Readers who did not follow closely Croce's intellectual career would perhaps find it difficult to appreciate fully the importance of La poesia, unless they are brought up to date concerning the author's thought as it evolved up to the time of the publication of the work. This introduction, addressed mainly to such readers, is meant to provide a broad outline of the major steps through which Croce's esthetic theory unfolded, of the problems it raised, and of the contribution La poesia represents in the total picture of the theory.
No serious system of ideas or theoretical doctrine in any field of intellectual endeavor has ever come into being fully developed in all its parts and in all its possibilities. Every conception, however illuminating and well founded, must always struggle its way through to maturity. Croce's theory of art is no exception. Students of his philosophy speak of a first, a second, a third, and even a fourth Crocean esthetics (or phases of it). "The first esthetics," wrote Luigi Russo, "is that of 1900, the Tesi fondamentali;1the second is that of the Breviary of Aesthetics of 1912,2 to which the Nuovi saggi d'estetica of 1920 must be attached;3 the third is the Aesthetica in nuce written in 1928,4 to which various pieces of research collected in Ultimi saggi ( 1935) are related;5 the fourth is the one having as its central volume La poesia, to which essays of these last years and the years to come are probably associated."6Croce himself, in a note added to the end of his essay "Pure Intuition and the Lyrical Character of Art," stated: "This is the first integration of my Aesthetic of 1900; a second integration is found in my essay of 1918, 'The Character of Totality of Artistic Expression' (now in Nuovi saggi d'estetica), a third in the book La poesia ( 1936), in which the distinction between art and literature is more precisely indicated. I use the term "integration" because in none of these further developments have I ever felt the need to abandon or change the principles which I had already set forth; I needed only to go deeper and expand them."7 And years later,____________________