I am the one who indicates, and the one who provokes and tantalizes,
Distinct purposes curiously veiled, to elude you and provoke you.
I round or finish little, if anything; and could not, consistently with my scheme,
I give thee the first suggestion, the problem and indirection, to arouse and initiate, more than to define or finish.
Something definite and certain—something you can rest on for good, and no more beyond—must not be looked for in the book,
I would liken it more to the awakening of thoughts, the signal of a great march—
The reader will always have his or her part to do, just as much as I have had mine.
I seek less to state or display any theme or thought, and more to bring you, reader, into the atmosphere of the theme or thought—an essence, a suggestion, an indirection, leading off into the immortal mysteries—there to pursue your own flight.
Now I give you an inkling,
Naught made and finished by me for you, but only hinted,
To be made by you, and indeed from you, by robust exercise.
I convey what I want to convey by models or illustrations of the results I demand,
Convey these by characters, selections of incidents and behaviour;
Every passage tells of an interior not always seen.
Hints of meanings, with powerful indications, yet loose, fluid-like,
Leaving each reader eligible to form the resultant-poem for herself or himself.
The best of reading is not so much in the information it conveys as the thoughts it suggests,
The greatest poet is not he who has done the best; it is he who suggests the most, who in his works most stimulates the reader’s imagination and reflection, who excites him the most himself to poetize.
The process of reading is not a half-sleep, but, in highest sense, an exercise, a gymnast’s struggle, in the strong gymnasia of the mind;
The reader must be on the alert, must himself or herself construct indeed the poem—the text furnishing the hints, the clue, the start or frame-work.
Poetic style, when address’d to the soul, is less definite form, outline, sculpture, and becomes vista, music, half-tints, and even less than half-tints,
To be perceived with the same perception that enjoys music, flowers, and the beauty of men and women.
Common teachers or critics are always asking, What does it mean? Symphony of fine musician, or sunset, or sea-waves rolling up the beach, what do they mean? Undoubtedly in the most subtle-elusive sense they mean something—as love does, and religion does, and the best poem—but who shall fathom and define those meanings?
Grandest poetic passages are good not from the direct but indirect meanings,
Only to be taken at free removes, as we sometimes look for stars at night, not by gazing directly toward them, but off one side.
All works shall illustrate the divine law of indirections, the curious way we write what we think, yet very faintly—
The faintest indication is the indication of the best and then becomes the clearest indication.
I am probably fond of viewing all really great themes indirectly, and by side-ways and suggestions,
There shall be no subject too pronounced,
Human thought, poetry, or melody, must leave dim escapes and outlets,
Taking all hints to use them, but swiftly leaping beyond them.
This indirect mode of attack is better than all direct modes of attack—
There are truths which it is necessary to envelop or wrap up.
At its best, poetic lore is like what may be heard of conversation in the dusk, from speakers far or hid, of which we get only a few broken murmurs. What is not gather’d is far more—perhaps the main thing.
There is something that comes to one now and perpetually,
It is not what is printed, preach’d, discussed, it eludes discussion and print,
It is not to be put in a book, it is not in this book,
You may read in many languages, yet read nothing about it.
It is not for what I have put into it that I have written this book,
Nor is it by reading it you will acquire it,
The words of my book nothing, the drift of it everything;
Its verses are the liquid, billowy waves, ever rising and falling, perhaps sunny and smooth, perhaps wild with storm, always moving, always alike in their nature as rolling waves, but hardly any two exactly alike, never having the sense of something finished and fixed, always suggesting something beyond.
Not words of routine this song of mine, but abruptly to question:
This printed and bound book—but the printer and the printing-office boy?
The saints and sages in history—but you yourself?
My words are words of a questioning, and to indicate reality and motive power,
To leap beyond yet nearer bring.
For you whoever you are, with my lips soothing thee, adding I whisper:
Arouse, 0 friend! for of suggestiveness I bring you what you much need yet always have,
It is no farther from you than your hearing and sight are from you,
It is hinted by nearest, commonest, readiest, it is ever provoked by them,
In them the development good—in them all themes, hints, possibilities.
Analogy, comparison, indirection, suggestions are perhaps all that is possible,
Those silent old suggestions!
Can you, perusing them, and never understanding them, yet dwell upon them with profit and joy?
Then try these chants.
Not the book needs so much to be the complete thing, but the reader of the book does.