The Great Poet’s Character


The world studies the book,
But poems of the first class, (poems of the depth, as distinguished from those of the surface,) are to be sternly tallied with the poets themselves—the living original—and tried by them and their lives—
Poems and materials of poems shall come from their lives.

All poems, or any other expressions of literature, that do not tally with their writer’s actual life and knowledge, are lies.
That which is not in you can not appear in your writing,
There is no trick or cunning, no art or recipe, by which you can have in your writing qualities that you do not honestly entertain in yourself;
The perfect poet must be unimpeachable in manner as well as matter. 

The chief trait of any given poet is always the spirit he brings to the observation of humanity and nature—the mood out of which he contemplates his subjects.
Character makes words; words follow character; voices follow character.
What are verses beyond the flowing character you could have?
Or beyond beautiful manners and behavior?
Or beyond one manly or affectionate deed?

The poetic quality is not marshalled in rhyme or uniformity or abstract addresses to things nor in melancholy complaints or good precepts, but is the life of these and much else and is in the soul.
Doubtless, only the greatest user of words himself fully enjoys and understands himself,
The great poet is the free channel of himself.

Sanity and ensemble characterise the great master,
The master is complete in himself
Latent, in a great user of words, must be all passions, crimes, trades, animals, stars, God, sex, the past, might, space, and the like,
His first parts substances, earth, water, animals, trees,
Tangles as tangled in him as any canebrake or swamp.
Pride and sympathy—the inmost secrets of art sleep with the twain,
The greatest poet has lain close with both and they are vital in his style and thoughts.

The known universe has one complete lover and that is the greatest poet,
Soul of love and tongue of fire!
Right and left he flings his arms, drawing men and women with undeniable love to his close embrace,
The person he favors by day or sleeps with at night is blessed.
His love above all love has leisure and expanse—he leaves room ahead of himself—
The sea is not surer of the shore or the shore of the sea than he is of the fruition of his love and of all perfection and beauty.
(Part of the test of a great literatus shall be the absence in him of the idea of the covert, the lurid, the maleficent, the devil, hell, natural depravity, and the like.)

In the make of the great masters the idea of political liberty is indispensable,
They out of ages are worthy the grand idea,
To them it is confided and they must sustain it.
The bard walks in advance, leader of leaders,
The attitude of him cheers up slaves and horrifies foreign despots,
Where others see a slave, a pariah, an emptier of privies, the poet beholds what, when the days of the soul are accomplished, shall be peer of God,
Where others are scornfully silent at some steerage passenger from a foreign land,
The poet says, “My brother! good day!”—
And to the great king, “How are you, friend?”

The presence of the greatest poet conquers,
Obedience does not master him, he masters it,
He walks with perfect ease among a congress of kings,
And one king says to another,
Here is our equal, a prince whom we knew not before.
He does not stop for any regulation,
He is the president of regulation—
The soul of the poet is president of itself always.

The great literatus will be known, among the rest, by his cheerful simplicity, his adherence to natural standards, his limitless faith in God, his reverence, and by the absence in him of doubt.
He consumes an eternal passion and is indifferent which chance happens and which possible contingency of fortune or misfortune,
He shows how independent one may be of fortune—how triumphant over fate.

Nothing can jar him,
Suffering and darkness cannot, death and fear cannot,
To him complaint and jealousy and envy are corpses buried and rotten in the earth—
He saw them buried.
What baulks or breaks others is fuel for his burning progress to contact and amorous joy,
His very aches are ecstacy,
His laugh real music, that you couldn’t get from fiddles or pianos,
And when he laughs heartily, impossible not to think of the sunshine.

Now he has passed that way see after him!
The touch of him tells in action,
Whom he takes he takes with firm sure grasp into live regions previously unattained,
There is not left any vestige of despair or misanthropy or cunning or exclusiveness or the ignominy of a nativity of color,
And no man thenceforward shall be degraded for ignorance or weakness or sin. 

The great poet is the true son of God.
The poet seems to say to the rest of the world:
Shall we sky-lark with God?
Come, God and I are now here, what will you have of us?
Ask and maybe we will give it to you.

The greatest poet does not only dazzle his rays over character and scenes and passions,
As he emits himself, facts are showered over with light,
High up out of reach he stands, turning a concentrated light.
He finally ascends, and finishes all,
He exhibits the pinnacles that no man can tell what they are for or what is beyond,
He glows a moment on the extremest verge,
He is most wonderful in his last half-hidden smile or frown;
By that flash of the moment of parting the one that sees it shall be encouraged or terrified afterward for many years.
 

NEXT: YOU AND THE POET