The Romantic Movement in English Poetry

By Arthur Symons | Go to book overview

THE ROMANTIC MOVEMENT IN ENGLISH POETRY

INTRODUCTION

I

COLERIDGE defined prose as 'words in good order,' poetry as 'the best words in the best order.' But there is no reason why prose should not be the best words in the best order. Rhythm alone, and rhythm of a regular and recurrent kind only, distinguishes poetry from prose. It was contended by an Oxford professor of poetry, Mr. W. J. Courthope, that the lines of Marlowe, --

'Was this the face that launched a thousand ships,
And burned the topless towers of Ilium?'

are of a different substance from the substance of prose, and that it is certain that Marlowe 'could only have ventured on the sublime audacity that a face launched ships and burned towers by escaping from the limits of ordinary language, and conveying his metaphor through the harmonious and ecstatic movement of rhythm and metre.' To this it may be answered that any writer of elevated prose, Milton or Ruskin, could have said in prose precisely what Marlowe said in verse, and could have made fine prose of it: the imagination, the idea, a fine kind of form, would have been there; only one thing would have been lacking, the very finest kind of form, the form of verse. It would have been poetical substance, not poetry; the rhythm transforms it into poetry, and nothing but the rhythm.

When Wordsworth declares, in the Preface to the 'Lyrical Ballads,' that 'there neither is nor can be any essential differ

-3-

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The Romantic Movement in English Poetry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • Introduction 3
  • Index 341
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