The Faces of the Poet
THE PROBLEM OF personae is closely related to the problem of the nature of human personality. In one sense, surely, people are what they appear; in one sense, too, the poet is what he seems to be in his poems. In both instances the person is what he does; his actions define him. But as soon as we begin to interpret those actions, we begin to lose our objectivity in observing him. A man says "Oh!" or commits a murder. If we merely observe these facts, we can state them without severe distortion; but we usually feel that mere objective statement is inaccurate, that the lack of distortion is itself distortion because the fact is, if not misinterpreted, also not fully described. We want to locate the word or the action in a universe of words and actions, to relate it intelligibly to other data we have observed and to other interpretations (possibly mistaken and certainly incomplete) that we have made. In order to understand anything at all about a person, we must develop a view of his conduct as a whole and relate our interpretation of him to our interpretation of other people and other things. Sometimes we formulate these views in words, and sometimes we merely assume them, unspoken, as the never articulated but continually revised bases of all our own relevant actions.
Persons, poems, and ideas have similar effects on our grasp of things: all of them alter in some way the struc