Georgic Tradition in English Poetry

Georgic Tradition in English Poetry

Georgic Tradition in English Poetry

Georgic Tradition in English Poetry

Excerpt

There was reason for Matthew Arnold's warning against the "historical estimate": there is a real danger in the tendency to exaggerate the artistic importance of a work because of its distance from us in time. Arnold did not speak of a converse tendency, equally real. The historical importance of a work may be minimized because it has fallen radically out of line with current concepts in taste and art. Perhaps it is especially easy to minimize the historical importance of didactic and descriptive poetry. Lessing's objections against the descriptive form seem to have permanent validity, rooted as they are in psychological law. What Warton, Bowles, Arnold and others said of Pope tended to discredit all the didactic forms of the eighteenth century. "Not doctrine, but inspiration" became the accepted definition of the aim and method of poetry. Since the first triumph of romanticism there has been little evidence of tendency to bring back "mankind" rather than individual man as the primary subject matter of English poetry. We still explore paths and by-ways of romantic individualism, even into artistic caprice and idiosyncrasy. It is necessary to break away from contemporaneity to examine without prejudice an age when the didactic function in general was assumed as a premise of poetic art.

Almost all poets of the eighteenth century were didactic poets. The practical impulse of the rising middle class merged with the practical impulse which underlay the great models of Roman literature; even the forms of Roman poetry -- satire, epistle, philosophical and moral verse, didactic epic -- came into vogue. It is not easy to differentiate the kinds of didactic poetry. Addison, Tickell, Joseph Trapp, and Joseph Warton all differ in their attempts to classify such verse into definite categories according to subject matter, agreeing only in accepting the Horatian canon of "delight and instruction" for poetry in general. Perhaps the most reasonable classification would be based on form rather than subject matter. Many poets of the period adopted the forms of Horatian or Juvenalian satire for ethical instruction. Many used the informal epistle or the Horatian "ode" for a similar purpose. The informality and "artful negligence" of the Ars poetica attracted many writers on the theory and practice of various arts. The epic of . . .

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