The True Voice of Feeling: Studies in English Romantic Poetry

By Herbert Read | Go to book overview

Introduction

My intention in the first part of this volume is to trace the discovery and evolution of 'organic form' in English poetry. What I mean by organic form will, I hope, soon emerge. I believe it to be the specific form of modern poetry, in so far as this poetry is specifically modern. But I would like to suggest that what is specifically modern about our poetry is not the form as such, but rather a realization that form is the natural effect of the poet's integrity. So what we are to be concerned with is not so much 'the life of forms', to use the phrase of a French art historian ( Henri Focillon), but rather the form of life. From the beginning of the modern period in English poetry, which for practical purposes we may take as the year 1798, it has been a question, not of adopting this or that form of composition, but of believing enough in what one feels (the phrase is Yeats's) and of knowing and expressing the feeling accurately.

Sincerity is not, of course, a modern prerogative; nor, indeed, is organic form in poetry. But I assume that in so far as the poetry of the past is sincere, to that extent it is organic in form. The evolution of Shakespeare's poetic technique is to be interpreted in this sense. But I do not assume that all good poetry is necessarily organic in form; nor that all good poets are necessarily sincere. There is another alternative and defensible attitude in literature, and in life. We might call it sophistry. The word 'sophist' is now a term of abuse, but originally it denoted a perfectly respectable type of philosopher. The sophist was a philosopher who did not claim to know the truth--he did not believe that it was knowable; but he was

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