Essays on Literature and Society

Essays on Literature and Society

Essays on Literature and Society

Essays on Literature and Society

Excerpt

HENRYSON'S poetry has two main virtues; one the property of his age, the other more specifically his own. The first is as important as the second. He lived near the end of a great age of settlement, religious, intellectual and social; an agreement had been reached regarding the nature and meaning of human life, and the imagination could attain harmony and tranquillity. It was one of those ages when everything, in spite of the practical disorder of life, seems to have its place; the ranks and occupations of men; the hierarchy of animals; good and evil; the earth, heaven and hell; and the life of man and of the beasts turns naturally into a story because it is part of a greater story about which there is general consent. Henryson, like Chaucer, exists in that long calm of storytelling which ended with the Renaissance, when the agreement about the great story was broken. There is still an echo of the tranquillity in Spenser. But in The Faerie Queene he' deals with the delightful creatures of his fancy, and Chaucer and Henryson deal with men and women, wolves and sheep, cats and mice.

The virtue of the story while it lasted was that it made everything natural, even tragedy; so that while pity had a place, there was no place for those outcries against life which fill the tragic drama of the next age. The framework and the nature of the story excluded them. And the pity itself is different from that of the Elizabethans, as deep, but tranquillised by the knowledge that tragedy has its place in the story. The poet accepts life, as the Elizabethans tried to do, but is also . . .

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