unfolding the inner truth of things in perfectly 
adequate speech. 1 We cannot wonder, then, that 
Lucretius and the poem On the Nature of Things 
excited in the greatest of German poets the liveliest 
interest and admiration. On the score of subject 
alone he eagerly welcomed the great example of 
Lucretius. But he saw that Lucretius had supreme 
gifts as a poet, which would have given distinction 
to whatever he wrote, and which, far from being 
balked by the subject of his choice, found in it 
peculiarly large scope and play. ' What sets out 
Lucretius so high,' he wrote (1821) to his friend 
v. Knebel, author of the first German translation, 
4 what sets him so high and assures him eternal 
renown, is a lofty faculty of sensuous intuition, 
which enables him to describe with power ; in 
addition, he disposes of a powerful imagination, 
which enables him to pursue what he has seen 
beyond the reach of sense into the invisible depths 
of Nature and her most mysterious recesses.' * 
But while Goethe thus led the way in endorsing 
without reserve the Lucretian conception of what 
the field of poetry might legitimately include, he 
contributed to the discussion nothing, so far as I 

1 Goethe probably never heard of a less fortunate adventure in 
that kind by his English contemporary, Dr. Erasmus Darwin, the 
Loves of the Plants, which hud thin In-m famous in England for ten 
years ; a poem which suffices to show that it is possible to exploit 
in the description of natural processes all the figures and personi- 
fications of poetry, and yet to go egregiously wrong. 

* TV I, 14 February 18*21. 

4 



50 THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 

know, so illuminating or so profound as the great 
saying of Wordsworth : ' poetry is the impassioned 
expression which is in the countenance of all science.' 
For Wordsworth here sweeps peremptorily away 
the boundary marks set up, for better or worse, 
by ancient criticism he knows nothing of a poetry 
purely of man or purely of action : he finds the 
differentia of poetry not in any particular choice of 
subject out of the field of real things, but in the 
impassioned handling of them whencesoever drawn, 
and therefore including the impassioned handling 
of reality as such, or, in the Lucretian phrase, of 
the nature of things. 

What did he mean by impassioned ? Something 
more, certainly, than the enthusiasm of a writer 
possessed with his theme, or even of one eager, as 
Lucretius was, to effect by its means a glorious 
purgation in the clotted soul of a friend. We 
come nearer when we recall the profound emotion 
stirred in Wordsworth by ' earth's tears and mirth, 
her humblest mirth and tears,' or the thought, 
6 too deep for tears,' given him by the lowliest 
flower of the field. Such passion as this is not 
easily analysed, but it implies something that we 
may call participation on the one side and response 
on the other. The poet finds himself in Nature, 
finds there something that answers to spiritual 
needs of his own. The measure of the poet's mind 
will be the measure of the value of the response he 
receives. A small poet will people Nature with 
fantastic shapes which reflect nothing but his 
capricious fancy or his self-centred desires. That 
is not finding a response in Nature, but putting 
one into her mouth ; a procedure like that of the 



THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 51 

bustling conversationalist who, instead of listening 
to your explanation, cuts it short with a * You 
mean to say ' whatever it suits him to suppose. 
But the poet of finer genius will neither seek nor 
be satisfied with such hollow response as this. If 
he finds himself in Nature, it will not be his shallow 
fancies or passing regrets that he finds, but his 
furthest reach, and loftiest appetency of soul. 
He will not properly be said to ' subdue things 
to the mind,' as Bacon declared it to be the 
characteristic aim of poetry to do, instead of, 
like philosophy, subduing the mind to things. 
But he will feel after analogies to mind in the 
universe of things which mind contemplates and 
interprets. 

Such an analogy, for instance, is the sense of 
continuity underlying the changing show of the 
material world, corresponding to the continuity of 
our own self-consciousness through the perpetual 
variations of our soul states. The doctrine of a 
permanent substance persisting through the multi- 
plicity of Nature, and giving birth to all its passing 
modes, belongs as much to poetry as to philosophy, 
and owes as much to impassioned intuition as to 
a priori thought. Under the name of the One 
and the Many the problem of Change and Per- 
manence perplexed and fascinated every depart- 
ment of Greek thought : it provoked the opposite 
extravagances of Heracleitos, who declared change 
to be the only form of existence, and of the Eleatics, 
who denied that it existed at all ; but it also inspired 
the ordered and symmetrical beauty of the Parthe- 
non and the Pindaric ode. ' When we feel the 
poetic thrill,' says Santayana, c it is when we find 



52 THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 

fulness in the concise, and depth in the clear ; and 
that seems to express with felicitous precision the 
genius of Hellenic art.' 

A second such analogy is the discovery of infinity. 
Common sense observes measure and rule, complies 
with custom, and takes its ease when its day's 
work is done ; but we recognize a higher quality 
in the love that knows no measure, in the spiritual 
hunger and thirst which are never stilled. There- 
fore, at the height of our humanity, we find our- 
selves in the universe in proportion as it sustains 
and gives scope for an endlessly ranging and end- 
lessly penetrating thought. The Stoics looked on 
the universe as a globe pervaded by what Munro 
unkindly calls a rotund and rotatory god; at the 
circumference of which all existence, including that 
of space, simply stopped ; common sense revolts, 
but imagination is even more rudely balked, and 
we glory in the defiant description of Epicurus 
passing beyond the flaming walls of the world. 
Yet we are stirred with a far more potent intellec- 
tual sympathy when the idea is suggested, say 
by Spinoza, that space and time themselves are 
but particular modes of a universe which exists 
also in an infinite number of other ways ; or when, 
in the final cantos of Dante's Paradiso, after 
passing up from Earth, the centre, through the 
successive ever-widening spheres that circle round 
it, till we reach the Empyrean, the whole per- 
spective and structure of the universe are suddenly 
inverted, and we see the real centre, God, as a single 
point of dazzling intensity, irradiating existence 
4 through and through.' Then we realize that 
the space we have been laboriously traversing is 



THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 53 

only the illusive medium of our sense-existence, 
and without meaning for the Eternity and Infinity 
of divine reality. 

This example has led us to the verge of another 
class of poetic ideas, those in which poetry discovers 
in the world not merely analogies of mind, but 
mind itself. This is the commonest, and in some 
of its phases the cheapest and poorest, intellec- 
tually, of all poetic ideas. It touches at one pole 
the naive personation which peoples earth and air 
for primitive man with spirits whom he seeks by 
ritual and magic to propitiate or to circumvent. 
The brilliant and beautiful \voof of myth is, if we 
will, poetry as well as religion ; the primitive and 
rudimentary poetry of a primitive and rudimentary 
religion. Yet it points, however crudely, to the 
subtler kinds of response which a riper poetic 
insight may discover. If the glorious anthropo- 
morphism of Olympus and Asgard has faded for 
ever, the mystery of life, everywhere pulsing through 
Nature, and perpetually reborn ' in man and beast 
and earth and air and sea,' cries to the poet in 
every moment of his experience with a voice which 
will not be put by, and the symbols from soul-life 
by which he seeks to convey his sense of it, if they 
often read human personality too definitely into 
the play of that elusive mystery, yet capture 
something in it which escapes the reasoned formulas 
of science, and justify the claim of poetic experience 
to be the source of an outlook upon the world, of 
a vision of life, with which, no less than with those 
reached through philosophy and religion, civilization 
has to reckon. 

The poetic consciousness of soul has thus left a 



54 THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 

deep impress upon the medium of ideas through 
which we currently regard both Nature and Man. 
It has imbued with a richer significance and a 
livelier appeal those analogies in Nature of which 
I spoke ; turning the sublime but bare conceptions 
of continuity and substance into Wordsworth's 
something more deeply interfused, or Shelley's Love 
. . . through the web of Being blindly wove ; turning 
the abstraction of infinity into limitless aspiration, 
or into that ' infinite passion ' which Browning 
felt across 6 the pain of finite hearts that yearn.' 

On the other hand, in its interpretation of Man, 
the poetic soul-consciousness, so extraordinarily 
intense on the emotional and imaginative side, 
has lifted these aspects of soul into prominence ; 
illuminating and sustaining everywhere the im- 
passioned insight which carries men outside and 
beyond themselves, in heroism, in prophecy, in 
creation, in love ; which makes the past alive for 
them, and the future urgent ; which lifts them to 
a vision of good and evil beyond that of moral 
codes ; to the perception that danger is the true 
safety, and death, as Rupert Brooke said, c safest 
of all ' ; which in a word gives wing and scope and 
power to that in man which endures, as the stream 
endures though its water is ever gliding on, and 
makes us ' feel that we are greater than we know.' 

I have tried to sketch out some of the ways in 
which a scientific poetry is possible without dis- 
paragement to either element in the description. 
Let me now proceed to apply some of these ideas 
to the great poet of science who is our immediate 
subject. 



THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 55 



II 

In this assembly it is unnecessary to recall the 
little that is told, on dubious authority, of the life 
which began a little less than a hundred years 
before the Christian era, and ended when he was 
not much over forty, when Virgil was a very young 
man. All that is told of his life is the story that 
he went mad after receiving a love-philtre, com- 
posed the books of his great poem, On the Nature 
of Things in his lucid intervals, and finally died 
by his own hand. It is this tradition which 
Tennyson with great art has worked up into his 
noble poem. We need not here discuss the truth 
either of the tradition of madness or of that of 
suicide. What is certain is that no poem in the 
world bears a more powerful impress of coherent 
and continuous thought. While the poets of his 
own time and of the next generation, though deeply 
interested in his poetry and in his ideas, know 
nothing of the tragic story which first emerges in 
a testimony four centuries later. 

Lucretius called his poem by the bald title On 
the Nature of Things. But no single term or 
phrase can describe the aims which, distinct but 
continually playing into and through one another, 
compose the intense animating purpose of the book. 
We may say that it is at once a scientific treatise, 
a gospel of salvation, and an epic of nature and man ; 
yet we are rarely conscious of any one of these 
aims to the exclusion of the rest. In none of these 
three aims was Lucretius wholly original. In 
each of them he had a great precursor among the 



56 THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 

speculative thinkers and poets of Greece. His 
science roughly speaking was the creation of 
Democritus ; his gospel of salvation was the 
work of Epicurus ; and the greatest example of a 
poem on the nature of things, before his, had been 
given by Empedocles, the poet-philosopher of 
Agrigentum whom Matthew Arnold made the 
mouthpiece of his grave and lofty hymn of nine- 
teenth-century pessimism. In his own country 
his only predecessor in any sense was Ennius, the 
old national poet who had first cast the hexameter 
in the stubborn mould of Latin speech, to whom 
he pays characteristically generous homage. 

The atomic system of Democritus, which ex- 
plained all things in the universe as combinations 
of different kinds of material particles, was a mag- 
nificent contribution to physical science, and the 
fertility of its essential idea is still unexhausted. 
It touched the problems of mind and life, of ethics 
and art, only indirectly, in so far as it resolved 
mind and all its activities into functions of matter 
and motion. Epicurus, on the other hand, a 
saintly recluse, bent only upon showing the way 
to a life of serene and cheerful virtue, took over 
the doctrine of the great physicist of Abdera, 
without any touch of dispassionate speculative 
interest, as that which promised most effectual 
relief from disturbing interests and cares, and 
especially from the disturbance generated by fear 
of the gods and of a life after death. He might 
have gone to the great Athenian idealists of the 
fourth century, the immortal masters not only of 
those who know, but of those who think and 
create, whether in science or in poetry or in citizen- 



THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 57 

ship. But his aim was precisely to liberate from 
these distracting energies, and allure a weary 
generation from the forum and the workshop, even 
the studio of letters or of art, and the temples of 
the gods, into the choice seclusion of his garden 
the garden of a soul at peace, fragrant with innocent 
and beautiful things. What Epicurus added of 
his own to Democritus' theory was an accom- 
modation not to truth but to convenience ; and 
the measure of his scientific ardour is given by his 
easy toleration of conflicting explanations of the 
same phenomenon, provided they dispense with 
the intervention of the gods. While the measure 
of his attachment to poetry is given by his counsel 
to his disciples to go past it with stopped ears, as 
by the siren's deadly song. 

It was this scientific doctrine, adopted by Epicurus 
in the interest not of science but of his gospel of 
deliverance from the cares of superstition, that 
Lucretius took over with the fervour of disciple- 
ship. He was not, like Pope in the Essay of Man, 
providing an elegant dress for philosophic ideas 
which he only half understood and abandoned in 
alarm when they threatened to be dangerous. 
He was the prophet of Epicureanism, and it is 
among the prophets of the faiths by which men live 
and die that we must seek a parallel to the passion- 
ate earnestness with which he proclaims to Mem- 
mius the saving gospel of Epicurus to that same 
Memmius who a few years later showed his piety 
to Epicurus' memory by destroying his house. 
It was the hope of pouring the light and joy of 
saving truth upon the mind of this rather obtuse 
Roman, his beloved friend, that Lucretius laboured, 



58 THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 

he tells us, through the silent watches of the night, 
seeking phrase and measure which might make 
deep and hidden things clear. 1 But Lucretius 
felt and thought also as a poet and in the temper 
of poetry. He was not c lending his pen ' to a good 
cause, nor turning Greek science into Latin hexa- 
meters in order that they might be more vividly 
grasped or more readily remembered. He was 
conquering a new way in poetry ; striking out a 
virgin path which no foot before his had trod. 
For Empedocles had had far narrower aims. And 
he calls on the Muses for aid with as devout a 
faith in his poetic mission in the great adventure 
as Milton had when he summoned Urania or some 
greater Muse to be his guide while he attempted 
4 things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.' 
What we admire unreservedly in him, declares a 
great French poet who died only the other day, 
Sully-Prudhomme, is the breath of independence 
which sweeps through the entire work of this most 
robust and precise of poets. 

We see the temper of the poet at the outset, 
in the wonderful transfiguration which the gentle 
recluse Epicurus undergoes in the ardent brain of 
his Roman disciple. For it was of this enemy of 
disturbing emotion, this quietist of paganism, this 
timid and debonnaire humanitarian, that Lucretius 
drew the magnificent and astonishing portrait 
which immediately follows the prologue of the 
De Rerum Natura. The Lucretian Epicurus is a 
Prometheus the heroic Greek who first of mortals 
dared to defy and withstand the monstrous tyrant 
Religion to her face. No fabled terror could appal 

1 i. 140 f. 



THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 59 

him, no crashing thunder, nor the anger of heaven ; 
these only kindled the more the eager courage of 
his soul, to be the first to break the bars of Nature's 
gates. So the living might of his soul prevailed ; 
and he passed beyond the flaming walls of the 
world and traversed in mind and spirit the immeasur- 
able universe ; returning thence in triumph to tell 
us what can, and what cannot, come into being ; 
having trampled under foot Religion who once 
crushed mankind, and lifted mankind in turn by 
his victory up to the height of heaven. 

One might well surmise that a philosophy which 
a poet could thus ardently proclaim was itself, 
after all, not without the seeds and springs of 
poetry ; and that Lucretius in choosing to expound 
it in verse was not staking everything on his power 
of making good radical defects of substance by 
effective surface decoration or brilliant digressions. 
He recognized, no doubt, a difference in popular 
appeal between his substance and his form, and 
in a famous and delightful passage compares him- 
self to the physician who touches the edge of the 
bitter cup with honey, ensnaring credulous child- 
hood to its own good. So, he tells Memmius, he 
preading the honey of the Muses over his diffi- 
cult matter, that he may hold him by the charm of 
verse until the nature of things have grown clear 
to his sight. But Lucretius is here putting him- 
self at the point of view of the indifferent layman, 
and especially of the rather obtuse layman whose 
interest he was with almost pathetic eagerness 
seeking to capture. One guesses that Memmius, 
like the boy, was by no means reconciled to the 
wormwood because it was prefaced with honey ; 



60 THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 

and modern critics who, like Mommsen, condemn 
his choice of subject as a blunder, come near to 
adopting the resentful boy's point of view. But 
in the splendid lines which immediately precede, 
though they form part of the same apology to 
Memmius, the poet involuntarily betrays his own 
very different conception of the matter. The 
hope of glory, he says, has kindled in his breast 
the love of the Muses, ' whereby inspired I am 
exploring a virgin soil of poetry hitherto untrodden 
by any foot. O the joy of approaching the un- 
sullied springs, and quaffing them, O the joy of 
culling flowers unknown, whence may be woven 
a splendid wreath for my head, such as the Muses 
have arrayed no man's brows withal before ; first 
because I am reporting on a great theme, and 
undoing the tight knot of superstition from the 
minds of men ; and then because I convey dark 
matters in such transparent verse, touching every- 
thing with the Muses' charm.' * 

Here, in spite of the last words, Lucretius clearly 
feels that his matter is something more than the 
wormwood which he overlays with honey ; it is a 
vast region of implicit poetry which he, first of 
poets, is going to discover and annex ; and he 
rests his claim to the poetic wreath he expects 
to win, in the first place upon this greatness of 
the subject matter itself, and secondly, not as the 
wormwood and honey theory would suggest, on 
the ingenious fancy which decorates or disguises 
it, but on the lucid style which allows it to shine 
in, as through a window, upon the ignorant mind. 

1 I. 922, i. 



THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 61 



III 

Let us then consider from this point of view the 
subject of Lucretius. This subject, as he conceives 
it, has two aspects. On the one side it is negative ; 
an annihilating criticism of all the crude religion 
founded upon fear fear of the gods, fear of death 
and of something after death ; criticism delivered 
with remorseless power and culminating in the 
sinewy intensity of the terrible line 

Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum, 

which transfixes once for all the consecrated prin- 
ciple of tabu everywhere dominant in the primitive 
faiths, the product of man's cowardice, as magic 
is the product of his pride. 

The other aspect is constructive ; the building 
up of the intellectual and moral framework of a 
worthy human life, by setting forth the true nature 
of the universe, the history of life, and the devel- 
opment of man ; in other words, the story of his 
struggle through the ages, with the obstacles 
opposed to him by the power of untamed nature, 
by wild beasts, storms, inundations, by the rivalry 
and antagonism of other men, and by the wild 
unreason in his own breast. Lucretius saw as 
clearly as any modern thinker that man's conduct 
of his life, whether in the narrow circle of domestic 
happiness and personal duty, or in the larger 
sphere of civic polity, must be based upon a com- 
prehension of the external world and of the past 
through which we have grown to what we are ; 
and making allowance for his more limited resources 



62 THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 

and his more confined point of view, he carried it 
out with magnificent power. So that if his poem 
remains in nominal intention a didactic treatise, 
in its inner substance and purport it might better 
be described as a colossal epic of the universe, 
with man for its protagonist and the spectres of 
the gods for its vanquished foes ; and wanting 
neither the heroic exultations nor the tragic dooms, 
neither the melancholy over what passes nor the 
triumph in what endures, which go to the making 
of the greatest poetry. 

These two aspects criticism and construction 
are thus most intimately bound together in the 
poem, but can yet be considered apart. And to 
each belongs its own peculiar and distinct vein of 
poetry. On the whole it is the former, at first 
sight so much less favourable to poetic purposes, 
which has most enthralled posterity. For the 
voice of Lucretius is here a distinctive, almost a 
solitary voice. The poets for the most part have 
been the weavers of the veil of dreams and visions 
in whose glamour the races of mankind have 
walked : but here came a poet, and one of the 
greatest, who rent the veil asunder and bade men 
gaze upon the nature of things naked and unadorned. 
And his austere chaunt of triumph as he pierces 
illusion and scatters superstition, has in it some- 
thing more poignant and thrilling than many a 
song of voluptuous ecstacy or enchanted reverie. 
For, after all, the passing of an old order of things 
and the coming of a new has always at least the 
interest of colossal drama, and cannot leave us 
unmoved, however baneful we may hold the old 
order to have been, however we may exult in 



THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 63 

the deliverance effected by the new. So Milton's 
celebration of the birth of Christ only reaches the 
heights of poetry when he is telling of the passing 
of the old pagan divinities : 

The lonely mountains o'er 

And the resounding shore, 
A voice of weeping heard and loud lament ; 

From haunted spring and dale, 

Edged with poplar pale, 
The parting genius is with sighing sent ; 

With flower-inwoven tresses torn 
The nymphs in twilight shade of tangled thicket mourn. 

Through the Christian's exultation there sounds, 
less consciously perhaps, but more clear, the 
Humanist scholar's sense of tragedy and pathos. 
In this sense Milton's Ode has affinity with poems 
like Schiller's Gods of Greece, where grief for the 
passing of the pagan faith is untouched by 
Christian sentiment ; but precisely its more com- 
plex and subtle emotion raises Milton's poem higher. 
In Hyperion, even more, we are made to feel the 
pathos of the passing of the fallen divinity of Saturn 
and his host ; and Hyperion himself, the sun-god 
of the old order of physical light, is more magnifi- 
cently presented than Apollo, the sun-god of the new 
order of radiant intelligence and song. Lucretius, 
as we shall see, brings back the old divinity in a 
sublime way of his own ; but he feels the benefi- 
cence of the new order of scientific vision and 
inviolable law too profoundly to have any sense 
of pathos at the passing of the reign of superstition 
and caprice. He is rather possessed with flaming 
wrath as he recalls the towering evils of which that 
old regime had been guilty : the wrath of a prophet, 
more truly divine in spirit than the divinities he 



64 THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 

assailed, as Prometheus is more divine than Zeus. 
Again and again we are reminded, as we read his 
great invectives, not of the sceptics mocking all 
gods indiscriminately in the name of enlightened 
good sense, but of a Hebrew prophet, chastising 
those who sacrifice to the gods of the Gentiles, in 
the name of the God of righteousness who refuses 
to be worshipped with offerings of blood. There 
is surely a spirit not far remote from this in the 
indignant pity with which he tells, in a famous 
and splendid passage, the sacrifice of Iphigenia 
at the divine bidding, as the price of the liberation 
of the Grecian fleet on its way to Troy : 

How often has fear of the gods begotten impious and criminal 
acts ! What else was it that led the chieftains of Greece, foremost 
of men, foully to stain the altar of Artemis with the blood of the 
maiden Iphigenia ? Soon as the victim's band was bound about 
her virgin locks, and she saw her father grief-stricken before the altar, 
and at his side the priests concealing the knife, and the onlookers 
shedding tears at the sight, dumb with fear she sank on her knees 
to the ground. And it availed her nothing at that hour that she 
had been the first to call the king by the name of father ; for she 
was caught up by the hands of men, and borne trembling to the 
altar ; not to have a glad wedding hymn sung before her when these 
sacred rites were over, but to be piteously struck down, a victim, 
stained with her own stainless blood, by the hand of a father in the 
very flower of her bridal years ; and all in order to procure that a 
happy deliverance might be granted to the captive fleet. So huge 
a mass of evils has fear of the gods brought forth ! (I. 84-101.) J 

Thus the crucial proof of the badness of the old 
religions is derived from the hideous violence 
done in their name to the natural and beautiful 
pieties of the family. 

Yet, with all his fierce aversion for this baneful 
fear, Lucretius feels profoundly how natural it is. 
His intense imagination enters into the inmost 

1 This and subsequent passages are freely compressed here and 
there. 



THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 65 

recesses of the human heart, and runs counter, 
as it were, to the argument of his powerful reason ; 
riveting upon our senses with almost intolerable 
force the beliefs which he is himself seeking to 
dispel ; so that though there is no trace of doubt 
or obscurity in his own mind, his words need only 
to be set in a different context to become a plea 
for that which he is using them to refute. Thus 
his very derision of the Stoic doctrine of an all- 
pervading God is conveyed in language of what one 
is again prompted to call Hebraic magnificence. 
4 What power can rule the immeasurable All, or 
hold the reins of the great deep ? who can revolve 
the heavens and warm the earth with ethereal 
fires ? who can be everywhere present, making 
dark the sky and thrilling it with clashing sound 
. . . ? ' (V. 1234 f.) Do we not seem to listen to 
an echo of the ironical questions of the Jahveh 
of the Book of Job ? 

There he feels only scorn for the believer, in spite 
of his involuntary imaginative hold upon the belief. 
But in another passage we see the poet himself 
shudder with the fear that his logic is in the act 
of plucking up by the roots : 



When we gaze upward at the great vault of heaven, and the 
empyrean fixed above the shining stars, and consider the paths of 
sun and moon, then the dread will start into life within us lest haply 
we should find it to be the immeasurable might of the gods which 
moves the blazing stars along tlu ir diverse ways. For dearth of 
argument tempts us to wonder whether the world was ever begotten, 
ami whether it be destined to perish when its ceaseless movements 
have worn it out, or endowed with immortal life glide on perpetually, 
iitf all the illicit of time. And then what man is there whose 
heart does not shrink with terror of the gods, whose limbs do not 
> with fear, wit n th<- parched earth trembles at the lightning 
stroke, and the roar of thunder rolls through the sky ! Do not the 

5 



66 THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 

peoples shudder, and haughty kings quake with fear, lest for some 
foul deed or arrogant speech a dire penalty has been incurred and 
the hour be come when it must be paid ? For when the might of 
the hurricane sweeps the commander of a fleet before it along the 
seas, with all his force of legions and elephants, does he not approach 
the gods with prayers for their favour and helping winds ; and all 
in vain, for often enough none the less he is caught in the whirlpool 
and flung into the jaws of death ? So utterly is some hidden 
power seen to consume the works of man, and to trample and deride 
all the symbols of his glory and his wrath (V. 1204 f.). 

But beyond the fear of what the gods may do to 
us on earth, lay another more insidious and ineluct- 
able fear the dread of what may befall us after 
death. It was a main part of Lucretius's purpose 
to meet this by showing that death meant dissolu- 
tion, and dissolution unconsciousness ; but men 
continued to dread, and this is the reasoning, 
equally inconclusive and brilliant, with which he 
confronts them : 

Therefore since death annihilates, and bars out from being 
altogether him whom evils might befall, it is plain that in death 
there is nothing for us to fear, and that a man cannot be unhappy 
who does not exist at all, and that it matters not a jot whether 
a man has been born, when death the deathless has swallowed up 
life that dies. 

Therefore, when you see a man bewail himself that after death 
his body will rot, or perish in flames or in the jaws of beasts, his 
profession clearly does not ring true, and there lurks a secret sting 
in his heart, for all his denial that he believes there is any feeling 
in the dead. For, I take it, he does not fulfil his promise, nor 
follow out his principle, and sever himself out and out from life, 
but unconsciously makes something of himself survive. For when 
as a living man he imagines his future fate, and sees himself 
devoured by birds and beasts, he pities himself ; for he does not 
distinguish between himself and the other, nor sever himself from 
the imagined body, but imagines himself to be it, and impregnates 
it with his own feeling. Hence he is indignant that he has been 
created mortal, nor sees that there will not in reality be after death 
another self, to grieve as a living being that he is dead, and feel 
pangs as he stands by, that he himself is lying there being mangled 
or consumed. 



THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 67 

Then he supposes the dying man's friends to 
condole with him : 

Now no more thy glad home shall welcome thee, nor a beloved 
wife, nor sweet children run to snatch kisses, touching thy heart 
with secret delight. No more wilt thou be prosperous in thy 
doings, no more be a shelter to thy dear ones. A single, cruel day 
has taken from thee, hapless man, all the need of life. So they 
tell you, but they forget to add that neither for any one of these 
things wilt thou any longer feel desire (III. 863). 



IV 

So much then for the first aspect of Lucretius's 
poem the criticism of the old religions. Most of 
the recognized and famous * poetry ' of the book is 
connected, like the passages I have quoted, with 
this negative side of his creed. But I am more 
concerned to show that a different and not less 
noble vein of poetry was rooted in the rich positive 
appetencies of his nature ; in his acute and exquisite 
senses ; in the vast and sublime ideas which under- 
lay his doctrine of the world ; in his intense appre- 
hension of the zest of life ; and, on the other hand, 
penetrating, like an invisible but potent spirit, 
the texture of his reasoned unconcern, his profound, 
unconfessed sense of the pathos of death, his 
melancholy in the presence of the doom of universal 
dissolution which he foresaw for the world and for 
mankind. 

Let us look first at the main constructive idea ; 
the atomic theory of Leucippus and Democritus, 
taken over by Epicurus and expounded by Lucretius. 

For this theory was in effect, and probably in 
intention, a device for overcoming that antithesis of 
the One and the Many, of Permanence and Change, 



68 THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 

of which I have spoken. The Eleatics had declared 
that pure Being was alone real, and denied Change 
and Motion ; Heracleitus declared that nothing 
was real but Change, and the only perpetuity 
* flux.' The founder of atomism, Leucippus, 
showed that it was possible to hold, in the phrase 
of Browning's philosophic Don Juan, that there is 
in * all things change, and permanence as well,' 
by supposing that shifting and unstable world of 
the senses, where all things die and are born, to 
be composed of uncreated and indestructible 
elements. Underlying the ceaseless fluctuations 
of Nature, and life as we see them, lay a continuity 
of eternal substance, of which they were the passing 
modes ; one of the greatest of philosophical con- 
ceptions, Mr. Santayana has called it, but one 
also appealing profoundly to the specifically poetic 
intuition which I have described. Whether the 
permanent apprehended through the flux of sense 
be a spiritual substance like Plato's ideas, or 
Shelley's ' white radiance of eternity,' or whether 
it be the constant form and function of the flow- 
ing river, as in Wordsworth's Duddon sonnet ; or 
whether, as here, it be a background of material 
particles perpetually combining and resolved, we 
have the kind of intuition which gives the thrill of 
poetry ; we discover ' sweep in the concise, and 
depth in the clear,' infinite perspectives open out 
in the moment and in the point, and however 
remote the temper of Spinozan mysticism may be, 
we yet in some sort see things * in the light of 
eternity.' 

In Lucretius this conception found a mind cap- 
able of being ravished by its imaginative grandeur, 



THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 69 

as well as of pursuing it indefatigably through the 
thorniest mazes of mechanical proof. The con- 
tagious fervour which breathes through his poem 
is no mere ardour of the disciple bent on winning 
converts, or the joy of the literary craftsman as 
his hexameters leap forth glowing on the anvil ; it 
is the sacred passion of one who has had a sublime 
vision of life and nature, and who bears about the 
radiance of it into all the work to which he has 
set his hand. It is not because of anything that 
Lucretius adds to Epicurus in theory he really 
adds nothing at all that the impression produced 
by his poem differs so greatly from that of all we 
know in fragments and at second hand, it is true 
of Epicurus's own writings. The ultimate principles 
are the same, but the accent is laid at a different 
point. The parochial timidities of Epicurus have 
left their traces on the Roman's page, but they 
appear as hardly more than rudimentary survivals 
among the native inspirations of a man of heroic 
mettle and valour, Roman tenacity, and native 
sweep of mind. He cannot quite break free from 
some speculative foibles which show the Master's 
shallow opportunism at its worst such as the 
dictum that the sun is about as large as it looks, 
a lamp hung a little above the earth, and daily 
lighted and put out ; but he becomes himself when 
he lets his imagination soar into the infinities of 
time and space which his faith opens out or leaves 
room for. It is a triumph of poetry as well as of 
common sense when he scoffs at the Stoic dogma 
of a Space which abruptly comes to an end ; win -n 
Nations an archer at the barrier and ironically 
bids him shoot his arrow into the nothingness 



70 THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 

beyond. Or in more sombre mood, how grave 
an intensity he puts into a common thought, like 
that of the end of life, by the sublimely terrible 
epithet immortal which he applies to death : 

Mortalem vitam Mors cum inmortalis ademit (III. 869). 

or into a mere reminder that birth and death 
are always with us, by making us feel the endless 
concomitant succession through the ages of funeral 
wailings, and the cry of the new-born child (II. 578). 
He accepts without question the swerving of 
the atoms, devised by Epicurus child and man 
of genius at once to refute the Stoic dogma of 
necessity ; but what possesses his mind and imagi- 
nation is not these intrusions of caprice, but the 
great continuities and uniformities of existence, 
which follow from the perpetual dissolution and 
remaking of life. ' Rains die, when father ether 
has tumbled them into the lap of mother earth ; 
but then goodly crops spring up and trees laden 
with fruit ; and by them we and the beasts are 
fed, and joyous cities teem with children and the 
woods ring with the song of young birds ' (I. 250 f.). 
Only, as such passages show, Lucretius grasps 
these uniformities and continuities not as theoretic 
abstractions, but as underlying conditions of the 
teeming multiplicity and joyous profusion of living 
Nature. His senses, imagination, and philosophic 
intellect, all phenomenally acute and alert, wrought 
intimately together ; and he enters into and exposes 
the life of the individual thing with an intensity 
of insight and a realistic precision and power 
which quicken us with its warm pulse, and burn 
its image upon our brain, without ever relaxing 



THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 71 

our consciousness that it is part of an endless 
process, and the incidental expression of an unalter- 
able law. For him, indeed, as for Dante, individu- 
ality is an intrinsic part of law, and law of individu- 
ality. Every being has its place and function, its 
4 deep fixed boundaries ' (terminus alte haerens). 
The very stone, for Dante, cleaves to the spot 
where it lies. And the Roman as well as the 
philosopher in Lucretius scornfully contrasts with 
this Nature of minute and ubiquitous law the 
fluid and chaotic world of myth, where anything 
might become anything (cf. V. 126 f.). 



None the less, his conception of the nature of 
the process itself does insensibly undergo a change. 
In the mind of an exponent so richly endowed and 
so transparently sincere, the hidden flaw in his 
system could not but at some point disturb its 
imposing coherence. Atomism could not at bottom 
explain life, and life poured with too abounding 
a tide through the heart and brain of Lucretius 
not to sap in some degree the authority of his 
mechanical calculus, and to lend a surreptitious 
persuasiveness to inconsistent analogies derived 
from the animated soul. Without ostensibly dis- 
turbing the integrity of his Epicurean creed, such 
analogies have, in two ways, infused an alien colour 
into his poetry and alien implications into his 
thought. In the first place, he feels, as such 
abounding natures will, that life ' the mere living ' 
is somehow very good, in spite of all the evils 
it brings in its train, and death pathetic in spite of 



72 THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 

all the evils from which it sets us free. When he 
is demonstrating that the world cannot have been 
made by gods, he set forth its grave inherent 
flaws of structure and arrangement with merciless 
trenchancy tanta stat praedita culpd (V. 199) ; and 
like Lear, he makes the new-born child wail because 
he is come into a world where so many griefs await 
him. And no one ever urged with more passionate 
eloquence that it is unreasonable to fear to die. 
None the less, phrases charged with a different 
feeling about life continually escape him. He 
speaks of the pracclara mundi natura (V. 157). To 
begin to live is to ' rise up into the divine borders 
of light ' (I. 20). And secondly, despite his philo- 
sophical assurance, incessantly repeated, that birth 
and death are merely different aspects of the same 
continuous mechanical process, and that nothing 
receives life except by the death of something else, 
4 Alid ex alio reficit natura, nee ullam Rem gigni 
patitur, nisi morte adiuta aliena * (I. 264, etc.), 
he cannot suppress suggestions that the creative 
energy of the world is akin to that which with 
conscious desire and will brings forth the successive 
generations of Man. And so, in the astonishing 
and magnificent opening address, the poet who was 
about to demonstrate that the gods lived eternally 
remote from the life of men, calls upon Venus, the 
legendary mother of his own race, as the divine 
power ever at work in this teeming universe, the 
giver of increase, bringing all things to birth, from 
the simplest corn blade to the might and glory of 
the Roman Empire : 

Mother of the Roman race, delight of gods and men, benign 
Venus, who under the gliding constellations of heaven fillest with 



THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 73 

thy presence the sea with its ships and the earth with its fruits, 
seeing that by thy power all the races of living things are conceived 
and come to being in the light of day ; before thee, O goddess, the 
winds take flight, and the clouds of heaven at thy coming ; at thy 
feet the brown earth sheds her flowers of a thousand hues, before 
thee the sea breaks into rippling laughter, and the sky rejoicing 
glows with radiant light (I. 1 f.). 

So grave and impassioned an appeal cannot be 
treated as mere rhetorical ornament. If we call 
it figure, it is figure of the kind which is not a 
4 poetical ' substitute for prose, but conveys some- 
thing for which no other terms are adequate. 
Lucretius, the exponent of Epicurus, doubtless 
intended no heresy against the Epicurean theology ; 
but Lucretius, the poet, was carried by his vehe- 
ment imagination to an apprehension of the 
creative energies of the world so intense and 
acute that the great symbol of Venus rendered 
it with more veracity than all that calculus 
of atomic movements which he was about to 
expound, and by which his logical intellect with 
perfect sincerity believed it to be adequately 
explained. 

Far less astonishing than his bold rehabilitation 
of the goddess of Love is his fetishistic feeling for 
the Earth, the legendary mother of men. For him 
too, as for primeval myth, she is the * universal 
mother,' who in her fresh youth brought forth 
flower and tree, and bird and beast ; from whose 
body sprang finally the race of man itself ; nay, he 
tells us how the infants crept forth, 'from wombs 
rooted in the soil,' and how, wherever this happened, 
earth yielded naturally through her pores a liquor 
most like to milk, * even as nowadays every woman 
when she has given birth is filled with sweet milk, 



74 THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 

because all that current of nutriment streams 
towards the breast ' (V. 788 f.). 

It is true that elsewhere Lucretius speaks with 
rationalistic condescension of the usage which calls 
the Earth a mother and divine, as a phrase like 
Bacchus for wine or Ceres for corn, permissible so 
long as no superstitious fear is annexed to it 
(II. 652 f.). But it is plain that the Earth's mother- 
hood had a grip upon his poet's imagination quite 
other than could be exerted by any such tag of 
poetic diction. Doubtless the fervour with which 
he insists on it * Therefore again and again Earth 
is rightly called Mother, seeing that she brought 
forth the race of men and every beast and bird 
in its due season 'is not wholly due to poetic 
motives. He is eager to refute the Stoic doctrine 
that men were sprung from heaven. But the poet 
in him is, all the same, entranced by the sublimity 
of the conception he is urging, and he describes 
it with an afflatus which dwarfs that Stoic doctrine, 
and makes the splendid legend of Cybele the Earth 
Mother, elaborated by the Greek poets, seem puerile 
with all its beauty. ' In the beginning Earth hath 
in herself the elements whence watersprings pouring 
forth their coolness perpetually renew the boundless 
Sea, and whence fires arise, making the ground in 
many places hot, and belching forth the surpassing 
flames of ^Etna. Then she bears shining corn 
and glad woodlands for the support of men, and 
rivers and leaves and shining pastures for the 
beasts that haunt the hills. Wherefore she is 
called the mother of the gods and mother of beasts 
and men ' (II. 589 f.). 

This all-creating Earth is far enough no doubt 



THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 75 

from the benign Nature of Wordsworth, who 
moulds her children by silent sympathy. But it 
is not so remote from the Earth of Meredith, the 
Mother who brings Man * her great venture ' 
forth, bears him on her breast and nourishes him 
there, but ' more than that embrace, that nourish- 
ment, she cannot give.' 

He may entreat, aspire, 
He may despair, and she has never heed. 
She drinking his warm sweat will soothe his need, 
Not his desire. 

Meredith too sees man, in dread of her, clutching 
at invisible powers, as Lucretius's sea-captain in 
the storm makes vows to the gods. And Meredith's 
thought that man rises by * spelling at ' her laws 
is no less Lucretian. But Meredith's story of 
Earth is full of hope, like his story of man. It is 
perpetual advance. With Lucretius it is otherwise. 
For the Earth is not only our Mother ; she is our 
tomb (II. 1148 f.). And the eternal energy of 
creation is not only matched by the eternal energy 
of dissolution, but here and now is actually yielding 
ground to it. The Earth, so prolific in her joyous 
youth, is now like a woman who has ceased to bear, 
' worn out by length of days ' (V. 820 f.). In the 
whole universe birth and death absolutely balance, 
the equation of mechanical values is never infringed ; 
the universe has no history, only a continuous 
substitution of terms. But each living thing has 
a history, it knows the exultation of onset and the 
melancholy of decline ; and its fear of death is not 
cancelled by the knowledge that in that very 
moment, and in consequence of that very fact, 
some other living thing will be born. And thus 



76 THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 

Lucretius, feeling for our Earth as a being very 
near to us, and with which the issues of our exist- 
ence arc involved, applies the doctrine to her 
without shrinking indeed, but not without a human 
shudder. The Earth had a beginning, and ineluct- 
able reason forces us to conclude that she will have 
an end, and this not by a gradual evanescence or dis- 
persion, but by a sudden, terrific catastrophe, as in 
a great earthquake, or world conflagration (V. 95 f.). 

And he feels this abrupt extinction of the Earth 
and its inhabitants to be tragic, notwithstanding 
that extinction is, by his doctrine, only the condition 
of creation, and that at the very moment of her 
ruin, some other earth will be celebrating its 
glorious birth. Earth has for him a life-history, 
a biography, and he forgets that she is strictly 
but a point at which the eternal drift of atoms 
thickened for a time to a cluster, to be dispersed 
again. Thus we see how this mechanical system, 
ardently embraced by a poet, working freely upon 
him, and itself coloured and transformed by his 
mind, stirred in him two seemingly opposed kinds 
of poetic emotion at once : the sublime sense of 
eternal existence, and the tragic pathos of sudden 
doom and inexorable passing away. 

Hence the melancholy that in Lucretius goes along 
with an enormous sense of life. To say that he puts 
the ' Nevermore ' of romantic sentimentality in 
the place of that dispassionate ' give and take ' 
of mechanics would do wrong to the immense 
virility which animates every line of this athlete 
among poets. Of the cheap melancholy of dis- 
content he knows as little as of the cheap satis- 
faction of complacency, or of that literary melan- 



THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 77 

choly, where the sigh of Horace, or Ronsard, or 
Herrick, over the passing of roses and all other 
beautiful things covers a sly diplomatic appeal to 
the human rosebud to be gathered while still there 
is time. No, the melancholy of Lucretius is like 
that of Diirer's * Melancholia,' the sadness of 
strong intellect and far-reaching vision as it con- 
templates the setting of the sun of time and the 
ebbing of the tides of mortality ; or like Words- 
worth's mournful music of dissolution, only to be 
heard by an ear emancipated from vulgar joys 
and fears ; or like the melancholy of Keatsthe 
veiled goddess who hath her shrine in the very 
temple of delight the amari aliquid, in Lucretius's 
own yet more pregnant words, which lurks in the 
very sweetness of the flower. 

Thus our * scientific poet ' appears in an extra- 
ordinary if not unique way to have united the 
functions and temper and achievement of science 
and poetry. He * knew the causes of things,' 
and could set them forth with marvellous precision 
and resource ; and the knowledge filled him with 
lofty joy as of one standing secure above the welter 
of doubt and fear in which the mass of men pass 
their lives. To have reached this serene pinnacle 
of intellectual security seemed to his greatest 
follower Virgil a happiness beyond the reach of 
his own more tender and devout genius, and he 
commemorated it in splendid verses which Matthew 
Arnold in our own day applied to Goethe : 

And he was happy, if to know 
Causes of things, and far below 

feet to see tho lurid flow 
Of terror and insane distress 
And headlong fate, be happiness. 



78 THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 

There is, it may be, something that repels us, 
something slightly inhuman, in this kind of lonely 
happiness, and Lucretius does little to counteract 
that impression when he himself compares it, in 
another famous passage, to the satisfaction of 
one who watches the struggle of a storm-tost ship 
from the safe vantage-ground of the shore. Yet 
Lucretius is far from being the lonely egoist that 
such a passage might suggest ; his poem itself was 
meant as a helping hand to lift mankind to his own 
security : he knew what devoted friendship was, 
and we have pleasant glimpses of him wandering 
with companions among the mountains, 1 or sharing 
a rustic meal stretched at ease on the grass by a 
running brook. 2 Lucretius like his master had no 
social philosophy, and it is his greatest deficiency 
as a thinker ; but he was not poor in social feeling. 
His heart went out to men, as a physician, not 
coldly diagnosing their disease, but eager to cure 
them. 

And so his feeling for Nature, for the universe 
of things, though rooted in his scientific apprehen- 
sion, is not bounded by it. He seizes upon the 
sublime conceptions which his science brought to 
his view the permanent substance amid perennial 
change, the infinity of space and time and his 
vivid mind turns these abstractions into the radiant 
vision of a universe to which the heaven of heavens, 
as the old poets had conceived it, * was but a veil.' 
But he went further, and shadowed forth, if half- 
consciously and in spite of himself, the yet greater 
poetic thought, of a living power pervading the 
whole, drawing the elements of being together 

i IV. 575. II. 29. 



THE POETRY OF LUCRETIUS 79 

by the might of an all-permeating Love. And 
thus Lucretius, the culminating expression of the 
scientific thinking of Democritus and of the gospel 
of Epicurus, foreshadows Virgil, whom he so deeply 
influenced, and prophesies faintly but perceptibly 
of Dante and of Shelley ; as his annihilating 
exposure of the religions founded upon fear insen- 
sibly prepared the way for the religions of hope 
and love. 



Ill 

MOUNTAIN SCENERY 
IN KEATS 



Ill 

MOUNTAIN SCENERY 
IN KEATS 

THE 4 love of mountains ' which plays so 
large a part in the poetry of the age of 
Wordsworth, and has so few close analogies in 
that of any other country or any earlier time, 
offers matter of still unexhausted interest to the 
student of poetic psychology. This is not the 
place to consider how it happened that any mass 
of boldly crumpled strata, on a certain scale, 
became in the course of the eighteenth century 
charged with a kind of spiritual electricity which 
set up powerful answering excitements in the 
sensitive beholder. Gray already in 1739 ex- 
pressed the potential reach and compass of these 
excitements in our psychical life when he called 
the scenery of the Grande Chartreuse ' pregnant 
with religion and poetry ' a thought which 
Wordsworth's sublime verses on the Simplon, 
sixty years later, only made explicit. Not all the 
mountain-excitement of the time was of this 
quality ; and we can distinguish easily enough 
between the * picturesque,' * romantic ' moun- 
tain sentiment of Scott, to whom the Trossachs 



84 MOUNTAIN SCENERY IN KEATS 

and Ben Venue spoke most eloquently when they 
sounded to the pad of a horseman's gallop, and 
the * natural religion ' of Wordsworth, to whom 
the same pass wore the air of a ' Confessional ' 
apt for autumnal meditation on the brevity of 
life. In the younger poets of the age mountain 
sentiment is less original and profound than in 
Wordsworth, less breezily elemental than in Scott. 
The mountain poetry of Wordsworth concurred, 
as an explicit stimulus to mountain sentiment, 
with the inarticulate spell of the mountains them- 
selves, transforming in some degree the native 
feeling and experience of almost all mountain- 
lovers of the next twenty years, even when they 
were of the calibre of Coleridge, Byron, and Shelley. 
Yet even where the Wordsworthian colour is most 
perceptible, as in The Hymn in the Vale of Chamouni, 
in Alastor, Mont Blanc, and in the Third Canto 
of Childe Harold, the younger poet has seen his 
mountains with his own eyes and through the 
glamour of his own passions, impregnated them 
with his own genius and temperament. Shelley's 
mountains are no longer the quiet brotherhood of 
Grasmere, with a listening star atop, but peaks of 
flamelike aspiration, or embodied protests against 
men's code of crime and fraud ; Byron's are 
warriors calling joyously to one another over the 
lit lake across the storm. For all these poets even 
for Scott when he was a poet mountain scenery 
was not so much new matter to be described as a 
new instrument of expression, a speaking symbol 
for their own spiritual appetencies and ideal 
dreams. Of its importance for the poetry of any 
one of them there cannot be a moment's doubt. 



MOUNTAIN SCENERY IN KEATS 85 

There remains, however, another poet, the youngest, 
the shortest-lived, but in some respects the most 
gifted of the whole group. On a general view 
Keats appears to be sharply distinguished, in 
regard to the characteristic here in question, from 
all the rest. Mountains and mountain sentiment 
seem to have a quite negligible place in his poetry. 
It may be worth while to consider how far this is 
really the case. 



If we look to the sources of his experience, 
Keats was more nearly secluded from the stimulus 
of mountain scenery than any of his compeers. 
By the outward circumstances of his birth and 
breeding he was in reality the c cockney poet ' 
of later derisive criticism. During the whole 
formative period of youth he hardly encountered 
even * wild ' scenery ; what lay about him in 
his infancy was at best the semi-suburban meadow 
and woodland landscape of Edmonton, or the ' little 
hill ' (of Hampstead) on which he 4 stood tiptoe ' 
to command a wider view. Before the summer of 
1818 there is no sign that either 'mountain power* 
or 4 mountain mystery ' had any meaning for him. 
He deeply admired Wordsworth, and regarded The 
Excursion as one of the three things to rejoice at 
in that age ; but it was Wordsworth as an inter- 
preter of human life, the poet who 4 thought into 
the human heart' (to Reynolds, May 1818), rather 
than the mountain lover. There is no clear trace 
as yet in his earlier poetry of Cumberland fells ; 
there is none whatever of the great mountain 



86 MOUNTAIN SCENERY IN KEATS 

mythology of Wordsworth. No menacing peak 
had ever towered up between him and the stars, 
no far-distant hills had sent an alien sound of 
melancholy to his ear. Not that he owes nothing as 
a poet to the mythic rendering of mountains. On 
the contrary, up to this date, all his imagining of 
mountains, in the stricter sense, is derived from, 
or at least touched with, myth. Only it is the 
myth of classic legend, not of modern * natural 
religion.' Had not the * lively Grecians ' in- 
habited a ' land of hills,' these would hardly 
have entered even as largely as they do into the 
enchanted scenery of Endymion ; and on the 
whole it is a scenery of woods and waters, flowery 
glades and ocean caverns, not of Olympian heights. 
But if Keats's experience of nature is still limited, 
it is used to the full. Endymion, at first sight a 
tissue of exquisite dreams, is full of the evidence 
of his no less exquisite perception of the living 
nature within his reach. From the very outset 
we are aware that the ' things of beauty ' he 
loved best and knew most intimately in the natural 
world were woods and flowers and streams. There 
is no mention, in that opening survey, of hills, 
and when they come perforce into the story they 
are arrayed as far as may be in the semblance of 
these beloved things. ' A mighty forest ' is 
6 outspread upon the sides of Latmus ' (i. 62) ; 
in the summons to the Shepherds, the highland 
homes are touched vaguely and without in- 
terest (' whether descended from beneath the 
rocks that overtop your mountains '), while he 
lingers with evident delight upon the ' swelling 
downs ' 



MOUNTAIN SCENERY IN KEATS 87 

. . . where sweet air stirs 

Blue hare-bells lightly and where prickly furze 
Buds lavish gold, (i.201.) 

as later, no less daintily, upon the 

. . . hill-flowers running wild 
In pink and purple chequer, (ii. 286.) 

The ideal dwelling for Endymion and his ' swan 
of Ganges ' will be under the brow of a steep hill, 
but they will be embowered in ivy and yew, 
and the hill itself, like their bridal couch, will 
be 4 mossy ' the haunting character of the 
Keatsian woodland and its * winding ways ' 
(iv. 670). 

On the other hand, some of the hills in 
Endymion, like * fountain'd Helicon,' are purely 
legendary, and the higher and bolder ones derive 
their characters from the tales of Olympus or 
Cyllene. Between nature and classic myth there 
was for Keats no trace of the disparity which so 
ply offended Wordsworth ; his imagination 
passed without thought of discord from one to 
the other, or blended them together ; it was 
probably the Nature poet yet more than the 
Christian in Wordsworth who responded so coldly 
(' A pretty piece of paganism ') when the young 
poet brought his train of Bacchanals 4 over the 
litfht-blue hills.' It is of Arcadian boar-hunts 
that we have to think when Endymion on the 
mountain-heights will * once more make his horn 
parley from their foreheads hoar ' (i. 478), or sees 
the thunderbolt hurled from his threshold (ii. 'JO,'*) ; 
it is an Arcadian shepherd whose * pipe comes 
clear from aery steep ' (iii. 359). And it is at 



88 MOUNTAIN SCENERY IN KEATS 

least no English mountain of whose ' icy pinnacles ' 
we have a momentary and here quite isolated 
glimpse. 

II 

But while the mountain-drawing in Endymion 
is on the whole vague and derivative, there are 
hints that Keats was already becoming alive to 
the imaginative spell of great mountains, to 
their power in poetry, and for his poetry. When 
he imagines the moonlit earth, he sees it partly 
in delicate miniature like the image of the nested 
wren, who takes glimpses of the moon from beneath 
a sheltering ivy-leaf, but this is coupled with a 
picture of Miltonic grandeur and tumult : 

Innumerable mountains rise, and rise, 

Ambitious for the hallowing of thine eyes. (iii. 59.) 

He was already on the way to that clear recogni- 
tion of his need of great mountains which speaks 
from his famous explanation of the motives of the 
northern tour which he undertook, with Brown, 
in the summer of 1818 the crucial event of his 
history from our present point of view. ' I 
should not have consented to myself,' he wrote 
to Bailey, ' these four months tramping in the 
highlands, but that I thought that it would give 
me more experience, rub off more prejudice, use 
me to more hardship, identify finer scenes, load 
me with grander mountains, and strengthen more 
my reach in Poetry, than would stopping at home 
among books, even though I should read Homer.' l 

1 18 July 1818. 



MOUNTAIN SCENERY IN KEATS 89 

The passage has great psychological value, for it 
shows how closely involved his nascent appre- 
hension of mountains was with the other spiritual 
appetencies urgent within him in these months. 
To be ' loaded with grander mountains ' he thought 
of as an integral part of an inner process of much 
wider scope, of which the common note was to be 
the bracing and hardening of a mind which had 
not yet won complete control of its supreme gift 
of exquisite sensation. The ' grander mountains ' 
were to be only one of the bracing forces, but it 
is clear that he felt this new force, under whose 
sway he was for a while about to live, akin to 
others which his letters show to have been alluring 
him during these months. The bare rugged forms 
of the mountains he was now to explore accorded 
subtly for him with the hardihood and endurance 
of the climber, and not less with the severity of 
the epic poet, who, like Milton, preferred ' the 
ardours to the pleasures of song,' or who, like 
Homer, allowed us fugitive but sublime glimpses 
of the mountains which looked down upon the 
scene of his Tale. When Keats and Brown came 
clown upon the town of Ayr, they had before 
them * a grand Sea view terminated by the black 
Mountains of the isle of Arran. As soon as I 
saw them so nearly I said to myself: How is it 
they did not beckon Burns to some grand attempt 
at Epic ? ' l Keats perhaps thought of the Isle 
of Tcnedos, which similarly dominates the plain 
of Troy across a reach of sea ; ' You would lift 
your <-ycs from Homer only to sec close before 
you the real Isle of Tcnedos,' he was writing to 

1 l July 1818, to Tom Keats. 



90 MOUNTAIN SCENERY IN KEATS 

Reynolds in a different context on the same day. 
That one peaked Isle should stand out in Keats's 
mind from all the other imagery of Homer, and 
that he should wonder at the failure of another 
to beget new Iliads in the unhomeric Burns, shows 
with much precision how his literary passion for 
the Homeric poetry was now quickened and actual- 
ized by the visible presence of grand mountains. 
It is needless (though not irrelevant) to dwell 
here upon other kindred features of the expanding 
horizons which came into view for Keats in this 
momentous year : the resolve to renounce his 
4 luxurious ' art for philosophy and knowledge ; l 
and the disdain for women, for effeminate charac- 
ters, for the pleasures of domesticity. In each 
case the urgency of this passion for what he felt 
more bracing, more intellectually fortifying, more 
masculine, found vent, for a time, in language 
too peremptory and exclusive to be true to the 
needs of his rich and complex nature. 2 Philosophy 
would, had he lived, assuredly have ministered 
more abundantly to his poetry, but Lamia shows 
how far she was from becoming its master, or its 
substitute ; the Miltonic ardours of Hyperion were 
to be qualified in the renewed but chastened and 
ennobled ' luxury ' of St. Agnes' Eve and the 
Odes. The man who wrote : c the roaring of 



1 April 1818, to Taylor. 

a Cf. his amusing outburst at Teignmouth, in the previous March, 
at the effeminacy he ascribed to the men of Devon. ' Had England 
been a large Devonshire, we should not have won the battle of 
Waterloo. There are knotted oaks, there are lusty rivulets, there 
are meadows such as are not elsewhere there are valleys of feminine 
climate but there are no thews and sinews,' etc. March 18th, to 
Bailey. 



MOUNTAIN SCENERY IN KEATS 91 

the wind is my wife and the stars through the 
windowpane are my children,' would yet have 
found a place for noble womanhood within his 
4 masculine ' ideal, had not a tragical influence 
intervened. And, similarly, the traces of his 
mountain experience fade after 1818, a new order 
of symbols, more congenial at bottom to the 
ways of his imagination, asserts or reasserts itself 
in his poetry ; and it is hardly an accident that 
in the revised Hyperion of a year later we approach 
the granite precipices and everlasting cataracts of 
the original poem by way of a garden, a temple, 
and a shrine. 



Ill 

For, evidently, it is in Hyperion, if anywhere, 
that we have to seek the afterglow of that experi- 
ence of 4 grander mountains ' which, in June, he 
had set out to encounter. We must not indeed 
look in poetry of this quality for those detailed 
reproductions of what he had seen which Words- 
worth condemned as ' inventories ' in Scott, but 
which arc not strange either to the lower levels 
of his own verse. Even in the letters written for 
the entertainment of a sick brother Keats rarely 
describes ; and constantly, to others, he breaks 
off impatiently when he has begun. * My dear 
Reynolds I cannot write about scenery and 
visitings.' His impressions come from him in 
brief, sudden, unsought phrases ; he left it to the 
methodic Brown to give the enchanting and 
4 picturesque ' detail of mountains and valleys 
4 in the manner of the Laputan printing-press.' 



92 MOUNTAIN SCENERY IN KEATS 

* I have been among wilds and mountains too 
much to break out much about their grandeur,' 
he writes a little later to Bailey. But there is no 
doubt of the impression. He had hoped that his 
experience would ' load ' him with grander moun- 
tains ; and, in fact, as he goes on to tell, ' The 
first mountains I saw, though not so large as some 
I have since seen, weighed very solemnly upon me.' 
And Brown tells us that when Windermere first 
burst upon their view, c he stopped as if stupefied 
with beauty.' * 

Their actual experiences of mountain-climbing 
were few. Weather checked them at Helvellyn, 
and expense at Ben Lomond ; but in the c bleak 
air atop ' of Skiddaw, as Lamb had called it, 

* I felt as if I were going to a Tournament.' 
What he felt about the Arran mountains we have 
seen. Ailsa Craig the seafowl-haunted 'craggy 
ocean pyramid,' evoked c the only sonnet of any 
worth I have of late written.' They found the 
north end of Loch Lomond ' grand to excess,' 
and Keats made a rude pen-and-ink sketch of 
' that blue place among the mountains.' But 
their greatest experience was doubtless the climb 
on Ben Nevis, on 2 August. The chasms below 
the summit of Nevis seemed to him * the most 
tremendous places I have ever seen,' ' the finest 
wonder of the whole they appear great rents in 
the very heart of the mountain, . . . other huge 
crags rising round . . . give the appearance to 
Nevis of a shattered heart or core in itself.' 

The plan of a poem on the war of the gods and 
Titans was already shaped or shaping in his mind 

1 Lord Houghton, quoted by Buxton Forman, Letters, LXI. 



MOUNTAIN SCENERY IN KEATS 93 

when Keats set out for the north. As early as 
September 1817 he had had in view * a new 
romance ' for the following summer ; in keeping 
with the new aspirations which that summer 
brought, the ' romance * was now to be an epic. 
The most potent influence governing the execution, 
that of Milton, is familiar, and does not directly 
concern us here. Still less can we consider the 
possible effect of companionship with those three 
little volumes of Gary's Dante, the single book 
taken with him on this tour. 1 But while the 
spell of Paradise Lost is apparent in the cast of 
the plot, above all in the debate of the Titans, 
and in the style, an influence to which Milton's 
is wholly alien asserts itself in the delineation of 
the Titanic ' den ' itself. Clearly based upon 
the idea of an Inferno, this ' sad place ' where 
' bruised Titans ' are * chained in torture,' is 
yet full of traits which recall neither Milton nor 
Dante, but rather one of those amazing chasms on 
Nevis, which seemed to be the very ' core ' of 
the great mountain. He had, even, as he looked 
down into that vaporous gulf, actually thought 
of the image of Hell. Milton's Hell is a plain of 
burning earth vaulted with fire and verging on a 
sea of flame 2 ; if there is a hill (i. 670) it is a 
volcano, belching fire, or coated with a sulphurous 

1 It is not irrelevant, however, in this context, to recall that 
Dante's account of his Dream-journey has been thought to give 
evidence of actual climbing experience. The Purgatory mountain 
was provided with a good path ; but the Inferno, with its pre- 
cipitous walls, was less easily negotiated. He had, however, 
the services of a most competent Guide ! IT. H. F. Tozer, Mod. 
, April 1899. 

Cf. * vaulted with fire/ Paradise Lost t i. 298, with * the vaultrd 
rocks,' Hyperion, ii. 848. 



94 MOUNTAIN SCENERY IN KEATS 

scurf. The Keatsian Inferno is genuinely, what he 
calls it, a * den,' a yawning mountain dungeon 
overarched with jutting crags, floored with hard 
flint and slaty ridge, and encompassed by a deafen- 
ing roar of waterfalls and torrents. A shattered 
rib of rock, with his iron mace beside it, attests 
the spent fury of Creus. Enceladus lies uneasily 
upon a craggy shelf. To render the spectacle of 
the ruined and almost lifeless bodies lying * vast 
and edgeways,' he calls in a definite reminiscence, 
the ' dismal cirque ' of Druid stones near Keswick. 
He has felt too the silence of the mountains in the 
pauses of the winter wind, though he speaks of it 
only to contrast it with the organ voice of Saturn 
preceding the expectant murmur of his audience 
of fallen divinities (ii. 123). 1 The darkness, too, 
in which they languish is not eternal and ordained 
like that of Milton's Hell ; the coming of the 
Sun-god will invade it with a splendour like the 
morn and 

... all the beetling gloomy steeps, 
All the sad spaces of oblivion, 
And every gulf, and every chasm old, 
And every height, and every sullen depth, 
Voiceless, or hoarse with loud tormented streams, 
And all the everlasting cataracts, 
And all the headlong torrents, far and near, 
Mantled before in darkness and huge shade, (ii. 858) 

will stand revealed in that terrible splendour. 

It is clear that in this great passage Keats has 
deliberately invoked the image of a sunrise among 
precipitous mountains ; and these lines assure him 
a lasting place amongst our poet interpreters of 
mountain glory. We must beware, as we have 
1 Cf. the sonnet written at the top. 



MOUNTAIN SCENERY IN KEATS 95 

seen, of overstressing the element of realism in 
the poem. Keats was not describing mountain 
scenery, English, Scotch, or any other, but using 
certain aspects of it, which had been vividly 
brought home to him as he climbed or trudged, 
to render poetic inspirations of far richer compass 
and wider scope. Much of the detail of this Titan 
prison belongs as little to his British mountain 
experience as do the Titans themselves. lapetus 
grasps a strangled serpent ; Asia, dreaming of 
palm-shaded temples and sacred isles, leans upon 
an elephant tusk. We are conscious of no discord, 
so pervading is the impress of a single potent 
imagination, whatever the material it employs. 
But it is not immaterial to note that, as Professor 
de Se*lincourt has pointed out, Keats did alter the 
original draft of Hyperion's coming in such a way 
as to give it a close resemblance to a sunrise among 
the mountains, omitting two lines which preceded 
the last but one quoted above : 

And all the Caverns soft with moss and weed, 
Or dazzling with bright and barren gems. 

The former of these lines may be described as a 
momentary reversion to the tender * mossy ' 
luxuriance of the Endymion scenery, like the 
4 nest of pain ' (ii. 90), which, however, he allowed 
to stand. 1 Its excision, in the final version, marks 
Kcats's sense of the incongruity of that earlier 
symbolism with the sterner matter in hand, as 
does the transformation of the drcniny, pastoral 

1 Referred to also by Professor de St-lineourt (note nd /oc.) 
(hough he ascribes it (somewhat sternly) to the ' vulgarity of 
Hunt.' 



96 MOUNTAIN SCENERY IN KEATS 

Oceamis of the earlier poem into the master of 
Stoic wisdom, able * to bear all naked truths, and 
to envisage circumstance, all calm,' who offers 
his bitter balm to the despairing Titans, in the 
later. 

Hyperion, we know, was left a fragment, and 
with deliberate purpose. The mighty shade of 
Milton, he came to feel, deflected him from his 
proper purpose in poetry. It is less important, 
but not less true, that his passing vision of grand 
mountains was not in complete consonance with 
his genius, and that his brief anthem of mountain 
poetry had in it something of the nature of a 
tour de force. The mountains were for him neither 
strongholds of faith nor sources of sublime conso- 
lation. Even in the letters written in their 
presence he could speak somewhat impatiently, 
as we have seen, of * scenery ' compared with 
life and men. And if he places his ruined Titans 
in this wild den among the crags and torrents, it 
is because there was something in him, deeper 
than his reverence for Wordsworth or for mountain 
grandeur, which felt the very savagery of the 
scene, its naked aloofness from everything human, 
to be in accord with the primeval rudeness of an 
outdone and superseded race. It is not for 
nothing that, when the scene changes from the 
old order to the new, we are transported from 
Hyperion's sun-smitten precipices to the sea- 
haunted lawns and woodlands of Delos, where 
the young Apollo is seen wandering forth in 
the morning twilight 

Beside the osiers of a rivulet, 

Full ankle-deep in lilies of the vale. 



MOUNTAIN SCENERY IN KEATS 97 

Do we not hear in this the home-coming accents, 
as of one who has escaped from barbarous Thynia 
and Bithynia, and tastes the joy that is born 

'cum mens onus reponit, ac peregrine 
labore fessi venimus larem ad nostrum ' ? 

Keats had, in effect, come home. 

Yet the deflection, if it strained, also braced ; 
and if in the following months his imagination, 
when he is most inspired, moves once more 
habitually among mossy woodland ways and by 
enchanted waters, the immense advance in robust- 
ness of artistic and intellectual sinew which dis- 
tinguishes the poet of the Nightingale and Autumn 
from the poet of Endymion was gained chiefly 
in that summer of enlarged ideals and experience, 
of which the mountain vision was a small but a 
significant and symbolical part. 



IV 

GABRIELE 
D'ANNUNZIO 



IV 

GABRIELE 
D'ANNUNZIO 

MAZZINI, the most prophetic figure of the 
nineteenth century, declared in a famous 
passage his confidence in the European mission 
of his country. 'The Third Italy,' destined to 
be born of the long agony of the struggle with 
Austria without and the papacy within, was not 
merely to be a nation, restored to unity and inde- 
pendence ; it was to intervene as an original 
voice in the complex harmony of the European 
nationalities, contributing of its own inborn genius 
something distinctive and unique. ' We believe 
devoutly that Italy has not exhausted her life 
in the world. She is called to introduce yet 
new elements in the progressive development of 
humanity, and to live with a third life. It is for 
us to begin it.' Were Mazzini to return to life 
to-day, how far would he regard his prophecy as 
fulfilled ? Beyond question his lofty idealism 
would find much to disapprove and to regret. 
He would find a Third Italy, which has committed 
grave excesses in the name of her recovered 
nationhood. But he would also find a nation 
whose present rul TS have shown more capacity 

101 



102 GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 

for Mazzinean internationalism than any other 
European government. And he would find, also, 
in the Third Italy, a real renascence, a genuine 
rebirth of genius and power, and this in ways so 
individual as to justify in a rare degree the antici- 
pation that Italy would give something vitally 
her own to the new Europe. Open any serious 
Italian book to-day, and you will note a kind of 
intellectual concentration, a girding up of the 
loins of speech and thought, in striking contrast 
with the loose-tongued volubility of most Italian 
writing, in verse or prose, of the mid-nineteenth 
century. You note also a new tone of critical 
mastery and conscious equality. Italy in the last 
century was still the ' woman-people,' the 
pathetic beauty, languid still after the gentle 
torpor of two centuries, and whose intellectual 
life, with some brilliant isolated exceptions, faintly 
reflected that of the more masculine nations north 
of the Alps. To-day she has not only critically 
mastered all that Europe has to give, she sits in 
judgment upon us, and the judgment she pro- 
nounces has again and again been of that fruit- 
ful kind which disposes of old difficulties by re- 
vealing a larger law. Benedetto Croce, who in his 
review, the Critica, brings the literature of Europe, 
weighed and measured, to his reader's doors, has 
in his original philosophic work subjected her philo- 
sophic systems to a searching revision, and has 
succeeded in some measure to their authority. 1 A 
thinker less known, even to cultivated Italians, 

1 Much of this paragraph is repeated in substance from an article, 
by the writer, on * The Higher Mind of Italy,' in the Manchester 
Guardian, 15 March 1920. 



GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 103 

Aliotta, has surveyed in a book of singular penetra- 
tion and philosophic power, the ' idealistic reaction 
against science ' in the nineteenth century. And 
when we look to creative literature, we find in this 
Third Italy, together with a profusion of those fun- 
goid growths of which the modern age has in the 
\\Vst been everywhere prolific, a group of poets, 
of powerful temperament and dazzling gifts, to 
whom no predecessor, in Italy or elsewhere, offers 
more than a distant resemblance. One of these, 
after pouring forth poems, dramas, novels, in 
prodigal abundance for thirty years, became the 
most vociferous, and possibly the most potent, 
of the forces that drove Italy into the war, and 
was until lately the idol of the whole Italian race. 
Even to-day, after the sorry collapse of his adven- 
ture, the man in whom Europe, irritated and 
impatient, sees only a sort of Harlequin-Garibaldi, 
impudent where his predecessor was sublime, and 
florid where he was laconic, is still, for multitudes 
of his countrymen, the hero-poet who took the 
banner of Italianitd from the failing or treacherous 
hands of diplomats and statesmen, and defended it 
against the enemy without and the enemy within, 
with the tenacity of maturity and the ardour of 
youth. Certainly, one who is beyond all rivalry 
the most adored poet, in any country, of our time, 
who has fought for Italy with tongue and pen 
and risked his life in her service, and whose per- 
sonality might be called a brilliant impressionist 
sk< {rh of the talents and failings of the Italian 
(haracter, reproducing some in heightened but 
\< racious illumination, others in glaring carica- 
ture or paradoxical distortion such a man, as a 



104 GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 

national no less than as a literary force, claims 
and deserves close study. 

Before entering, however, upon the detail of 
his life and work, let me assist our imagination 
of Gabriele d'Annunzio by quoting from the vivid 
description given by Mr. James Bone of a meeting 
with him at Venice in the summer of 1918. The 
poet, fifty-six years old, was then at the height 
of his renown ; Fiume was still unthought of. 
His great exploit of flying over Vienna and drop- 
ping leaflets inviting her in aureate imagery to 
make peace was on every tongue. The gondoliers 
took off their hats as they passed his house on the 
Grand Canal, and he had to register all his letters 
to prevent their being abstracted as souvenirs. 
Mr. Bone was talking with the airmen at an aero- 
drome on one of the islands in the lagoons ; when 
' Conversation died instantly as an airman, very 
different from the others, came hurrying towards 
us a rather small, very quick, clean-cut figure, 
wearing large smoked glasses and white gloves 
with the wrists turned down. . . . The nose was 
rather prominent, complexion not dark but marked 
a little, the whole profile very clear, making one 
think not of a Renaissance Italian but of a type 
more antique, an impression accentuated by his 
rather large, beautifully shaped ear, very close to 
the head. The body denied the age that was 
told in the face, for all its firmness. One's first 
impression was of a personality of extraordinary 
swiftness and spirit still at full pressure, remorse- 
lessly pursuing its course " in hours of insight 
willed." . . . The whole surface of d'Annunzio's 
personality suggested a rich, hard fineness, like 



GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 105 

those unpolished marbles in old Italian churches 
that gleam delicately near the base where the 
worshippers have touched them, but above rise 
cold and white as from the matrix. . . . There 
was something of the man of fashion in the way 
he wore his gloves, and in his gestures, but nothing 
one could see of the national idol aware of 
itself.' l 



The soldier-poet-man-of- fashion, who wore his 
fifty-six years thus lightly, was born, in 1862, at 
Pescara, the chief almost only town of the 
Abruzzi, then one of the wildest and rudest pro- 
vinces of Italy. Its valleys, descending from the 
eastern heights of the Apennines to the Adriatic, 
were inhabited by an almost purely peasant 
population a hardy, vigorous race, tenacious of 
their primitive customs, and little accessible to 
cultural influences. The Church enjoyed their 
fanatical devotion, but only at the price of tacitly 
accepting many immemorial pagan usages dis- 
guised by an unusually transparent veil of Catholic 
ritual ; while the Law occasionally found it expe- 
dient to leave a convicted murderer (as in the 
Figlia di lorio) to be executed by an angry 
multitude according to the savage methods their 
tradition prescribed. The little haven of Pescara 
one of the few on Italy's featureless Adriatic 
coast was the centre of a coasting traffic with 
the yet wilcK r Dalmatian seaboard, a traffic which 
like all anc-knt sea-faring, pursued its economic 

1 Manchester Guardian, 12 September 1918. 



106 GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 

aims in an atmosphere of superstitious observance, 
mystical, picturesque, and sometimes cruel. In 
the poetic autobiography (' The Soul's Journey ') 
which occupies the first Laude (1903), d'Annunzio 
sketches vividly his boyhood's home in this 
Abruzzan country overlooking the sea. Of the 
persons who composed this home, of family affec- 
tions, we have only momentary retrospective 
glimpses. We hear of the father, long dead 
when he wrote, from whom he derived his iron- 
tempered muscles ; and of the mother, who gave 
him his insatiable ardour of will and desire. The 
three sisters seem to have been like him ; the 
face of the second sister resembled his own 
4 mirrored in a clear fountain at dawn.' All 
that stood between them, he says, was their 
innocence and his passion. There was, too, an 
old nurse, to whom in her serene old age, when 
she had retired to a mountain hamlet, the poet 
addressed some tenderly beautiful stanzas, con- 
trasting his own stormy career with her idyllic 
peace as she ' spins the wool of her own flocks 
while the oil holds out.' l 

But of household drama, such as dominates the 
experience of most children, little seems to have 
existed for this child. Certainly it vanishes com- 
pletely, in the retrospect of the man of forty, 
beside the drama enacted with prodigious intensity 
of colour, animation, and passion, by his imperious 
senses. The contrast is here acute between 
d'Annunzio and his co-heir of the Carduccian 
tradition, Pascoli, whose poignant memories of 
childhood, instead of being effaced by the energy 

1 Dedication of II Poema Paradisiaco (1892). 



GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 107 

of his sense-life, permeate it through and through, 
giving a c deep autumnal tone ' to almost every 
line he wrote. He spoke in later life of his ' pro- 
found sensuality ' as a gift which had brought 
him poetic discoveries denied to colder men, and 
this is no doubt true if by ' sensuality ' we under- 
stand, as we ought, that d'Annunzio is prodigally 
endowed with all the senses, that eye and ear 
feast on the glory and the music of the world 
and live in its teeming life, that his lithe body 
thrills with the zest of motion, that imagery is 
the material of his thinking and the stuff of his 
speech ; and that the passion of sex, so acutely 
and perilously developed in him, is just one 
element in this prodigal endowment of his entire 
sense-organism, itself a main source of the 
artistic splendour of his work. In the early pages 
of the Viaggio we see the young boy drinking in 
with a kind of intoxication the simple sights and 
sounds of the farm the rhythmic fall of the flails 
on the threshing-floor, the pouring of the whey 
from the churn, the whirr of the spool in the loom, 
the scampering of wild ponies with streaming 
manes over the hillside ; or again, out at sea, the 
gorgeous scarlet or gold sails scudding before the 
wind, each with its symbolic sign. Even the 
inanimate world became for his transfiguring 
senses alive ; * it was a lying voice,' he cries, 
4 that declared that Pan is dead.' The mere 
contrasts of things, the individual self-assertion 
shown by a tree, for instance, in not being a rock, 
produced in him an excitement analogous to 
that which made Rupert Brooke, in his own 
words, 4 a lover ' of all kinds of common things 



108 GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 

for being just definitely and unmistakably what 
they were. So that a conception apparently so 
thin and abstract as ' difference ' can assume for 
him the shape and potency of an alluring divinity : 
4 Diversity,' he cries, 6 the siren of the world I 
I am he who love thee ! ' 

And then, with adolescence, came the passion 
of sex ; for d'Annunzio no shy and gradual dis- 
covery, but a veritable explosion, before which 
all obstacles, moral and material, vanished into 
air. He tells it with the frankness of a child of 
the South, and the self-conscious importance of 
an egoist for whom the events of his own physical 
history could only be fitly described in terms of 
epic poetry, with its contending nationalities 
and ruined or triumphant kings. 4 O flesh ! ' he 
cries, 6 1 gave myself up to thee, as a young 
beardless king gives himself up to the warrior 
maid who advances in arms, terrible and beautiful. 
She advances victorious, and the people receive 
her with rejoicing. Astonishment strikes the 
gentle king, and his hope laughs at his fear.' 1 
And from the first this new passion allies itself 
with the rest of his sense-organism, irradiating 
eye and ear and imagination, 4 giving to every 
power a double power,' as Biron says in Love's 
Labour's Lost. 4 Thou wast sometimes as the 
grape pressed by fiery feet, O flesh, sometimes as 
snow printed with bleeding traces ; I seemed to 
feel in thee the twisting of trodden roots, and to 
hear the far-off grinding of the axe upon the 
whetstone.' The young erotic was already growing 
towards that observant psychologist of eroticism 

1 Laus Vitas, 232 f. 



GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 109 

who pervades so many gorgeous but repulsive pages 
of his novels. 

He was also growing, more slowly and as yet 
invisibly, to other and more notable things. In 
the first published poems of the boy of eighteen, 
and the second, Canto Novo, two years later, 
there is not much more than the reflexion of this 
intense and pervading ' sensuality ' (in the large 
meaning above indicated), in a speech moulded 
upon the diction and rhythms of Carducci. The 
great master, then at the height of his fame, 
had still to do much of his most splendid work. 
D'Annunzio, who never ceased to revere him, was 
to become his principal inheritor ; but the heir 
added so much of his own to the bequest that he 
can only at the outset be regarded as his disciple. 
The elder poet's influence was in any case entirely 
salutary. The classical severity and nobility of 
style which distinguish the Rime Nove and the 
Odi Barbare from the florid and facile romantic 
verse of the day, contributed to temper the 
dangerous luxuriance of d'Annunzio, and to evoke 
the powers of self-discipline and tenacious will 
which lay within ; while Carducci's exultation in 
radiance and clarity, his noonday view of life, 
Ins symbolic sun-worship and his hatred of all 
twilight obscurantism and moonlight nebulosity, 
equally enforced the more virile strain in d'Annunzio, 
th' 'stalk of carle's Jump' which, far more truly 
than in Hums, underlay the voluptuous senses. 

This background of harder and tougher nature 
was already manifested when d'Annunzio, a 1 
years later, turned to tell in prose some stoi 
of his native province. There is lit tie in the 



110 GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 

Novelle delta Pescara of love, less of luxury or refine- 
ment ; we see the Abruzzan village folk at feud, 
fanatical and ferocious, the women inciting the 
men, the Church in its most ceremonial robes 
blandly but helplessly looking on. The Idolaters 
tells how the men of a certain village plan to 
set the bronze statue of their saint upon the 
church altar of another neighbouring village. They 
assemble at night and march through the darkness 
with the image on a cart. In the other village 
the men await them in force, and a savage battle 
takes place in the church, ending in the rout 
of the assailants with much slaughter, and the 
ignominious mutilation of the image of their 
patron saint. And all this grim matter is told 
in a style admirably strong and terse, bold and 
sharp in outline, direct and impersonal in state- 
ment, untouched by either delicate feeling or weak 
sentimentality. D'Annunzio's sensuality asserts 
itself still, as always ; but it appears here as 
a Rubens-like joy in intense impressions ; now 
a copper-coloured storm sky, now a splash of 
blood, betrays his passion for the crude effects 
of flame and scarlet, most often where they sig- 
nify death or ruin. He imagines voluptuously as 
always, but his voluptuousness here feeds not in 
the lust of the flesh, but in the lust of wounds 
and death. When he describes the fighting in 
the church, he spares you as little as Homer ; 
you are not told merely that a man was stabbed, 
you are made to see the blade shear away the 
flesh from the bone. His men are drawn with 
the same hard, pungent stroke, and a visible 
relish for scars, gnarled features, frayed dress, 



GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 111 

and all the maimings and deformities, which tell 
not of weakness or decay, but of battles recent or 
long ago, the blows and buffets received in the 
tug with fortune. There is little trace of sybarite 
effeminacy in the painting of old Giacobbe, for 
instance, the leader of the insurgents, a tall, 
bony man, with bald crown and long red hairs 
on nape and temples, two front teeth wanting, 
which gave him a look of senile ferocity, a pointed 
chin covered with bristles, and so forth. 

D'Annunzio was intrinsically of the Abruzzan 
race ; the tough hardy fibre of the peasant folk was 
his ; and it was the deep inborn attachment to his 
blood and kin which produced, twenty years later, 
his greatest work, as a like attachment lifted Mr. 
Shaw, almost at the same moment, to the rare 
heights of John Bull's Other Island. But much 
had to happen to the young provincial before he 
could thus discover to the full the poetry of his 
province. 

II 

In the early eighties d'Annunzio had come to 
Rome. The little circle of young Carduccians in 
the capital welcomed the poet's brilliant disciple, 
who was soon to outdistance them all in sheer 
splendour of literary gift. More important, how- 
r, than any literary or personal influence for 
his hard encasing shell of egoism made him extra- 
ordinarily immune to the intrusion cither of alien 
genius or of friendship or love was the deep im- 
pression made upon the young Abruzzan by the 
splendour, the art glories, and above all the 
historic import of Rome. * The Abruzzi gave 



112 GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 

d'Annunzio the sense of race,' says an excellent 
critic, * Rome gave him the sense of history.' 
The magical effect of Rome had hitherto been 
rendered most vividly in the poetry of other 
peoples, to whom it was a revelation, or a fulfil- 
ment of long aspiration, of the * city of their 
soul,' in Goethe's Roman Elegies, Childe Harold, 
or Adonais. How overwhelming to an imaginative 
Italian the sight and living presence of Rome 
could be may be judged from the magnificent 
Ode of Carducci. The Englishman who is thrilled as 
he stands in the Forum, or by the mossy bastions 
of our own Roman wall, may faintly apprehend 
the temper of a citizen of the c Third Italy ' who 
felt his capital, newly won from the Popes, to be 
once more in living continuity with the city of 
Caesar. Both the nobility and the extravagance 
of Italian national feeling have their root in this 
sense of continuity with antique Rome, and this 
is to be remembered in estimating the perfervid 
Italianitd of d'Annunzio, the most striking example 
both of the sublime idealism and of the childish 
extravagance which it is able to inspire. 

The work of the next years abounded in evi- 
dence of the spell which Rome had laid upon his 
sensuous imagination. He poured forth novels and 
poems, both charged with an oppressive opulence 
of epicurean and erotic detail, but saved for 
art by the clear-cut beauty of the prose, and by 
frequent strokes of bold and splendid imagination. 

Andrea Sperelli in // Placer e (1889) and Tullio 
Hermil in L'Innocente (1892), are virtuosos in 
aesthetic as well as in erotic luxury, and the two 
allied varieties of hedonism reflect and enforce 



GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 113 

one another. Sperelli is artist and connoisseur, of 
unlimited resources and opportunities, and neither 
he nor his mistress could think love tolerable 
in chambers not hung with precious tapestry and 
adorned with sculptured gold and silver vessels, 
the gift of queens or cardinals of the splendour- 
loving Renascence. No doubt there is irony in 
the picture too ; the native stamina in d'Annunzio 
resists complete assimilation to the corrupt aspects 
of the luxury he describes, and he feels keenly the 
contrast between the riotous profusion of the 
* new rich ' of the new Rome and the heroism 
and hardships of the men of the Risorgimento 
who had won it. 

The poetry of this period is less repellent be- 
cause its substance, though not definitely larger or 
deeper, is sustained and penetrated by the magic 
of a wonderfully winged and musical speech. His 
Elegie Eomane (1892) a rare case of his emulating 
another poet are inferior in intellectual force to 
Goethe's, which yet have as lyrics an almost 
pedestrian air in comparison with the exquisite 
dance of the Italian rhythms. Here is one of 
d'Annunzio's, in some approach to the original 
elegiacs. He has listened to a service in St. Peter's : 

Thru 1 the vaulted nave, that for ages has gathered so vast a 

Human host, and of incense harboured so vast a cloud, 
Wanders the chorus grave from lips invisible. Thunders 

Break from the organ at times out of its hidden grove. 
Down thro the tombs the roar reverberates deep in the 
darkness ; 

The enormous pillars seem to throb to the hymn. 
High enthroned the pontifical priests watch, blessing the people. 

At the iron gates angels and lions keep guard. 
How majestic the chant! From its large, long undulations 

Rises one clear voice with a melodious cry. 

8 



114 GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 

The voice mourns, alone ; in his cold vault does he not hear it, 
Palestrina ? Alone the voice mourns, to the world 

Uttering a sorrow divine. Does the buried singer not hear it ? 
Does not his soul leap up, bright on the heights of heaven ? 

Even as a dove makes wing aloft unto golden turrets ? 
The voice mourns, alone ; mourns, in the silence, alone. 

The sonnets of the Isotteo and Chimera (1885-8) 
show a concentration rare in the later history of 
the Italian sonnet. And any reader who thinks 
d'Annunzio incapable of writing of love without 
offence may be invited to try the charming idyll 
of Isaotta Guttadauro. Scenery and circumstances, 
to be sure, are sumptuous and opulent as 
usual. Tne simple life and homely persons tradi- 
tional in idyll are remote ; but poetry did not 
absolutely fly from Tennyson's touch when he 
turned from his Miller's and Gardener's daughters 
to put Maud in a Hall ; and neither does she 
retire from d'Annunzio's Isaotta, in her noble 
mansion. The lover stands at sunrise in the 
4 high hall garden ' under her window and summons 
her in a joyous morning song to come forth. It 
is late autumn, the house is silent, but the peacocks 
perched on the orange trees hail the morning in 
their raucous tones. The situation is that of 
Herrick's May morning song to Corinna; but though 
Herrick loved jewels and fine dresses not a little, 
the contrast is piquant between the country 
simplicity of his Devonshire maids and men, 
and the aristocratic luxury of Isaotta. * Come, 
my Corinna, come ! Wash, dress, be brief in 
praying 'bids Herrick ; but no such summary 
toilette will serve the Italian. Isaotta will rise 
from her brocaded bed, and her white limbs will 
gleam in a marble bath, as her maid pours 



GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 115 

amber-scented water on them, while the woven 
figures of the story of Omphale look on from the 
walls. At length Isaotta comes out on to her 
vine-wreathed balcony and playfully greets messer 
cantore below. She is secretly ready, we see, to 
surrender, but makes a show of standing out for 
terms. They will wander through the autumnal 
vineyards, and if they find a single cluster still 
hanging on the poles, * I will yield to your desire, 
and you shall be my lord.' So they set out in 
the November morning. The vineyards, lately so 
loud with vintage merriment and song, are now 
deserted and still. Not a cluster is to be seen. 
She archly mocks him : ' What, has subtle Love 
no power to give you eyes ? ' They meet peasant 
women going to their work, and one of them asks 
him, ' What seekest thou, fair sir ? ' And he 
replies : * I seek a treasure.' A flight of birds 
rises suddenly across their path with joyous cries ; 
they take it as a sign, and gaze at each other, pale 
and silent. Then unexpectedly he sees before him 
a vineyard flaming in full array of purple and 
gold, and a flock of birds making a chorus in its 
midst. 4 O lady Isaotta, here is life ! ' I cried 
to her with rapt soul ; and the chorus of songsters 
cried over our heads. I drew her to the spot, 
and she came as swift as I, for I held her firmly 
by the hand. Rosy was the face she turned away 
from me, but fair as Blanchemain's when she 
took the kiss of Lancelot, her sovran lover, in 
the forest. ' O Lady, I keep my pact ; for you 
I pluck the fatal untouched cluster.' Then she 
gave me the kiss divine. 



116 GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 

III 

The last word of the Isaotta idyll sovrumano 
rendered above ' divine,' was an early symptom 
of a development of formidable significance in 
the prose and poetry of d'Annunzio during the 
next twenty years. The ' Superman ' had not 
yet been discovered when he was a boy, but the 
spirit to which sovrumanitd appeals had from the 
first run in his blood. His passion for sensation, 
for strong effects, for energy, even for ferocity 
and cruelty, was the concomitant of a genius 
that strove to shatter obstacles, to bend others 
to its will, and reshape its experience, as the 
opposite genius of Pascoli submissively accepted 
experience, hearing in all its vicissitudes reverbera- 
tions of the mournful memories in which his 
soul was steeped. When d'Annunzio accordingly, 
in the early nineties, discovered the work of 
Nietzsche, he experienced that liberation which 
comes to every man who meets with a coherent 
exposition of the meaning of his own blind impulses, 
and a great new word for his confused and inar- 
ticulate aims. In Nietzsche he found a mind 
more congenial to him perhaps than any other he 
had known, more even than that of his master 
Carducci, but, unlike his, congenial mainly to 
what was most perilous and ill-omened in himself. 
He loftily admitted the German his equal, a 
great concession, and when Nietzsche died, in 
1900, wrote a noble dirge 4 to the memory of a 
destroyer,' of the Barbara enorme ' who lifted up 
again the serene gods of Hellas on to the vast 
gates of the Future.' 



GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 117 

When d'Annunzio wrote these words the Hellenic 
enthusiasms, nourished by his acute sense of 
beauty in a nature utterly wanting in the Hellenic 
poise, had won, partly through Nietzsche's influ- 
ence, an ascendancy over his imagination which 
made it natural for him to render the Superman 
in Hellenic terms. The serene gods of Hellas 
symbolized for him the calmness of absolute 
mastery, of complete conquest, all enemies 
trampled under foot or flung to the eternal torments 
of Erebus. This mood detached him wholly from 
Shelley, and Byron, and the young Goethe. They 
had gloried in Prometheus, the spirit of man 
struggling against supreme deity on its Olympian 
heights, and finally overthrowing it ; whereas 
d'Annunzio, like the riper Goethe, adores the secure 
serenity of Olympus. * O Zeus, Father of Serene 
Day, how much fairer than the chained and 
howling lapetid seemed in thy eyes the silent 
mountain and its vast buttresses fresh with invisi- 
ble springs.' And besides Prometheus, Zeus has 
another enemy, Christ the foe of beauty, and lord 
of the herd of slaves with their slave-morality 
of pity and submission. ' O Zeus, he cries, I 
invoke thee, awaken and bring on the Morrow 1 
Make the fire of heaven thy ploughshare to 
plough the Night ! Thou only canst purify Earth 
from its piled-up filth.' 

We are not to look in all this for even so much 
of definite ethical or philosophic content as we 
find in Nietzsche. If Nietzsche was a poet imagin- 
ing in philosophic terms rather than a philosopher, 
d'Annunzio was hardly capable of abstract thought 
at all. On the other hand, Nietzsche could still 



118 GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 

less rival d'Annunzio in creative faculty, and the 
series of d'Annunzian characters inspired or touched 
by the spirit of Nietzschean sovrumanitd may be 
set against the richer intellectual and spiritual 
substance of Zaraihustra. No doubt this influence 
was in the main disastrous for him ; Nietzsche's 
heady draught intoxicated his brain with visions 
of colossal and ruthless power, begetting images 
of supermen and superwomen magnificent in 
stature and equipment, in the glory of their flame- 
like hair, and the crystalline beauty of their speech, 
but wholly unreal and impossible. Nevertheless, 
there were fortunate moments when the vision of 
power was constrained by a human and moving 
story to work within the limits of humanity. 
And these moments, though few, atoned for much 
splendid futility. 

Moreover, his vision of power came to in- 
clude, at moments, the bridling of his own 
infirmities. There was always the making of a 
soldier in the Abruzzan before he became one. 
He was capable of an asceticism amazing to those 
who know only the hothouse atmosphere of his 
novels. Some of his most sumptuous prose and 
verse was poured forth in the naked seclusion 
of monastic cells, or in wild peasant houses far 
from civilization ; and only the most iron industry 
could have achieved the enormous bulk of his 
work. 1 Hence he can put into the mouth of 
Claudio Cantelmo, in the Verging these evidently 
autobiographic words : ' After subduing the 
tumults of youth, I examined whether perchance 
. . . my will could, by choice and exclusion, 

1 Gargiulo, Gabriele d'Annunzio (1912), to whose account of the 
poet's sovrumanitd, the present essay is much indebted. 



GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 119 

extract a new and seemly work of its own from 
the elements which life had stored up within me.' 
There is a glimpse here of a finer psychological 
and a deeper ethical insight than we often find 
in d'Annunzio, and it might have led a man of 
richer spiritual capacity to a loftier poetry than 
he was over to produce. 

But on the whole the clue thus hinted was not 
followed up, and the tough nerve which might 
have nourished the powerful controlling will of a 
supreme artist, often served only to sustain those 
enormities of the ferocious and the grandiose 
which make dramas like Gloria and La Nave 
mere examples of the pathology of genius. 

We touch here the crucial point. For these ex- 
travagances -vere not mere momentary aberrations. 
They were but the more pronounced manifesta- 
tions of fundamental deficiencies in the man, 
which in their turn impoverish and dwarf the 
poet. D'Annunzio, in one word, is wanting in 
humanity ; and because of his shallow and frag- 
mentary apprehension of the human soul, his 
vision of power and beauty discharges itself in 
barren spectacles of brute energy and material 
splendour, for which he cannot find psychological 
equivalents in grandeur or loveliness of character. 
Shakes pi , u< s huge personalities Othello, Lear, 
Antony arc human in every trait, however much 
they transcend our actual experience of nun. 
D'Annunzio tries to make violent actions and 
abnormal passions produce the illusion of great n 
of soul, and disguis. s his psychological poverty by 
the susf.iimd coruscations of his lyric speech. 

In the meantime novels and poems and dramas 



120 GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 

poured forth. The prolific later nineties saw the 
famous novel Fuoco (1900), a picture of Venetian 
splendour as gorgeous as that of Rome in Piacere, 
but touched with the new joy in power ; and the 
dramas Sogno (Tun Mattino di Primavera (1897), 
Gioconda, and Citta Morta (1898). In the last 
named d'Annunzio's vision of power assumes an 
audacious and original form. It is here the power 
of the vanished past to stretch an invisible hand 
across the centuries and strike down youth and 
life. The result is a tragedy that reproduces as 
nearly as a modern dramatist may the horror 
excited in ancient spectators by the doom of the 
House of Atreus. Nothing indeed could be less 
Greek than the structure and persons of the play. 
Leonardo, a young archaeologist, is excavating in 
the ruins of Mycenae. With him are his sister, 
Beata Maria, and their friends Alessandro and 
Anna his wife, a cluster of human flowers, full of 
living charm and sap, transplanted into the c dead 
city.' But the dead city is not merely dead ; it 
is mysteriously fraught with the power of the 
vanished past to control the present and the 
future. Its mouldering ruins are the arena of a 
struggle between Death and Life, in which death 
triumphs and life receives the mortal blow. 
Leonardo, obsessed with the Oresteia, is haunted 
at night by visions of terrific blood-stained figures, 
and has no thoughts by day but of penetrating 
the secrets of their tombs. Alessandro, full of 
the joy of life, seeks to detach him from these 
preoccupations. * I hoped he would have come 
with me and gathered flowers with those fingers 
of his which know nothing but stones and dust,' 



GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 121 

and he is drawn to Beata Maria, herself the very 
genius of glowing youth, ' the one live thing, 
says her friend Anna, in this place, where all is 
dead and burnt ... it is incredible what force 
of life is in her ... if she were not, none of us 
could live here, we should all die of thirst.' 
4 \Vhen Beata Maria speaks, he who hears forgets 
his pain, and believes that life can still be sweet.' 
She herself is devoted to the brother whose passion 
seems to estrange him so far from what she loves. 
She shares his Hellenic ardour, and innocently 
recites Cassandra's prophecy in the Agamemnon, 
with Cassandra's wreath on her golden locks, of 
4 an evil, intolerable to the nearest kin, and 
irreparable, preparing in this house.' Anna, 
struck with mysterious fear, stops her ; but the 
ominous words have been spoken, and foreshadow 
a real doom. Beata Maria, the unconscious 
Cassandra, will suffer Cassandra's fate. The inde- 
structible virus of the dead city will poison the 
glory of youth. The incestuous passion which 
desolated the House of Atreus is not extinguished 
in the crumbling dust of their tombs. A horrible 
infection seizes Leonardo. He struggles vainly 
with an impure passion for his sister. In only 
one way can his love be purified, a way grievous 
for him, and yet more grievous for her. She must 
(Ik; and he slays her among the tombs of the 
' dead city ' which has thus again laid upon the 
living its mortal hand. 

The conclusion outrages our feelings, and 
betrays d'Annunzio's glaring deficiency in sympa- 
thetic power. XVTiatever pity we feel for Leonardo 
in his miserable plight is dispelled by his cynical 



122 GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 

purchase of the purity of his own emotions at the 
price of his innocent sister's death. Here, as in 
other cases, d'Annunzio's fundamental want of 
passion, and the strain of hard egoism which per- 
vaded the movements of his brilliant mind, gravely 
injured his attempts in tragic poetry. Death was 
doubtless the only solution ; but it must be 
another death one that would have saved the 
c purity * of Leonardo's emotions by ending 
them altogether. Leonardo, however, has the 
ruthless energy of the Superman, and the inno- 
cent life must be crushed that he may rise. 

IV 

Yet d'Annunzio's vision of power, his appetency 
of enormous and abnormal things, was now to 
assume a new form. The grandiose dream of the 
Superman expands into the dream of the Super- 
nation. The discovery of Rome had taught him 
something of the pride of citizenship, and more 
than the nascent pride of nationality. But in 
the last year of the century he underwent an 
experience which turned this nascent emotion into 
a passion, and the poet himself into a prophet and 
preacher in its service, an c announcer ' as he was 
fond of saying, of the cause and creed of Italianitd. 

He had as yet seen nothing of Europe beyond 
the Alps. In 1900 he made an extensive tour, 
but in no tourist spirit. An Italian had no need 
to go abroad for beauty of nature or of art, and 
d'Annunzio's keen eyes were turned in quite 
other directions to the great Transalpine nations 
with their vast resources and their high ambitions ; 
and he measured their several capacities for success 



GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 123 

in the conflict which he, among the first, saw to 
be impending. He was impressed by the threaten- 
ing growth of Germany, and by * the extra- 
ordinary development of race-energy ' in England. 
Everywhere the force of nationality was more 
vehement than ever before. ' All the world is 
stretched like a bow, and never was the saying 
of Heracleitos more significant : " The bow is 
called Bios (life), and its work is death." 

But where was Italy in this universal tension of 
the national spirit ? Where was her strung bow ? 
How was she preparing to hold her own with 
the great progressive nations of the North ? 
D'Annunzio flung down these challenging ques- 
tions in his eloquent pamphlet, Delia coscienza 
nazionale (1900). To the foreign observer the 
trouble with Italy did not seem to be defective 
ambition. She had rather appeared to take her 
new role as a great Power too seriously, blundering 
into rash adventures abroad when she ought to 
have been spreading the elements of civilization 
at home. But d'Annunzio had seen the race for 
empire in the North, and his call to Italy was 
the call of an imperialist ; a call for unity of 
purpose, for concentration of national wealth and 
strength in the interest of a greater Italy, mistress 
of the Adriatic, if not of the Mediterranean. It 
\v;is the beginning of a new phase of d'Annunzio's 

vr. He was henceforth a public man, whose 
voice, the most resonant and eloquent then to be 

id in Italy, counted, as poetic voices so rarely 
dn, in the direction of public affairs. He entered 
Parliament, a proclaimed disciple in policy of 

[]. the Jhdi.in Bismarck. 



124 GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 

How did these enlarged ideals affect d'Annunzio's 
work in poetry ? In part, as has been hinted, 
disastrously. The enlarged ideals lent themselves 
with perverse ease, in a mind already obsessed 
with sovrumanitd, to a mere megalomania, a rage 
for bigness, only more mischievous in practice, 
and nowise better as literature, because it was 
conveyed in terms of navies and transmarine 
dominions. He had already in his fine series of 
Odi Navali (1893) fanned to some purpose the 
naval ambitions of his country. He now sounded 
a loftier note, suited to the vaster horizons of an 
Italian Mediterranean. These, for instance, are 
some stanzas from the opening hymn or prayer 
prefixed to his colossal naval tragedy, La Nave 
(1908) : 

O Lord, who bringest forth and dost efface 
The ocean-ruling Nations, race by race, 
It is this living People by Thy grace 

Who on the Sea 

Shall magnify Thy name, who on the Sea 
Shall glorify Thy name, who on the Sea 
With myrrh and blood shall sacrifice to Thee 

At the altar-prow. 
Of all Earth's oceans make Our Sea, O Thou I 

Amen ! 

The fourth book of the Ldudi is a lyric cele- 
bration in this spirit, of the Tripoli adventure 
' beyond the sea.' But megalomania was happily 
not the whole result. The older and deeper 
instincts planted or quickened in d'Annunzio by 
his earlier experience the feeling for race and for 
historic continuity coalesced with the new and 
vehement passion of nationality, communicating 
to it, in moments of vision, something of their 
human intimacy, and undergoing in their turn 



GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 125 

an answering enlargement of range and scope. 
If his Italianitd was something more significant 
than a resonant cry for more ships and territory, 
it was because it drew warmth and insight from 
the home sentiment for his Abruzzan province 
deep-rooted in the poet's heart ; while the Abruzzan 
province, in its turn, was seen in the larger and 
grander setting of the Italian people and the 
Roman race, but without the distorting nimbus of 
megalomaniac dreams. This fortunate harmony 
found expression chiefly in certain poems of the 
years shortly before and after the beginning of 
the new century, the golden period of d'Annunzio's 
production. To these years belong his two most 
notable attempts to give to Italy a tragic poetry 
built upon Italian history. 

In the material for tragic poetry no country 
was richer, but it had been left to the genius of 
foreign dramatists to give world-wide fame to the 
stories of Romeo and Juliet, Beatrice Cenci, and 
Torquato Tasso. Alfieri, the greatest of Italian 
tragic poets, had devoted his austere art almost 
solely to classical subjects ; and his Don Garzia 
and Congiura de* Pazzi, with Niccolini's Arnaldo 
da Brescia, Monti's Galeotto Manfredi, and Man- 
zoni's Conte di Carmagnola and Adelchi stood 
almost alone, as remarkable Italian tragedies 
on Italian themes. In the story of Francesca of 
Rimini, d'Annunzio found to his hand a native 
tragic subject of the first order, not yet touched 
by a tragic poet of genius, Italian or other. That 
it had been made his own by the supreme poet 
of Italy hardly disturbed d'Annunzio, deeply as 
he revered the poet whose words, in the fine phrase 



126 GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 

of his Dante Ode, clothed Italy like the splendour 
of day. He was not going to challenge comparison 
with Dante's marmoreal brevity. And the poet 
of Pescara had some title to regard this story of 
the adjacent Adriatic sea-board of Rimini and 
Ravenna, as his by right. But the story itself 
has also exerted its moderating control upon the 
natural prodigiosity of his invention, so that in 
his Francescan tragedy it is possible to recognize 
a general conformity to traditional technique. 

It is even possible that Shakespeare's handling 
of his Italian tragedy may have afforded a hint. 
The ruin of Romeo and Juliet results from the 
feud of the rival houses. The ruin of d'Annunzio's 
Francesca and Paolo is similarly rooted ultimately 
in the feud of Guelf and Ghibelline. Her father, 
a great Guelf captain, has sold her to the lord of 
Ravenna, as the price of support against the 
Ghibellines. But when her hand is thus plighted, 
she has already seen his brother Paolo, with his 
feminine beauty and luxuriant locks, pass under 
her window, and the seed of their passion is sown. 
Francesca has grown up 6 a flower in an iron soil,' 
and love throughout is set in a frame of war. But 
she would be no d'Annunzian heroine if she did 
not respond to the call of life and light. When 
about to leave Rimini on her marriage she replies 
to the pleading of her devoted young sister who 
cannot live without her, ' I am going, sweet life, 
where thou canst not come, to a deep and solitary 
place, where a great fire burns without fuel.' Fire 
is d'Annunzio's haunting symbol for terrible and 
splendid things, a symbol, too, for the strange 
union of cruelty and beauty in his own mind and 



GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 127 

art, and it does not here forecast only the Inferno 
flames in which she will move with Paolo so lightly 
before the wind. In the palace at Ravenna we 
see her among her ladies, chafing at her dull 
seclusion, while the Ghibelline siege rages without. 
A Florentine merchant displays his gorgeous wares 
before them, a feast of scarlet and gold. Presently 
Francesca has climbed to the tower where her 
husband's brothers are on guard. Bolts and 
arrows crash against the walls or through the 
loophole. A cauldron of Greek fire stands ready 
for use. Francesca, to the horror of the soldiers, 
fires it, and breaks into wild ecstasy at the ' deadly 
beauty ' of this ' swift and terrible life.' A 
moment later a bolt pierces the curls of Paolo. 
She thinks he is wounded, and clasps his head. 
In that embrace he stammers the first word of 
love. ' They have not hit me, but your hands 
have touched me, and have undone the soul 
within my heart I . . .' Francesca : ' Lost ! Thou 
art lost ! ' Thus, again, Francesca's fate, like 
Juliet's, is provoked by the irrelevant feud of 
parties without. But presently the same irrelevant 
feud thrusts the lovers apart. Paolo is sent as 
General of the Guelf forces to Florence. Francesca 
in his absence reads the Lancelot romance with 
her ladies. But Paolo, unable to endure his 
exile, posts back to Ravenna, and rushes to her 
chamber. The romance of Lancelot lies open on the 
lectern. The place where the reading stopped is 
marked ; it is where Galeotto is urging Lancelot's 
suit upon Ginevra. They bend over the book 
together. The following dialogue replaces Dante's 
single pregnant line : 



128 GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 

Pa. Let us read a page, Francesca ! 

Fr. Look at that swarm of swallows, making a shadow 

On the bright water I 
Pa. Let us read, Francesca. 

Fr. And that sail that is glowing like fire ! 
Pa. (reading). * Assuredly, 

Lady,* says Galeotto, ' he does not dare, 

Nor will he ask ye anything of love, 

Being afraid, but I ask in his name, and if 

I did not ask, you ought to seek it, seeing 

You could in no wise win a richer treasure.' 

And she says 

(drawing Francesca gently by the hand) 

Now do you read what she says, 

Be you Ginevra. 
Fr. (reading). And she says : ' Well I know it, and I will do 

What you command. And Galeotto said : 

Grammercy, lady ; I beg that you will give him 

Your love. . . .' 

(she stops.) 

Pa. Read further! 

Fr. No, I cannot see 

The words. 

Pa. Read : ' Certainly . . . 

Fr. Certainly,' she says, 

' I give it him, but so that he be mine 

And I utterly his, and all ill things 

Made good ' . . . Paolo, enough. 
Pa. (reading with a hoarse and tremulous voice). 

4 Lady, he says, much thanks ; now in my presence 

Kiss him, for earnest of true love ' You, you ! 

What says she now ? What now ? 

(Their pale faces bend over the book, so that their cheeks almost 

touch.) 
Fr. (reading). She says : ' Why should 

He beg it of me ? I desire it more 

Than you. . . .' 

Pa. (continuing with stifled voice). c They draw apart. 
And the Queen sees 

The Knight dare go no further. Then she clasps him 

About the chin, and with a long kiss kisses 

His mouth. . . .' 

(He kisses her in the same way. When their mouths separate 
Francesca reels, and falls back on the cushions.) 

Francesca ! 

Fr. (with hardly^audible voice). 
No, Paolo I 






GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 129 

The sequel is too long drawn out, and is marred 
by the duplicity of all the persons concerned. 
Malatestino's sleuth-hound cunning brings about 
the husband's vengeance, but his strategy is ani- 
mated only by ferocious hatred of the lovers, not 
by any care for justice. By his contrivance the 
rough soldier, who has never suspected his own 
wrongs, returns prematurely from the march, and 
thunders at the lovers' chamber door : ' Open, 
Francesca ! ' The wretched Paolo tries to escape 
through a trapdoor, but is dragged up by the 
hair to be slain. But Francesca rushes to clasp 
him, and the husband's sword pierces her. 
Francesca da Rimini, though a brilliant drama, 
with innumerable beauties of detail, misses, like 
the Dead City, the quality of great tragedy. Of 
the principal characters Francesca alone excites a 
fitful sympathy, while Paolo's effeminacy provokes 
a contempt which diminishes our compassion for 
the woman whose love he has won. These coward 
4 heroes ' who leave their mistresses in mortal 
peril, or slay their sisters, or see their brides borne 
to execution in their place, seem to haunt the 
egoist imagination of the poet, to the grievous 
hurt of his work. Yet w r hen all is said, Francesca 
is one of the most arresting, though dramatically 
by no means one of the best, plays produced in 
Europe during the first decade of the century. 

If the Francesca owed much to the stimulus 
and the control of a great historic and literary 
tradition, the rarer beauty of La Figlia di lorio 
(1901) was nourished on the old intimate passion 
his Abnr///:m raer and home. In language the 
more moving, b in d'Annunzio so seldom 

9 



130 GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 

heard, he dedicated * To the land of Abruzzi, 
to my Mother, to my Sisters, to my Brother in 
exile, to my Father in his grave, to all my Dead, 
to all my People between the Mountains and the 
Sea, this song of the ancient blood.' It betokened, 
indeed, no mere recurrence to the scenes and 
memories of his childhood, but a recovery, through 
them, of the more primitive sensibilities and 
sympathies which the complexities of an ultra 
modern culture had obscured or submerged. The 
shepherds and peasants of this ' pastoral tragedy ' 
live and move in an atmosphere fanatically tense 
with the customs and beliefs of their catholicized 
paganism ; but no believing poet ever drew the 
ritual of rustic unreason with more delicate 
sympathy, or rendered its wild prayers and 
incantations in more expressive and beautiful 
song. For the poetry is not exotic or imposed; 
like the songs of peasants in opera, it is found and 
elicited. The young shepherd, Aligi, is drawn into 
a kind of mystic relationship to Mila di Codra, 
a witch-maiden dreaded and abhorred over the 
whole countryside. But a bride has been chosen 
for him by his family, and the scene opens on the 
morning after their nominal bridal. Aligi 's three 
sisters are seen kneeling before the old carved oak 
chest, choosing her bridal robes, and vying with 
each other in joyous morning carols. A band of 
scarlet wool is drawn across the open door, a 
crook and a distaff lean against it, and by the 
doorpost hangs a waxen cross as a charm against 
evil spells. Aligi looks on in dreamy distraction, 
his thoughts far away. The women of the neigh- 
bouring farms come in procession bearing gifts of 



GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 131 

\ 

corn in baskets on their heads. An unknown 
girl follows in their train. Presently angry cries 
are heard in the distance. The reapers are in 
pursuit of Mila, whose spells have spoilt their 
harvest ; they have seen her enter the house, and 
now they clamour at the door for her surrender. 
The frightened women tremble, but Mila has 
crouched down on the sacred hearth, whence it 
would be sacrilege to remove her, and Ornella, 
the youngest of the sisters, who alone secretly 
pities Mila, draws the bolts. The storm of menace 
grows louder, till Aligi, roused from his dreamy 
absorption by the taunts of the women, raises 
his hand to strike the suppliant on the hearth. 
Immediately the horror of his sacrilege seizes him, 
he implores her pardon on his knees, and thrusts 
his guilty hand into the flame. Then he hangs 
the cross above the door and releases the bolts. 
The reapers rush in, but seeing the cross, draw 
back in dismay, baring their heads. Aligi has 
saved his ' sister in Christ ; ' but his guilt is not 
effaced. 

In the second Act, Aligi and Mila are living 
together, as brother and sister, in a mountain 
cavern. He would fain go with his flocks to 
Rome to seek dissolution of his marriage ; but she 
knows that happiness is not for her, and she will 
not hurt him with her passionate love. But in 
his home they know only that the witch-maiden 
has decoyed the son away from his mother and 
his virgin bride ; Ornella, the compassionate sister, 
is thrust out of doors, and now the father, who 
had returned home only after the reapers had 
gone, arrives at the mountain cavern in Aligi's 



132 GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 

absence, and peremptorily summons Mila. She 
holds him defiantly at bay. He is about to seize 
her, when Aligi appears on the threshold. In the 
great scene which follows the Roman authority 
of the Abruzzan father over the son overpowers 
for the moment even the lover's devotion. Not 
softened by Aligi's humble submission, Lazaro 
binds him, flogs him savagely, and turns upon 
Mila, now wholly in his power. At the moment 
when he has seized her Aligi breaks free, rushes 
upon his father, and kills him. The third act 
opens with the mourning for Lazaro, in long-drawn 
lyric dirges. Then harsher and fiercer notes are 
heard, and Aligi, deeply penitent, appears black- 
robed and bound, borne by the angry mob to bid 
farewell to his mother before being led to the parri- 
cide's death. ' To call you mother is no more 
permitted me, for my mouth is of hell, the mouth 
that sucked your milk, and learnt from you holy 
prayers in the fear of God. Why have I harmed 
you so sorely ? I would fain say, but I will be 
silent. O most helpless of all women who have 
suckled a son, who have sung him to sleep in the 
cradle and at the breast, O do not lift this black 
veil to see the face of the trembling sinner. . . .' 
The crowd tries to comfort her in its rough way, 
and the mother gives her son the bowl of drugged 
wine. Suddenly, confused cries are heard in the 
rear, and Mila breaks her way impetuously through 
the throng. ' Mother, sisters, bride of Aligi, just 
people, justice of God, I am Mila di Codra. I 
am guilty. Give me hearing ! ' They call for 
silence, and Mila declares that Aligi is innocent, 
and she the murderer. Aligi protests : * Before 



GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 133 

God thou liest.' But the crowd eagerly turns its 
fury upon the dreaded sorceress who owns her 
guilt, and the cry goes up : 'To the flames ! To 
the flames ! ' Aligi protests again, but with 
growing faintness, as the deadening potion masters 
and confuses his brain ; till at length, when the 
bonds have been transferred from his limbs to 
Mila's, he lifts up his hands to curse her. At 
this felon stroke her spirit breaks down. With a 
piercing shriek she cries : ' Aligi, Aligi, not thou, 
thou canst not, thou must not ! ' She is hurried 
away to the stake, only Ornella crying aloud : 
1 Mila, Mila, Sister in Jesus, Paradise is for thee,' 
while Mila herself, now full of the d'Annunzian 
exultation in glorious ruin, goes to her death 
crying : ' Beautiful Flame, Beautiful Flame ! ' 

A brief resume* such as this inevitably brings 
into undue emphasis the melodramatic elements of 
the plot. Yet it is the most human and natural, 
as it is the most beautiful, of d'Annunzio's dramas. 
For the strangest things that happen in it are no 
mere projections of the poet's inspired ferocity or 
eroticism, as so often elsewhere, but are grounded 
in the real psychology of a primitive countryside. 
\\V see its fear, love, hatred, now mysteriously 
mastered by superstitious awe, now breaking re- 
belliously from its control, now wrought by its 
tic power to else inexplicable excesses. 



But even the finest dramatic work of d'Anmin/io 
makes clear that his genius is fundamentally 
lyrical. The greatest moments of La Figlia di 



134 GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 

lorio and Francesco, are uttered in a vein which 
thrills and sings ; while, on the other hand, these 
moments are often reached by summary short 
cuts, not by the logical evolution of great drama. 
And it is fortunate that while he continued to be 
allured by drama giving in particular a very 
individual rendering of the tragedy of Phaedra 
(1909) d'Annunzio's most serious and ambitious 
poetry took the form of a festival of sustained 
song, the Laudi (1903 onwards). We have already 
quoted from the picture of his childhood drawn 
retrospectively, in the opening book, by the poet of 
forty. But these passages, though not at all merely 
episodic, hardly disclose the deeper sources of 
inspiration in this series of lyric cycles. * Praises,' 
he calls them, ' Praises of the Sky, of the Sea, 
of the Earth, of its Heroes.' The glory of earth, 
and sea, and sky had drawn more majestic praise 
from the poet of the 123rd Psalm, though in his 
naive Hebrew way he c praised ' only their 
Maker, not these ' wonderful works ' themselves. 
D'Annunzio's * praise ' expresses simply the ravish- 
ment of acute sensibilities in the presence of the 
loveliness and sublimity of Nature and the heroism 
of man, an emotion Greek rather than Hebraic. 
Our poet is perhaps the least Hebraic of all modern 
poets of genius ; and if his barbaric violence 
alienates him almost as completely from the 
Hellenic temper, he is yet akin to it by his inex- 
haustible joy in beauty. And in these years of 
the Laudi Hellas had become more than ever the 
determining focus about which his artistic dreams 
revolved, the magnet to whose lure even the 
barbarian in him succumbs. The first book, called 



GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 135 

Maia, after the mother of Hermes, describes the 
poet's spiritual journey to the shrine of that god 
of energy and enterprise, whose Praxitelean image, 
the most magnificent expression of radiant virility 
ever fashioned by the chisel, had not long before 
been unearthed at Olympia. It is a journey of 
discovery, and d'Annunzio invokes for it the 
symbolism of the last voyage of the Dantesque 
Ulysses to seek the experience that lay * beyond 
the sunset.' D'Annunzio turns his prow east, 
not west, but he, too, is daring peril in the quest 
of the unknown. A splendid Proem in terza 
rima, ' To the Pleiads and the Fates,' takes us 
to a rocky promontory by the Atlantic shore, 
where, on a flaming pyre, the helm of the wrecked 
ship of Ulysses is being consumed the fiery con- 
summation which crowns most of d'Annunzio's 
heroic careers. The modern venturer, too, must 
disdain safety, not like Galileo turning back into 
the secure haven, but fronting the pathless sea of 
fate with no anchor but his own valour. The 
sequel does not, it is true, accord completely with 
this Ulyssean vision. Symbolic imagery is inter- 
woven, in this * spiritual journey,' to the ruin 
of poetic coherence, with scenes from an actual 
voyage to Greece, leaves from a tourist's notebook, 
incidents of steamer-life, games and talk on board, 
sketches of fellow-passengers, the squalor and vice 
of Patras. Presently the ship reaches Elis, and 
then, as we enter the ruins of Olympia, the great 
past, human and divine, rises up before us. 
Pericles, Alcibiades, Themistocles obliterate the 
tourist memories, and the poet holds high colloquy 
with Zeus, and offers up a prayer, nine hundred 



136 GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 

lines long, to Hermes a lurid picture of the future 
of humanity, as d'Annunzio imagined it, wrought 
by the genius of Energy and Enterprise, Invention 
and Will ; a future dominated by men of rocky 
jaw, who chew care like a laurel leaf, precipitate 
themselves on life, and impregnate it relentlessly 
with their purposes, a significant image, for the 
d'Annunzian Hermes is fused with Eros (v. 2904). 
Eros was, indeed, indispensable, it might well be 
thought, to a quite satisfying d'Annunzian divinity. 
Yet in the fine colloquy with Zeus, which precedes, 
he touches a deeper note, rare with him, of desperate 
and baffled struggle with his own * vast sensuality.' 
He begs Zeus for a sign. * I am at war with 
many monsters, but the direst are those, ah 
me ! which rise within me from the depths of 
my lusts.' * Thou wilt conquer them,' replies 
Zeus, 'only if thou canst transform them into 
divine children.' 

The monsters, nevertheless, continued to haunt 
his later art. But happier moods were inter- 
posed, when he found relief from their urgency 
in poetic communing with the passionless calm 
of Nature and of the dead things that can- 
not die. 

Such moods in the second and third books of 
the Laudi, Elettra and Alcione, both mainly written 
before the Maia. The Alcione, in particular, is 
the record of a true ' halcyon ' seasonof hours 
or moments in the poet's stormy course. It 
opens, indeed, with a savage denunciation in 
perfectly handled terza rima of the demons, within 
and without, that he has striven with. But now 
for a while he calls a truce: 



GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 137 

Washed clean from human foulness in cool springs, 

I need but, for my festival, the ring 

Of the ultimate horizons of the earth. 

The breezes and the radiant air shall weave 

My new robe, and this body, purged from sin, 

Shall dance, light-hearted and alert, within ! 

Air and light and water do indeed play a large 
and significant part in this benign experience, 
and in the poetry which renders it. Water, we 
know, had peculiar allurements for his imagina- 
tion ; but now the obsession of fleets and arsenals 
is overcome, and he looks out over the wide levels 
of the Arno mouth, where fishing boats with their 
hanging nets are seen, transfigured in the effulgence 
of the west, like cups or lilies of flame upon the 
water ; or ' on a June evening after rain,' when 
4 the gracious sky, tenderly gazing at her image 
in the earth she has refreshed, laughs out from a 
thousand mirrors.' The solidity of the material 
world seems to remain only in its most delicate 
and attenuated forms the crescent moon 4 slender 
as the eyebrow of a girl,' the lean boughs and 
tapering leaves of the olive, the seashore sand, 
not 4 ribbed ' as Wordsworth put it, but delicately 
traced like the palate or the finger-tip. The poet 
is visibly striving through these frail and delicate 
things to escape his obsession into a realm of 
spirit he divines, but cannot reach : 

A slender wreath suffices, with few h:i 
Lest it with weight or any shadow burden 
The gracious thoughts of dawn 1 

This is the language of no sensualist, but of a 
mystic. And d'Annunzio in these poems again 
and again approaches the poetic mysticism of 



138 GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 

Wordsworth, and of Shelley and Dante. As he 
watches the dewy loveliness of evening, the earth 
seems to dissolve in the ' infinite smile,' which 
for Shelley ' kindled the universe ' ; l and for 
the Italian it is the smile of Beatrice. In the 
child, who hardly exists for him before, the poet 
of pitiless virility now sees not only ' the father of 
the man,' but the soul implicitly aware of the 
Truth we only guess at : 

The immense plenitude of life 

Is tremulous in the light murmur 

Of thy virginal breathing, 

And Man with his fervours and griefs. 

Thou art ignorant of all, and discernest 

All the Truths that the Shadow hides. 

If thou quest ionest Earth, Heaven answers, 

If thou speak'st with the waters, the flowers hear. 2 

There are hints, perhaps reminiscences, of 
Wordsworth here ; but d'Annunzio's more obvious 
affinity is doubtless with Shelley, whose Roman 
grave he saluted in an ode of lofty eulogy and 
sculptured grace. 

The lyric eloquence of Alcione undoubtedly 
recalls the rush of Shelley's music and the sethereal 
liquidity of his style. Yet they touch across a 
gulf of profound disparity. D'Annunzio, for all 
his preoccupation with air and light and water, 
never, either as man or as artist, escapes the 
earth. The hard stuff of his egoism is never really 
transmuted in the flame of love ; nor does the 
clear and delicate precision of his style ever 
really dissolve in radiant suffusion. D'Annunzio's 

1 Beatitudine. a 11 Fanciullo. 



GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 139 

nature-world, like Shelley's, is peopled with im- 
agined shapes, in which the myths of old Greece 
are created anew. But here too their divergence 
asserts itself. Shelley's Prometheus is not really 
earth-born, and his Asia is the hardly embodied 
symbol of the ideal passion of his own soul. While 
d'Annunzio's Triton and Dryad are recognizably 
akin to the sea or woodland life they spring from, 
hued like the salt deep, and full of the sap of 
earth. D'Annunzio is the greater artist, Shelley 
the finer and the rarer soul. 

But these gracious idylls were, as has been 
hinted, an episode. Nature could not replace 
man ; beyond ' earth ' and * sea ' and ' sky,' 
the ' heroes,' and especially the heroes and 
heroic memories of Italy, called for his ' praise.' 
Here, he felt, was the home of his spirit. The 
gracious valley of Arno might be 

A cradle of flowers and dreams and peace ; 

But the cradle of my soul 

Is the crashing chariot's furrow 

In the stone of the Appian Way. 

The Elettra, the second book of the Laudi, is 
mainly devoted to the memories of these vanished 
glories. The resonant herald of the Third Italy 
wanders, for instance, among the * Cities of Silence ' 
decayed, half grass-grown capitals of vanished 
dukes and extinct republics Ferrara, Pisa, Pistoja ; 
oldest and grandest of all, Ravenna, the * deep 
ship's hull, heavy with the iron weight of cmpin , 
driven by shipwreck on the utmost bounds of th< 
world.' l Of the sequence of lyrics on the great 

1 Elcttra : Cittd del Silenzio. 



140 GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 

enterprise of Garibaldi's ' Thousand,' La Notte di 
Caprera, it is enough to say that it is worthy of 
being put beside Carducci's Ode. After a quarter 
of a century Garibaldi's glory was no whit dimmed. 
On the contrary, Italians who knew how many 
gross blots defiled the Italy he had helped to 
win, saw Garibaldi as a figure of ideal splendour 
and purity on the further side of a foul morass. 
The bitter disillusion of such minds is powerfully 
painted in the moving piece : * To One of the 
Thousand.' An old Garibaldian sailor brings his 
broken anchor-cable to the ship cordwainer to 
be mended. He looks on, sombre, dejected, 
silent, but thinking what he does not say ; and 
his thoughts are like this : 

The anchor-sheet is broken : let it be. 

No hope of mending. Give it up, go home 1 

Turn into scourges, cordsman, and halter-nooses 

Thy bitter twine. 
Vilely supine lies the Third Italy, 
A harlot-people put to basest uses, 
And in her holy oak-grove's shadow, Rome 

Pastures her swine. 1 

But Rome, the eternal City, could only obscure 
her destiny, not efface it ; disillusion founded on 
her moments of self-oblivion was itself the vainest 
of illusions. That is the faith of the new Italian 
Renascence, and d'Annunzio, the fiercest chastiser 
of her oblivious fatuities, attains his loftiest note 
of ' praise ' in the Ode which prophetically arrays 
Rome in glory as the future centre of the em- 
bodied Power of Man. 

It is based on the legend, told by Ovid, 2 of the 

1 Elettra : A uno dei Mille. 2 Fast. iv. 291 f. 



GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 141 

ship of the Great Mother, stranded in the Tiber 
mud, and drawn to shore by the Vestal Virgin 
Claudia Quinta. The opening stanzas tell the 
story the dearth in the city, the Sibylline oracle's 
counsel to bring the image of the Mater Magna, 
the arrival of her ship in the river, the stranding 
in the mud, the vain efforts of the entire city to 
extricate it, until a Vestal Virgin, without an 
effort, draws it to bank. Then the poet interprets 
the symbolic legend : 

So, O Rome, our Rome, in its time 

Shall come from far-off seas, 

Shall come from the deep, the Power 

Wherein alone thou hast hope. 

So, O Rome, our Rome, in its hour, 

A heroic Maid of thy race 

Shall draw Her within thy walls. 

Not a vessel immovably stuck 

In the slimy bed, not an image 

Once worshipped in foreign fanes, 

Shall her pure hand draw to the shore : 

But the Power of Man, but the holy 

Spirit born in the heart 

Of the Peoples in peace and in war, 

But the glory of Earth in the glow 

Divine of the human Will 

That manifests her, and transfigures, 

By works and deeds beyond number, 

Of light, and darkness, of love 

And hatred, of life and death ; 

But the beauty of human fate, 

The fate of Man who seeks 

His divinity in his Creature. 

Since in thee, as in an imperishable 

Imprint shall the Power of Man 

Take form and image ordained 

In the market-place and the Senate 

To curb the dishonour of Men. 

O Rome, O Rome, in thec only, 

In UK- cirrlr of thy seven hills. 



142 GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 

The myriad human discords 
Shall find their vast and sublime 
Unity. Thou the new Bread 
Shalt give, and speak the new Word. 

All that men have thought, 

Dreamed and endured, achieved 

And enjoyed, in the Earth's vast bound, 

So many thoughts, and dreams, 

So many labours and pangs, 

And raptures, and every right won 

And every secret laid bare, 

And every book set open 

In the boundless circuit of Earth. . . . 

Shall become the vesture of thee, 

Thee only, O Rome, O Rome ! 

Thou, goddess, Thou only shalt break 

The new Bread, and speak the new Word ! 

On this note, the climax of his boundless national 
faith, we will leave d'Annunzio. We are apt to 
think that the tide of humanity has ebbed decisively 
away from the city of the seven hills, and that 
wherever its sundered streams may be destined 
finally to flow together in unison, the Roman 
Forum, where the roads of all the world once met, 
will not be that spot. Yet a city which can 
generate magnificent, even if illusory, dreams is 
assured of a real potency in human affairs not to 
be challenged in its kind by far greater and wealthier 
cities which the Londoner, or the New Yorker, or 
even the Parisian, would never think of addressing 
in these lyrical terms. 

Few men so splendidly endowed as d'Annunzio 
have given the world so much occasion for resent- 
ment and for ridicule. His greatest gifts lend 
themselves with fatal ease to abuse ; his * vast 
sensuality ' and his iron nerve sometimes co-operate 
and enforce one another in abortions of erotics 



GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO 143 

and ferocity. But the same gifts, in other phases, 
become the creative and controlling elements of 
his sumptuous style. His boundless wealth of 
sensuous images provides the gorgeous texture of 
its ever changing woof. But its luxury is con- 
trolled by tenacious purpose ; the sentences, 
however richly arrayed, move with complete 
lucidity of aim to their goal ; the surface is pic- 
torial, but the structure is marble. Thus this 
Faun of genius, as he seems under one aspect, 
compounded with the Quixotic adventurer, as he 
seems under another, meet in one of the supreme 
literary artists of the Latin race ; a creator of 
beauty which, however Latin in origin and cast, 
has the quality that strikes home across the 
boundaries of race, and has already gone far to 
make its author not merely the protagonist of 
the Latin renascence, but a European classic. 



IS THERE A POETIC VIEW 
OF THE WORLD ? 



10 



lit 



SUMMARY 

View of the World, or ' World- view,' defined. Distinction of 
religious and philosophical World-views. The present essay 
attempts to define and describe a poetic World- view. 
I. Character of poetic experience. Types of belief about 
Man and Nature to which it predisposes. Though rarely 
detached from religious or philosophical presumptions, it 
habitually modifies them, and the method here proposed is 
to study, in some salient examples, the character and direction 
of these modifications (p. 150). II. (i) Modifications of reli- 
gious World-views by the poetic inspirations of Personality 
and Love. HOMER. J^SCHYLUS. DANTE (p. 156). 
III. (ii) Modifications of philosophical World-views : (a) Mate- 
rialistic schools. Epicureanism and LUCRETIUS. Poets of 
Pessimism : LEOPARDI (p. 169). IV. (6) ' Objective idealisms.' 
Stoic pantheism and VERGIL. WORDSWORTH. SHELLEY. 
Philosophic doctrine of ' Nature ' in WORDSWORTH, and in 
GOETHE. SPINOZA and GOETHE (p. 184). V. (c) ' Subjective 
idealisms.' ' Mind ' in the philosophers and in the poets of 
the age of WORDSWORTH. The poets subordinate (1) the 
rational to the emotional and imaginative factors of soul : 
WORDSWORTH, BLAKE, SHELLEY, and (2) moral categories to 
a good 4 beyond good and evil.' Of this poetic ethic the most 
vital constituent is Love ; and Love, comprehensively under- 
stood, will be an intrinsic element of every World-view won 
through poetic experience (p. 193). 



IS THERE A POETIC VIEW 
OF THE WORLD ? 

4 1 7IEW of the World ' is a clumsy phrase for 
V an idea which itself has for most of us 
an unattractive flavour of pedantry. This latter 
impression is hardly removed by a knowledge of 
the part which, under the neater and more expres- 
sive term Weltanschauung, it has played in German 
literary study. Weltanschauung is the indispens- 
able final chapter without which no German bio- 
graphy, the confidential disclosure without which 
no German friendship, is complete. A Weltan- 
schauung or ' World- view,' in its full scope, com- 
prehends ideas about life of quite distinct cate- 
gories ; it touches metaphysics and science, ethics 
and aesthetics ; it offers an answer to Faust's 
question ' what it is that at bottom holds the 
world together,' but also to the practical questions, 
what is the end of action and how we ought 
to act. 

Historically, we know, the answers to these 
questions occur, in great part, as successive steps 
in continuous or closely-connected processes of 
thought. But between these continuous processes 
yawn gulfs which no argument can bridge. From 



14T 



148 IS THERE A POETIC VIEW 

Bacon through Hobbes to Locke we can trace 
something like a connected development. But 
between Hobbes and his contemporary Boehme 
there is a cleavage due not to bad reasoning on 
either side, but to a radical difference in the kind 
of experience from which the reasoning in the 
two cases set out. And the history of belief indi- 
cates that there are at least two types of elemental 
experience which thus generate ideas about the 
world, and to which two great classes of World- 
view in essence correspond. These may be dis- 
tinguished as the religious and the philosophical. 
In the first, thought is dominated by the con- 
sciousness of a power or powers distinct from 
man, controlling his fate, protecting his country 
or his tribe, determining his moral code, his scheme 
of values, and his expectations after death. From 
the crudest fetishism and animism to the loftiest 
theism, a living relation to such a Power is the root 
fact from which the religious World-view takes its 
origin and derives its character. 

On the other hand, we find a vast and complex 
body of conceptions of the world which do not 
originate in intercourse with a divine Power, or 
in the fear or hope which such a power may inspire, 
but in the effort to give a finally and universally 
valid account of experience. 

Naturally, neither these nor any other type of 
World-view, if such there be, are mutually exclusive 
in substance and content. Religion may reach the 
conclusions of philosophy, and philosophy those 
of religion, each by a path strictly its own. His- 
torically, the two attitudes to life have intimately 
interacted ; and if the religious type has on the 






OF THE WORLD? 149 

whole shown less power of resistance to the pene- 
tration of ideas of the opposed type, on the other 
hand modern philosophy, in particular, has often 
built upon, and not seldom with, ideas first begotten 
not by speculative curiosity, but by the rapture 
or the agony of God-intoxicated or demon-haunted 
souls. The eternal war of Ormuzd and Ahriman 
still echoes in the Hebraic intensity of our dis- 
tinction between good and evil ; and the visionary 
ecstasies of the mystics were of account in the 
evolution of philosophic pantheism. And, simi- 
larly, the edifices of theology have borrowed 
fortifying buttresses or indispensable pillars from 
ideas evolved by scientific reason or a purely 
secular interpretation of good. Aristotle, applied 
and interpreted by Aquinas, became one of the 
masters, not only of those who know, but of those 
who believe. Nevertheless, the two types have, 
on a comprehensive survey, stood distinctly apart ; 
and their ramifications appear to dominate between 
them the entire field of belief and speculative 
thought. 

Is it possible, nevertheless, to distinguish a third 
type of * World- view ' analogous to these ? In 
other words, is there any third kind of experience, 
distinct from that of either religion or philosophy, 
yet involving an apprehension of reality com- 
parable in originality, and possibly in importance, 
with theirs? The present essay is based upon 
the view that such an experience is given in and by 
poetry. 1 

1 The distinction of a religious, philosophic, and poetic World- 
view is based upon W. Dilthey : Das Wescn der Philosophic : Wcltan- 
schauungsUhrt (Hinncberg, Kultur der Gtgcnwart, I. vi). 



150 IS THERE A POETIC VIEW 



For the specific experience which comes to a 
poet through poetry, however it may be interwoven 
with religious or philosophic ideas, has a radically 
different psychological origin and character. It is 
equally intense and absorbing, but it is not deter- 
mined by conscious relation to an outer power, 
and it seeks to express rather than to explain. 
It is neither transfigured fear or hope, nor yet a 
logical process. In the making of a poem there 
may be even a conscious detachment from actuality, 
and the poet may float free in a dream world, 
apparently without thought of the world which 
he inhabits. The poetic may well be thought to 
differ from the religious or the philosophic types 
of experience less in inducing any specific way of 
contemplating reality than in liberating us from 
the necessity or desire to contemplate it at all. 

Yet it is certain that the poet's detachment, 
even in his most ethereal dream-flights, from 
reality, is only apparent. In all the spontaneous 
and seemingly arbitrary movement of his mind 
among its crowding ideal shapes, reality through 
his stored-up experience is at work, quietly weaving 
a thousand subtle filiations between the poem 
and the life of men at large. Othello is much 
farther from 6 actuality ' than the poor novel on 
which its story was based; but it is penetrated with 
the vision of life, of which Cinthio's tale caught so 
feeble and fugitive a glimpse. What distinguishes 
poetic from religious or philosophic apprehension 
is not that it turns away from reality, but that it 
lies open to and in eager watch for reality at doors 



OF THE WORLD? 151 

and windows which with them are barred or 
blind. The poet's soul resides, so to speak, in his 
senses, in his emotions, in his imagination, as well 
as in his conscious intelligence ; and we may pro- 
visionally describe poetic apprehension as an in- 
tense state of consciousness in which all these are 
vitally concerned. In so far as a particular outlook 
upon the world is founded upon a particular type 
of experience, a poet's World- view will be radically 
affected by his senses, emotions, imagination. The 
flower which Wordsworth contemplated on the 
bank or by the lake, and that other which Tennyson 
with his more curious scrutiny plucked from the 
crannied wall, could stir these poets' intellect and 
heart to the depths ; and their apprehension, as 
poets, of God and man, of Nature, of Duty, would 
have been different without it. 

But in any case, it will be said, even if we grant 
that poetic experience tends to induce some way of 
regarding reality, it cannot possibly induce any 
constant or definable way, if elements of mind so 
infinitely diverse, so individual, as emotion and 
imagination, are vitally concerned in the process. 
That energizing of mind released from the control 
of actuality, which we call imagination, that free 
following out of trains of suggestion called up by 
emotion, takes the colour, at every step, of the 
individual make of the poet's nature, and the 
individual cast of his experience. In so far as a 
World-view is strictly poetic in origin, the con- 
clusion might seem hard to resist that there may 
be as many poetic World-views as there are poets. 
And it is true that the individual quality of the 
poet will always cleave to whatever is strictly 



152 IS THERE A POETIC VIEW 

poetic in his thinking. But even so, it may be 
possible to determine typical directions in which 
poetic apprehension tends to engender or to sway 
belief, and to modify ideas imbibed in education 
or accepted on authority. 

Thus, it may be provisionally laid down that a 
view of the World reached through poetic experience 
will tend to accentuate those aspects of Man and 
Nature, and those ways of regarding them, which 
offer most scope, analogy, or sanction, to this 
type of experience. Where the senses play a vital 
part, and are yet vitally implicated with passion 
and ideas, there will be little disposition to doctrines 
which either brand the senses as evil or illusory, 
or erect them into a sufficing faith. The logical 
intellect, its processes and conclusions, will receive 
a respectful but distant salute, while the irrational 
elements of life are accepted as its needful ingre- 
dients or even as a supreme source of its worth. 
Love, which tramples on reason, and, in the great 
words of a Kempis, warmly glows like a flame 
beyond all measure, may be called in some sense 
the natural religion of the poet. The mysterious 
love of man and woman, in particular, irrelevant 
to most of the problems of philosophy, and regarded 
by religion chiefly as a dangerous disturbing force, 
is one of the perennial springs of poetry, and one 
of the shaping analogies of poetic thought. And 
the same impassioned insight which gives signifi- 
cance to this love exalts also all those other energies 
of the soul which carry men out of and beyond 
themselves. Poetry is naturally heroic ; it has 
presided over the cult of the hero, as religion and 
philosophy over those of the saint and the sage ; 



OF THE WORLD? 153 

it has rewarded him with enchanting secular 
Paradises, Elysian fields, Isles of the Blest, and 
Temples of Fame. Poetry is disposed to magnify 
human nature ; the transition from Aeschylus, 
who painted men greater than they were, to 
Euripides, who drew them after life, is also a decline 
in the intrinsic temper of poetry, if in that alone. 
And because of its bent to think greatly of man, 
it makes for the assertion, in the great sense, of 
freedom of man's freedom to be himself. Neither 
the shibboleths of political freedom nor those of 
free thought have always, it is true, found response 
among poets. Their part has rather been to keep 
alive in mankind the temper which treats outward 
obstacles not as the soul's constraints, but as its 
opportunities ; the faith that iron bars do not 
make a cage, and that you may be bounded in a 
nutshell, and yet not only count yourself, but be, 
a king of infinite space. 

In the interpretation of Nature, poetic experience 
works creatively or selectively on similar lines. 
To those wonderful deposits of the imagination of 
the past, the myths of extinct faiths, from which 
theology and philosophy have long withdrawn 
their sanction, or on which they have laid their 
taboo, the poets have habitually been very tender. 
And when they felt as poets, the image drawn 
from a myth has never had merely decorative 
value, or served merely as a ' poetic synonym ' for 
the exact term. It expressed something in the 
poet's vision not otherwise to be put into words. 
If the glorious anthropomorphism of Olympus and 
Asgard has faded for ever, the mystery of life 
everywhere pulsing through Nature, and perpetually 



154 IS THERE A POETIC VIEW 

reborn in * Man and beast and earth and air and 
sea,' cries to the poet with a voice which will not 
be put by ; and the symbols by which he seeks 
to convey his sense of it, if they read personality 
too definitely into the play of that elusive mystery, 
yet capture something in it which escapes the 
reasoned formulas of science. 

Hence many great philosophic ideas about the 
universe which, without ascribing life or mind to 
it, might seem projected from our inner, rather 
than gathered from our outer, experience, have 
powerfully appealed to poets. The antithesis of 
the One and the Many, which fascinated and 
fertilized every phase of Greek thought, had one 
of its roots in the acute Greek feeling for continuity 
through change, which is equally manifest in the 
Parthenon and in the Pindaric Ode, and to a less 
degree in all art and poetry wherever the sense 
of rhythm is present at all. ' When we feel the 
poetic thrill,' says Santayana, c is it not that we 
find sweep in the concise, and depth in the clear ? ' 
That felicitously expresses the genius of Hellenic 
art in particular ; but it also marks off the specifically 
poetic apprehension of Oneness as a ' something 
deeply interfused ' in and through the living multi- 
plicity of the world, alike from the mystic vision 
of a One whose splendour dissolves the reality of 
things, and from the vision of Peter Bell, for whom 
nothing but ' things ' exists. Yet even this preg- 
nant Oneness has commonly gathered, in the poetic 
conception of the universe, the higher and richer 
attribute of soul-life. It has become a living and 
working Nature vitally implicated in every organ 
and filament, or Mind diffused through every 



OF THE WORLD? 155 

limb, or Love, or Beauty, or Power, woven through 
the woof of it, or the splendour of God irradiating 
it through and through. 

When we turn, as is proposed in what follows, 
from these general considerations to watch the 
actual operation of poetic apprehension in concrete 
examples, we naturally encounter some serious 
difficulties. Poetic apprehension may be as dis- 
tinct and definable as we will, but it can rarely 
be caught acting in vacuo. Poets are men ; they 
are usually citizens ; they are often penetrated 
with some form of religious or philosophical faith. 
It is inevitable, in such cases, that their strictly 
poetic experience should be coloured or even 
overridden by ideas proper to their possibly more 
habitual or more deeply established persuasions. 
In poets like Goethe and Shelley, deeply concerned 
with the issues of life outside poetry, philosophic 
and poetic impulses and data may well seem 
inextricably mingled. Even Blake and Whitman, 
who perhaps come nearer than any other moderns 
to shaping out a poetic World- view for them- 
selves, evidently worked, as poets, under a deep 
bias of revolutionary dogma, which made them 
unjust to some aspects of poetry itself. And with 
poet-exponents of great theological or philosophical 
systems, like Lucretius or Dante, it may well 
appear idle to seek to catch the moment when the 
runnel of poetry carved out a watercourse of its 
own, instead of falling into and moving along 
with the great tide of Epicurean or Catholic thought. 
Yet we attach some meaning to our words when 
we distinguish periods iu which the poetic element 



156 IS THERE A POETIC VIEW 

in a poet's nature was more potent than at others. 
When we say, for instance, that in Shelley the 
poetic apprehension after 1812 worked itself pro- 
gressively free from an alien philosophy ; or that 
in Wordsworth, from about the same date, it 
became progressively overlaid by a theology almost 
equally alien ; or that in Dante's Convito, the poet 
of the Vita Nuova, who will finally recover domin- 
ance in the Commedia, has yielded much ground 
to the scholastic thinker. Distinctions so clearly 
felt and sharply drawn cannot be groundless. 
What is here proposed is to examine whether any 
typical character or direction can be discovered 
in the modifications which the data of religious or 
philosophical beliefs and ideals have undergone 
in certain commanding poet natures. In that 
case we might possess some of the material for 
answering the question I have been bold enough 
to suggest in the title of this paper. 

II 

I begin with examples in which these data are 
derived from religion ; and, in the first place, from 
religion still untouched by philosophic reflection. 
Without rashly assuming the solution of unsolved 
or insoluble problems, one may venture to assert 
that the Homeric epics owe their present form neither 
to purely religious awe nor merely to conscious and 
deliberate artistry, but to a poetic apprehension 
of the world operating upon the data of the savage 
cults and rituals, the animism, totemism, and 
magic, which anthropology is gradually deciphering 
under the palimpsest of their obliterating splendour. 



OF THE WORLD ? 157 

With some aspects of the process we are not here 
concerned. If 4 Homer,' as many modern scholars 
suppose, disliked human sacrifice and similar bar- 
barities, and tempered or effaced the record of them, 
he reflects the growing efficacy of civilized, but 
not necessarily of poetic, ideas. It is otherwise 
with the transformation, whatever its precise 
nature and history, which put the defined char- 
acter and rich personal accent of the Homeric 
Olympus in place of the psychological fluidity and 
incoherence of primitive religion. For the child- 
hood of poetry the change possibly involved a loss. 
A world where there are no barriers, or none which 
magic cannot dissolve, where gods and men and 
beasts pass over into one another without resist- 
ance or demur, where everything can be done and 
had if the right formula be pronounced and the 
due charm applied such a world is the home and 
habitat of the fairy tale ; but its facile instability 
must be overcome before a mature poetry, no less 
certainly than before a mature science, can arise. 
The Homeric outlook upon the world had as a 
religion grave flaws, which merited the strictures of 
later moralists ; but it had also, as a religion, 
magnificent qualities to which they rarely did 
justice. His deathless figures permanently raised 
the status of man and the ideals of human achieve- 
ment ; and every line of the poetry is instinct 
with an assurance of the glory of the world and the 
goodness of life, and the nobility of heroic emprise, 
and of reverence and of pity, which justly made 
his book the Bible of later Greece. 

Yet it is plain that even Homer reflects or finds 
reflection in but a limited tract of the Greek mind ; 



158 IS THERE A POETIC VIEW 

that there were many deeper, as well as darker, 
currents in the Greek way of apprehending the 
world, of which that radiant mirror shows no 
trace. Humanity had triumphed over the super- 
human as well as over the subhuman, clarity over 
mystery as well as over confusion. The Ionian 
thinkers of the sixth century swept away the 
fables of Olympus, fastened on the problem of 
substance, and proclaimed the sublime discovery 
that the All is One. The Orphic cults and the 
Thracian orgies of Dionysus betrayed by the wide- 
spread and intimate hold which they won in Greek 
life, refined and humanized as they doubtless were, 
that religion in Greece too included the riot of 
intoxicated rapture as well as clear-eyed piety ; 
the Bacchic frenzy, which carries men beyond them- 
selves, as well as temperate self-reverence and 
self-control. Both these new elements enriched 
and uplifted, if at some points they also impover- 
ished and degraded, Greek mentality and the 
Greek apprehension of the world, religious, philo- 
sophic, and poetic alike. The philosophic appre- 
hension of unity reacted on religion, and the two 
strains coalesced in the sublime theism of Cleanthes' 
hymn. The Dionysiac rapture reacted on philo- 
sophy without it should we have had the great 
doctrine proclaimed in the Phcedriis, of the divine 
vision won through madness and love ? And both 
reacted upon poetry above all on tragedy, with 
its stringent ideal of unity, maintained and mani- 
fested through all the phases and moods of con- 
flict, and the alliance, disclosed in its very structure, 
of Apolline clarity and order with the lyric exal- 
tation of Dionysus. But the matter of tragedy 



OF THE WORLD? 159 

shows yet more evidently the larger and deeper 
World-view which poetry has now won. In passing 
from Homer to Aeschylus we enter an atmosphere 
in which the gods are hardly ever visible, but 
which is laden and tense with the sense of divine 
things. His persons, it was said, are more than 
human ; certainly his gods are sometimes like the 
Zeus of the Prometheus less than divine. But the 
Aeschylean universe has outgrown Olympus with- 
out having dispossessed it. A soul of immense 
reach and depth, apprehending life from many 
sides, but always with a sense of vast issues and 
inexhaustible import, here interprets the old stories 
of man's relations with the gods, and leaves us with 
a new vision of the possibilities and responsibility 
of man. His tragic conflicts call incommensurate 
forces into play, and their apparent solution leaves 
yet larger problems unsolved. The story of Pro- 
metheus ended with his reconciliation to Zeus ; 
and this doubtless expressed the poet's deliberate 
intention and design. The modern world has 
remembered Prometheus, not for his final surrender 
or appeasement, but as the assertor and embodi- 
ment of something in man which stands over 
against the gods he recognizes, and not only endures 
unflinchingly all that their utmost anger can 
indict, but arraigns them himself before a law of 
Justice higher than their own. ^Eschylus, we 
know, was a devoutly religious man, and never 
dreamed of surrendering his reverence for the 
divine because of the crimes of the gods. Possibly, 
as Wilamowitz has suggested, he believed that 
divinity itself had passed through a youth 4 full 
of foolish noise ' to become with ripening years 



160 IS THERE A POETIC VIEW 

a righteous God and Father, worthy at length of 
universal reverence. Reverence for such an erring 
divinity is hardly distinguishable from forgiveness ; 
in any case it foreshadows, if it does not announce, 
the clear recognition of human responsibility. And 
that recognition is already dominant in the mature 
work of ^Eschylus. The traditional superstitions 
which still entangled the Greek mind the doctrine 
of an irresistible fate, or of a divine jealousy 
attending human greatness dissolve under the 
scrutiny of his terrible insight. Man is free even 
in his crimes, and the greater because he is free. 
Clytaemnestra chooses and wills as freely as Lady 
Macbeth ; she is as little the helpless victim of the 
curse of Atreus as the other of the Witches' spell. 
It needed a great poet thus to embrace in his 
vision of life things incompatible to common 
sense. ' Whether ^schylus is greater,' declares 
the penetrating interpreter to whom I have referred, 
6 when he uplifts our hearts by the full tones of 
surrender to the divine, or when he thrills us with 
the terrible acts and sufferings of human freewill, 
every one must decide for himself from his own 
experience ; but let no one say that he understands 
the poet until he has known them both.' l The 
poet's eye, c glancing from heaven to earth, from 
earth to heaven,' overcomes the antinomies of 
theological dogma ; and herein lies one of the 
most signal services which poetic apprehension 
has rendered to thought, and not least to religion. 

To pass from ^Eschylus to Dante is to watch 
operations of poetic intelligence in which only the 

1 Wilamowitz, Oresteia, p. 47. 



OF THE WORLD? 161 

environment, the material, and the instruments 
of expression are profoundly changed. The words 
just quoted of the Greek might apply without the 
alteration of a syllable to the Florentine ; and if 
ever poet saw earth and heaven at once it was he. 
But the theological World- view which he found 
was more authoritatively established, more intel- 
lectual in its philosophical substance, and more 
rich and beautiful in its human appeal. The 
fresh fountain of religious feeling, still abundantly 
flowing, was fortified and entrenched within a 
vast structure of elaborated dogma, for which 
councils and saints had supplied the architects and 
the masons, and ancient philosophy the stones. 
Within this imposing edifice, nevertheless, Dante, 
with complete conviction, found and made his 
home. No one now questions the absoluteness of 
Dante's Catholic faith, and we should seek in vain 
for any rebellious upsurging of the poet in him 
against the starkest of scholastic abstractions. 
On the contrary, his wonderful gift of style con- 
tinually finds the material for poetry in the most 
seemingly arid regions. Sometimes the result is 
merely an astonishing tour de force ; but often we 
become aware that Dante has not only invented 
but discovered, and that many a dogma which 
has the air of being the mere husk of religion is 
in reality the imperfect, stammering utterance 
through which religious passion sought to make 
itself articulate. Dante, in short, makes us feel 
in these constructions of the intellect the language 
of the soul. 

To do this needed something more than devout 
belief. It needed the imaginative intuition of a 

11 



162 IS THERE A POETIC VIEW 

poet. The poetry of Dante was distinguished 
from that of his older contemporaries above all 
by being just this intense soul- vision put into 
words. ' I simply write down what Love within 
dictates.' l Psychological veracity never fails him. 
Allegory, in so many hands a tissue of personified 
abstractions, becomes, in his, a living image of 
humanity. Symbolic meanings and applications 
interweave and encircle it, but the core is real. 
His vision is only on the surface a description 
necessarily speculative of the fortunes of souls 
after death ; its substance, as he tells us, is * man 
of his freewill choosing good or evil here.' The 
human denizens of his hell and purgatory and 
paradise have undergone no inner change ; they 
are the men he had known, in their spiritual habits 
as they lived ; and their fate, when Dante is thinking 
most as a poet and least as a theologian, is a con- 
tinuation of their crucial actions. That Paolo and 
Francesca are immersed in unquenchable flames 
satisfies the theological idea of retribution ; Dante 
inflicts on them the more searching penalty of being 
for ever locked in the embrace of their illicit love. 
And how often, when he thinks he is devoutly 
following out to the last consequence the Church's 
dogma of eternal punishment, he is unconsciously 
testifying to the poet's sublime faith in the soul 
of man as stronger than death and hell. * Who 
is he,' asks Dante, looking upon Capaneo (Inf. 
xiv. 46), ' who seems not to heed the flame, but 
lies fiercely unsubdued by the fiery vein ? ' Or 
the yet greater picture of Farinata (Inf. x. 85), 
defiantly erect where the rest grovel in agony, 

1 Purg. xxiv. 52. 4. 



OF THE WORLD? 163 

'as if he held hell in great disdain.' Even the 
criminals whom the poet most abhors, and thrusts 
into the very depths of the abyss, even the traitors 
guilty of the death of Caesar or of Christ, he allows 
still to show greatness of soul ; Brutus, champed 
to a bloody foam in the jaws of Lucifer, is still the 
Stoic philosopher, and though he writhes in agony, 
utters not a word (Inf. xxxiv. 66). And how 
wonderfully in the great Ulysses scene (Inf. xxvi) 
the poet takes the pen out of the hand of the 
theologian, and, forgetting the 4 fraud ' for which 
the captor of Troy is doing penance in hell, compels 
us to listen entranced to his tale of that last voyage, 
beyond the sunset, of the old wanderer, still in- 
satiable of experience, who had kindled his shrinking 
comrades by bidding them * Consider of what seed 
ye are sprung ; ye were not made to live like the 
brute beasts, but to follow after virtue and know- 
ledge.' Strange words to issue from the quench- 
less flames of hell ! But Dante goes beyond this. 
For the sake of the heroism of Cato, he flatly 
violates the theological categories which condemned 
him to hell, and makes him the guardian of Pur- 
gatory. 1 As for the rest of the * virtuous heathen,' 
he cannot indeed transfer them from the hell to 
which the Church has assigned them a hell much 
more ferocious than any of which they had dreamed 
to Elysium. But he does what he may, and he 
provides for them within the precincts of hell an 

1 The case of Trajan, who for his justice was snid to have been 

saved by the prayers of Gregory, is not quite parallel, since there 

was here a theological tradition in his fa\>ur. But at least Dante 

on and emphasi/c^ tin- tradition, and not merely * saves* 

in. I, lit m.i!.< s him the comrade of the glorious just kings in 
Jupiter (Par. xx. 44 f.). 



164 IS THERE A POETIC VIEW 

Elysium of green lawns and running streams, * the 
one place in the Inferno where there is light and 
air ' (Inf. iii). The theological ethic of sin is thus 
unconsciously crossed, again and again, by the 
poetic ethic for which * good ' means greatness of 
soul. 

Moreover, with a depth of spiritual insight 
strangely in contrast with the vulgar notion of 
punishment which dictated the theological hell, 
Dante has asserted, even in this realm of iron 
necessity, the freedom of man. The inmates of 
hell are not convicts condemned and punished for 
sins long since repented of : they are there of their 
own motion and by their own will ; and if there 
is no hope there, it is not because God has no 
mercy, but because they cannot repent. The souls 
in Purgatory are held there by no compulsion ; 
they desire nothing but to be purified of their 
sins, and the moment they desire to mount to 
Paradise, that moment they are free. 

It would be strange, then, had Dante, with all 
his sense of supreme cosmic forces, not stood for 
the faith that man is yet the ' captain of his soul.' 
There he is at one with ^Eschylus and Milton, 
and the other great theological poets of the West. 
Man's ' freedom ' is a root idea of the Comedy ; 
and not merely because its purpose was to show 
him ' in the exercise of freewill,' determining his 
fate hereafter. Dante went much farther than 
this. A devoted Catholic and citizen, and eager 
to welcome the authority both of Church and State, 
he was driven by the corruption of the one and the 
anarchy of the other to seek ' another way ' the 
way of spiritual self-help with the aid of philosophy 



OF THE WORLD? 165 

and theology, along which he is led by Vergil and 
Beatrice. The great farewell words with which 
Vergil leaves him in the Earthly Paradise, 6 1 
crown and mitre thee king and bishop over thy- 
self,' express with thrilling power the individualist 
nay, the revolutionary side of his thought. 
He would not have been the great poet he was 
if it had been the only side. Dante's reverence 
for Vergil and for Beatrice is of the very substance 
of his self-assertion ; he has crowned and mitred 
himself by taking them for his guides, and the 
result is the great poetic cosmos eloquent beyond 
all the other masterpieces of the world of devout 
discipleship, and yet instinct in every line with 
the ardour of a soul * voyaging through strange 
seas of thought alone.' 

But the name of Beatrice points to another 
aspect of Dante's work on which the impress of 
the poet in him is yet more unmistakably set. 
Measured by the range and compass of thought, 
and by the richness and delicacy of feeling, which 
the term in his usage conveys, Dante is the first, 
as he is the greatest, of the poets of Love. His 
poetry recovers and renews, or at the least suggests 
and recalls, all the varieties of intellectual and 
emotional experience for which philosophy, religion, 
and romance had, before his time, found in * Love ' 
the final expression, or the speaking symbol. The 
cosmic love (<iA/a) by which Empedocles had 
first interpreted the universal phenomena which 
-till, hardly less anthropomorphically, know as 
4 attraction ' ; the passion for another human being 
(cpajs) in which the author of the Phcedrus and the 
Symposium discovered one of the sources of the 



166 IS THERE A POETIC VIEW 

divine exaltation which emancipates men from 
their human limits, and endows them with the 
vision of reality ; the love of God for man, and of 
man for God (ayaTn?), proclaimed as the very core 
of Christianity in the Fourth Gospel these three 
types of love, all denoted for Dante by Amor, 
amore, 1 were conjoined in his experience with a 
fourth, distinct from all, though nearly allied to 
the second : the romantic love of woman which 
had been the chief inspiration of the poetry of 
Provence, and which, however sublimated and 
spiritualized, is enshrined in the Vita Nuova. To 
say that Dante's mind, equally powerful in analysis 
and in synthesis, confounds these distinctions 
would be unjust ; but it would be equally untrue 
to assert that their associations are never blended. 
Christian philosophy had itself absorbed the first ; 
cosmic attraction then reappeared in a sublime 
apotheosis, as the love which draws all the universe 
towards God, and by which God, as its source, 
4 moves the sun and the other stars.' And if 
Dante, in his treatise on poetry, 2 distinguishes 
himself from the poets of 4 love ' as a poet of 
4 morals,' or 4 righteousness,' he also, as we saw, 
ascribes his whole power as a poet to his writing 
what love dictated in his heart. Man in virtue 
of his freedom has power to misuse Love, and 



1 The second type I take to be represented, with obvious differ- 
ences, for Dante by the 4 philosophical ' love of Guido Guinicelli, 
the * father of love poets and my own ' (Purg. xxvi. 97) ; there is 
no evidence that he knew anything of this part of Plato ; in any 
case, of course, this love is for him excited only by woman. The 
amore of Empedocles is mentioned in Inf. xii. 42 ; Empedocles 
himself, as well as Plato, is in Limbo (Inf. iv. 188). 

2 De Vulg. Eloq. ii. 2. 



OF THE WORLD? 167 

Dante everywhere scornfully contrasts the higher 
and the baser love. Nay, all sin which can be 
4 purged away ' he regards as due to ' love ' wrongly 
used ; the whole population of Purgatory is there 
because it loved unwisely, or loved indifferent 
things too well, or right things too little. But the 
harm here, for Dante, arises not from love, but from 
the application to it of the evil material in man's 
nature ' as a foul impress may be set upon the 
most precious wax.' l 

Something of the idealizing atmosphere which 
Christianity and Plato had thrown about love 
thus always colours it in Dante's mind. But it 
is also subtly touched with that other idealizing 
force which not Christianity but the poets had 
recognized, which Christian ethics had contemp- 
tuously tolerated or scornfully tabooed. Dante 
had known the love of woman in many forms. 
Longing for the absent wife and child had con- 
sumed his flesh and his bones in exile ; 2 and his 
virginal adoration of Beatrice sprang from no 
coldness of the blood. The power of womanhood 
to lift men to supreme heights of vision and forti- 
tude, which he had divined through Beatrice and 
sung in the great canzone of the Vita Nuova* no 
more passed out of his faith than did her image 
from his memory. Nor was it for nothing that 
his master Vergil had forgotten the political and 
imperial purpose of his poem in making Dido the 
most moving heroine of antiquity. If the Comedy 
is a great scheme of salvation, it is also a great 
song of womanhood such as, he said, no man ever 
sang before ; and if we say that Beatrice is there 

1 Purg. xviii. 36. * Cons. xi\. C'(wz. i. 



168 IS THERE A POETIC VIEW 

a symbol for Theology, that is doubtless true : 
but a thousand phrases remind us how much she 
symbolizes besides ; and the look * in the eyes of 
Beatrice,' which draws Dante upward through the 
circling spheres of Paradise to the beatific vision, 
attests also his faith in the power of the lover's 
adoration to lift a man out of his humanity 
(trasumanar), and make him * joyful even in the 
flames.' 

Thus Dante, though he counted himself not 
among the poets of love, but among the poets of 
' righteousness,' is one of the inspiring sources 
of the modern poetry which invests the love of 
man and woman with the ideal attributes which 
philosophy and religion had proclaimed in other 
forms of love, but had ignored or repudiated in 
this. In Spenser Platonist, Christian, and lover 
at once the fusion of the three strains is com- 
plete ; his great hymns to Love, who 

is lord of all the world by right, 
And ruleth all things by his powerful saw, 

prelude his even greater hymn of marriage. Even 
Chaucer perhaps learnt from Dante that amazed 
awe with which, in the opening lines of one of his 
earliest Italianate poems, he contemplates the 
' wonderful working ' of love. 1 The Petrarchists 
and Sonneteers went far to reduce the expression 
of this love to hollow phrase-making. But with 
Romanticism it found fresh and original utterance, 
and its status in the world has never been more 
loftily affirmed than by Celtic Romanticizing poets 

1 Parlement of Fowles, 1 f. 



OF THE WORLD? 169 

of to-day. ' I say that Eros is a being ! ' declares 
one of the finest spirits among them. ' It is more 
than a power of the soul, though it is that also. 
It has a universal life of its own.' * 



III 

The power of personality and the glory of love : 
these have emerged from our discussion thus far 
as the things in life whose appeal to poetic intelli- 
gence was most potent in modifying the substance 
or changing the perspective of a World-view derived 
from religion. We have now to examine, in a 
fashion unavoidably even more fragmentary and 
summary, the reaction of another series of poetic 
minds upon the more complex and abstruse World- 
views of philosophy. 

It is necessary for the purpose to adopt a rough 
grouping of philosophic systems, and I take the 
following division into three fundamental types, 
based with qualifications upon one proposed by 
Wilhelm Dilthey in the essay already referred to. 

To the first belong the naturalistic schools, from 
Democritus to Hobbes and the Encyclopedists, 
deriving their philosophical conceptions directly or 
indirectly from an analysis of the physical world, 
and commonly disdaining or ignoring phenomena 
not to be so explained. To the second type of 
thinkers the objective world is still the absorbing 
subject of contemplation ; but it is approached not 
from the side of physics, but from the side of s< It- 
conscious mind ; it is felt, not as material for 
causal investigation, but as responsive to the human 

1 A. E., Imaginations and Reverie*, p. 151. 



170 IS THERE A POETIC VIEW 

spirit, now as living Nature, now as immanent 
God, now as a progressively evolving Absolute. 
Here, with various qualifications, we may class 
Heraclitus, the Stoics, Spinoza, Leibniz, Hegel. 
In the third type, the focus of interest and the 
determining source of philosophic ideas is the 
self-conscious mind itself. It feels profoundly its 
own energy and power of self-determination ; and 
it regards the objective world not as deeply at one 
with it, responsive to its feeling, accessible to its 
thought, but rather as a threatening power against 
which it must vindicate its spiritual freedom and 
build its secure spiritual home. In the philo- 
sophies of this type, personality which the first 
type ignored and the second reduced to an organ 
of a world process became the fundamental con- 
dition of our experience, as with Kant and Fichte, 
or a transcendent personal God shaping the universe 
to his mind, as with the Plato of the Timceus. 

If we now consider these three types in relation 
to our problem, it seems evident that the second 
and the third are naturally more congenial to 
poetry than the first. Yet we know that one of 
the greatest of Roman poets made it the work 
of his life to expound the atomic Naturalism of 
Epicurus to an unreceptive Roman world. 

The naturalism of Democritus and Epicurus, 
though framed purely in the interest of scientific 
explanation, and hostile both to poetry and to 
religion as commonly understood, was potentially 
a great poetic discovery, the disclosure of a World- 
view wholly novel and of entrancing appeal to the 
poetic apprehension. The sublime perspectives of 
an illimitable universe, the permanent oneness 



OF THE WORLD? 171 

underlying the changing shows of sense : these 
were contributions of philosophy to a poetic out- 
look of which no poet had yet dreamed, and which 
it was reserved for the greatest of philosophic poets 
to make explicitly his own. 

But the new way which Lucretius was the first 
to tread was not to be pursued. He had for many 
ages no successors. His difficult conquest of poetry 
from a mechanical system, designed to explain, 
not to inspire, was only to be emulated by a poet 
of combined intellectual and imaginative grasp 
comparable with his own. On the whole, the 
science and the poetry of Lucretius, after that 
moment of intense incandescence, fell apart. Vergil, 
who as a young man saw the rising of this mag- 
nificent lonely star in the Roman firmament, and 
of all his contemporaries perhaps alone understood 
its significance, honoured the discoverer of the 
causes of things, but his own philosophy was of 
a cast easier to harmonize with the idealisms of 
poetry. From the side of science, Gassendi and 
the physicists of the seventeenth century valued 
the Lucretian exposition of atomist theory as a 
welcome supplement to the fragments of Demo- 
critus and Epicurus. But before the nineteenth 
century scientific materialism was never again allied 
with great poetic power. The eighteenth century 
saw an immense advance in the scientific recon- 
struction of our beliefs about the world, but its 
nearest approaches to the negations of Lucretius 
wen- conveyed only in the prose of a D'Holbach 
or a Hume, while its most brilliant English poet, 
far from wrestling, like his friend Berkeley, with 
the new spectre of materialism raised by the 



172 IS THERE A POETIC VIEW 

triumphs of Newton, afforded himself and his 
readers complete satisfaction by decorating the 
easy harmonics of deism in the Essay on Man. 
The immense quickening of imaginative power 
which marked the decades immediately before 
and after the close of the century widened the 
chasm between poetry and any mechanical view 
of the world. If at certain points (as in Shelley's 
and Coleridge's early chemical ardour, and Goethe's 
momentous biological researches) poets make fruit- 
ful approaches to science, it was because they 
found in science itself an apparent release from 
the mechanical point of view, a clue to their ulti- 
mate faith (however differently expressed) in a 
divine, benignant Nature. The recovery of imag- 
ination told, in philosophy as in poetry, for the 
most part, is a wonderful idealization of the 
universe, culminating in Hegel's evolution of 
the Absolute and in Wordsworth's awe before the 
Mind of Man conceptions which must be dis- 
cussed in a later section. 

But in some very distinguished poetic minds 
the recovery of imaginative power led to no 
idealization of the world. It rather enabled them 
to present with a peculiar poignant intensity a 
world stripped bare of ideal elements, in which 
goodness and hope are alike illusory, and Nature 
is either a dead mechanism or a cruel, implacable 
and irresistible alien Power. Leopardi, Schopen- 
hauer, Leconte de Lisle, and (on a lower plane) 
James Thomson, were the most conspicuous exam- 
ples in the nineteenth century of poetic genius 
(for Schopenhauer's work is a colossal poem of 
pessimism) absorbed in the contemplation of a 



OF THE WORLD? 173 

universe as denuded as that so passionately em- 
braced by Lucretius, of love or hope for man. 

A situation analogous to that of Lucretius 
arises, therefore, in their case. Their world offered 
no foothold to the optimist : was it equally bare 
of support for the poet ? Bacon's assertion that 
poetry submits the shows of things to man's 
desires might imply that ; but Bacon (who, inci- 
dentally, thought slightly of Lucretius) ignores 
the poetry born of a conviction that the shows 
of things are finally unalterable by man's desires, 
and it is Leopardi, even more than Lucretius, who 
has shown us how sublime the poetry which rests 
on this lonely stoicism may be. One might even, 
in certain moods, be tempted to attach a yet 
higher value to the temper of this lonely heroism, 
which faces a blankly hostile universe utterly 
without support, than to that which exults in 
conscious Oneness with a universe pervaded by 
Love or Beauty, by benign Nature or God. The 
loneliness of Prometheus is more moving as poetry 
than his rapturous union with Asia. Why is this ? 
I take it that it is because the lonely Prometheus, 
tlir heroic striver with a loveless world, makes us 
more vividly aware of the Spirit of Man, and that 
what moves us most in the great poetry is the 
revelation of the Spirit of Man even more than 
the revelation of the glory of the universe. We 
have seen that these two are natural poles of poetic 
faith, that is, conclusions upon which the thinking 
of any poet who thinks as a poet, will tend to 
converge ; and if he is thwarted in the one aim 
he will fall back with the more energy upon the 
other. 



174 IS THERE A POETIC VIEW 

Now this vivid consciousness of spirit, whether 
shown in heroism or in love, is ultimately incon- 
sistent with a creed which strips the universe of 
all ideal elements ; and where this is in possession, 
undermines and disintegrates it. The ' Everlasting 
No ' yields ground to the Everlasting Yea ; or nega- 
tion itself is impregnated with divinity, as when 
Leconte de Lisle glories in his neant divin. To 
imagine heroism intensely is to be convinced that 
whatever else is illusory, heroism is not an illusion, 
that the valour of man has a kinship and support 
somehow, somewhere, in the nature of things. 
And if heroism is not an illusion, human society 
is no illusion either. For the heroic struggler with 
infinite odds is no longer alone ; the army of saints 
and martyrs are with him ; and it was the poet 
for whom loneliness opened ways into infinity 
beyond any companionship who cried to one such 
heroic struggler, fallen in the fight 

Thou hast great allies. 
Thy friends are exultations, agonies, 
And Love, and Man's unconquerable mind. 

I propose to illustrate the working of the forces 
which thus qualified a creed of negations, from 
the impressive case of Leopardi. 

In Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837) we have a poet 
in whom astonishing power and wealth of mind 
were united to a complete rejection of the theo- 
logical and philosophical apparatus of consolation. 
The mental revolution which left him in early 
manhood entirely denuded of the beliefs in which 
he had been reared, was final, and left no trace 
of reaction or regret, of hesitation or doubt. An 



OF THE WORLD ? 175 

absolute calm of secure conviction marks the entire 
subsequent course of his short life. Few men 
who have ' found religion,' once for all, have been 
brought by it into an anchorage so secure from 
inner or outer assault as this man who at twenty- 
two discovered that religion was a dream. 

With supernatural belief fell from him also every 
form of secular faith and hope for man. Religion 
was but one among the crowd of cherished illusions 
which cheat men with the expectation of happiness. 
Human happiness was always founded on illusion, 
and the pursuit of it was therefore vain. Hence 
all the organized energies of civilization, the activ- 
ities of business or politics, of science or art, of the 
professions, of state administration, counted in his 
eyes at best as distractions which blinded those 
who engaged in them to the deadly vision of truth. 
For himself these distractions and the relief they 
brought were impossible, for he had seen the 
truth ; and the remorseless analysis which shat- 
tered the basis of illusion on which they rested, 
sapped the impulse to share in them. Of the 
state, and the patriotisms which bind its members 
together, he was as sceptical as Ibsen, without 
sharing his idealizing homage to the man who 
stands alone. In the Storia del Genero Umano he 
makes Jove introduce the diversities of peoples 
and tongues among men, seeds of emulation and 
discord, and send forth among them the ' phan- 
toms ' known by the names of Justice, Virtue, 
Glory, and Love of Country. ' Humanity ' itself 
was an illusory bond, and the 4 nations ' of the 
world were ultimately its individual men. 

Yet Leopardi does not denounce crime. Man is 



176 IS THERE A POETIC VIEW 

for him more unhappy than criminal ; and his evil 
qualities are to be laid to the charge of the Nature 
that made him. He is more sinned against than 
sinning, and Leopardi's profound pity, if often 
derisive and scornful, never passes into invective. 
His passionate upbraidings of his countrymen in 
the boyish canzone Italy, like his ardent aspiration 
after national glory for his country and poetic 
fame for himself, disappear from the melancholy 
calm of the Bruto Minore and the Ginestra. 

A great and potent spirit 
Shows itself in enduring, nor will add 
Fraternal hatred, worst of evils, to its griefs 
By blaming Man for them, but lay the charge 
On the true culprit, Mother of mankind 
By right of birth, and Stepmother in heart. 

' Nature,' which planted us in this earth, exposed 
us from birth till death to malign afflictions and 
lured us into constant pursuit of illusive aims, is 
responsible for the wrongs which men inflict upon 
one another in the vain chase ; and Leopardi's 
nearest approach to the passion of humanity 
which inspired Shelley, a few years earlier, is the 
cry of appeal to men which breaks from him, after 
uttering this indictment of Nature, to band them- 
selves together against her : 

Her count the foe, and against Her, 

Believing that man's race, as is the truth, 

Was foreordained to be in league, 

Count all mankind as born confederates, 

And embrace all with unfeigned love, 

Rendering and expecting strong and ready succour 

In the changing perils and the anguishes 

Of the common warfare. 1 



1 Gincstra, p. 120. 



OF THE WORLD? 177 

Man in the grip of Nature is like the anthill 
crushed by a chance-falling apple, and the lava 
field of Vesuvius, covering extinct cities, where 
but the broom plant sheds a forlorn fragrance, 
aptly symbolizes the desolate earth he is doomed 
to tread. While this earth itself, a vanishing film 
of vapour in the universe, traverses by its insig- 
nificance his dream of immortality. And his 
humorous irony sports, in the prose dialogues, with 
this annihilating disparity between man's preten- 
sions and the truth. 1 

Yet the effect of Leopardi's work and especially 
of his poetry is at many points subtly to rectify 
his desperate view of the world. He cannot sup- 
press the uprush of pity for those whose career 
in it is prematurely cut short, however his reason 
may persuade him that they are fortunate. 2 The 
noble pathos of the Attic grave monuments, repre- 
senting, for instance, a young girl in the act of 
taking leave of her friends, overpowers the reflec- 
tions of his philosophy, and he wrestles in moving 
verses with the enigma : 

Ah me ! why at the end 
Of paths so grievous, not ordain at least 
A happy goal ? But rather robe in gloom 
And terror that for which through life 
We long as the sole refuge from our woes, 
And show us, yet more dread than the stormy sea, 
The port we make for ? 

A portrait of a beautiful woman, carved also 
upon her tomb, overwhelms him with the wonder 

1 // Copernico. 
1 Sopra un basso relievo, etc. 
12 



178 IS THERE A POETIC VIEW 

of beauty and the paradox of its conversion into 
dust : 

Ah, human nature, how, 

If utterly frail thou art and vile, 

If dust thou art and ashes, is thy heart so great ? 

If thou art noble in part, 

How are thy loftiest impulses and thoughts 

By so ignoble causes kindled and put out ? 1 

Not less acutely he feels the paradox of artistic 
creation. Like Abt Vogler he contemplates the 
4 palace of music ' reared by the performer's hand : 

Desires infinite 

And visions sublime 

It begets in the kindled thought, . . . 

Where along a sea of delight the spirit of man 

Ranges unseen, as some bold swimmer 

For his diversion the deep. . . . 

But a single discord shatters this paradise in a 
moment. Abt Vogler's creation is not shattered ; 
he has played to the end, and put the last stone 
in its place. But it has vanished, and he calls in, 
to save it, his high doctrine of the eternity of 
created beauty. Leopardi has no such faith, and 
he puts the doctrine to a severer test by dissolving 
the spell of beauty before it is complete. Yet he 
feels as acutely as Browning the marvel of the 
musical creation, and that its abrupt dissolution 
does not cancel the significance of its having been 
there at all. He does not openly confess that 
significance, but it stirs in him a tormenting sense 
of anomaly. 

He comes nearer to such confession when he 

speaks of love. His own experience of love was 

1 Sopra tin ritraUo di una bella donna, etc. 



OF THE WORLD? 179 

that of a virginal passion ; the ideal exaltations 
which make every lover something of a poet had 
their way in this great poet unclouded by vulgar 
satiety. He knows well enough that love arrays 
the woman, for the lover, in ideal charms not her 
own ; but instead of lamenting or deriding this 
illusion, as illogically he should have done, he 
glories in it. Love, like music, * reveals the mystery 
of unknown Elysiums,' l but these * lofty images ' 
are accessible only to the man ; woman cannot 
understand them ; for such conceptions there is 
no room in her narrow brow. The stern derider 
of illusions has here no praise for the sex which 
sees things as they are : the unconscious idealist 
in Leopardi takes the side of the ' illusions.' 

And his way of speaking about Love elsewhere 
is less that of the pessimist philosopher than of 
the Platonist poet who sees in it a clue to real 
vision. The pessimist in him does full justice to 
the havoc wrought in the world in Love's name ; 
but after the gods had watched the working of the 
lower love, their cynical gift, Jove sent down 
another Love, * child of Venus Urania,' in pity of 
the noble hearts who were worthy of it, yet rarely 
permitting even to them the happiness it brings 
as ' surpassed in too small a measure by that of 
li< aven.' 2 Love above all else irradiates the waste 
of life, it is * the source of good, of the highest joy 
found in the ocean of existence ' ; it alone holds 
equal bliss for man with Death, which for ever allays 
his ills. 4 Love and Death ' are twin brothers, and 
the fairest things on the earth or under the stars. 1 

1 Asparia. * Storia dell genere umano 

* Amort t Morte. 



180 IS THERE A POETIC VIEW 

Even the memory of love can make ' abhorred old 
age ' endurable, and send a man willingly to the 
scourge or the wheel, as the face of Beatrice could 
make her lover ' happy in the flames.' x Hence 
Love makes the heart ' wise,' for it inspires men 
with the contempt of life : 

4 For no other lord do men face peril 

With such alacrity as for him.' 

Where thou dost help, O Love, courage is born 

Or wakens ; and, against its wont, mankind 

Grows wise in action, not lost in idle thought. 2 

This is not the language of pessimism ; and this 
* wisdom ' inspired by love, which reconciles men 
to courageous death, is something quite other 
than the calculation that death is a release from 
life's ills. That is the suicide's wisdom, not the 
hero's. Leopardi's conception of Love has taken 
up nobler elements than his pessimism could 
supply ; he describes a Triumph of Love over 
Death, not a shrewd perception that Death is the 
easiest way out, or even a blessed port after stormy 
seas. 

Yet Love in its noblest form was given, he knows, 
but to few ; and he himself had known it only as 
a fleeting experience. He knew as a continual 
possession, on the other hand, his own intellectual 
nature, the sovran thought which stripped off the 
illusive shows of things and disclosed to him the 
naked horror of reality undisguised, but filled him 
none the less with the exultation of power, and the 
lofty joy which belongs to discovery even of a tragic 
truth. 

1 Consalvo. * Amore e Morte. 



OF THE WORLD? 181 

Such exaltation finds its most powerful expression 
in the great hymn to ' Thought the Master.' His 
restless and piercing intellect was a double-edged 
instrument. It was not the source of his pessimism, 
but it furnished the remorseless analysis of the 
glories and shows of life which gave its air of 
inevitable logic to his temperamental despair. Yet 
the exercise of the instrument was itself a vivid 
joy, and, like love, created for the wielder a lonely 
earthly paradise within the vast waste of this 
earthly hell. 1 There he wanders, in an enchanted 
light, which blots out his earthly state ; thither 
he returns from the dry and harsh converse with 
the world as from the naked crags of the Apen- 
nines to a joyous garden smiling afar. Is this 
' terrible but precious gift of heaven ' also an 
illusion ? Perhaps ; but it is one ' by nature 
divine,' and capable of possessing us with the 
secure tenacity of truth itself, as long as life 
endures. 1 

In any case it created for him definite and won- 
derful values in the world which detracted danger- 
ously from the consistency of his faith in the world's 
fundamental badness. ' Thought ' was the only 
civilizer ; by thought mankind had actually risen 
out of their primeval barbarism ; 8 it was the 
sole agent in advancing the public welfare. His 
towering disdain for the frivolity and utilitarianism 
of his own age sprang from no mere excess of 
self-esteem ; it was the scorn of one whom * thought ' 

1 'Che paradise 6 quello.' 
1 4 Ma di natuni . . . 

Divina sei,* etc. 
1 Gineatra. 



182 IS THERE A POETIC VIEW 

had lifted to a standpoint of ideal excellence beside 
which all alien impulses seemed intolerable. 1 It 
armed him with a magnanimity which the sight of 
any cowardly or ignoble act stung to the quick, 
which laughed at danger or at death, 2 which could 
endure with resolute Stoicism and antique valour 
the passage through the miseries of life. 3 

But thought had its peculiar joys also, less 
equivocal than these. It fed on the sublimity 
even of the desolate world, on the loneliness of 
nature, on the infinity of the starry depths. In 
the lines on ' The Infinite ' he describes a favourite 
haunt a lonely hill, from which the horizon is on 
all sides cut off. ' There I sit and gaze, fashioning 
in thought boundless distances, superhuman 
silences, and profoundest rest. ... In this im- 
mensity my thought is drowned, and shipwreck in 
that ocean is a joy.' 

And converse with thought gives him, too, the 
vision of ideal beauty a vision which quickens 
the ecstasy of his most rapturous moments. It is 
no pallid dream ; the fairest face he meets seems 
but a feigned image of its countenance, a deriva- 
tive streamlet from the one sole source. 4 That 
ideal beauty is his lady, but he had never seen 
her face, for nothing on the earth is like her, or 
were it like in feature, or in voice, it would be 
less in beauty. 5 Leopardi is here very near to 
Shelley. The visionary ideal of beauty and love 
was not less vividly present to him ; but the sterner 

11 Pensiero Dom. : ' Quasi inlander non posso,' etc. 

II Pensiero Dom.: ' Giammai (Tailor,* etc. 

Bruto Minor e. 

Pens. Dom. ' Quanto piu torno,' etc. 

Alia sua Donna. 



OF THE WORLD? 183 

temper of his pessimism was less easily persuaded 
that it had projected itself into the being of any 
earthly Emilia. The 'Intellectual Beauty' of 
Shelley's hymn had its seat and stronghold in a 
like glow of inner vision, but its c awful loveliness ' 
was more abundantly hinted or disclosed in the 
world of nature and of man, giving * grace and 
truth to life's unquiet dream,' and luring the 
sensitive poet on to the pursuit of a thousand 
fugitive embodiments of its eternal essence. Leo- 
pardi's language, marmoreally clear-cut and aus- 
tere, seems to bear the impress of a mind power- 
fully self-contained, exempt from all seductions of 
the senses, even of colour and melody, calm with 
the resolution of despair. Shelley's language, dis- 
solving form and outline in an ethereal radiance, 
seems the mirror of a self-diffusive genius which 
saw all things through the veil of its own efful- 
gence. Leopardi has been called ' the most clas- 
sical of the romantics ' ; Shelley was in some sense 
the very soul of romanticism. But as this very 
comparison implies, the romantic temper glowed 
in both. In both, the long travail of existence 
was crossed by the exultations of the visionary 
and the idealist. With Leopardi, martyred in 
his prime by painful d . the gloomy shades 

closed in more and more impenetrably upon the 
world of man and nature, and death was happy 
because it was the end of liiV. With Shelley the 
universe grew more and more visibly transfigured 
by a spirit deeply responsive to his own ; all things 
worked and moved in beauty, and were wovm 
through and through with love. In Leopardi's 
more tenacious intellect the negations of a cor- 



184 IS THERE A POETIC VIEW 

roding criticism were less easily overcome. But 
nature, which had armed his brain with that 
corroding criticism flung across it also the rap- 
turous delight in beauty, in love, in the creative 
energy of thought itself, and there were moments 
when poetry transported him beyond the iron 
limits of his creed, to the belief that love and 
beauty and thought are neither illusory nor the 
sources of illusion, but signs and symptoms of an 
ideal reality. 



IV 

The poetry of negations strives instinctively 
towards fuller affirmation : that is the purport of 
our survey hitherto. We have seen in a previous 
essay how Lucretius the poet saw this mechanical 
universe through a transfiguring atmosphere of 
passion and pathos, attachment, regret, not dreamt 
of in his philosophy. 1 And there are signs enough 
that had that philosophy admitted, what it fiercely 
denied, those ideas of a living and personal or 
even divine Nature, or of a universe pervaded 
by God, which respond to poetic apprehension at 
the point where the Epicurean naturalism left it, 
as it were in the lurch, he would have eagerly 
embraced them. 

Now it was precisely those ideas of life and 
personality present in Nature, or even pervading 
the universe, which prevailed among philosophic 
thinkers of the second type, who inquired (to put 

1 The essay on The Poetry of Lucretius in the present volume 
supplements the argument of the present essay at this point, and 
he is merely referred to here. 



OF THE WORLD? 185 

it in the roughest way) not how the world might 
have come about, but what it meant. For the 
answer, infinitely varied in its terms, uniformly 
postulated that the idealism of man reflected 
something answering to it in the very nature of 
reality. Two profound suggestions towards an 
ideal conception of the world, thrown out by the 
genius of Greece, could still intoxicate the intellect 
of early nineteenth-century Germany : the Hera- 
cleitean idea of the harmony of opposites, and the 
Platonic and Stoic doctrine of the soul of the 
world. Of the first I say nothing more here ; 
for Heracleitus, pregnant as his dark sayings are 
with poetry, has never had his Lucretius. 1 The 
doctrine of a world-soul, on the other hand, has 
again and again helped poetry to articulate her 
rapturous apprehension of the glory of the world. 
For European speculation, at least, the conception 
had its origin in the Timceus, where the last per- 
fecting touch of the divinely-appointed artificer 
who constructs the world is to give it a ' soul ' 
and make it ' a blessed god.' 

In the pantheism of the Stoics, the idea of a divine 
world-soul set forth in this grandiose myth became 
a radical dogma, one of the chief sources of their 
significance as an intellectual and moral force. 
At Rome the Stoic pantheism softened the rigour 
of national and social distinctions. The humanity 
of the Roman law lies in the direct line of its 
influence. In the mind of the most sensitive and 

1 His famous illustration, quoted by Plato, is the harmony of the 
lyre brought about by the balance of opposite forces in the strings. 
Plut. Is. et Osir. (quot. Rittcr and Prcller, p. 17), Plat. Symp., 
p. 187. 



186 IS THERE A POETIC VIEW 

tender of Roman poets, on the other hand, the 
Stoic idea fell upon a soil rich in qualities uncon- 
genial, if not unknown, to its native habitat. 
Stoic thought in Vergil, no less than Epicurean 
in Lucretius, has taken the colour of that richer 
soil. The sublime verses which he puts in the 
mouth of Anchises have riveted this solution, if 
such it be, of the world-riddle upon the mind of 
posterity ; but the real contribution of Vergil is 
less in any expressive phrase or image than in the 
diffused magic of a temperament in which all subtle 
and delicate attachments wonderfully throve ; 
where, more than in any other Roman mind, the 
4 threefold reverence ' of Goethe, the reverence for 
what is above us, for what is below us, and for 
our fellow-men, found its congenial home. 

And it is not hard to see how sheer poetic instinct 
drew him this way. His two great masters in 
poetry, Homer and Lucretius, had inspired and 
helped to mould a genius fundamentally unlike 
either. The majestic pageant of the Olympians 
was not at bottom more consonant to his poetry 
than the scorn which tramples on all fear of divinity 
and puts the roar of Acheron under its feet. The 
Jupiter and Venus and Juno and Pallas who so 
efficiently order the changing fortunes of .(Eneas 
are but a splendid decoration, like the Olympian 
figures in Raphael's frescoes at the Farnesina. 
And well as he understands the bliss of the trium- 
phant intellect, of Man become the master of 
things, he is himself content with the humbler 
joys of one who has acquaintance with Pan and 
the Nymphs, with the gods of the woodland and 
the fountain-spring. These were real for him, not 



OF THE WORLD? 187 

it may be with the matter-of-fact reality of the 
senses, but as speaking symbols of something more 
deeply interfused, less articulate than man, but 
more articulate to man's spirit than the fountains 
or the flowers. 

The great pantheistic phrases of Vergil have 
echoed, we know, throughout the after-history of 
poetry. We might even be tempted to say that 
pantheism, in some sense, must be the substance 
of any ' poetic view of the world.' But if so, it 
must be a pantheism which owes at least as much 
to the entranced intuition of the poets as to the 
abstract thinking of philosophy. Their ecstasy of 
the senses, their feasting joy in the moment, and 
in the spot, have enabled them not merely to 
express the creed of pantheism with greater fresh- 
ness and sincerity, but to give it interpretations 
and applications of which theoretic speculation 
never dreamed. We should not prize the great 
lines of Tintern Abbey so far above the eloquent 
platitudes of the Essay on Man if we did not feel 
that Pope was merely putting philosophy at second- 
hand into brilliant verse, while Wordsworth had 
not only reached his thought through his own 
impassioned contemplation, but actually given it 
a new compass and profundity not attainable by 
any logical process. He found his * something 
more deeply interfused ' as he looked with emotion 
too deep for tears upon the humble flower and the 
simple village child, or n iiirinbercd the experience 
of liis own wonderful boyhood; and these ^ 
for him not merely portions of a body of which 
God was the soul, but themselves luminous points, 
or running springs, of spiritual light and lit< . Bo 



188 IS THERE A POETIC VIEW 

that if his poetry touches doctrinal pantheism 
(which he never names) at one pole, at the other 
it is nearer to the spiritual fetishism of St. Francis's 
hymns to Brother Sun and Brother Rain. 

It is easier to distinguish definite philosophic 
ideas at work in the poetic apprehension of Shelley. 
We know in any case that they played an im- 
mensely greater part in his intellectual growth. 
Plato and Dante have helped him to those wonder- 
ful phrases in which he seeks to make articulate 
his rapturous cosmic vision of 

That light, whose smile kindles the universe, 
That Beauty in which all things work and move, 



that sustaining love 

Which thro' the web of Being blindly wove, 
In man and beast and earth and air and sea, 
Burns bright or dim as each are mirrors of 
The fire for which all thirst. 



That is his rendering, translated out of theological 
terms, of the sublime opening lines of the Para- 



The glory of Him who moves the whole, penetrates through 
the universe and is reflected in one part more and in another less. 

But, even so, Shelley is feeling through these 
great words Light, Love, Beauty- towards some- 
thing which none of them can completely convey. 
And in this Shelleyan ' love ' itself, the subtle 
distinctions carried out, as we saw, by Dante 
disappear even more completely than the dramatic 
play of thought in the Symposium disappears in 
the suffused splendour of Spenser's Hymns. In 
logical power Shelley was as little to be compared 



OF THE WORLD? 189 

with Dante as Spenser with Plato. Yet some 
distinctions seem to assert themselves even in 
that ecstatic love-interwoven universe of his. His 
poet's intense consciousness of personality sounds 
clear through the pantheistic harmonies. When he 
is trying to utter as he sees it the sublime paradox 
of the dead but deathless poet, he falls successively, 
heedless of inconsistency, upon symbols drawn from 
the dogmas of antagonistic schools of thought. 
Pantheism, individual immortality, heaven, Ely- 
siumhe draws upon them all, but none suffices. 
The dead poet is made one with Nature, becomes 
a part of the loveliness which once he made more 
lovely ; his voice is heard in the nightingale's 
song. But he is also an individual soul, who has 
passed at death to the abode where the Immortals 
are, and is welcomed there by Chatterton and 
Sidney and Lucan and the rest. A cognate depth 
and reach of apprehension has perplexed the 
discoverers of contradiction in In Memoriam. 
' For the poets,' aptly comments Mr. Bradley, 
though he is thinking chiefly of Shelley and Tenny- 
son, 4 the soul of the dead in being mingled with 
nature does not lose its personality ; in living in 
God it remains human and itself.' l 

In comparison with the magnificent audacities 
of pantheism and cosmic love, the philosophic 
conception of ' Nature ' has enjoyed the position 
of a great authoritative commonplace, by invoking 
which the most mediocre poet could dignify and 
quicken his verse. It belonged to science as much 
as to poetry, and to the poetry of clarified good 
sense by as good right as to that of childlike in- 

1 A Commentary on In Memoriam, In trod. 



190 IS THERE A POETIC VIEW 

tuition. It could stand for the ideal of just expres- 
sion which Pope counselled the poet ' first to 
follow,' as legitimately as, a century later, it was 
to stand for the living presence of Beauty, of 
whose * wedding ' with the soul Wordsworth 
chanted the spousal verse, or as the teeming 
creative energy whose infinity Faust sought vainly 
to clasp. But even that Augustan * Nature ' 
gathered something from the quality of the minds 
which pursued literary discipline by its light, and 
no one doubts that in Wordsworth or in Goethe 
the <f>vais or natura of strictly philosophic specu- 
lation was but the fecund germ of a poetic creation, 
which, whether it answered to a cosmic reality or 
not, answered to deep-seated and ineffaceable 
instincts and needs of man. Only, if great and 
original genius has set its hall-mark upon this 
noble metal, the crowd of small poets have mixed 
it with their feeble alloys. There is a Nature 
which responds to the greatest and sublimest 
aspirations of man, and one which answers to his 
self-indulgent dreams ; a Nature which is wedded 
to his soul, and one which is but the casual mis- 
tress of his light desires. If the term * poetical * 
has a slightly derisive air, it is because a cheap 
glamour, which disguises truth, so often replaces 
the profound symbol which touches its core. A 
truly ' poetic ' World-view has at any rate nothing 
to do with this second-rate romance. 

Among the poetic ways of regarding Nature, 
there are two types, the distinction between which 
concerns us. It is shadowed forth in the two 
images I borrowed just now from Wordsworth and 
from Faust. We may feel Nature as intimately 



OF THE WORLD? 191 

united to us, deep calling to deep. Or we may 
feel it as something which eludes our clasp, but 
holds us by the very appeal of its affinity to that 
which is infinite in ourselves. The first type is 
too familiar to be further discussed here. But the 
second, or Goethean type, needs a few words. 

For it was with Goethe that a new and powerful 
philosophic influence tardily entered modern 
poetry the influence of Spinoza. A quarter of 
a century before Wordsworth and Coleridge were 
overheard talking of him at Nether Stowey, Spinoza 
had found deep springs of sympathy in the young 
Goethe. A vivid passage in Dichtung und Wahrheit 
(Book XIV) tells us that what especially fascinated 
him was * the boundless unselfishness that glowed 
in every sentence,' and notably that * strange 
sentence ' which later suggested a famous retort 
of his Philine ' He who loves God must not expect 
that God shall love him in return.' l Spinoza's 
God meant, roughly, the infinity of Nature, and 
to love God meant to see all things in the light 
of that infinity. Such a dictum therefore cut at 
the root of the whole body of poetry which asserted 
an answering spirit in Nature, from the self- 
indulgent dreams of romantic sentiment to the 
love-interwoven universe of Dante or Shelley. 
The grandeur of Spinoza's conception is apparent 
enough even in his geometrical formulas, but 
Goethe's intense intuition translated it into human 
experiences which stir us to the depths. The 
Erdgeist's retort to Faust 4 Du gleichst dcm Geist 
den du begreifst, nicht mir 'is one of the most 
thrilling in all poetry, not because it indulges all 

1 Wilhclm Mcistcrs Lchrjahrc, iv. 9. 



192 IS THERE A POETIC VIEW 

our wishes, nor yet because it baffles them, but 
because the barrier it opposes to the intellect is 
a gate to the imagination, and we step out into 
a poetic apprehension of the infinity which our 
formulas seek to capture in vain. 

It is by a like suggestion of infinities beyond 
our reach and untouched by our emotions that 
he moves us in poems like Das Gottliche or Die 
Grenzen der Menschheit, or the opening scene of 
the Second Part of Faust, which insist with so lofty 
a calm on our limitations. From these infinities, 
if we wish to live and act, we must turn away, 
and that is what, as a wise physician, Goethe 
bids us do. The intolerable glory of the sun is 
broken up for us in the many-hued rainbow, and 
this refracted light must be the guide of our life. 
But no one could see life there who had not himself 
gazed on the glory of the sun, and while we read 
Goethe's words we evade the very limitations he 
imposes, just as Shelley (in the great kindred 
passage), by the very image which condemns life 
as a dome of many-coloured glass, lifts us into 
the ' white radiance ' beyond. ' A little ring 
bounds our life,' he says elsewhere, * and many 
generations succeed one another on, the endless 
chain of their being.' A little ring on an endless 
chain a ' little life rounded with a sleep,' that 
way lies a poetry as great as that which comes 
to the visionary Celt who sees 6 waving round every 
leaf and tree the fiery tresses of that hidden sun 
which is the soul of the earth.' 1 

But that way, also, lies a poetry of Man, a poetry 
which has its sustaining centre not in the cosmos, 
1 A. E., The Renewal of Youth. 



OF THE WORLD? 193 

but in the soul. To refuse the easy assumption 
of Nature's comradeship in our sorrow, to resign 
the cheap consolations of the * pathetic fallacy,' 
may be the way not merely to resignation, or 
Stoicism, but to an apprehension of the heights 
and depths of the soul thrown back upon itself, 
and fetching strength not from any outer power, 
but from undreamed-of inner resources of its own. 
When Wordsworth, in the grasp of a great sorrow, 
puts aside the glamour of the poet's dream, in 
order to bear with fortitude ' what is to be borne,' 
he has taken a step towards that poetry. When 
he finds in suffering * the nature of infinity,' with 
gracious avenues opening out of it to wondrous 
regions of soul life, he has entered it. 1 



We have thus watched the modification of 
naturalistic atomism, of pessimistic materialism, 
and of the cosmic conceptions of ' pantheism ' and 
* Nature,' by the immediate intuition, the eager 
senses, and the vivid soul-consciousness which 
characterize the poetic apprehension. It remains 
to glance, finally, at the relations of poetry with 
that third type of philosophic system, in which 
soul-consciousness itself has played the guiding 
and master part. 

It was with the assertion of the soul's predom- 
inance that European philosophy, in the full sense 
of the word, began. When Socrates turned from 
the cosmic speculations of the lonians to found 
his * thinking-shop ' at Athens, and chaffed Anax- 

1 The lines from The Borderers arc in fact, of course, earlier than 
those from Pcdt Castle. 

13 



194 IS THERE A POETIC VIEW 

agoras for having put mind at the head of things 
and then given it nothing to do, he was preparing 
the way, we know, for the magnificent soul-sove- 
reignty established by the master of all idealists. 
Plato set up a trenchant dualism between soul 
and sense, and thrust the sense-world into a limbo 
of disparagement from which, where his spell 
prevailed, it never emerged. The body was the 
soul's prison ; the sense cheated it with illusion 
and dragged it down with base desires. 

The Transcendentalists of modern Germany 
established a soul-autocracy differently conceived, 
and founded upon other postulates, but not less 
absolute. Kant shattered the claims of Ver stand, 
but only to enthrone Vernunft; Fichte found 
nothing real and nothing good that was not rooted 
in heroic will ; Schopenhauer built up a philosophy 
of self-effacement and world-flight on the doctrine 
that the will to live which tortures us is also the 
malign indwelling energy of the world. And none 
of them surpassed in calm audacity the claims 
made for individual reason by Fichte's English 
contemporary, Godwin. 

Speculation of this type was already allied to 
poetry by the boldness of its ' subjective idealism,' 
and it might be expected that its points of fruitful 
contact with poetry would be correspondingly 
numerous. Yet this is hardly, on the whole, the 
case. If Plato's influence on poetry is hard to 
measure, if Kant taught something vital to 
Schiller, and Schopenhauer to Wagner, ' subjective ' 
philosophers and poets in the main pursued their 
common preoccupation with soul along paths which 
rarely crossed. Each brought to the exploration 



OF THE WORLD ? 195 

of that marvellous mine a lamp of extraordinary 
power ; but they carried it into different regions, 
surveyed them on different methods, and returned 
with different results. Poets without any scientific 
psychology have, in virtue of imaginative insight 
into the ways of character, created a mass of 
psychological material with which scientific psy- 
chology has only begun to cope. It is only among 
poetic portrayers of the second rank, such as 
Jonson and the allegorists, that theoretic categories 
of character have had any determining weight. 
The supreme characters of literature are true 
creations, creations that are at the same time 
discoveries pieces of humanity which exceed 
Nature's * reach,' perhaps, but not her * grasp.' 
Prometheus, Hamlet, Satan, Faust, permanently 
enlarged the status of the human soul in our 
common valuation of life. That 'discovery of 
Man ' which intoxicated the Renascence was pre- 
eminently a discovery of the stature of man's soul 
' how noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, 
... in action how like an angel, in apprehension 
how like a god ! ' but philosophic ideas hardly 
touched the surface of either Shakespeare or 
Marlowe, and they furnished but one strand in 
the woof of the mind of Milton. 

In the English poetry of the time of Wordsworth 
there is more affinity to philosophic ideas, but 
their actual influence is apt to be strongest just 
where the poetry itself is lenst intense. In a 
very luminous lecture Mr. Bradley has traced the 
relation between the two movements. 1 An 



1 / f German Philosophy in the Age of Words* 

worth (Manchester I 



196 IS THERE A POETIC VIEW 

faith in soul possessed and inspired both, but each 
was in the main unconscious of the other. In the 
poetry of his own countryman, Schiller, Kant's 
austere ideas reappear transformed in the crucible 
of the poet's livelier emotions or quicker sense of 
beauty. Coleridge drank as deeply of Kantian 
and cognate ideas, but only when the brief chapter 
of his creative poetry was all but closed ; while the 
magnificent prose-poem in which Carlyle conveyed 
the philosophy of Fichte-Jean-Paul-Teufelsdrockh 
stands alone. What Wordsworth may have drawn 
through Coleridge's talk is not clearly distin- 
guishable from the original bent of his own mind 
The two streams ran courses largely parallel, but 
in distinct though adjacent valleys. With Godwin's 
ideas, on the other hand, both Wordsworth, Blake, 
and Shelley had stood in close intellectual relations. 
And these were precisely the men whose poetry set 
the deepest impress upon their view of life. 

Is it possible by the help of either the parallel 
or the derivative relationship to lay down any 
common features in the process ? 

In the first place, the stress on the exaltation 
of spirit is shifted by the poets, and with great 
emphasis, from c reason,' the instrument of philo- 
sophy, to imagination. Reason is constantly not 
merely ignored but openly slighted. It is not 
what they mean when they exalt ' mind.' When 
Wordsworth tells us, in the great Recluse passage, 
of the awe, beyond Empyrean or Erebus, with 
which he contemplated ' the mind of man ' ; when 
he sees the heroic devotion of the fallen Toussaint 
perpetuated in * man's inconquerable mind ' ; when 
he encourages those who doubted Spanish heroism 



OF THE WORLD? 197 

with the sublime assurance that * the true sorrow 
of humanity consists in this : not that the mind 
of man fails, but that the course and demands of 
life so rarely correspond with the dignity and 
intensity of human desires ' ; by this * mind ' he 
means imagination, passion, heroic will, but not 
discourse of reason. Wordsworth, apprehending 
soul with his poet's intuition, apprehends it as he 
knew it in himself. He saw it, therefore, as an 
energy operating not through 4 meddling intellect ' 
but through vision and vision-illuminated will, 
with open eye and ear for its indispensable asso- 
ciates, and love as its core. The * soul ' whereby 
alone the nations shall be great and free was 
something in which the humblest peasant and the 
simplest child had part, and in which the meanest 
flower struck answering chords. It is not accident 
that the soul-animated England of Wordsworth's 
ideal is so utterly unlike Hegel's Prussian state. 

In William Blake soul-autocracy became aggres- 
sive and revolutionary, and the breach with reason, 
philosophic or other, widened to a yawning gulf. 
Whether he is declaring * the world of imagination 
to be the world of eternity,' scoffing at the nature- 
lover who sees ' with ' not ' through ' the eye, or 
affirming that * to generalize is to be an idiot ' 
(a stupendous example of the procedure he derides) 
he stands for a poetry stripped bare of all that 
allies it either to philosophy or to common sense. 
His prophetic books adumbrate a grandiose poetic 
metaphysic, a world-system framed to the pos- 
tulates of this denuded poetry. And Shelley's 
Apology enthrones imagination as the creator and 
upholder of all civilization, 



198 IS THERE A POETIC VIEW 

Secondly, the poetic shifting of the stress, within 
the domain of the autocratic soul, from reason 
to imagination and feeling, told powerfully upon 
the ethical ideals proclaimed by this group of 
poets. It added fresh impetus to that disposition 
to override or transcend external standards of 
morality which is inherent in all vivid inner con- 
sciousness. Moral distinctions fade in the inner 
illumination of the mystic. We have seen hints 
of such a ' transvaluation of ethical values ' dis- 
arranging the iron categories of Dante's Hell. 
Applied to Hamlet or Othello, the traditional 
categories of good and evil break in our hands. 
Milton's heroic devil, and the lovers whom Brown- 
ing scorns for being saved by their sloth from 
crime, still perplex the moralist. But the poets 
of the Revolution are openly sceptical of morality. 
Of Shelley I need not speak. Even Wordsworth 
makes a hero of a murderer. And Blake first 
proclaimed explicitly, a century before Nietzsche, 
a good ' beyond good and evil,' and figured the 
inauguration of this transcendent ethic in the 
colossal symbolism of his Marriage of Heaven and 
Hell. 

In all these writers, it is true, their attitude to 
morality was in part derived from the bias towards 
emancipation then current in all departments of 
ethical, social, and political life, and had no relation 
to specifically poetic apprehension. c Freedom ' 
was an ideal for Godwin and for Robespierre, as 
well as for Shelley and for Kant, and was pursued 
by them with equal devotion in their several 
fashions. But they all, also, understood it in the 
light of their several preoccupations. With Godwin, 



OF THE WORLD? 199 

as with Robespierre, it is mainly negative ; with 
Shelley, as with Kant, it acquires positive sub- 
stance and content. And this is because both 
philosopher and poet see it as the means to some 
perfection of the soul. The soul-autocracy of the 
age, extravagant as it might be, is seen at its 
noblest in the Kantian freedom won through 
duty, and in the Shelleyan freedom won through 
Love. The Kantian ideal of freedom interpreted 
in that last conclusion of Goethe's wisdom' He 
alone is free who daily wins his freedom anew '- 
has passed into the very substance of the strenuous 
German mind. The Shelleyan ideal is of a rarer 
but also of a more perilous stuff, and has touched 
no such chords in the English character as his 
music has stirred in the English ear. But some- 
thing of the genius of both ideals was gathered up 
and concentrated in Wordsworth's great affirma- 
tion of the meaning of national freedom. 

Wordsworth's sense of law corrects what is 
anarchic in Shelley, as Shelley's flame-like ardour 
corrects what is prosaic and common in W r ords- 
worth. Together they present more purely than 
any of their contemporaries the noble substance 
of a poetic ethic. In that poetic ethic the greatest 
word, rightly understood, is still the Shelleyan 
Love. 

And it may be that if there is any ideal which, 
springing from poetic apprehension, is yet fit, 
rightly interpreted, tor tin- common needs of men, 
it is that ' love of love ' on which Tennyson, so 
far always from the revolutionary temper either in 
love or poetry, set his finger in his early prime, 
as the sovereign endowment of the poet. Only 



200 IS THERE A POETIC VIEW 

it must be love wide enough to include every kind 
of spiritual energy by which the soul, transcending 
itself, fulfils itself, and exerts, whether upon men 
or nations, its liberating and uplifting power : the 
love which creates, and the love which endures ; 
the love which makes the hero or the artist, and that 
which spends itself inexhaustibly on a thankless 
cause ; the impersonal ardour of the mind, which 
Spinoza called the 4 intellectual love of God,' and 
the impassioned union of souls, which to some 
has seemed a clue to the vision of reality, and to 
others the surest pledge of a future life ; the love 
of country which distinguishes the true service of 
humanity from a shallow cosmopolitanism ; and 
the love of our fellow men, which distinguishes 
true patriotism from national greed. To have had 
no mean share in sustaining this large ideal of the 
4 soul ' which makes us free is an enduring glory 
of the poets. 

Nor is this strange if, as I trust this partial 
survey may have served to suggest, the spiritual 
energy transcending itself, for which Love is the 
most adequate name, be the core of the World- 
view towards which, from their various religious 
or philosophic vantage-grounds, a number of poetic 
master-spirits have made an approach. Whether 
they have found it as a light kindling the universe, 
like Dante and Shelley ; or as a creative power 
shadowed forth in the eternal new birth of all 
things, like Lucretius ; or as the will and passion 
of the human soul, heroically shaping its fate, 
and divining its infinity most clearly when most 
aware of its limitations, like Goethe ; in some form 
the faith that spiritual energy is the heart of 



OF THE WORLD? 201 

reality was the centre towards which they know- 
ingly or obscurely strove. Such a faith, I suggest, 
will be found to be a vital constituent of every 
view of the world reached by a poet through his 
poetic experience, and the main contribution of 
that rich, profound, and intense form of experience 
to man's ultimate interpretation of life. 



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