An Essay On The Different Stiles Of Poetry
To Henry, Lord Viscount Bolingbroke.
I hate the Vulgar with untuneful Mind,
Hearts uninspir'd, and Senses unrefin'd.
Hence ye Prophane, I raise the sounding String,
And Bolingbroke descends to hear me sing.
When Greece cou'd Truth in Mystick Fable shroud,
And with Delight instruct the list'ning Crowd,
An ancient Poet (Time has lost his Name)
Deliver'd Strains on Verse to future Fame.
Still as he sung he touch'd the trembling Lyre,
And felt the Notes a rising Warmth inspire.
Ye sweet'ning Graces in the Musick Throng,
Assist my Genius, and retrieve the Song
From dark Oblivion. See, my Genius goes
To call it forth. 'Twas thus the Poem rose.
Wit is the Muses Horse, and bears on high
The daring Rider to the Muses Sky:
Who, while his strength to mount aloft he tries,
By Regions varying in their Nature, flies.
At first he riseth o'er a Land of Toil,
A barren, hard, and undeserving Soil,
Where only Weeds from heavy Labour grow,
Which yet the Nation prune, and keep for show.
Where Couplets jingling on their Accent run,
Whose point of Epigram is sunk to Pun.
Where Wings by Fancy never feather'd fly,
Where Lines by measure form'd in Hatchets lie;
Where Altars stand, erected Porches gape,
And Sense is cramp'd while Words are par'd to shape;
Where mean Acrosticks labour'd in a Frame,
On scatter'd Letters raise a painful Scheme;
And by Confinement in their Work controul
The great Enlargings of the boundless Soul.
Where if a Warriour's elevated Fire
Wou'd all the brightest Strokes of Verse require,
Then streight in Anagram a wretched Crew
Will pay their undeserving Praises too;
While on the rack his poor disjointed Name
Must tell its Master's Character to Fame.
And (if my Fire and Fears aright presage)
The lab'ring Writers of a future Age
Shall clear new ground, and Grotts and Caves repair,
To civilize the babbling Ecchoes there.
Then while a Lover treads a lonely Walk,
His Voice shall with its own Reflection talk,
The closing Sounds of all the vain Device,
Select by trouble frivolously nice,
Resound through Verse, and with a false Pretence
Support the Dialogue, and pass for Sense.
Can things like these to lasting Praise pretend?
Can any Muse the worthless Toil befriend?
Ye sacred Virgins, in my Thoughts ador'd,
Ah, be for ever in my Lines deplor'd!
If Tricks on Words acquire an endless Name,
And Trifles merit in the Court of Fame.
'At this the Poet stood concern'd a while,
'And view'd his Objects with a scornful Smile:
'Then other Images of diff'rent kind,
'With diff'rent Workings enter'd on his Mind;
'At whose Approach he felt the former gone,
'And shiver'd in Conceit, and thus went on.
By a cold Region next the Rider goes,
Where all lies cover'd in eternal Snows;
Where no bright Genius drives the Chariot high,
To glitter on the Ground, and gild the Sky.
Bleak level Realm, where Frigid Stiles abound,
Where never yet a daring Thought was found,
But counted Feet is Poetry defin'd;
And starv'd Conceits that chill the Reader's Mind
A little Sense in many Words imply,
And drag with loit'ring numbers slowly by.
Here dry sententious Speeches half asleep,
Prolong'd in Lines, o'er many Pages creep;
Nor ever shew the Passions well exprest,
Nor raise like Passions in another's Breast.
Here flat Narrations fair Exploits debase,
In Measures void of ev'ry shining Grace;
Which never arm their Hero for the Field,
Nor with Prophetick Story paint the Shield,
Nor fix the Crest, or make the Feathers wave,
Or with their Characters reward the Brave;
Undeck'd they stand, and unadorn'd with Praise,
And fail to profit while they fail to please.
Here forc'd Description is so strangely wrought,
It never stamps its Image on the Thought;
The liveless Trees may stand for ever bare,
And Rivers stop, for ought the Readers care;
They see no Branches trembling in the Woods,
Nor hear the Murmurs of encreasing Floods,
Which near the Roots with ruffled Waters flow,
And shake the shadows of the Boughs below.
Ah sacred Verse, replete with heav'nly Flame,
Such cold Endeavours wou'd invade thy Name!
The Writer fondly wou'd in these survive,
Which wanting Spirit never seem'd alive:
But if Applause or Fame attend his Pen,
Let breathless Statues pass for breathing Men.
'Here seem'd the Singer touch'd at what he sung,
'And Grief a while delay'd his Hand and Tongue:
'But soon he check'd his Fingers, chose a Strain,
'And flourish'd shrill, and thus arose again.
Pass the next Region which appears to show,
'Tis very open, unimprov'd, and low;
No noble Flights of elevated Thought,
No nervous strength of Sense maturely wrought,
Possess this Realm; but common Turns are there,
Which idely sportive move with childish Air.
On callow Wings, and like a Plague of Flies,
The little Fancies in a Poem rise,
The jaded Reader ev'ry where to strike,
And move his Passions ev'ry where alike.
There all the graceful Nymphs are forc'd to play
Where any Water bubbles in the way:
There shaggy Satyrs are oblig'd to rove
In all the Fields, and over all the Grove:
There ev'ry Star is summon'd from its Sphear,
To dress one Face, and make Clorinda fair:
There Cupids fling their Darts in ev'ry Song,
While Nature stands neglected all along:
Till the teiz'd Hearer, vex'd at last to find
One constant Object still assault the Mind,
Admires no more at what's no longer new,
And hastes to shun the persecuting View.
There bright Surprizes of Poetick Rage,
(Whose Strength and Beauty more confirm'd in Age
For having lasted, last the longer still)
By weak Attempts are imitated ill,
Or carry'd on beyond their proper Light,
Or with Refinement flourish'd out of sight.
There Metaphors on Metaphors abound,
And Sense by differing Images confound:
Strange injudicious Management of Thought,
Not born to Rage, nor into Method brought.
Ah, sacred Muse! from such a Realm retreat,
Nor idly waste the Infl'ence of thy Heat
On shallow Soils, where quick Productions rise,
And wither as the Warmth that rais'd them dies.
'Here o'er his Breast a sort of Pity roll'd,
'Which something lab'ring in the Mind controul'd,
'And made him touch the loud-resounding Strings,
'While thus with Musick's stronger Tones he sings.
Mount higher still, still keep thy faithful Seat,
Mind the firm Reins, and curb thy Courser's Heat;
Nor let him touch the Realms that next appear,
Whose hanging Turrets seem a Fall to fear,
And strangely stand along the Tracts of Air
Where Thunder rolls, and bearded Comets glare.
The Thoughts that most extravagantly soar,
The Words that sound as if they meant to roar;
For Rant and Noise are offer'd here to Choice,
And stand elected by the Publick Voice.
All Schemes are slighted which attempt to shine
At once with strange and probable Design;
'Tis here a mean Conceit, a vulgar View,
That bears the least Respect to seeming true;
While ev'ry trifling turn of things is seen
To move by Gods descending in Machine.
Here swelling Lines with stalking Strut proceed,
And in the Clouds terrifick Rumblings breed:
Here single Heroes deal grim Deaths around,
And Armies perish in tremendous Sound:
Here fearful Monsters are preserv'd to die,
In such a Tumult as affrights the Sky;
For which the Golden Sun shall hide with dread,
And Neptune lift his sedgy-matted Head,
Admire the Roar, and dive with dire Dismay,
And seek his deepest Chambers in the Sea.
To raise their Subject thus the Lines devise,
And false Extravagance wou'd fain surprize;
Yet still, ye Gods, ye live untouch'd by Fear,
And undisturb'd at bellowing Monsters here:
But with Compassion guard the Brain of Men,
If thus they bellow through the Poet's Pen:
So will the Readers Eyes discern aright
The rashest Sally from the noblest Flight,
And find that only Boast and Sound agree
To seem the Life and Voice of Majesty,
When writers rampant on Apollo call,
And bid him enter and possess them all,
And make his Flames afford a wild Pretence
To keep them unrestrain'd by common Sense.
Ah, sacred Verse! lest Reason quit thy Seat,
Give none to such, or give a gentler Heat.
''Twas here the Singer felt his Temper wrought
'By fairer Prospects, which arose to Thought;
'And in himself a while collected sat,
'And much admir'd at this, and much at that;
'Till all the beauteous Forms in order ran,
'And then he took their Track, and thus began.
Above the Beauties, far above the Show
In which weak Nature dresses here below,
Stands the great Palace of the Bright and Fine,
Where fair Ideas in full Glory shine,
Eternal Models of exalted Parts,
The Pride of Minds, and Conquerors of Hearts.
Upon the first Arrival here, are seen
Rang'd Walks of Bay, the Muses ever-Green,
Each sweetly springing from some sacred Bough,
Whose circling Shade adorn'd a Poet's Brow,
While through the Leaves, in unmolested Skies,
The gentle breathing of Applauses flies,
And flatt'ring Sounds are heard within the Breeze,
And pleasing Murmur runs among the Trees,
And falls of Water join the flatt'ring Sounds,
And Murmur soft'ning from the Shore rebounds.
The warbled Melody, the lovely Sights,
The Calms of Solitude inspire Delights,
The dazzled Eyes, the ravish'd Ears, are caught,
The panting Heart unites to purer Thought,
And grateful Shiverings wander o'er the Skin,
And wondrous Ecstasies arise within,
Whence Admiration overflows the Mind,
And leaves the Pleasure felt, but undefin'd.
Stay, daring Rider, now no longer rove;
Now pass to find the Palace through the Grove;
Whate'er you see, whate'er you feel, display
The Realm you sought for, daring Rider stay.
Here various Fancy spreads a vary'd Scene,
And Judgment likes the sight, and looks serene,
And can be pleas'd its self, and helps to please,
And joins the Work, and regulates the Lays.
Thus on a Plan, design'd by double Care,
The Building rises in the glittering Air,
With just Agreement fram'd in ev'ry part,
And smoothly polish'd with the nicest Art.
Here Lawrel-boughs, which ancient Heroes wore,
Now not so fading as they prov'd before,
Wreath round the Pillars which the Poets rear,
And slope their Points to make a Foliage there.
Here Chaplets pull'd in gently-breathing Wind,
And wrought by Lovers innocently kind,
Hung o'er the Porch, their fragrant Odours give,
And fresh in lasting Song for ever live.
The Shades, for whom with such indulgent care
Fame wreaths the Boughs or hangs the Chaplets there,
To deathless Honours thus preserv'd above,
For Ages conquer, or for Ages love.
Here bold Description paints the Walls within,
Her Pencil touches, and the World is seen:
The Fields look beauteous in their flow'ry Pride,
The Mountains rear aloft, the Vales subside,
The Cities rise, the Rivers seem to play,
And hanging Rocks repell the foaming Sea;
The foaming Seas their angry Billows show,
Curl'd White above, and darkly roll'd below,
Or cease their Rage, and as they calmly lie,
Return the pleasing Pictures of the Sky;
The Skies extended in an open View,
Appear a lofty distant Arch of Blue,
In which Description stains the painted Bow,
Or thickens Clouds, and feathers out the Snow,
Or mingles Blushes in the Morning ray,
Or gilds the Noon, or turns an Evening gray.
Here on the Pedestalls of War and Peace,
In diff'rent Rows, and with a diff'rent Grace,
Fine Statues proudly ride, or nobly stand,
To which Narration with a pointing Hand
Directs the Sight, and makes Examples please
By boldly vent'ring to dilate in Praise,
While chosen Beauties lengthen out the Song,
Yet make her Hearers never think it long.
Or if with closer Art, with sprightly Mien,
Scarce like her self, and more like Action seen,
She bids their Facts in Images arise,
And seem to pass before the Readers Eyes,
The Words like Charms inchanted Motion give,
And all the Statues of the Palace live.
Then Hosts embattel'd stretch their Lines afar,
Their Leaders Speeches animate the War,
The Trumpets sound, the feather'd Arrows fly,
The Sword is drawn, the Lance is toss'd on high,
The Brave press on, the fainter Forces yield,
And Death in differing Shapes deforms the Field.
Or shou'd the Shepherds be dispos'd to play,
Amintor's jolly Pipe beguiles the Day,
And jocund Ecchoes dally with the Sound,
And Nymphs in measures trip along the ground,
And e're the Dews have wet the Grass below,
Turn homewards singing all the way they go.
Here, as on Circumstance Narrations dwell,
And tell what moves, and hardly seem to tell,
The Toil of Heroes on the dusty Plains,
Or on the Green the Merriment of Swains,
Reflection speaks, then all the Forms that rose
In Life's inchanted Scene themselves compose;
Whilst the grave Voice, controlling all the Spells
With solemn Utt'rance, thus the Moral tells:
So publick worth its Enemies destroys,
Or private innocence it self enjoys.
Here all the Passions, for their greater sway,
In all the Pow'r of Words themselves array;
And hence the soft Pathetick gently charms,
And hence the Bolder fills the Breast with Arms.
Sweet Love in Numbers finds a World of Darts,
And with Desirings wounds the tender Hearts.
Fair Hope displays its Pinnions to the Wind,
And flutters in the Lines, and lifts the Mind.
Brisk Joy with Transport fills the rising Strain,
Breaks in the Notes, and bounds in ev'ry Vein.
Stern Courage, glittering in the sparks of Ire,
Inflames those Lays that set the Breast on fire.
Aversion learns to fly with swifter Will,
In Numbers taught to represent an Ill.
By frightful Accents Fear produces Fears.
By sad Expression Sorrow melts to Tears.
And dire Amazement and Despair are brought
By words of Horror through the Wilds of Thought.
'Tis thus tumultuous Passions learn to roll;
Thus arm'd with Poetry they win the Soul.
Pass further through the Dome, another View
Wou'd now the Pleasures of thy Mind renew,
Where oft Description for the Colours goes,
Which raise and animate its native Shows;
Where oft Narration seeks a florid Grace
To keep from sinking e're 'tis time to cease;
Where easy turns Reflection looks to find,
When Morals aim at Dress to please the Mind;
Where lively Figures are for Use array'd,
And these an Action, those a Passion, aid.
There modest Metaphors in order sit,
With unaffected undisguising Wit,
That leave their own, and seek anothers place,
Not forc'd, but changing with an easy pace,
To deck a Notion faintly seen before,
And Truth preserves her shape, and shines the more.
By these the beauteous Similes reside,
In look more open, in Design ally'd,
Who, fond of Likeness, from anothers Face
Bring ev'ry Feature's corresponding Grace,
With near approaches in Expression flow,
And take the turn their Pattern loves to show;
As in a Glass the Shadows meet the Fair,
And dress and practice with resembling Air.
Thus Truth, by Pleasure doth her Aim pursue,
Looks bright, and fixes on the doubled View.
There Repetitions one another meet,
Expresly strong, or languishingly sweet,
And raise the sort of Sentiment they please,
And urge the sort of Sentiment they raise.
There close in order are the Questions plac'd,
Which march with Art conceal'd in shows of haste,
And work the Reader till his Mind be brought
To make its Answers in the Writers Thought.
For thus the moving Passions seem to throng,
And with their Quickness force the Soul along;
And thus the Soul grows fond they shou'd prevail,
When ev'ry Question seems a fair Appeal;
And if by just degrees of Strength they soar,
In Steps as equal each affects the more.
There strange Commotion naturally shown,
Speaks on regardless that we speak alone,
Nor minds if they to whom she talks be near,
Nor cares if that to which she talks can hear.
The warmth of Anger dares an absent Foe;
The words of Pity speaks to Tears of Woe;
The Love that hopes, on Errands sends the Breeze;
And Love despairing moans to naked Trees.
There stand the new Creations of the Muse,
Poetick Persons, whom the Writers use
Whene'er a Cause magnificently great,
Wou'd fix Attention with peculiar weight.
'Tis hence that humbled Provinces are seen
Transform'd to Matrons with neglected Mien,
Who call their Warriors in a mournful Sound,
And shew their Crowns of Turrets on the ground,
While over Urns reclining Rivers moan
They shou'd enrich a Nation not their own.
'Tis hence the Virtues are no more confin'd
To be but Rules of Reason in the Mind;
Their heav'nly Forms start forth, appear to breath,
And in bright Shapes converse with Men beneath,
And, as a God, in Combat Valour leads,
In Council Prudence as a Goddess aids.
There Exclamations all the Voice employ
In sudden Flushes of Concern or Joy:
Then seem the Sluices which the Passions bound,
To burst asunder with a speechless Sound;
And then with Tumult and Surprize they roul,
And shew the Case important in the Soul.
There rising Sentences attempt to speak,
Which Wonder, Sorrow, Shame, or Anger, break;
But so the Part directs to find the rest,
That what remains behind is more than ghest.
Thus fill'd with Ease, yet left unfinish'd too,
The Sense looks large within the Readers View:
He freely gathers all the Passion means,
And artful Silence more than Words explains.
Methinks a thousand Graces more I see,
And I cou'd dwell—But when wou'd Thought be free?
Engaging Method ranges all the Band,
And smooth Transition joins them hand in hand:
Around the Musick of my Lays they throng,
Ah too deserving Objects of my Song!
Live wondrous Palace, live secure of Time,
To Senses Harmony, to Souls sublime,
And just Proportion all, and great Design,
And lively Colours, and an Air divine.
'Tis here, that guided by the Muses Fire,
And fill'd with sacred Thought, her Friends retire,
Unbent to Care, and unconcern'd with Noise,
To taste Repose and elevated Joys,
Which in a deep untroubled Leisure meet,
Serenely ravishing politely sweet.
From hence the Charms that most engage they choose,
And as they please the glittering Objects use;
While to their Genius more than Art they trust,
Yet Art acknowledges their Labours just.
From hence they look, from this exalted Show,
To choose their Subject in the World below,
And where an Hero well deserves a Name,
They consecrate his Acts in Song to Fame;
Or if a Science unadorn'd they find,
They smooth its Look to please and teach the Mind;
And where a Friendship's generously strong,
They celebrate the Knot of Souls in Song;
Or if the Verses must inflame Desire,
The Thoughts are melted, and the Words on fire:
But when the Temples deck'd with Glory stand,
And Hymns of Gratitude the Gods demand,
Their Bosoms kindle with Celestial Love,
And then alone they cast their Eyes above.
Hail sacred Verse! ye sacred Muses hail!
Cou'd I your Pleasures with your Fire reveal,
The World might then be taught to know you right,
And court your Rage, and envy my Delight.
But whilst I follow where your pointed Beams
My Course directing shoot in golden Streams,
The bright Appearance dazzles Fancy's Eyes,
And weary'd out the fix'd Attention lies,
Enough my Verses have you work'd my Breast,
I'll seek the sacred Grove, and sink to Rest.
'No longer now the ravish'd Poet sung,
'His Voice in easy Cadence left the Tongue;
'Nor o'er the Musick did his Fingers fly,
'The Sounds ran tingling, and they seem'd to die.
O Bolingbroke! O Fav'rite of the Skies,
O born to Gifts by which the Noblest rise,
Improv'd in Arts by which the Brightest please,
Intent to Business, and polite for Ease;
Sublime in Eloquence, where loud Applause
Hath stil'd thee Patron of a Nation's Cause.
'Twas there the World perceiv'd and own'd thee great,
Thence ANNA call'd thee to the Reins of State;
Go, said the Greatest Queen, with OXFORD go,
And still the Tumults of the World below,
Exert thy Powers, and prosper; he that knows
To move with OXFORD never shou'd repose.
She spoke: the Patriot overspread thy Mind,
And all thy Days to publick Good resign'd.
Else might thy Soul so wonderfully wrought
For ev'ry depth and turn of curious Thought,
To this the Poet's sweet Recess retreat,
And thence report the Pleasures of the Seat,
Describe the Raptures which a Writer knows,
When in his Breast a Vein of Fancy glows,
Describe his Business while he works the Mine,
Describe his Temper when he sees it shine,
Or say when Readers easy Verse insnares,
How much the Writers Mind can act on theirs:
Whence Images in charming Numbers set,
A sort of Likeness in the Soul beget,
And what fair Visions oft we fancy nigh
By fond Delusions of the swimming Eye,
Or further pierce through Natures Maze to find
How Passions drawn give Passions to the Mind.
Oh what a sweet Confusion! what Surprize!
How quick the shifting Views of Pleasure rise!
While lightly skimming, with a transient Wing,
I touch the Beauties which I wish to sing.
Is Verse a sov'raign Regent of the Soul,
And fitted all its Motions to controul?
Or are they Sisters, tun'd at once above,
And shake like Unisons if either move?
For when the Numbers sing an eager Fight,
I've heard a Soldier's Voice express Delight;
I've seen his Eyes with crowding Spirits shine,
And round his Hilt his Hand unthinking twine.
When from the Shore the fickle Trojan flies,
And in sweet Measures poor Eliza dies,
I've seen the Book forsake the Virgins Hand,
And in their Eyes the Tears but hardly stand.
I've known them blush at soft Corinna's Name,
And in red Characters confess a Flame:
Or wish Success had more adorn'd his Arms,
Who gave the World for Cleopatra's Charms.
Ye Sons of Glory, be my first Appeal,
If here the Pow'r of Lines these Lines reveal.
When some great Youth has with impetuous Thought
Read o'er Atchievements which another wrought,
And seen his Courage and his Honour go
Through crowding Nations in Triumphant Show,
His Soul enchanted by the Words he reads
Shines all impregnated with sparkling Seeds,
And Courage here, and Honour there, appears
In brave Design that soars beyond his Years,
And this a Spear, and that a Chariot lends,
And War and Triumph he by turns attends:
Thus gallant Pleasures are his waking Dream,
Till some fair Cause have call'd him forth to Fame.
Then form'd to Life on what the Poet made,
And breathing Slaughter, and in Arms array'd,
He marches forward on the daring Foe,
And Emulation acts in ev'ry Blow.
Great Hector's Shade in Fancy stalks along,
From Rank to Rank amongst the Martial Throng,
While from his Acts he learns a Noble Rage,
And shines like Hector in the present Age.
Thus Verse will raise him to the Victor's Bays,
And Verse, that rais'd him, shall resound his Praise.
Ye tender Beauties, be my Witness too,
If Song can charm, and if my Song be true.
With sweet Experience oft a Fair may find
Her Passions mov'd by Passions well design'd;
And then she longs to meet a gentle Swain,
And longs to Love, and to be lov'd again.
And if by chance an Am'rous Youth appears,
With Pants and Blushes she the Courtship hears;
And finds a Tale that must with theirs agree,
And he's Septimius, and his Acme she:
Thus lost in Thought her melted Heart she gives,
And the rais'd Lover by the Poet lives.
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