Classical Influences on English Poetry

By J. A. K. Thomson | Go to book overview

CHRAPTER FOUR
DIDACTIC POETRY

THE purpose of didactic poetry is, or was, to convey information; from which one is prone to draw the conclusion that it must be the invention of an educated age. The opposite is true; it is the uneducated, not the educated, who delight in the poetry of information. Consider how much of mediaeval literature consists in just that. Much that we now read for pleasure was first heard for profit or instruction. Even among so artistic a people as the Greeks we find that the Muses were the daughters of Memory. They were supposed to 'know everything'--the expression is Homer's--and when he invokes his Muse the appeal is not that he be inspired, but that he be informed. A primitive society, having no written records, must remember its traditions or lose its spiritual identity, and they are most easily remembered when they are put into verse. We cannot wonder that didactic poetry is very old. The earliest European representative of it is the Greek Hesiod, whose date is uncertain--perhaps the second half of the eighth century before Christ. The authenticity of the numerous works attributed to Hesiod has been much debated, and it seems best to treat him here as the founder of a kind or school of epic poetry rather than as the author of any particular poem or poems. The most certainly his is that in which we are most interested, the poem called Works and Days. The 'works' are tilling the ground, the 'days' are lucky and unlucky dates. In the midst of his practical instructions the poet offers a great deal of moralising advice suitable for people living in a small way upon the soil. In construction, where Homer is so great, Hesiod is totally incompetent. The Works and Days would be the merest jumble, if it were not in some measure held together by the sequence of the seasons, for each season

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Classical Influences on English Poetry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Preface 5
  • Contents 7
  • Chapter One - The Epic 9
  • Chapter Two - The Epic Tradition in Antiquity 30
  • Chapter Three - The Epic Tradition in Modern Times: Milton 53
  • Chrapter Four - Didactic Poetry 75
  • Chapter Five - Tragedy 97
  • Chapter Six - Comedy 119
  • Chapter Seven - Lyric Poetry 138
  • Chapter Eight - Elegiac Poetry 159
  • Chapter Nine - The Pastoral 172
  • Chapter Ten - Satire 196
  • Chapter Eleven - The Epigram 239
  • Appendix 247
  • Index 265
  • Author's Quoted 270
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