I think this is a good idea. Just to generate some discussion, I've pulled out a few of my favourite remarks by poets on the topic of poetry.
First, Philip Sidney's famous tract "An Apology for Poetry" distinguishes poetry thus:
quote:Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in his Biographia Literaria, writes:
There is no art delivered to mankind that hath not the works of nature for his principal object, without which they could not consist, and on which they depend... The physician weigheth the nature of a man's body, and the nature of things helpful or hurtful unto it. And the metaphysic, though it be in the second and abstract notions, and therefore be counted supernatural, yet doth he indeed build upon the depth of nature. Only the poet, disdaining to be tied to any such subjection, lifted up with the vigor of his own invention, doth grow in effect another nature, in making things either better than nature bringeth forth, or, quite anew, forms such as never were in nature, as the Heroes, Demigods, Cyclops, Chimeras, Furies, and such like: so as he goeth hand in hand with nature, not enclosed within the narrow warrant of her gifts, but freely ranging only within the zodiac of his own wit.
quote:Wordsworth's statement of intent for his Lyrical Ballads:
"It is an art (or whatever better term our language may afford) of representing, in words, external nature and human thoughts and affections, both relatively to human affections, by the production of as much immediate pleasure in parts, as is compatable with the largest sum of pleasure in the whole." (Coleridge, Lectures on Literature, 1811-12)
quote:From Shelley's Defence of Poetry:
“Poems to which any value can be attached, were never produced on any variety of subjects but by a man who, being possessed of more than usual organic sensibility, had also thought long and deeply... Our feelings will be connected with important subjects... We shall describe objects, and utter sentiments, of such a nature, and in such connection with each other, that the understanding of the being to whom we address ourselves must necessarily be in some degree enlightened, and his affections ameliorated.” (Wordsworth, Preface to the Lyrical Ballads)
quote:From Ruskin (of whom I could probably find much better quotes on the topic, if I had an indexed copy of his works) in his Modern Painters volume III:
"A Poet participates in the eternal, the infinite, and the one; as far as relates to his conceptions, time and place and number are not. The grammatical forms which express the moods of time, and the difference of persons and the distinction of place are convertible with respect to the highest poetry without injuring it as poetry and the choruses of Aeschylus, and the Book of Job, and Dante's Paradise would afford, more than any other writings, examples of this fact." (Shelley, A Defence of Poetry)
quote:Ruskin, of course, goes on, but I doubt anybody's going to actually read it if I type the whole of it out. He mainly emphasizes the importance of the imagination in the formation of poetry.
I come, after some embarrassment, to the conclusion, that poetry is "the suggestion, by the imagination, of noble grounds for the noble emotions." I mean, by the noble emotions, those four principal sacred passions---Love, Veneration, Admiration, and Joy (this latter especially, if unselfish); and their opposites---Hatred, Indignation (or Scorn), Horror, and Grief,---this last, when unselfish, becoming Compassion. These passions in their various combinations constitute what is called "poetical feeling," when they are felt on noble grounds, that is, on great and true grounds.
I'd quote some Aristotle, but that would be a bit heavy, and these authors are closer to our time and speaking more of the kind of poetry with which we are concerned today (Aristotle focuses on dramatic and epic poetry, writers of which I don't think we have at piptalk). Hopefully this will give us some good material with which to start a discussion? Is poetry, like Sidney suggests, the highest of the arts because it invents, rather than subjecting itself to nature? Is its duty the veneration of human emotion, as Ruskin suggests, or is it meant to draw attention to specific subjects and "ameliorate" the affections of those that read it? Is it obliged less to morality, to "nobility," and more simply to pleasure, as Coleridge says? I look forward to what all of you have to say.