The Fire and the Fountain: An Essay on Poetry

The Fire and the Fountain: An Essay on Poetry

The Fire and the Fountain: An Essay on Poetry

The Fire and the Fountain: An Essay on Poetry


WILLIAM BLAKE has told us how artists, and other men who are blessed with the Divine Vision, experience an Eternal Moment:

For in this Period the Poet's Work is Done, and all the Great
Events of Time start forth & are conceiv'd in such a Period,
Within a Moment, a Pulsation of the Artery. . . .

The purpose of this book is to estimate the significance of this Moment for the poet, and to trace the way that a poem grows in his mind. Blake, with his hatred of logical analysis, might indeed have objected that a poem does not grow by discernible stages, since it is given to the poet in an instantaneous flash by the Angels of God when the doors of our perception have been cleansed:

Just in this Moment, when the morning odours rise abroad, And first from the Wild Thyme, stands a Fountain in a rock Of crystal flowing into two Streams. . . .

Yet even if we accept the truth of Blake's doctrine that the poetic process is a mystery which the analytic faculty is powerless to solve, we may still endeavour to learn what distinguishes a poet from his fellow men and how his senses come to be so renovated and cleansed that a poem may rise in him like a fountain. We may discover that a poem presents itself to a poet in a variety of guises and that, even if we can discern the moment when it begins to take shape in the poet's conscious mind, its true origin lies farther back and deeper down, in a childhood experience or in a racial memory. Finally, remembering that even Blake, with his unwavering belief in heavenly guidance, worked incessantly to convey the minute particulars of the Divine Vision with the utmost clarity, we may study the methods by which the poet deliberately shapes what he has been given into the distinct outlines of a perfected work of art.

The belief that the poet is directly inspired by divine agencies has been held at all times and in all places. Isaiah describes how he could proclaim the Word of God only when his unclean lips had been purified by a seraph with a live coal in his hand, and Milton

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