PART III
A Brief Survey of the Background of Poetry in English

In his irregular ode, Alexander's Feast, Dryden represents Alexander the Great as swayed by one emotion after another according to the various moods induced by the music of his bard, Timotheus. The history of poetry begins with the bards, who took an active and inspiriting part in great battles and events at court. Taillefer, William the Conqueror's minstrel, who is pictured in the Bayeux tapestry, won permission to strike the first blow at the battle of Hastings. He led the Norman army, singing of the great deeds of Charlemagne and Roland until he perished in the melée. Edward Gibbon , in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, has this to say about the wild, Germanic tribes of about 300 A.D., some of whom were to become the ancestors of the modern English: "The immortality so vainly promised by the priests was in some degree conferred by the bards. That singular order of men has most deservedly attracted the attention of all who have attempted to investigate the antiquities of the Celts, the Scandinavians, and the Germans. Their genius and character, as well as the reverence paid to that important office, have been sufficiently illustrated. But we can not so easily express, or even conceive, the enthusiasm of arms and glory which they kindled in the breast of their audience. Among a polished people, a taste for poetry is rather an amusement of the fancy than a passion of the soul. And yet, when in calm retirement we peruse the combats described by Homer and Tasso, we are insensibly seduced by the fiction, and feel a momentary glow of martial ardour. . . . It was in the hour of battle, or in the feast of victory, that the bards celebrated

-119-

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In Pursuit of Poetry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Foreword vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Contents *
  • Part I - The Magic of Words 1
  • Part II - The Elements of Verse 31
  • Part III - A Brief Survey of The Background of Poetry in English 119
  • Part IV - Poetry in the Twentieth Century 172
  • Some Recommended Reading 219
  • Index 223
  • About the Author *
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