SPr 21-43.


When I bring into play what my late pastors and masters would term, in classic sweetness, my `unmitigated gall', and by virtue of it venture to speak of a `New Method in Scholarship', I do not imagine that I am speaking of a method by me discovered. I mean, merely, a method not of common practice, a method not yet clearly or consciously formulated, a method which has been intermittently used by all good scholars since the beginning of scholarship, the method of Luminous Detail, a method most vigorously hostile to the prevailing mode of today — that is, the method of multitudinous detail, and to the method of yesterday, the method of sentiment and generalisation. The letter is too inexact and the former too cumbersome to be of much use to the normal man wishing to live mentally active.

Axioms are the necessary platitudes of any science, and, as all sciences must start from axioms, most serious beginnings are affairs sententious, and pedagogical, bear with me a little; let me write a few pages of commonplace, of things which we all know and upon which we for the most part agree, and if you endure to the end of them you will know upon what section of our common knowledge I am to build the airy fabric of my heresies. The former may not amuse you, but, in tolerance await, I ask you, for the irritation of the latter. These things pertain not only to education — always a painful and unpleasant process, but to an art not always the reverse.

The aim of right education is to lead a man out into more varied, more intimate contact with his fellows. The result of education, in the present and usual sense, is usually to rear between the `product of education' and the unproduced, a barrier, a chevaux de frise of books and of mutual misunderstanding. This refers chiefly to education in what are still called the `humanities`', to processes by which, upon being examined, one becomes 'bachelor' or 'master' of the 'liberal arts' or even `one learned in philosophy' In matters of technical and practical education where the object is to make a man more efficiently useful to the community, things are better managed: there is here some obvious gauge of the result.

If a man owned mines in South Africa he would know that his labourers dug up a good deal of mud and an occsional jewel, looking rather like the mud about it. If he shipped all the mud and uncut stones northward and dumped them in one heap on the shore of Iceland, in some inaccessible spot, we should not consider him commercially sound. In my own departmerit of scholarship I sh should say the operations are rather of this complexion. There are many fine things discovered, edited, and buried. Much very dull `literature' is treated in like manner. They are dumped in one museum and certain learned men rejoice in the treasure. They also complain of a lack of public interest in their operations. But let us finish our objecting. Obviously we must know accurately a great number of minute facts about any subject if we are really to know it. The drudgery and minutiae of method concern only the scholar. But when it comes presenting matter to the public, to the intelligent, over-busy public, bonae voluntatis, there are certain forms of civility, consideration, and efficiency to be considered.

Any fact is, in a sense, significant . An fact may be `symptomatic', but certain facts give one a sudden insight into circumjacent conditions, into their causes, their effects, into sequence, and law.

So-and-so was, in such-and-such a year, elected Doge. So-and-so killed the tyrant. So-and-so was banished for embezzling State funds. So-and-so embezzled but was not banished. These statements may contain germs of drama, certain suggestions of human passion or habit, but they are reticent, they tell us nothing we did not know, nothing which enlightens us. They are of any time and any country. By reading them with the blanks filled in with the names written, we get no more intimate acquaintance with the temper of any period; but when in Burckhardt we come upon a passage `In this year the Venetians refused to make war upon the Milanese because they held that any war between buyer and seller must prove profitable to neither,' we come upon a portent, the old order changes, one conception of war and of the State begins to decline. The Middle Ages imperceptibly give ground to the Renaissance. A ruler owning a State and wishing to enlarge his possessions, could under one rιgime, in a manner opposed to sound economy, make war; but commercial sense is sapping this rιgime In the history of the development of civilisation or of literature, we come upon such interpreting detail. A few dozen facts of this nature give us intelligence of the period — a kind of intelligence not to be gathered from a great array of facts of the other sort. These facts are hard to find. They are swift and easy of transmission. They govern knowledge as the switchboard governs an electric circuit.

If on no ther grounds than this, namely, that the eye-sight is valuable, we should read less, far less than we do. Moreover, the best of knowledge is `in the air', or if not the best, at least the leaven.

Being what we are, we have in certain matters an Accuracy of Sentiment. `Wireless', `Automobile', `Chippendale', `Figures out of Ζschylus', are terms which convey to us definite meanings, which they would not convey to creatures of our own faculty but of an earlier time, or different in customs and in culture. `Derby', `Boxing Day', `Bank-holiday', are arcana to a citizen of Oshkosh, as are `Greece before Pericles', `The Eighth Century', `Trobar clus', `sublimation' to the general reader.

Certain knowledge comes to us very easily, and we no longer think of an automobile as having a door at the back. We are, that is, modern; if we desire accuracy of sentiment about a certain picture we go to see it, if it is inaccessible we buy a photograph and make allowance for the lack of colour, we read the date of painting, the artist's name, and begin our concept of the art of a certain place and time, a concept to be enlarged and modified by whatever other masterpieces we see of like place and time, of like place, before and after, of like time and different place. A few days in a good gallery are more illuminating than years would be if spent in reading a description of these pictures. Knowledge which cannot be acquired in some such manner as that of visiting galleries is relegated to the specialist or to his shadow, the dilettante.

As for myself, I have tried to clear up a certain messy place in the history of literature; I have tried to make our sentiment of it more accurate. Accuracy of sentiment here will make more accurate the sentiment of the growth of literature as a whole, and of the Art of poetry. I am more interested in the Arts than in the histories of developments of this and that, for the Arts work on life as history works on the development of civilisation and literature. The artist seeks out the luminous detail and presents it. He does not comment. His work remains the permanent basis of psychology and metaphysics. Each historian will `have ideas' — presumably different from other historians — imperfect inductions, varying as the fashions, but the luminous details remain unaltered. As scholarship has erred in presenting all detail as if of equal import, so also in literature, in a present school of writing we see a similar tendency. But this is aside the mark.

I am more interested in life than in any part of it. As an artist I dislike writing prose. Writing prose is an art, but it is not my art. One word more of the plan I have followed in it. I have, if you will, hung my gallery, a gallery of photographs, of perhaps not very good photographs, but of the best I can lay hold of.

In `The Spirit of Romance' I attempted to present certain significant data on mediaeval poetry in Southern Europe, of the troubadours, of the Tuscans, of Villon, and, coming on to the Renaissance, of Lope de Vega, of Camoens, of certain poets who wrote in Latin — to make a sort of chemical spectrum of their art. I have since augmented this study with translations from Guido Cavalcanti and Arnaut Daniel. I have allowed it to impinge on my own poetry in `Canzoni', which is a great fault in the eyes of those critics who think I should be more interested in the poetry which I write myself than in `fine poetry as a whole'.

Personally, I think the corpus poetarum of more importance than any cell or phalange, and shall continue in sin.

I have, moreover, sought in Anglo-Saxon a certain element which has transmuted the various qualities of poetry which have drifted up from the south, which has sometimes enriched and made them English, sometimes rejected them, and refused combination. This further work of mine will appear in part in book form, in part in these columns. I shall also set forth some defence of a hope which I have that this sort of work may not fail utterly to be of service to the living art. For it is certain that we have had no `greatest poet' and no `great period' save at, or after, a' time when many people were busy examining the media and the traditions of the art.


In my opening chapter I said that there were certain facts or points, or `luminous details', which governed knowledge as the switchboard the electric circuit. In the study of the art of letters these points are particular works or the works of particular authors.

Let us suppose a man, ignorant of painting, taken into a room containing a picture by Fra Angelico, a picture by Rembrandt, one by Velasquez, Memling, Rafael, Monet, Beardsley, Hokusai, Whistler, and a fine example of the art of some forgotten Egyptian. He is told that this is painting and that every one of these is master-work. He is, if a thoughtful man, filled with confusion. These things obey no common apparent law. He confesses, if intelligent, to an ignorance of the art of painting. If he is a natural average human he hates part of the work, perhaps violently; he is attracted, perhaps, by the subjects of some of the pictures. Apart from the subject matter he accepts the Rafael, then, perhaps, the Rembrandt or the Velasquez or the Monet or the Memling, and, then the Whistler or the Angelico or the Egyptian, and last the Beardsley. Or he does it in different order. He calls some ugly and some pretty. If, however, he is a specialist, a man thoroughly trained in some other branch of knowledge, his feelings are not unlike mine when I am taken into the engineering laboratory and shown successively an electric engine, a steam-engine, a gas-engine, etc. I realise that there are a number of devices, all designed for more or less the same end; none `better', none `worse', all different. Each, perhaps, slightly more fit for use under certain conditions for certain objects minutely differentiated. They all `produce power' — 'that is, they gather the latent energy of Nature and focus it on a certain resistance. The latent energy is made dynamic or `revealed' to the engineer in control, and placed at his disposal.

As for me — the visitor in the engine-room — I perceive `sources' — not ultimate sources, but sources — of light, heat, motion, etc. I realise the purpose and effect; I know it would take me some time really to understand the rules in accordance with which any engine works, and that these rules are similar and different with different engines.

To read a number of books written at different ages and in different tongues may arouse our curiosity and may fill us with a sense of our ignorance of the laws of the art in accordance with which they are written. The fact that every masterpiece contains its law within itself, self sufficing to itself, does not simplify the solution. Before we can discuss any possible `laws of art' we must know, at least, a little of the various stages by which that art has grown from what it was to what it is. This is simply restatement of what ought to be in every text-book, and has nothing to do with any `new method'. The handiest way to some knowledge of these `various stages' is, however, by `the new method' — that of luminous detail.

Interesting works are of two sorts, the `symptomatic' and the `donative'; thus a sestina of Pico della Mirandola, concerned for the most part with Jove and Phoebus, shows us a Provencal form stuffed with revived classicism. Camoens' `Os Lusiadas' has a similar value. In them we find a reflection of tendencies and modes of a time. They mirror obvious and apparent thought movements. They are what one might have expected in such and such a year and place. They register. But the `donative' author seems to draw down into the art something which was not in the art of his predecessors. If he also draw from the air about him, he draws latent forces, or things present but unnoticed, or things perhaps taken for granted but never examined.

Non e mai tarde per tentar l'ignoto.[2] His forbears may have led up to him; he is never a disconnected phenomenon, but he does take some step further. He discovers, or, better, `he discriminates'. We advance by discriminations, by discerning that things hitherto deemed identical or similar are dissimilar; that things hitherto deemed dissimilar, mutually foreign, antagonistic, are similar and harmonic.

Assume that, by the translations of `The Seafarer' and of Guido's lyrics, I have given evidence that fine poetry may consist of elements that are or seem to be almost mutually exclusive. In the canzoni of Arnaut Daniel we find a beauty, a beauty of elements almost unused in these two other very different sorts of poetry. That beauty is, or would be if you read Provencal, a thing apparent, at least, a thing not to be helped or thrust upon you by any prose of mine. In the translations (to follow next week) I give that beauty — reproduced, that is, as nearly as I can reproduce it in English — for what it is worth. What I must now do — as the scholar — in pursuance of my announced `method' is to justify my use of Arnaut's work as a strategic position, as `luminous detail'.

We advance by discriminations, and to Arnaut Daniel we may ascribe discriminations. The poems of Arnaut were written in Provence about A.D. 1180-1200, about a century, that is, before the love poems of Dante and of Guido. And if he, Arnaut, frequented one court more than another it was the court of King Richard Coeur de Lion, `Plantagenet', in compliment to whose sister (presumably) he rimes to `genebres' in Canzon XVI.

'Ans per s'amor sia laurs o genebres' — `Her love is as the laurel or the broom is.' The compliment is here given, presumably, to Mona Laura and the Lady Plantagenet (or, in Provencal, Planta genebres), or it is, may be, only in homage to the loyalty of Richard himself. After seven centuries one cannot be too explicit in the unravelling of personal allusion. To be born a troubadour in Provence in the twelfth century was to be born, you would say, `in one's due time'. It was to be born after two centuries of poetic tradition, of tradition that had run in one groove — to wit, the making of canzoni. The art might have, you would say, had time to come to flower, to perfect itself. Moreover, as an art it had few rivals; of painting and sculpture there was little or none.' The art of song was to these people literature and opera: their books and their theatre. In the north of France the longer narrative poems held the field against it, but the two arts were fraternal, and one guild presided over them — not a formal guild, that is, but the same people purveyed them.

Now in the flower of this age, when many people were writing canzoni, or had just written them — Jaufre Rudel, Ventadorn, Borneilh, Marvoil, de Born — Arnaut discriminated between rhyme and rhyme.

He perceived, that is, that the beauty to be gotten from a similarity of line-terminations depends not upon their multiplicity, but upon their action the one upon the other; not upon frequency, but upon the manner of sequence and combination. The effect of `lais' in monorhyme, or of a canzon in which a few rhymes appear too often, is monotonous, is monotonous beyond the point where monotony is charming or interesting. Arnaut uses what for want of a better term I call polyphonic rhyme.

At a time when both prose and poetry were loose-jointed, prolix, barbaric, he, to all intents and virtually, rediscovered `style'. he conceived, that is, a manner of writing in which each word should bear some burden, should make some special contribution to the effect of the whole. The poem is an organism in which each part functions, gives to sound or to sense something — preferably to sound and sense gives something.

Thirdly, he discerns what Plato had discerned some time before, that {melos} is the union of words, rhythm, and music (i.e., that part of music which we do not perceive as rhythm). Intense hunger for a strict accord between these three has marked only the best lyric periods, and Arnaut felt this hunger more keenly and more precisely than his fellows or his forerunners.

He is significant for all these things. He bears to the technique of accented verse of Europe very much the same relation that Euclid does to our mathematics. For these things Dante honoured him in his `Treatise on the Common Speech', and he honoured him in the `Divina Commedia' for these three things and for perhaps one other — a matter of content, not of artistry, yet a thing intimate and bound in with the other three. For that fineness of Arnaut's senses which made him chary of his rhymes, impatient of tunes that would have distorted his language, fastidious of redundance, made him likewise accurate in his observation of Nature.

For long after him the poets of the North babbled of gardens where `three birds sang on every bough' and where other things and creatures behaved as in nature they do not behave. And, apart from his rhyme, apart from the experiments in artistry which lead in so great part to the conclusions in the `Treatise on the Common Tongue'[3] it is this that Dante learns from him, this precision of observation and reference. `Que jes Rozers' sings Daniel, `Dove l'Adige' the other. And it will be difficult to prove that there is not some recognition and declaration of this in the passage in the Purgatorio (Canto XXVI), where Arnaut is made to reply —

`E vei jausen lo jorn qu'esper denan' —

`I see rejoicing the day that is before.'

If this is not definite allegory, it is at least clearer than many allegories that tradition has brought to us, bound in through the Commedia. If Dante does not here use Arnaut as a symbol of perceptive intelligence, sincere, making no pretence to powers beyond its own, but seeing out of its time and place, rejoicing in its perspicacity, we can at least, from our later vantage, find in this trait of Arnaut's some germ of the Renaissance, of the spirit which was to overthrow superstition and dogma, of the `scientific spirit' if you will, for science is unpoetic only to minds jaundiced with sentiment and romanticism — the great masters of the past boasted all they could of it and found it magical; of the spirit which finds itself most perfectly expressed and formulated in this speech which Merejkowski has set in the mouth of Leonardo da Vinci — I think on authority. of the writings of the latter — when he is speaking of the artist, of the Greek and Roman classics, and of Nature: `Few men will drink from the cup when they may drink from the fountain.'


In an earlier chapter I said that interesting authors were either `symptomatic' or `donative'; permit me new diameters and a new circumscription, even if I seem near to repetition.

As contemporary philosophy has so far resolved itself into a struggle to disagree as to the terms in which we shall define an indefinable something upon which we have previously agreed to agree, I ask the reader to regard what follows not as dogma, but as a metaphor which I find convenient to express certain relations.

The soul of each man is compounded of all the elements of the cosmos of souls, but in each soul there is some one element which predominates, which is in some peculiar and intense way the quality or virtω of the individual; in no two souls is this the same. It is by reason of this virtω that a given work of art persists. It is by reason of this virtω that we have one Catullus, one Villon; by reason of it that no amount of technical cleverness can produce a work having the same charm as the original, not though all progress in art is, in so great degree a progress through imitation.

This virtue is not a `point of view', nor an attitude toward life'; nor is it the mental calibre or `a way of thinking', but something more substantial which influences all these. We may as well agree, at this point, that we do not all of us think in at all the same sort of way or by the same sort of implements. Making a rough and incomplete category from personal experience I can say that certain people think with words, certain with, or in, objects; others realise nothing until they have pictured it; others progress by diagrams like those of the geometricians; some think, or construct, in rhythm, or by rhythms and sound; others, the unfortunate, move by words disconnected from the objects to which they might correspond, or more unfortunate still in blocks and clichιs of words; some, favoured of Apollo, in words that hover above and cling close to the things they mean. And all these different sorts of people have most appalling difficulty in understanding each other.

It is the artist's business to find his own virtω. This virtue may be what you will:

Luteum pede soccum,...

Viden ut faces

Splendidas quatiunt comas!...

Luteumve papauer.

It may be something which draws Catullus to write of scarlet poppies, of orange-yellow slippers, of the shaking, glorious hair of the torches; or Propertius to

Quoscumque smaragdos

Quosve dedit flavo lumine chrysolithos.[4]

— `The honey-coloured light.'

Or it may be the so attractive, so nickel-plated neatness which brings Mr. Pope so to the quintessence of the obvious, with:

`Man is not a fly.'

So far as mortal immortality is concerned, the poet need only discover his virtω and survive the discovery long enough to write some few scant dozen verses — providing, that is, that he have acquired some reasonable technique, this latter being the matter of a lifetime — or not, according to the individual facility.

Beyond the discovery and expression of his virtue the artist may proceed to the erection of his microcosmos.

`Ego tamquam centrum circuli,[5] quae omnes circumferentiae partes habet equaliter, tu autem non sic' — `I am the centre of a circle which possesseth all parts of its circumference equally, but thou not so,' says the angel appearing to Dante (`Vita Nuova', XII).

Having discovered his own virtue the artist will be more likely to discern and allow for a peculiar virtω in others. The erection of the microcosmos consists in discriminating these other powers and in holding them in orderly arrangement about one's own. The process is uncommon. Dante, of all men, performed it in the most symmetrical and barefaced manner; yet I would for you — as I have done already for myself — stretch the fabric of my critique upon four great positions.

Among the poets there have been four men in especial virtuous, or, since virtues are so hard to define, let us say they represent four distinct phases of consciousness: Homer of the Odyssey, man conscious of the world outside him: and if we accept the tradition of Homer's blindness, we may find in that blindness the significant cause of his power; for him the outer world would have a place of mystery, of uncertainty, of things severed from their attendant trivialities, of acts, each one cloaked in some glamour of the inexperienced; his work, therefore, a work of imagination and not of observation;

Dante, in the `Divina Commedia', man conscious of the world within him;

Chaucer, man conscious of the variety of persons about him, not so much of their acts and the outlines of their acts as of their character, their personalities; with the inception of this sort of interest any epic period comes to its end;

Shakespeare, man conscious of himself in the world about him — as Dante had been conscious of the spaces of the mind, its reach and its perspective.

I doubt not that a person of wider reading could make a better arrangement of names than this is, but I must talk from my corner of the things that I know; at any rate, each of these men constructed some sort of world into which we may plunge ourselves and find a life not glaringly incomplete. Of the last three we know definitely that each of them swept into his work the virtues of many forerunners and contemporaries, and that in no case do these obtrude or disturb the poise of the whole.

I believe sincerely that any man who has read these four authors with attention will find that a great many other works, now accepted as classic, rather bore him; he will understand their beauty, but with this understanding will come the memory of having met the same sort of beauty elsewhere in greater intensity. It will be said, rather, that he understands the books than that the books enlighten him. In the culture of the mind, as in the culture of fields, there is a law of diminishing return. If a book reveal to us something of which we were unconscious, it feeds us with its energy; if it reveal to us nothing but the fact that its author knew something which we knew, it draws energy from us.

Now it is inconceivable that any knowledge of Homer, Dante, Chaucer, and Shakespeare could ever diminish our enjoyment of Sappho, or of Villon, or of Heine, or of the `Poema del Cid', or, perhaps, of Leopardi, though we would enjoy him in great part as a commentator, as a friend looking with us toward the classics and seeing, perhaps, into them further than we had seen.

The donative authors, or the real classics, inter-illuminate each other, and I should define a `classic' as a book our enjoyment of which cannot be diminished by any amount of reading of other books, or even — and this is the fiercer thest — by a first-hand knowledge of life.

Any author whose light remains visible in this place where the greater lamps are flashing back and forth upon each other is of no mean importance; of him it can be said without qualification that he has attained his own virtω. It is true that the results of Guido Cavalcanti and of Arnaut Daniel are in a great measure included in the `Divina Commedia', yet there remains over a portion not quite soluble; and in trying at this late date to reinstate them in our canon, I do nothing that Dante has not done before me; one reads their work, in fact, on his advice (`Purgatorio', XI and XXVI). In each case their virtue is a virtue of precision. In Arnaut, as I have said before, this fineness has its effect in his style, his form, the relation of his words and tune, and in his content.


`Skill in technique,' says Joseph Conrad, `is something more than honesty.' And if this is applicable to the racing of yachts it should be no less applicable to the writing of poetry.

We can imagine easily the delight of Ysaye and M. Nickisch on being invited, firstly to dinner and secondly to listen to your fourteen-year-old daughter play Beethoven; or lifting the parallel to more exact preciseness, let us suppose the child, never having taken a music lesson in her life, hears Busoni play Chopin, and on the spur of the moment, thinking to produce similar effect, hires a hall and produces what she thinks sounds somewhat the same. These things are in the realm of music mildly unthinkable; but then the ordinary piano teacher spends more thought on the art of music than does the average `poet' on the art of poetry. No great composer has, so far as I know, boasted an ignorance of musical tradition or thought himself less a musician because he could play Mozart correctly. Yet it is not uncommon to hear practising `poets' speak of `technique' as if it were a thing antipathetic to `poetry'. And they mean something that is more or less true. Likewise you will hear the people, one set of them, raging against form — by which they mean external symmetry — and another set against free verse. And it is quite certain that none of these people have any exact, effable concept of what they do mean; or if they have a definite dislike of something properly dislikable, they only succeeded in expressing a dislike for something not quite it and not quite not it.

As for the ancients, we say for them it was quite easy. There was then an interest in poetry: Homer had the advantage of writing for an audience each of whom knew something of a ship and of a sword. One could allude to things that all understood.

Let us imagine today a contest between Jack Johnson and the surviving `White Hope'; let us imagine Court circles deeply interested; let us imagine Olympia filled half with the `flower of the realm' and half with chieftains from Zlyzmmbaa; let us suppose that everyone had staked their last half crown, and that the victors were going to rape all the wives and daughters of the vanquished, and there was a divorce scandal inextricably entangled in the affair; and that if the blacks won they were going to burn the National Gallery and the home of Sir Florence Tlallina-Lalina.

It is very hard to reproduce the simplicity of the epic period. Browning does, it is true, get at life almost as `simply' as did Ovid and Catullus; but then he was one `classicist' 'mid a host of Victorians. Even this is not Homer. Let us return to our hypothetical prize-fight. In an account of the fight what details would we demand? Fine psychological analysis of the combatants? Character study? Or the sort of details that a sporting crowd want from a fight that they have stakes on? Left-lead for the jaw: Counter. If the fight were as important as the one mentioned they might even take it from one who called sacred things by uninitiated names : `an almighty swat in the thorax', `wot-for in the kisser', `a resounding blow upon the optic' — bad, this last. Leave it in the hands of the `descriptive writer'. Qui sono io profano.

The very existence of the `descriptive writer' shows that the people are not without some vague, indefined hunger for euphues, for the decorated `Elizabethan' speech And the `descriptive writer' is so rare, I am told, that one `great daily' had to have their `coronation' done by an Italian and translated.

And as for poetry, for verse, and the people, I remember a series of `poems' in a new form that ran long in the `New York Journal,' and with acclaim, one a day. Alas! I can only remember two of them, as follows:

1. In the days of old Pompei

Did the people get away?

Nay ! Nay

2. In the days of Charlemagne

Did the people get champagne?

Guess again!

Yet even these verses will appeal only to `certain classes', and our prizefight is a phantom, Eheu fugaces! How, then, shall the poet in this dreary day attain universality, how write what will be understood of `the many' and lauded of `the few'?

What interest have all men in them all? Money and sex and tomorrow. And we have called money `fate' until that game is played out. And sex? Well, poetry has been erotic, or amative, or something of that sort — at least, a vast deal of it has — ever since it stopped being epic — and this sort of thing interests the inexperienced. And tomorrow? We none of us agree about.

We are nevertheless one humanity, compounded of one mud and of one aether; and every man who does his own job really well has a latent respect for every other man whi does his own job really well; this is our lasting bond; whether it be a matter of buying up all the little brass farthings in Cuba and selling them at a quarter per cent. advance,[6] or of delivering steam-engines to King Menelek[7] across three rivers and one hundred and four ravines, or of conducting some new crotchety variety of employers' liability insurance, or of punching another man's head, the man who really does the thing well; if he be pleased afterwards to talk about it, gets always his auditors' attention; he gets his audience the moment he says something so intimate that it proves him the expert: he does not, as a rule, sling generalities; he gives the particular case for what it is worth; the truth is the individual.

As for the arts and their technique — technique is the means of conveying an exact impression of exactly what one means in such a way as to exhilarate.

When it comes to poetry, I hold no brief for any particular system of metric. Europe supplies us with three or five or perhaps more systems. The early Greek system of measure by quantity, which becomes the convention of later Greek and of Latin verse; the Provencal system, measure (a) by number of syllables, (b) by number of stressed syllables, which has become the convention of most European poetry; the Anglo-Saxon system of alliteration; these all concern the scansion. For terminations we have rhyme in various arrangements, blank verse, and the Spanish system of assonance. English is made up of Latin, French, and Anglo-Saxon, and it is probable that all these systems concern us. It is not beyond the pales of possibility that English verse of the future will be a sort of orchestration taking account of all these systems.

When I say above that technique is the means of conveying an exact impression of exactly what one means, I do not by any means mean that poetry is to be stripped of any of its powers of vague suggestion. Our life is, in so far as it is worth living, made up in great part of things indefinite, impalpable; and it is precisely because the arts present us these things that we — humanity — cannot get on without the arts. The picture that suggests indefinite poems, the line of verse that means a gallery of paintings, the modulation that suggests a score of metaphors and is contained in none: it is these things that touch us nearly that `matter'.

The artist discriminates, that is, between one kind of indefinability and another, and poetry is a very complex art. Its media are on one hand the simplest, the least interesting, and on the other the most arcane, most fascinating. It is an art of pure sound bound in through an art of arbitrary and conventional symbols. In so far as it is an art of pure sound, it is allied with music, painting, sculpture; in so far as it is an art of arbitrary symbols, it is allied to prose. A word exists when two or more people agree to mean the same thing by it.

Permit me one more cumbersome simile, for I am trying to say something about the masterly use of words, and it is not easy. Let us imagine that words are like great hollow cones of steel of different dullness and acuteness; I say great because I want them not too easy to move; they must be of different sizes. Let us imagine them charged with a force like electricity, or, rather, radiating a force from their apexes — some radiating, some sucking in. We must have a greater variety of activity than with electricity — not merely positive and negative; but let us say +, -, x, -, +a, -a, xa, -a, etc. Some of these kinds of force neutralise each other, some augment; but the only way any two cones can be got to act without waste is for them to be so placed that their apexes and a line of surface meet exactly. When this conjunction occurs let us say their force is not added one's to the other's, but multiplied the one's by the other's; thus three or four words in exact juxtaposition are capable of radiating this energy at a very high potentiality; mind you, the juxtaposition of their vertices must be exact and the angles or `signs' of discharge must augment and not neutralise each other. This peculiar energy which fills the cones is the power of tradition, of centuries of race consciousness, of agreement, of association; and the control of it is the `Technique of Content', which nothing short of genius understands.

There is the slighter `technique of manner', a thing reducible almost to rules, a matter of `j's' and `d's', of order and sequence, a thing attenuable, a thing verging off until it degenerates into rhetoric; and this slighter technique is also a thing of price, notwithstanding that all the qualities which differentiate poetry from prose are things born before syntax; this technique of surface is valuable above its smoother virtues simply because it is technique, and because technique is the only gauge and test of a man's lasting sincerity.

Everyone, or nearly everyone, feels at one time or another poetic, and falls to writing verses; but only that man who cares and believes really in the pint of truth that is in him will work, year in and year out, to find the perfect expression.

If technique is thus the protection of the public, the sign manual by which it distinguishes between the serious artist and the disagreeable young person expressing its haedinus egotism, it is no less a protection to the artist himself during the most crucial period of his development. I speak now of technique seriously studied, of a searching into cause and effect, into the purposes of sound and rhythm as such, not — not by any means — of a conscientious and clever imitation of the master of the moment, of the poet in vogue.

How many have I seen, how many have we all of us known, young, with promising poetic insides, who produce one book and die of it? For in our time, at least, the little public that does read new poetry is not twice bored by the same aspirant, and if a man's first book has not in it some sign of a serious struggle with the bases of the art he has small likelihood of meeting them in a second. But the man who has some standard reasonably high — consider, says Longinus, in what mood Diogenes or Sophocles would have listened to your effusion — does, while he is striving to bring his work within reach of his own conception of it, get rid of the first froth of verse, which is in nearly every case quite like the first verse — froth of everyone else. He emerges decently clean after some reasonable purgation, not nearly a master, but licensed, an initiate, with some chance of conserving his will to speak and of seeing it mature and strengthen with the ripening and strengthening of the mind itself until, by the favour of the gods, he come upon some lasting excellence.

Let the poet who has been not too long ago born make very sure of this, that no one cares to hear, in strained iambics, that he feels sprightly in spring, is uncomfortable when his sexual desires are ungratified, and that he has read about human brotherhood in last year's magazines. But let a man once convince thirty people that he has some faint chance of finding, or that he, at least, is determined and ready to suffer all drudgery in attempting to find, some entanglement of words so subtle, so crafty that they can be read or heard without yawning, after the reading of Pindar and Meleager, and of `As ye came from the holy land of Walsinghame' and `Tamlin', and of a passage from John Keats — let thirty or a dozen people believe this, and the man of whom they believe it will find friendship where he had little expected it, and delightful things will befall him suddenly and with no other explanation.


The reasons why good description makes bad poetry, and why painters who insist on painting ideas instead of pictures offend so many, are not far to seek.

I am in sympathy equally with those who insist that there is one art and many media, and with those who cry out against the describing of work in any particular art by a terminology borrowed fram all the others. This manner of description is objectionable, because it is, in most cases, a make-shift, a laziness. We talk of the odour of music and the timbre of a painting because we think we suggest what we mean and are too lazy to undertake the analysis necessary to find out exactly what we do mean. There is, perhaps, one art, but any given subject belongs to the artist, who must know that subject most intimately before he can express it through his particular medium.

Thus, it is bad poetry to talk much of the colours of the sunrise, though one may speak of our lady `of rosy fingers' or `in russet clad', invoking an image not present to the uninitiated; at this game the poet may surpass, but in the matter of the actual colour he is a bungler. The painter sees, or should see, half a hundred hues and varieties, where we see ten; or, granting we are ourselves skilled with the brush, how many hundred colours are there, where language has but a dozen crude names? Even if the poet understands the subtleties of gradation and juxtaposition, his medium refuses to convey them. He can say all his say while he is ignorant of the reality, and knowledge of the reality will not help him to say it better.

I express myself clumsily, but this much remains with me as certain: that any given work of art is bad when its content could have found more explicit and precise expression through some other medium, which the artist was, perhaps, too slothful to master.

This test should set to rest the vain disputes about `psychological' and `poetic' painting. If `Beata Beatrix', which is more poetic than all Rossetti's poetry, could have occurred in any other medium but paint, then it was bad art to paint her, and the painters should stick to chromatic harmonies and proportional composition.

This principle of the profundity of apprehension is the only one which can gΧide us through mixed or compound media; and by it we must form our judgments as to the `limitations of an art'.

After squandering a good deal of time and concentration on the question of the relation of poetry and music, it seems to me not only futile, but very nearly impossible, to lay down any principles whatever for the regulation of their conjunctions. To join these two arts is in itself an art, and is no more capable of being reduced to formulae than are the others. It is all very well for Plato to tell us that {melo} is the accord of rhythm and words and music (i.e., varied pitch). We find ourselves in the same case as Aristotle when he set out to define poetics — and in view of the fact that `The Stagirite' is, by reason of his admirers, become a Shavian holiday, let us observe that he — Aristotle — never attempts to restrict the working artist; he, and Dante after him, merely enumerate the means by which former artists have been successful.

Let us then catalogue, if possible, the simplest and briefest set of rules on which we may assume that intelligent musicians and poets are alike agreed:

First, that the words of a song sung should be intelligible.

Second, that words should not be unreasonably distorted.

Third, that the rhythm of poetry should not be unreasonably ruined by the musician setting it to music.

I say `unreasonably' because it is quite certain that, however much this distortion may horrify the poet who, having built his words into a perfect rhythm and speech-melody, hears them sung with regard to neither and with outrage to one or both; still we do derive pleasure from songs which distort words most abominably. And we do this in obedience to aesthetic laws; do it because the sense of musical period is innate in us. And because of this instinct there is deadly strife between musicians, who are usually, in the poet's sense, fools, and poets who are usually, in the musician's sense, unmusical.

When, if it ever was so, the lyre was played before the poet began his rhapsody, quantity had some vital meaning in the work. The quantity of later Greek poetry and of Latin is a convention, an imitation of models, not an interpretation of speech. If certain of the troubadours did attend to the strict relation of word and tune — motz el son — it was because of the strict relation between poet and composer, when they were not one and the same person. And in many an envoi we find such boast as So-and-so `made it, song and the words'.

It is my personal belief that the true economy lies in making the tune first. We all of us compose verse to some sort of a tune, and if the `song' is to be sung we may as well compose to a `musician's' tune straight away. Yet no musician comes to one with a melody, but rather he comes wishing to set our words to music. And this is a far more subtle manoeuvre. To set words to a tune one has but to let the musical accents fall upon words strong enough to bear them, to refrain from putting an over-long syllable under an over-short note, and to leave the word ligature rather loose; the singer does the rest quite well. One is spared all the finer workmanship which is requisite for good spoken verse. The stuff may not make good reading, but it is still finished art, suited to its purpose.

If, however, the verse is made to speak, it may have in it that sort of rhythm which not only makes music unnecessary, but which is repulsive to it; or it may have a rhythm which can, by some further mastery, be translated into a music subtler than either poetry or music would have separately attained. Or the poet may have felt a plucking of strings or a flurry of instrumental sound accompanying his words and been unable to record them, and be totally dependent on the musician for a completion of his work. And there may linger in his words some sigri and trace of hunger for this completion.

The musician working from here is apt to find barriers in the so-called `laws' of music or of verse. The obvious answer is that none of these laws are yet absolutely discerned. We do not'know whether the first neumes indicated a rise or fall of voice by definite gradations of pitch, or whether they indicate simply rise or fall. The music of the troubadour period is without bars in the modern sense. There are little lines like them, but they mean simply a pause, a rest; the notes do not register differences of duration-i.e., halves, wholes, quarters are written alike. One reads the words on'which the notes indubitably depended; a rhythm comes to life — a rhythm which seems to explain the music and which is not a `musician's' rhythm. Yet it is possible to set this rhythm in a musician's rhythm without, from the poet's feeling in the matter, harming it or even `altering it', which means altering the part of it to which he is sensitive; which means, again, that both poet and musician `feel around' the movement, `feel at it' from different angles. Some people `see colour' and some `line'; very few are in any way conscious of just what it is they do see. I have no desire to set up a babel of `post-impressionists in rhythm' by suggesting a kindred searching of hearts with regard to the perception of sound.

Yet it is quite certain that some people can hear and scan `by quantity', and more can do so `by stress', and fewer still feei rhythm by what I would call the inner form of the line. And it is this `inner form', I think, which must be preserved in music; it is only by mastery of this inner form that the great masters of rhythm — Milton, Yeats, whoever you like — are masters of it.

`Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita.' Let me take this as an example. Some people will find the movement repeated in-

`Eyes, dreams, lips and the night goes.'

And some will find it in-

`If you fall off the roof you'll break your ankle.'

Some people will read it as if it were exactly the same `shape' as the line which follows it-

`Mi ritrovai per una selva oscura.'

So eminent a scholar and so noted a lover of poetry as Mr. Edmund Gardener reads the sonnets of the `Vita Nuova' as if they were bad prose, and thinks me an outrageous liar for saying so. A certain Dalmation loose upon the town reads Dante with no sense of epic line and as if it were third-rate dramatic dialogue by the author of `La Nave'. Any reporter feels at liberty to object to the way a great poet reads his verses, yet it is not reported that men tried to tell Bach or Wagner how to play their own music, or that they offer like suggestions to M. Debussy.

`Quo tandem abutere?' Can we have a more definite criterion of rhythm than we have of colour? Do we any of us really see or hear in the same register? Are we made in groups and species, some of us capable of sympathetic audition and vision? Or is Machiavelli right when he says: `L'Uomo' or `L'Umanita vive in pochi'? — `The life of the race is concentrated in a few individuals.'


The preceding paragraphs have had to do with rhythm; the other limb of melody is the pitch and pitch-variation, and upon this our sole query is to be whether there is in speech, as there is in music, `tone-leading'. We know that certain notes played in sequence call for other notes, for a `resolution', for a `close'; and in setting words to music it is often the hunger for this sort of musical apparatus that leads the musician away from the rhythm of the verse or makes him drag out the final syllables. What I want to get at is this: in the interpreting of the hidden melody of poetry into the more manifest melody of music, are there in the words themselves `tone-leadings'? Granted a perfect accord of word and tune is attainable by singing a note to each syllable and a short or long note to short or long syllables respectively, and singing the syllable accented in verse on the note accented in the music, is there anything beyond this? Does, for instance, the voice really fall a little in speaking a vowel and nasal, and is a ligature of two notes one half tone lower than the other and the first very short, a correct musical interpretation of such a sound as `son', `un', `cham'? And are there other such cases where a ligature is not so much distortion as explication.

Song demands now and again passages of pure sound, of notes free from the bonds of speech, and good lyric masters have given the musicians this holiday with stray nonsense lines or with `Hallelujah' and `Alba' and `Hey-nonny-nonny', asking in return that the rest of their words be left in statu.

No one man can set bounds to this sort of performance, and a full discussion of the case would fill a volume, which I have neither time nor inclination to write. The questions are, however, germane to the technique of our art.

A discussion of Arnaut Daniel's music — and Daniel is the particular slide in our microscope for the moment — would be, perhaps, too technical for these pages; but this much may be said, that his words, sung to the tunes he made for them, lose neither in beauty nor in intelligibility.

My questions may seem to be shot at random, but we are notably lacking in `song-literature', and if it is at all important to make good this deficit we must have first some consideration of the basic questions of mediation between word and tune, some close attention to the quality of our audition, some reasoning parley between the two people most concerned — the poet and the musician.

* * *

I have been questioned, though rather in regard to `The Seafarer' than to Arnaut, how much of this translation is mine and how much the original. `The Seafarer' was as nearly literal, I think, as any translation can be. Nowhere in these poems of Arnaut's have I felt it my function to `ornament' the text. Nevertheless, I may be able to show more precisely the style of his language — now that I have conveyed the nature of his rhyme schemes — by giving one translation in prose.

Beyond its external symmetry, every formal poem should have its internal thought-form, or, at least, thought progress. This form can, of course, be as well displayed in a prose version as in a metrical one. It is usually the last thing to be learned by a maker of canzoni. In the present example it is neither remarkable nor deficient.



Soon will the harsh time break upon us, the north wind hoot in the branches which all swish together with their closed-over boughs of leaves; no bird sings nor `peeps' now, yet love teaches me to make a song that shall not be second nor third, but first for freeing the embittered heart.


Love is the garden-close of worth, a pool of prowess (i.e., low flooded land) whence all good fruits are born if there be one to gather them faithfully; for not one does ice or snow destroy while the good trunk nourisheth them; but, if knave or coward break it, the sap is lost between the loyal.


A fault mended is matter for praise; and I feel in both flanks that I have more love without thinking of it than have those who strut talking about it; it girds against my heart worse than a buckle. And as long as my lady shows her face angered against me, I'd rather bear pain in the desert where never bird hath eyrie.


Good doctrine and gentle, and the body clear, subtle and frank, have led me to the sure hold of love of her whom I most wish to receive me; for if she was harsh and crabbed with me, now would we cut long time short with pleasure, for she is more fine in my eyes and I am more set toward her than were Atalanta and Meleagar, the one to the other.


I was so doubtful that for lack of daring I turned often from black to white, and desire so raids me and my mind that the heart knows not whether to dance or mourn; but Joy, who gives me faith to hope, blames me for not calling to her, for I'm so skilled at praying and have such slight wish for aught else except her.


It rests me to think of her, and I've both my eyes cankered when they're not looking at her; and think not that my heart turns from her, for neither prayers (orars — I think perhaps here, `prayers', ecclesiastical) nor jesting nor viol-playing can get me from her a reed'sbreadth. `From her!' What have I said? God cover me, may I perish in the sea (for setting those words together).

Arnaut would have his song offered up somewhere where a sweet word ends in `Agre'.

This song invites comparison, in its subtle diagnosis, to Sappho's

{fainetai moi khnoς isoς qeoisin}

or to Catullus' version:

`Ille mi par esse deo videtur'

and to Guido's lines near:

`Gli occhi orbati fa vedere scorto.'

I am not in the least sure that I have yet made clear the reasons for my writing these articles; one might conceivably translate a troubadour for one's own delectation, but explain him, never! Still, there is a unity of intention, not only in these rambling discourses, but in the translations of Arnaut and of the other poets.

As far as the `living art' goes, I should like to break up clichι, to disintegrate these magnetised groups that stand between the reader of poetry and the drive of it, to escape from lines composed of two very nearly equal sections, each containing a noun and each noun decorously attended by a carefully selected epithet gleaned, apparently, from Shakespeare, Pope, or Horace. For it is not until poetry lives again `close to the thing' that it will be a vital part of contemporary life. As long as the poet says not what he, at the very crux of a clarified conception, means, but is content to say something ornate and approximate, just so long will serious people, intently alive, consider poetry as balderdash — a sort of embroidery for dilettantes and women.

And the only way to escape from rhetoric and frilled paper decoration is through beauty — `beauty of the thing', certainly, but besides that, `beauty of the means'. I mean by that that one must call a spade a spade in form so exactly adjusted, in a metric in itself so seductive, that the statement will not bore the auditor. Or again, since I seem to dounder in my attempt at utterance, we must have a simplicity and directness of utterance, which is different from the simplicity and directness of daily speech, which is more `curial', more dignified. This difference, this dignity, cannot be conferred by florid adjectives or elaborate hyperbole; it must be conveyed by art, and by the art of the verse structure, by something which exalts the reader, making him feel that he is in contact with something arranged more finely than the commonplace.

There are few fallacies more common than the opinion that poetry should mimic the daily speech. Works of art attract by a resembling unlikeness. Colloquial poetry is to the real art as the barber's wax dummy is to sculpture. In every art I can think of we are dammed and clogged by the mimetic; dynamic acting is nearly forgotten; the painters of the moment escape through eccentricity.

The second question across my path is: Is my direction the right one? `Technique', that much berated term, means not only suavity of exterior, but means the clinch of expression on the thing intended to be expressed. Through it alone has the art, as distinct from the work of the accidentally inspired genius, any chance for resurrection.

I have spent six months of my life translating fifteen experiments of a man living in what one of my more genial critics calls a `very dead past'. Is this justifiable in anyone who is not purely a philologist?

Canello, who is a philologist, tells us that Arnaut used more different rhyme sounds than any other troubadour. I think it is ninety-two against Vidal's fifty-eight, and Vidal's work is far greater in bulk. I have forgotten the exact numbers. The statement is bare enough and sufficiently uninteresting.

I have no especial interest in rhyme. It tends to draw away the artist's attention from forty to ninety per cent of his syllables and concentrate it on the admittedly more prominent remainder. It tends to draw him into prolixity and pull him away from the thing. Nevertheless, it is one part, and a very small part of his technique. If he is to learn it with the least waste of energy, he might well study it in the work not of its greatest master, but of the man who first considered it critically, tried and tested it, and controlled it from the most diverse angles of attack. In a study of mathematics we pursue a course as sane as that which I here suggest.

I do not in the least wish to reinstate the Provencal canzon or to start a movement. The Italian canzone is in many ways more fit for general use, yet there are certain subjects which could be more aptly dealt with in the more centred Provencal forms.

This matter of rhyme may seem slight and far from life, yet out of the early study of Dante's writing there grew up the graceful legend that, while he was working at the `Commedia', all the Italian rhymes appeared to him each one embodied as a woman, and that they all asked him the honour of being included in the masterpiece, and that he granted all their requests, as you may see today, for not one of them is forgotten.

Yet a study of Dante gives one less real grip on the problem of rhyming than a study of Daniel; for Daniel comes with an open mind, he looks about him in all directions; while Dante, out of the wealth of experiment at his disposal, chooses a certain few arrangements which best suit his immediate purpose.

As for the scholastic bearing, which matters much less than the artistic, if one wished an intimate acquaintance with the politics of England or Germany at certain periods, would one be wiser to read a book of generalities and then read at random through the archives, or to read through, let us say, first the State papers of Bismarck or Gladstone? Having become really conversant with the activities of either of these men, would not almost any document of the period fall, if we read it, into some sort of orderly arrangement? Would we not grasp its relation to the main stream of events?

Seeing that it is no mere predilection of my own, but an attempt to elucidate Dante's judgment, I am quite ready to hold the position that Arnaut is the finest of the troubadours against such modern scholars as happen to disagree.

I do not mean by that that he has written anything more poignant than de Born's `Si tuit li dol el plor el marrimen',[8] or anything more haunting than Vidal's `Ah l'alen tir vas me l'aire', or that his personality was more poetic than that of Arnaut de Marvoil, or his mind more subtle than that of Aimeric de Bellenoi; but simply that Arnaut's work as a whole is more interesting. They say that Marvoil is simpler; Daniel has his moments of simplicity.

`Pensar de lieis m'es repaus'[9] — `It rests me to think of her.' You cannot get statement simpler than that, or clearer, or less rhetorical. Still, this is a matter of aesthetic judgment, `de gustibus'.

In this paragraph I wish to be strictly pedagogical. Arnaut was at the centre of the thing. So intimate a study of nearly any other troubadour would bore one, and might not throw much light on the work of the others; having analysed or even read an analysis of Arnaut, any other Provencal canzon is clearer to one. Knowing him, I mean, one can read the rest of Provencal poetry with as little need for special introductions and annotation as one has in reading the Victorians. We know in reading, let us say, de Born, what part is personal, what part is technical, how good it is in manner, how good in matter. And this method of study seems to me the one in which the critic or professor presents the energetic part of his knowledge, the method by which the audience becomes most intelligent of or the most sensitive to the subject or period discussed.

The virtue of Arnaut's poetry as art is not antipathetic to his value as a strategic point in scholarship; but the two things should be held very distinctly separate in the mind of the reader. The first might exist quite independently of the latter. Villon's relation to his contemporaries is, for instance, most dissimilar.

[1] The New Age, 7 December 1911 — 15 February 1912. This series of articles was originally published in twelve parts and included a number of translations most of which Mr. Pound subsequently revised — these revised versions are printed in Tbe Translations of Ezra Pound (Faber, 1970). I have cut those parts which are available there. Ed.
[2] Gabriele d'Annunzio from the third episode of La Nave (1908); quoted Canto XCIII, Ed.
[3] I do not mean that Dante here accepts all Arnaut's forms and fashions. Arnaut's work as we have it shows constant search and rejection.
[4] Quoted in Canto VII. Ed.
[5] Quoted in Canto LXXXVII. Ed.
[6] See Canto XII. Ed.
[7] See Canto XVIII. Ed.
[8] Quoted Cantos LXXX and LXXXIV. Ed.
[9] Quoted in Canto XCI, Ed.