Preface to Lyrical Ballads By William Wordsworth contd. | Sunday Observer

Preface to Lyrical Ballads By William Wordsworth contd.

If in a Poem there should be found a series of lines, or even a single line, in which the language, though naturally arranged and according to the strict laws of metre, does not differ from that of prose, there is a numerous class of critics, who, when they stumble upon these prosaisms as they call them, imagine that they have made a notable discovery, and exult over the Poet as over a man ignorant of his own profession. Now these men would establish a canon of criticism which the Reader will conclude he must utterly reject, if he wishes to be pleased with these volumes. And it would be a most easy task to prove to him, that not only the language of a large portion of every good poem, even of the most elevated character, must necessarily, except with reference to the metre, in no respect differ from that of good prose, but likewise that some of the most interesting parts of the best poems will be found to be strictly the language of prose, when prose is well written. The truth of this assertion might be demonstrated by innumerable passages from almost all the poetical writings, even of Milton himself. I have not space for much quotation; but, to illustrate the subject in a general manner, I will here adduce a short composition of Gray, who was at the head of those who by their reasonings have attempted to widen the space of separation betwixt Prose and Metrical composition, and was more than any other man curiously elaborate in the structure of his own poetic diction.

In vain to me the smiling mornings shine,

And reddening Phoebus lifts his golden fire:

The birds in vain their amorous descant join,

These ears alas! for other notes repine;

A different object do these eyes require;  

My lonely anguish melts no heart but mine;

And in my breast the imperfect joys expire;

Yet Morning smiles the busy race to cheer,

And new-born pleasure brings to happier men;

The fields to all their wonted tribute bear;

To warm their little loves the birds complain.

 

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