Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Chapter Nine – The Three Epiphanies of Creative Intuition

by Jacques Maritain


Poetic Sense or Inner Melody, Action and Theme, Number or Harmonic Expansion—Dante's innocence—And luck—The three specific types of poetry—Magic as a free "In plus"

Larger Work

Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry

Publisher & Date

Bollingen Foundation Inc., 1953

Poetic Sense or Inner Melody, Action and Theme, Number or Harmonic Expansion

1. Modern poetry has made great discoveries in the realm of images, and of their mysterious life within the soul. It has made still greater discoveries as regards the internalization of music, the liberation of the poetic sense—first of all as regards self-awareness and poetic knowledge. On the other hand modern poetry is ordinarily reproached—and by those who are most knowingly and lovingly interested in it—with a serious, perhaps irremediable weakness in regard to the intellectual power which enables the work to encompass universal and objective values within the unity of a great purpose, let us say, in a word, in regard to the theme.

The remarks put forward by Waldo Frank in his Introduction to the Collected Poems{1}of Hart Crane have, I think, general import in this connection. Allen Tate, he observes, had already pointed out, in his own Introduction to White Buildings, that "a suitable theme" was lacking, and that "a series of Imagist poems is a series of worlds. The poems of Hart Crane are facets of a single vision; they refer to a central imagination, a single evaluating power, which is at once the motive of the poetry and the form of its realization." "This central imagination," Waldo Frank goes on to say, "wanting the unitary principle or theme, wavers and breaks; turns back upon itself instead of mastering the envisaged substance of the poem. That is why, in the first group [Crane's poems anterior to The Bridge],a fragmentary part of a poem is sometimes greater than the whole." And some pages further on, we read: "Dante's cosmos, imaged in an age of cultural maturity, when the life of man was coterminous with his vision, contains Time and persons. . . . Crane's cosmos (for reasons which we examined when we called Crane a child of modern man, a poet innocent of culture-words) has no Time: and his person-sense is vacillant and evanescent. Crane's journey is that of an individual unsure of his own form and lost to Time. This difference at once clarifies the disadvantageous aesthetic of The Bridge, as compared with that of broadly analogous Poems of cosmic search, like the Commedia or Don Quixote. It exemplifies the role played by the cultural epoch in the creation of even the most personal work of genius." We may add that it is difficult for a modern poet not to be a child of modern man.

Yet, before going further, it seems relevant to try to elucidate a few notions which—together with that of the poetic sense, analyzed in Chapter VII—relate to the essentials of the poetic work.

In the remarks of Allen Tate and Waldo Frank I just quoted, the importance of the theme is emphasized. What does this notion of the theme mean?

The word suggests something that is propounded or put forward. Experts in literature tell us that the theme, which must not be confused with the subject, is the "basic idea" or "general idea" which is presented in a poem,{2} and which can even be translated (while losing its very nature and poetic quality by the very fact) into an intellectual "statement." Yet this is far from sufficient to enlighten us. What is the relation of the theme to the creative emotion? What is its functional value in the poem? The first point to be noted, in my opinion, is that the theme does not precisely relate to what the poem is, but rather to what the poem intends or proposes, what the poem wills.

A poem, however, has no will of its own, unless metaphorically. But in things which have no will of their own, like physical agents, there is a property that corresponds to what the will is in voluntary agents—namely, action. Things have action. Is there not a concept of action which is appropriate to the realm of the things of art? Does not a poem have action? Let us, then, turn first to the notion of the action of the work.

2. It is not by accident that an elucidation of the notion of action which is particularly helpful for our purpose is to be found in a book on the theater. The Idea of a Theater, by Francis Fergusson, is essentially concerned with this notion, and illustrates its significance by means of a rich comparative analysis. Quoting Aristotle: "Tragedy is the imitation of an action,"2a Francis Fergusson points out that the action does not mean "the events of the story but the focus or aim of psychic life from which the events, in that situation, result." In other words the action must not be confused with the plot, which is either -eke "form" or "first actualization, of the tragic action," or, in a secondary sense, the means of producing a certain effect upon the audience.{3} The action is something much deeper and much more far-reaching—and much simpler too—which materializes at various levels of analogy; it is something basically spiritual, and essentially refers to "the changing life of the psyche" as projected in a certain direction.

It might be said, I think, that the dramatic action is the spiritual elan or motion which, emanating from a constellation of human agents gathered together in a certain situation, carries them along, and which, as a result, commands a certain development of events in time, permeating it with a definite significance. The central paradox of the theater is the fact that on the one hand these human agents are endowed With free will and can change, to some extent, the course of the events, while, on the other hand, the work itself, which has no free will, is all the more perfect as everything in it results from necessity, so that the action must also develop with unbending necessity. This paradox is but an effect and a sign of the transposition or recasting which nature inevitably undergoes when it passes into the work of art. It brings, moreover, our attention to bear on a particularly important point: the Aristotelian formula, the "imitation of the action," in which the tragedy, and, more generally, any dramatic work consists, does not refer to a merely successive picture or image of the actions performed in human life—Merely successive, that is, made up, as Bergson put it, of immobile instants sewn to one another in time—as the picture of a race or a football game offered by the movies. The "imitation of action" is itself an action, which is analogous to the actions performed in human life, and which recasts them in a man-born pattern (originally ritualistic). And this action—analogous to the actions of human life—is the action of the work itself, the action of the play.

In other words the action that we are now discussing, the tragic or dramatic action, is a property of the dramatic work, not of the things that this work represents. In the same way, the "tragic rhythm of action"—the three moments which Kenneth Burke calls Poiema, Pathema, Mathema, and Mr. Fergusson Purpose, Passion (or Suffering), and Perception—obviously belongs to the work as an inherent property of the latter, not to the human life "imitated" by it. Thus it appears—this is the point which matters for me—that the work itself is possessed of that property which is action. Action is a quality immanent in the work. The work does not only exist, it acts, it does.

3. Action is the formative principle of the dramatic work and is, therefore, manifested in it in a pre-eminent manner. But it is in no way a unique privilege of the theater. The concept of action is an analogous concept, which is valid in the whole field of art. Action is a necessary property of any work of art. Unity of action, Coleridge wrote,{4} "is not properly a rule, but in itself the great end not only of the drama, but of the epic poem, the lyric ode, of all poetry, down to the candle-flame cone of an epigram,— nay of poesy in general, as the proper generic term inclusive of all the fine arts as its species."

May we hope to get a better understanding of action in the field of poesy by casting our eye over metaphysics, and the philosophical theory of action in the primary and universal sense of this word? Philosophers distinguish between two kinds of action—"transitive action," through which one thing modifies another, and "immanent action," which belongs to the category of quality, and through which a living agent perfects its own being. Immanent action, which tends essentially to complete in actuation the agent itself, produces at the same time a certain effect or a certain fruit (the concept, for instance, in the intellect) which remains within the agent.

Assuming the Aristotelian notions of act as fullness or completion in being, and of existence as actus primus,primary act, and act of all acts, Thomist philosophy states that action or operation, either transitive or immanent, is an actus secundus, an emergent terminative act, or a superabundance of existence, through which being asserts itself beyond substantial existence. For things are and exist before acting. Everywhere except in God, action is distinct from the essence of the agent and from its act of existing.

It is of course in a merely analogical way that such notions apply to those spiritual qualities which are the "ontological" elements of the poem, or of the work qua work of the mind. In that mysterious organism of words and meanings which is the poem, there is no distinction between substance and accident as there is in beings of nature. It is by reason of their relation to the creative source, and of their intentional value (that is, of their value as conveying the creative source, in virtue of the immaterial and purely tendential existence proper to the meaning) that the difference of "ontological" function between the poetic sense and the action must be understood.

Let us say, then, that the prime and most basic intentional value in the poem is the poetic sense, because the poetic sense is closest to the creative source—a meaning which immediately signifies the inhabited subjectivity of the poet as revealed in the night of nonconceptual emotive intuition. The poem receives its essence (that is, its intuitive communicativeness and power of delighting the intellect) and its existence before the mind through the poetic sense either purely and simply (in the case of the poem strictly so called) or in a merely inchoative way (in the case of the drama).{5} As to the action, it emanates from creative intuition as the second intentional value in the poem, presupposing therefore the poetic sense and complementing it. The action is—analogically—an actus secundus, an emergent terminative act, through which the poem superabounds in existence. The poem has a kind of "transitive action"—which is extrinsic and in addition—the action that it exercises upon the reader (such is the "purgation of passions" produced by tragedy). And it has a kind of "immanent action," which is intrinsic and essential: like the tragedy, which is a paradigm in this regard, every work of art not only is, but does. It moves, it acts. And this action is part of its very substance.{6} The "immanent action" I am pointing out, the action of the poem, is what the poem does—an elan or motion which develops in it, and through which within itself it asserts itself beyond itself. And through its action it proffers something which is an ultimate fruit of intelligibility: the significance of the action, in other words, the theme.

4. At this point, we come again upon the theme. But we realize that the theme is the term and significance of the action. On the one hand (though greater import can be given by the poet either to the action itself or to what is signified by it), the theme does not exist in the poem separately from the action (as a thesis does, which is introduced into the poem from without); the theme is immanent in the life of the poem, because it is the meaning of the action. A poet can use as many conceptual assertions as he pleases, the moment they are required either by the poetic sense or by the action: it is only through the action that they contribute validly to the expression of the theme. On the other hand, being the meaning of the action, the theme, like the action, presupposes the poetic sense, and originates in the creative intuition.

The proper effect of the action is to transfer poetic knowledge, from its own original state or level—where things and the Self are indivisibly grasped together, through emotion, and in darkness—to a more objective and more universal state or level, where creative knowledge is still, to be sure, unable to exist in terms of conceptual and logical reason (it exists in terms of action), but is disengaged from the night—the fecund and creative night—of subjectivity. Here we have to do with a process of relative depersonalization. But we have no longer an expression of the poetic knowledge and the creative emotion in their pure and original state, as the poetic sense is; we have an elan or motion into which creative emotion, losing its original state, objectivizes itself in some respect. The theme, or significance of the action, might be described as an objectivization and intellectualization—still implicit and concrete—of the content of creative emotion. It is irreducible to any merely logical statement, yet it can be subsequently translated—while losing its very nature by the fact—into such a statement.

Thus it is that the theme is in the poem the element which is the nearest to rational intellectuality. Through it, it is an objective content, pregnant with universal significance and laden with thought, that the poem embraces and offers. It is not surprising that the value and richness of the theme depend on, and are a token of, all the intellectual baggage of the poet—his more or less integrated universe of knowledge, his rational power and the energy of perception, comprehension, and command of his intelligence, the vastness and unity of his mental horizons—as presupposed condition.

Yet the central fact pointed out above holds true: the poetic sense or inner melody—prime and immediate expression, first-born of creative emotion—is prior to the action and the theme. The action and the theme are complements or objective reflections of the poetic sense: if they are not in consonance and unity with it, they mar the poem. They originate in creative emotion: without it they have no poetic existence. The idea of a theme can present itself to the mind independently of creative emotion: it gives nothing if it does not pass through creative emotion; the theme itself, the meaning of the action, exercises its function in the poem only by virtue of creative emotion.

Of course, in concrete psychological life, all things are at play together, in a way which may sometimes obscure the priorities in nature recognized by philosophical analysis. A poet, thinking of a certain theme, can be incited thereby to write a poem, just as he can be by the idea of a certain subject or by the fact that he has been commissioned by a publisher. Yet here we have simply psychological motivation, not the poetic process itself. Either the poet in question has already received the impact of some poetic intuition, which is the reason for his thinking of this particular theme; or he will wait for the coming of poetic intuition; or, if he does not wait for it, he will write a nonexisting poem. The theme has no creative power of its own. It receives its own unifying power from poetic intuition's creative power. All power comes from poetic intuition.

Let us read this poem of Donne:

If poisonous minerals, and if that tree
Whose fruit threw death on else immortal us,
If lecherous goats, if serpents envious
Cannot be damned, Alas! why should I be?
Why should intent or reason, born in me,
Make sins, else equal, in me more heinous?
And mercy being easy, and glorious
To God, in his stern wrath why threatens he?
But who am I, that dare dispute with thee,
O God? O! of thine only worthy blood,
And my tears, make a heavenly Lethean flood,
And drown in it my sin's black memory;
That thou remember them, some claim as debt,
I think it mercy, if thou wilt forget.

The theme, experts tell us,{7} may be summarized in "a flat prose statement": "Although it appears unjust that man, merely because he possesses the faculty of reason, should be damned for actions common to lower Nature and unpunished there, man should realize that God's treatment is not to be understood by human reason, and should therefore seek the remission of his sins through the double force of Christ's blood and his own repentance." "The handling of the idea," moreover, "is direct, in the form of argument. The question, then, is: how does the poet invest this argument with emotional force necessary to poetic effect?"

If this were the question, there would be no answer, and there would be no poem. The poet does not have to invest any argument with emotional force, because he does not begin with any argument. He begins with creative emotion, or poetic intuition, and the argument follows. Donne forcefully and eloquently developed his theme—because the creative spark

and power came entirely, not from his theme, but from his creative emotion, which I would designate as the wound suddenly produced by some incomprehensible contrast—poisonous minerals, and me—and by virtue of which the whole poem exists.

Shall we take another example? Let us read William Blake's "The Scoffers":

Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau,
Mock on, mock on; 'tis all in vain;
You throw but dust against the wind
And the wind blows it back again.

And every stone becomes a gem
Reflected in the beams divine;
Blown back, they blind the mocking eye,
But still in Israel's paths they shine.

The atoms of Democritus
And Newton's particles of light
Are sands upon the Red Sea shore,
Where Israel's tents do shine so bright.

No more objective and general theme could be desired: Voltaire, Rousseau, Contra inanem philosophiam. But where is the hidden creative power? In an invisible flash of intuitive emotion, which is obscurely conveyed to us—what can we say? dust of pride and God's glory—and by virtue of which the whole poem exists.

5. The action and the theme pertain to the second intentional value in the poem. Through them the poetic sense is complemented, or objectively reflected, in the same way—analogically speaking—as in the things of nature substance is complemented by quality. Another essential property, which I would call Number or Harmonic Expansion, constitutes a third intentional value, through which the poetic sense and the action are complemented, or externally reflected, in the same way—analogically speaking—as in the things of nature substance is extended by quantity.{8}

There is, for painting or music or dance or architecture as for poetry, a poetic space in which the unity of the work as spiritually conceived unfolds in the mutual extraposition of parts, extended either in time or in physical space. Not only are these parts all interrelated, but the very interrelation of parts depends on the whole which precedes them in the mind of the artist, and imposes on each of them its own exigencies of unity.{9}

This vital concurrence of the multiple, or vital order bringing to complex orchestral unity parts struggling to assert their own individual claims, is the number or harmonic expansion of the poem. The property in question, being the most perceivable to the senses, is also the most apparent, and has therefore so obvious an importance that the arrangement of the parts, the proportion, correspondence, and mutual impact between them, are what is first seen in the work, and the laws of this arrangement are what the working or discursive attention of the artist or the critic is most occupied with. Yet, essential as it may be, the number or harmonic expansion, being immersed in the materiality of the work, is only a kind of external reflection of the poetic sense and the action in the living and fertile mathematic of sense appearances. It is through number and harmonic expansion that the work is possessed of a kind of external music. For to the extent to which it has number, its visible or sonorous qualities, its impact on the senses and power of delighting them, its own charge of sensitivity and sensuousness are penetrated with the secret measures of reason and logic.

As opposed to the physical space, the poetic space proper to the number or harmonic expansion is not a pre-existing and empty milieu in which things take place, it results from the very expansion of the various parts of the work in their mutual concurrence and competition, so that it is, or should be, always full, filled with significative meanings, tensions, and pressures, either positive or negative (silences, voids, breathing spells, blanks reserved for the unexpressed and the nonexistent, which have as much impact on the mind as what is actually expressed).{10} This absolutely singular space, peculiar to each work, is a visible or sonorous embodiment of that universal law of proportion through which creative reason manifests and veils itself in art as well as in nature.

All this appears in a pre-eminent manner when, as in the novel, the parts of the work are characters in mutual conflict, on whose inner depths the interest is concentrated. Then the poetic space becomes a world, and the number or harmonic expansion becomes the vital order—making diversity at its peak conspire in the unity of an enigmatic purpose—through which a creative providence governs a universe of free agents.

Yet, as we shall see, the proportion between the parts of the work and between them and the whole depends on, and originates in, a deeper and more primordial proportion, hidden in the spiritual fabric of the work.

6. At this point let us consider more closely the relationship of the three intentional values of the work we have just discussed with the creative intuition or emotion of the poet. I would say that there is for creative intuition three different states, in consequence of the spiritual spheres in which it acts.

In the spiritual sphere which is its own world—the creative night of the preconscious, nonconceptual life of the intellect—poetic intuition is in its pure, original, and native state, in its state of innocence and integrity, in its God-given state. And it passes into the work through the instrumentality of the poetic sense.

But in proportion as the exercise of the operative activity intensifies, poetic intuition makes headway in the "fourth dimension," which is neither breadth, height, or depth, but degrees of qualitative diversity in the specific perspective or angle of vision of the intellect. Thus poetic intuition penetrates into the world of the early morning vision of the intellect, or of nascent logos. There, it is no longer in its connatural state, but in an alien state, peculiar to the work as mentally conceived, the work as thought. And then a certain objective virtuality which was contained in poetic intuition is, as it were, detached from it and brought to the act: poetic intuition passes into the work through the instrumentality of the action and the theme.

Here it is all-important, as I already observed, to realize that the fundamental part played by the intellectual baggage of the poet, and his universe of acquired knowledge, refers to a pre-supposed condition in the order of "material causality." It is only through the poetic intuition and as integrated with it in its pure and original state{11} that this intellectual baggage and this acquired knowledge take on a "formal" part in artistic activity. "The nature of a man's words, where he is strongly affected by joy, grief, or anger, must necessarily depend on the number and quality of the general truths, conceptions, and images, and of the words expressing them, with which his mind had been previously stored."{12} This is evidently and basically true. But what has been stored is but material, supply, food. However rich a soil may be, the juices of the earth must be assimilated by the living sap of trees. The deepest and most comprehensive conceptions, the diamonds of the most powerful reason and integrated knowledge, are of no use if they are not brought to a kind of intentional-experiential fusion with the subjectivity and to a state of fluid, simple, and entirely individualized emotive intuitivity in the preconscious night of poetic knowledge. Everything must pass through this creative night. Doubtless, as regards the material afforded, no great and consistent action or theme can emerge from creative emotion, however genuine, if the energies of the soul are divided or bewildered and its intellectual stuff threadbare or rotten. But action and theme are nothing in the work if they do not emanate from, and are not permeated by, the original spirituality of creative emotion and poetic intuition.

Finally poetic intuition penetrates into the sphere of the daylight vision of the intellect, or of the formed logos, I mean to say, of the virtue of art. Then it is in a still more alien state, peculiar to the work in the making. And then the working virtualities which were contained in it are brought to the act, by the fact that it quickens the virtue of art and controls the ways of execution. Poetic intuition passes into the work through the instrumentality of the number or harmonic expansion. Here again, all the laws and rules of proportion and arrangement are nothing if they are not permeated by the obscure fire of creative intuition.

But a new question arises. Does not the possibility of a certain division or split come about at the moment when poetic intuition passes from its first to its second state, and by the fact that the poetic sense of the poem is partially objectivized into the action? In other words, by the fact that the poetic work not only is, but also does? I do not think that "beauty is as beauty does," as Kenneth Burke puts it. I would rather say: beauty does as beauty is (a formula which is purely and simply valid for the poem or the song as such, but which must be qualified, as we shall see, when it comes to the drama or the novel).{13} In every self-subsistent being the essence—even at the stage where (as in the drama and the novel, or in plastic arts) it is communicated by the poetic sense in a merely nascent and inchoative way—is a greater and more sacred mystery than the action, and the prime precept of the action is to do as one is. This precept, I believe, applies to the poetic work analogically. The action of a poem may happen to be false to its poetic sense. If there are so few genuine tragedies, it is because in tragedy the action is so prevalent that it risks outgrowing the poetic sense or superseding it. A bad tragedy, like Voltaire's tragedies, has only action, no poetic sense, that is to say, has no action at all, but only plot. The marvel with Sophocles, Shakespeare, and Racine is that the drama has by virtue of the poetic sense such radiant communicativity, such a charge of poetic knowledge, and such free and autonomous existence, that the action, all-animating as it may be, seems the pure motion, made visible, of the inner song of the work, through which the soul of the poet passes.

Let us say, then, that in the spiritual fabric of the poem, the difference in proximity to the creative source between the poetic sense on the one hand, the action and the theme on the other, implies a possibility that the action or the theme, escaping the hold of creative emotion, does not accord with the poetic sense and thus (since they are in interdependence) makes it degenerate or dissipate. Thus it appears that the primordial proportion which matters to the work is the proportion between the action and the poetic sense. It is from this primordial proportion that the number or harmonic expansion derives (as, in music, harmony from the original proportion of the theme to the melody), as well as all those other proportions, of parts between themselves and of parts with the whole, which fill the poetic space and of which I spoke above.

I would like to add, incidentally, that our present considerations may help us to make More precise the criterion to distinguish the "self-sufficient" or "autonomous arts" from the "subservient arts."{14} In the subservient arts the work—a ship for instance—is merely "functional," uniquely determined by the requirements of its action (transitive action) or its use. But in the self-sufficient arts the work is "substantial" or self-subsistent, it is first determined by its poetic sense, and its action is first of all immanent action. When the work is a song, its action is a manifestation of its essence; when, as in painting, sculpture, or architecture (or in the novel), the work is given its poetic essence through its action and its harmonic expansion as well as its poetic sense, its action is involved in its very essence. And if it is also functional, as in architecture, this functional value appears itself as a consequence or property of the substantial value. In every great work of architecture the virtue of poetry is so powerful that the functional destination is absorbed, so to speak, in the self-subsistence and self-necessity of a man-made cosmos; all that which is directed—from the very start—to practical use and the service of human needs, appears only as a result and flowering of the inner requirements of such a self-subsistent cosmos.

I am aware of the tentative and exploratory character of the views put forward under the heading of this section. I hope, however, that they may be of some use for further inquiries, and may draw attention to central problems that are often passed over in the approach to the poetic work, whether in poetry or in painting, or in any other of the "self-sufficient arts."

To sum up, I shall say that the poetic sense or inner melody, the action and the theme, the number or harmonic structure, are the three epiphanies of poetic intuition or creative emotion passing into the work.    And I shall conclude that the analysis of the inner spiritual springs, in the poet's mind, in which the poem originates, and of the essential elements of which its own spiritual fabric consists, throws some light on the particular relationship of these three elements to the three components of beauty. Radiance or clarity, which is the absolutely prime property of beauty, and matters first of all, appears principally (I do not say uniquely) in the poetic sense or inner melody of the work; integrity, in the action and the theme; and consonance, in the number or harmonic structure.

Dante's Innocence

7. When we meditate upon the unique grandeur of the Commedia, its cosmic scope, and the joint superiority in it of the inner melody, the action, the theme and the number, our admiration goes out to the genius of Dante, of course, but also to his luck.

A Frenchman has said that genius is a "long patience." He was probably right. But the longue patience and mad obstinacy in labor depend themselves on a deeper source. Complex as the obscure reality meant by this word may be, genius has essentially to do with the fact of poetic intuition taking shape in the inaccessible recesses of the soul at an exceptional degree of depth. When it comes to designating the particular quality which characterizes those creative regions, we are at a loss to find an appropriate name. The least defective term I am able to suggest is creative innocence. This creative innocence, which is one with unimpeded power and freedom of poetic intuition, is, I think, the most profound aspect of Dante's genius.

The word innocence has two connotations. The first is naiveté, that sort of total simpleness and confidence in gazing at things of which intelligence at the highest degree of its vitality or childish ignorance alone are capable, and which, like the charity spoken of by St. Paul, believes as one breathes, "believeth all things."

How could one utter if he did not believe? The native reliance, consubstantial with his own being, "la betise," Baudelaire said{15} (because he hid himself in the disparaging irony of nineteenth-century dandyism), with which any great poet believes all things—not only all things brought to him by poetic experience, but also everything in the world and in himself which is food or support for it, and every nod and wink that events give to him, and his own feeling, and his own urge to speak an unspeakable truth of his own—is carried in Dante to the point of an adamantine certitude. He has no doubt at all. He seems even immune from the doubt which troubles so many great poets about their own work.

And the feeling that every great poet has—be it in distressing obscurity—of a certain wound which has set free in him the creative source, and has separated him from other men (through the dreams and detachment of childhood, or some abiding despair) is carried in Dante to the point of a perfectly clear awareness. He knows his wound and believes in it; and cherishes it. Beatrice has made it. The best that we can do is to accept his testimony, just as it is given. Freudians may explain in their way the sublimation of the experience he underwent in seeing a girl of nine when he was nine. What matters to us is the fact that this trauma, penetrating to the very center of the powers of the spirit, has made of his relation to Beatrice the unshakeable personal truth on which his poetic intuitivity will live, the nest of his creative emotion, the basic belief through which all realities of the visible and invisible world will awaken his creative subjectivity. If by virtue of the magic of imagination and the symbol, Beatrice was to become, while remaining herself, a constellation of supreme spiritual lights, it is because everything revealed to Dante in the night of poetic knowledge was revealed to him in and through his love for her—captured itself by imagination but still keeping its original impact—and in continuity with the primordial intuition which had obscurely disclosed womanhood and desire to him.

Symbolically transmuted as she may be, Beatrice is never a symbol or an allegory for Dante. She is both herself and what she signifies. Dante's blessed naiveté is so profound that—at the preconscious level of creativity, in the deepest nocturnal recess of poetic intuition—he actually believes in this one and multiple identity. Without this central belief all his poetry would have quit him. His naiveté is such that he believes his love for Beatrice to be in itself and in the face of all men as important a thing as heaven and earth. This naiveté, which "believes all things," has such brazen audacity that nothing seems more natural to him than to have a certain girl, by the original fact that his flesh burned for her, exalted in paradise as the incarnation of theological knowledge, in whose eyes the humanity and the divinity of Christ are mirrored, and of faith illumined by the contemplative gifts, and of the inspired guidance in the regions of the beatific vision. Vergil and all the abysses of darkness and light were mobilized, the great voyage from hell to heaven was undertaken, the entire Commedia was written to glorify this woman. This was the first basic incentive. "Therefore," as he puts it in the last chapter of the Vita Nuova, "if it be His pleasure through Whom is the life of all things that my life continue with me a few years, it is my hope that I shall write yet concerning her what hath not before been written of any woman."

8. I would call integrity or incorruption, untouched original purity, the second connotation of creative innocence. If we remember what has been said in another part of this book about poetic experience and poetic intuition, we shall realize that the regions where they are born, when they are to possess the fullness of their nature, are regions of ontologic simplicity which are blissfully shielded from all the busyness of psychological interests. At the center of the Self self-research loses any sense. I have insisted elsewhere on the essential disinterestedness of poetic intuition. There is no merit in this disinterestedness. It is but an effect of the ontologic simplicity I just mentioned, some visible image of which the gravity of a child's gaze sometimes offers to us, who seems simply astonished to be, and condemns all our interests and their futility.

The creative emotion of minor poets is born in a flimsy twilight and at a comparatively superficial level in the soul. Great poets descend into the creative night and touch the deep waters over which it reigns. Poets of genius have their dwelling place in this night and never leave the shores of these deep waters. Here are the regions of integrity of which I am speaking.

We have no sign of this deep-seated integrity, except the work itself, or perchance the presence, in the visible regions of the soul, of some pure and lasting feeling, which is like a reflection on moving clouds of the sun fallen below the horizon. "What is God?" Thomas Aquinas asked when he was five. This question born in the creative innocence of a child's astonishment developed into the multiform and single movement of his lifelong research. It is not unwise to assume that in Dante something similar came about: not a prime question of nascent reason, but a prime wound of nascent sensibility and, in proportion as later on poetic experience developed, a more and more profound (as this wound itself) discovery by poetic intuition—an amazement without end before the face of love unveiling its miraculous and terrible ambiguity; and, then, across all the weaknesses and failings of a human life, a pure abiding feeling of spiritual fidelity, an unbroken process of deeper knowing and purifying of love. Shelley states that Dante "understood the secret things of love" more than any other poet. And did he not say himself:

Tutti li miei pensier parlan d'Amore.

He never idealized carnal love, whose tricks he also understood, and he never forgot that any evil can "color as love wills," as did the Siren's smarrito volto. He knew perfectly the difference in nature which distinguishes the various kinds of love, and especially divine love from human love. He is frightened and ashamed when, at the appearance of Beatrice in the Earthly Paradise, even before recognizing her he suddenly feels "the mighty power of ancient love," "d'antico amor la gran potenza," "through hidden virtue which went out from her." But he also knew that the lowest forms of love bear in darkness and distortion the seal of a higher origin, and that purified human love can be redeemed by divine love, and serve it. While his love for God his Savior, for "Him Who is the lord of courtesy," transfigures the woman he once desired, his love for this transfigured woman is the medium through which divine love penetrates, the creative center of his poetry. The entire Commedia was written to bear testimony to the purification of love in the heart of a man. This was the second basic incentive, and it was one with the first.

How would this long movement itself of self-purification have taken hold of the soul of the poet without the basic integrity of his creative experience, in which the "secret things of love" were gradually discovered to him?

9. Creative innocence is in no way moral innocence. It is, as I have indicated above, of an ontologic, not a moral nature. It has essentially to do with the intuition of the poet, not with his loves. And of the two things which alone make life worth living, love is more valuable than intuition when it transforms us into something better than we are, but intuition is not liable to all kinds of illusion and moral defilement, as love is: because intuition deals with knowledge (creative knowledge in the case of the poet) and, qua intuition, never misses the mark.

In every great poet creative innocence exists to some degree. It has its plenitude in the greatest. It exists in a place which is so deep-seated that no impact of the troubles, splits, vices, or failures which may undermine the domain of free will, passion, and instinct can spoil its ontologic integrity. In this place there is no conflict or break between senses and reason, because there is no division. All the powers of the soul are brought to unity in a state of habitual permanence, proper to a poetic experience which is not fleeting and transient, as it is usually, but lasting and steady, at least virtually. This place is the only one that is not wounded, I would say, by the old hereditary sin which wounds human nature. It is a kind of earthly paradise—but physical, not moral—concealed in nocturnal depths, in which nothing, to be sure, of the divine pageant described by Dante can be hoped for, but where the smile and the eyes of a Beatrice of beauty, not of sainthood, are mirrored in deep waters.

The inner world in the midst of which such a place exists may be filled with impurity; the moral experience of a great poet may be rotten; his thought and his passion may be stimulated by energies of illusion or perversity. When the things he has nourished in himself enter his earthly paradise of creative innocence, they keep their moral impurity—if they have any—which will also pass into the work. But they bathe in the ontologic purity of this place. In the waters of poetic knowledge they are dehumanized and made into mineral entities, transmuted into forms of the revelation of being through creative emotion; they receive a new nature, a poetic nature, a new principle of existence, which replaces in them the human one, and causes their moral impact and moral qualities, as well as the marks and stains upon them of a man's tics or vices, to become henceforth accidental and secondary in the particular sphere of this new state of existence, where only poetry and beauty are essential. To the extent to which moral deformity always involves some ontologic defect, some naught, there will be, if the things in question, the poet's intellectual and moral supply, are corroded by such naught, some lack or deficiency in their new nature as forms of the revelation of being through creative emotion. Yet inasmuch as they receive this new nature, and emerge from a poetic intuition proper to the great depths, this lack or deficiency entails only some comparative imperfection in the work into which they enter, and they are invested with the ontologic purity of creative innocence, they are possessed of a purity which is poetic purity.

Thus it is that a great poet can be corrupt, while his creative intuition never is. A purity remains in him, which of itself is of no avail for his soul, but which is a blessing for his work and for us. And if there are in this work poisonous human meanings and morally impure ferments, their impact on human minds will wear off in time, absorbed or superseded by another impact, more essential to the work, the impact of poetic purity and poetic energy. Time, as Shelley put it, will wash away all the sins of the poet in the eyes of those who receive from him the pure gift of a more profound discovery in the experience of beauty and the human soul.

10. Dante was not corrupt, and nothing morally impure went from his heart into his work. This is not, however, the fact with which our present considerations are concerned. They point to this other fact, that all things a poet puts in his work must pass through the creative night of poetic intuition. Nowhere is Dante's great lesson clearer.

No poet has had to do with heavier equipment and ammunition. Not to speak of his perfect craftsmanship, he knew everything his time knew and took to heart all the conflicts, whether social, political, or religious, in which his time was engaged. His work is a summa laden with a world of divine and human truths, yearnings, and violence. For ivory tower he has the earth and heaven. He describes, he narrates, he teaches, he preaches. Why such freedom? All his immense materials, all the constellations of Christianity were carried in the creative night of his poetic intuition to a state of imponderable poetic existence. All passed through this intuitive night, by virtue of his extraordinarily profound creative innocence. For creative innocence is the paradise of poetic intuition, the existential state in which poetic intuition can reach full power and liberty. (And another quality of the entire soul concurred, but this is another point.)

In addition to the basic poetic incentives, all kinds of purposes, human, nonartistic in nature, played their part freely in the productive effort of Dante. None entered his art and his work as an extraneous element, interfering with, or "bending," them. Being integrated in poetic intuition, all were in, from the start, at each creative instant on which each part of the work depended. As to the final end, it was, so he wrote, "to remove those living in this life from the state of misery and lead them to the state of felicity."{16} In fact, while the poet intended such a final purpose, poetry was freer than ever, quickened from within in its very liberty, and it was to make of the work, if not the great instrument of salvation that the poet proposed, at least a self-sufficient creation mirroring the wanderings of humanity in search of blessedness—simply a poem, in a word, in which a host of readers most often deaf to its preaching would look for the delights of beauty—not to speak of the supreme delights afforded to scholars by the puzzles of allegory, trope, and anagogy.

Dante teaches a great deal. Everybody teaches in the Commedia. Why do we never feel the tedium of didacticism? Nothing is more boring in a poem than philosophy or allegory. Why are we never bored with the philosophical lectures of Dante, and all his allegorical apparatus? Not to speak of his geographical contrivances and cosmological devices? The answer is always the same. If all these things are deprived of their natural weight, and become light and transparent, and have been made themselves innocent, it is because, as a natural result of the poet's creative innocence, they have been seized hold of by his emotion, abstract as they may be, and have received from it an ingenuous soul, and an indefinite meaning which matters more than their own. May I suggest that Dante believes in his riddles and his cosmological and geographical sand castles with the ambiguous seriousness of childhood's imagination? As to allegory, he invests it with such visual melody that we already receive some intuitive pleasure from it—even from it!—before understanding anything of it.{17} As T. S. Eliot observes, it is enough for us to know that it has a meaning, without knowing yet what this meaning can be.

And perhaps it is not necessary to understand Dante's philosophical discourses either, to be allured by a pleasure of reason: so pure are their perfect economy and the intellectual sweep they delineate, like a dance movement, by virtue of some underlying music of emotion. Yet we enjoy them to the full, to be sure, when the marvelous precision of the intelligible meaning appears also to us, adding clarity to clarity. Thus, in the Purgatorio, we are instructed in the existence of free will by Marco Lombardo:

Voi che vivete ogni cagion recate
pur suso al cielo, pur come se tutto
movesse seco di necessitate.

Se cosi fosse, in voi fora distrutto
libero arbitrio, e non fora giustizia
per ben, letizia, e per male, aver lutto.

Lo cielo i vostri movimenti inizia;
non dico tutti, ma, posto ch'io it dica,
lume v'e dato a bene ed a malizia

e libero voler, che, se fatica
nelle prime battaglie col del dura,
poi wince tutto, se ben si notrica.

A maggior forza e tniglior natura
liberi soggiacete, e quella cria
la mente in voi, che it ciel non ha in sua cura.{18}

Finally a point made by T. S. Eliot may be discussed, I think, in the light of our present considerations. Eliot observes that although the Divine Comedy could not have been written without Dante's religious faith, it is not necessary to share in this faith to understand the poem and assent to its beauty. You must be instructed, of course, about the things in which Dante believed, but you are not required to believe in them yourself. In reading the poem, Eliot says, "you suspend both belief and disbelief." Moreover, while being perhaps as remote as possible from Dante's own belief, you do not feel hurt by that imposition of the personal belief of a man forcing its way into another which other poets, Goethe for instance, do not spare us.{19} I assume, as Eliot does, that the typical characteristics of the religious doctrine to which Dante adhered are not alien to the fact. "A coherent traditional system of dogma and morals like the Catholic . . . stands apart, for understanding and assent even without belief, from the single individual who propounds it."{20} More precisely, with the objective system of reference of a public revelation conveyed to all through the testimony of a visible Church, there is no need for the poet to push himself forward in speaking of what he believes more than in speaking of what everyone sees.

I hasten to say, nevertheless, that not with all Catholic poets does a non-Catholic reader feel himself protected from any intrusive assertion of an individual's belief. The reason for the fact mentioned by Eliot lies in the very purity of Dante's poetic approach. It relates to the sovereign and native primacy of the poetic sense over the intelligible sense—even in a poetry which is splendidly clear. The ego of the man has disappeared in the creative Self of the poet. Theological faith itself, the most sacred belief, has entered the work through the instrumentality of creative emotion and poetic knowledge, and passed through the lake of disinterestedness of creative innocence.

And Luck

11. It is not enough to speak of Dante's genius. We must also take his luck into consideration. The extraordinary luck of Dante the poet was a result of the coincidence of an extraordinary variety of good fortunes. It had to do with the grace of God and the virtues of Dante the man, with centuries of culture and with a unique moment in time.

There was, first, the innocence of his heart. The subtle naivete of the medieval man was all the greater in him as it was brightened but not yet corrupted by the dawning ardors of modern consciousness. Full of violence as he was, his passions, angers, and prepossessions, as well as the ventures of his life, all emerged from candor and ingenuousness. The purity of his eye made his "whole body lightsome." No fault leaves mud in a soul which knows itself in clarity and is steeped in the feeling of the mercy of its Redeemer. I do not believe that the creative innocence of Dante, and the transparency of his poetic experience, could have been so deep, had not the innocence of his heart established his entire soul in genuine connaturality with them.

Another luck for his poetry was the freedom of mind he received from the firmness of his religious faith. Because he was so perfectly sure of his faith, his poetry was able freely to play even with its tenets, and to fancy, without deceiving anybody, that condition of the "neither rebellious nor faithful," rejected both by heaven and by hell, which theology does not know. Because he was perfectly sure of his faith, he was eager for knowledge, whose consonance with his faith was for him divinely unquestionable, and he had such liberty in his appreciation of any effort of human reason, that he welcomed in his praise and paradise both Thomas Aquinas and Siger de Brabant. He was not afraid, as the Jansenists were later on, to do justice to the natural virtues of the pagans. He had none of the fears and complexes which paralyze our modem literary martyrs of freedom from truth. His undivided intellect was established in a state of general security by the all-pervading security of his faith. It is hard for our modern mind to imagine the simplicity in belief and firmness in adherence which characterized the whole thought of Dante, however refined, subtle, and learned, and his vision of the world and of himself. Here again a certain kind of innocence in man, an innocence of the intellect, which was in no way credulity, but integrity of the natural elan or eros, assisted creative innocence.

And so we are led to a different category of luck, which has to do not with a strengthening of the creative source itself, but rather with the prerequired conditions—depending on the general equipment of the mind and the harvest garnered in its granaries—of which I spoke with respect especially to the action and the theme, and which relate to creative intuition from the outside. I am thinking, here, of the heritage of culture received by Dante, and of the articulate universe of beliefs and values in which his thought dwelt. Dante wrestled with his time, which forced into exile the poet threatened with death. But as concerns the spiritual quality of the cultural heritage he was blessed by his time. Then the human mind was imbued with the sense of being, and nature appeared all the more real and consistent as it was perfected by grace. Being still turned toward wisdom, still permeated with rationality and mystery both of which descended from the Uncreate Word, still softened by the blood of the Incarnate Word, the universe of the late thirteenth century, with its ontological hierarchies mirrored in the hierarchies of intellectual disciplines, ensured to the intelligence and emotion of a poet, despite all the evil fevers, discords, crimes, and vices of the time, a state of integration and vitality that the modern man has lost. Dante participated with all his fibers in an organic order which already felt the first breaths of a newly-born spring, and did not know it was already decaying.

I do not believe that the greater or less perfection in intrinsic truth of the universe of thought of a poet matters to his poetry save in quite a remote manner. The medieval universe, true as its highest metaphysical principles may be, was, on the other hand, lacking in a great many truths that the modern man has discovered at the price of his internal unity. Moreover, great poetry was to live in universes of thought quite different from that of Dante—already the universe of Cervantes, and still more that of Shakespeare, and still more that of Goethe, and still more that of Dostoevski, not to speak of what had been the universe of Homer or that of Sophocles, or that of the Upanishads. What matters to poetry in a close and direct manner are, I think, certain extremely simple but basic presences or existential certainties, assured by the universe of thought which constitutes the vital environment of poetic intuition: for instance a certitude both of the mysterious irrefragable existence and the exigency of intelligibility involved in things; a certitude of the interiority of the human being, and of its importance; a certitude that between man and the world there is an invisible relationship deeper than any material interconnection; a certitude that the impact of his freedom on his destiny gives his life a movement which is oriented, and not lost in the void, and which has to do, in one way or another, with the whole fabric of being. Such existential certitudes, and many others no doubt, existed in the mind of Baudelaire (at what cost—columns in what desert) as in that of Dante. The absence of some of them is responsible for the narcissism of Mallarmé. I submit that without them the prerequired conditions are lacking for any great poetry to reach full stature. Natural as they may be, these certitudes exist with greater force and stability if they are integrated in an articulate universe of thought. They cannot exist in us when the universe of thought that we have received—and accepted (in anguish or complacency, revolt or self-abandonment)—from our age of culture is a disintegrated universe which rejects or denies them, and has lost, together with the intellectual sense of being and truth, what Waldo Frank called, in the page quoted at the beginning of this chapter, the sense of the person (or of the interiority of the human being) and the sense of Time (or of the oriented movement of human existence). Dante's luck was to have all the presences, the existential certitudes which are the natural soil of poetry, integrated with absolute firmness in a consistent universe of thought rooted in reason and faith—and radiant to his emotion in the blissful innocence of the intellect. Never has creative innocence enjoyed so favorable a climate and such exceptional assistance. A whole cosmos could pass through the creative night of his poetic intuition.

Finally we have also to consider the fleeting uniqueness of the moment of human history which was the moment of Dante. As Allen Tate has pointed out, the luckiest periods for art and poetry are those where a great civilization is on the verge of decline. Then the vital force of this civilization meets with historical conditions which cease being appropriate to it, but it is still intact, for one moment, in the sphere of spiritual creativity, and it gives its last fruit there, while the freedom of poetry avails itself of the decay of social disciplines and ethos. Nothing less than age-old Christendom was singing its last song in Dante.

Yet the point with which I am concerned is much more particular. It has to do with the proper time of poetry itself. Considering the process of self-realization, through a work of words, of poetry as free creativity of the spirit, I would say that during the Middle Ages poetry (I mean in the vernacular) had remained in a preadult state. The diversity of generic forms (mystery play, romance, lyric, etc.) in which it expressed itself had only to do with a condition imposed by art or technè. Medieval poetry had not reached the stage where the inner growth of poetry demands a division of poetry itself into certain basic forms by virtue of an essential difference in its approach to the work. In other words art was differentiated; poetry, in its own ways of using the activity of art, was not. The virtualities of its energy of self-realization through the work of words were still united in indistinctness. Dante arrived just at the instant when medieval poetry touched its ultimate point of growth—on the verge of differentiation, but still undifferentiated.

Thus it is that the Divine Comedy breaks open, the classical framework of the epic (it is in no way a simple Christian Aeneid)and cannot be classed in any literary genre. He we are confronted with the central fact on which I wish to lay stress. The Commedia embraces in its substantial unity forms of poetic creation which demand of themselves to be separate, and which will separate after Dante—I say as specific types of poetry, apart from the more external division of the work (even if it happens to lack any poetry) into artistic or literary genres. The Divine Comedy is at the same time and with the same intensive reality poetry of the song, poetry of the theater, and poetry of the tale; the three epiphanies of poetic intuition compose together its single soul or entelechy.

The Divine Comedy is indeed a Song—a song to a woman who was loved (all poets think so) as no other woman ever was or will be, and a song to the purification of love in the heart of the poet. With its "lax and humble method of speech," as Dante put it,{21} it is a sustained avowal, veiled under infinitely variegated external forms, of the subjectivity of the poet wounded by this woman, and through this wound awakened to its own depths and all things, in the transparent night of poetic knowledge. A long inner melody of feelings and meanings, running through the entire work, gives it its secret unity, and that pure freedom, satisfied only with being, which witnesses to the freedom in it of the poetic sense. The indefinitely vibrating echoes and overtones in intelligibility due to the multiplicity of allusive senses and to the "imaginative fusion of images and ideas" enigmatically convey in the tercets and sequences a singular impact of subjectivity in the act of intuitive emotion. The music of intuitive pulsions, prevented as it may be from direct expression by the requirements of intelligibility, passes despite all into the very intelligibility of the lines—translated into the infallible cadence of the intelligible and imaginative élan, which loads with pure emotion each particular unit or episode. Speaking of the third canto of the Inferno, "in this canto," Coleridge said, "all the images are distinct, and even vividly distinct, but there is a total impression of infinity; the wholeness is not in vision or conception, but in an inner feeling of totality, and absolute being";{22} and he noted the fundamental importance of "inwardness or subjectivity"{23} in Dante's poetry. Everywhere, but especially perhaps in the Paradiso, the freedom of the song is a sign of the kind of "aseity" peculiar to the first epiphany of creative intuition.

Pero che tutte quelle wive luci,
vie piu lucendo, cominciaron canti
da mia memoria labili e caduci.

O dolce amor, che di riso t'ammanti,
quanto parevi ardente in quei flailli
ch'avieno spirto sol di pensier santi!{24}

But the Divine Comedy is also, indeed, a Drama. Scott Buchanan, in Poetry and Mathematics, and Francis Fergusson, in The Idea of a Theater, have remarked that "the deepest and most elaborate development of the trade rhythm is to be found in the Divine Comedy.”{25} The whole work

and its three parts, and the whole and detail of each part, are animated by the intellectual élan, articulate and definite, proper to the action; and the unitary power of the theme is the meaning of a particularly powerful action. In the last analysis, it is by virtue of that objectivization of creative intuition which is the action that "the most wakeful reason" enjoys full freedom in the poem without threatening (because action and poetic sense are in perfect consonance) the spells of the night, and gently interweaves its threads with those of the myth and the dream. Thus could a theorist of the theater like Fergusson—I have already noted the fact—find in the Divine Comedy, especially in the Purgatorio, an ideal exemplar of dramatic action. The Commedia is for him—with the drama of Sophocles and Shakespeare—one of the "cultural landmarks in which the idea of a theater has been briefly realized"; it shows us "not the contemporary possibility, but the perennial idea of a theater of human life and action."{26}

And the Divine Comedy is also, indeed, a Tale, or better, a Novel of the beyond and the here below. It is a continuous and complex narrative, in which the particular adventures of the two protagonists serve to put into existence and motion a world of adventures and destinies, so as to make of each human being involved a center of interest, looked at by the poet in its own singular ineffable reality. Though their fates are now sealed, and their lives have become only an object of memory, all these characters have life and existential interiority, because their author knows them, as every novelist does, from the inside, that is, through himself, or through connaturality. As the Commedia clearly shows, it is through his own inclinations, but especially through his love, that Dante knew his characters; love was the great medium, either pity or piety or furor (the reverse face of love). And although he nowhere indulged in any kind of connivance or complicity, he even loved, and even admired, certain of his sinners without being in any way hindered by their state of damnation—as in particular that master of his youth, his dear Brunetto Latini, who even in hell "seemed like him who wins, and not like him who loses":

Poi si rivolse, e parve di coloro
che corrono a Verona it drappo verde
per la campagna; e parve di costoro
quelli che wince, non colui che perde.{27}

At this point—just as the essence of the Song appears everywhere, but especially perhaps in the Paradiso, and that of Drama everywhere but especially perhaps in the Purgatorio—must we note that the essence of the Novel appears everywhere, but especially perhaps in the Inferno?{28} It has been said of Dante: "His eye is always directly upon the life of the psyche in its shifting modes of being, its thought, its sufferings, and its contemplation."{29} In other words he has the eye of a genuine novelist.

The Three Specific Types of Poetry

13. The Divine Comedy is Novel, Drama, and Song in indivisibility, and with equal plenitude. This fact—unique, I think, in our culture—does not depend only on the genius of Dante, it depends also on his extraordinary luck. Thereafter, the three types of poetry united in the Commedia divided from one another, by virtue of an irreversible process of differentiation—here again I do not speak of the differentiation (long since achieved) of the art of writing into various literary genres, I speak of the differentiation of poetry itself into three essentially distinct types: namely the Poem, the Drama, and the Novel, in so far as, in literary genres which often do without poetry, or betray it, poetry demands to make the work into a real, pure, and genuine expression of poetry itself.

As regards the Poem, I believe that this process of differentiation was fully achieved only in modern times, together with the self-awareness of poetry. During the classical age it did not proceed without trouble. One may wonder whether the example of Dante was always profitable to great poets anxious to compete with him in greatness, and the fact is that neither Milton nor Goethe completely escaped the kind of boredom inherent in any poetic work too big for its soul. As to Faust, whose general movement, curiously enough ("from Heaven, through Earth, down to Hell") is the opposite of that of the Divine Comedy, the action in it is poor and cold, and the philosophical expression owes its richness and warmth only to lyricism vivifying an alien matter, which comes from abstract reason.

Be that as it may, it is surely fair for us, when we think of poetry, to bear in mind the paradigm offered by Dante, but we may be unfair to modern poets if we use this paradigm as a too simple and univocal measure of comparison.

No poem, except for the unique case of the Commedia, can be poem, drama, and novel at the same time. The Poem, the Song, exists through its poetic sense, the first epiphany of creative intuition. Obviously it must also have action and harmonic expansion, but appropriate to its nature. When we say that the theme is weak in modern poetry, we are right in regard to those poets whose theme is frail or evanescent because they have nothing to say, even about an experience of their own. But it would be nonsense to require from modern poets a "greatness," an objective intellectuality and universality of theme comparable to those in Dante. With respect to the nature of a poetry whose prime virtue is to convey purely the intuitive night of subjectivity and the nonconceptualizable meanings caught in things through this night, modern poetry has shown that it is capable of greatness, as well as of any quality required in the action, the theme, and the harmonic expansion.

It has been observed that the modern poet is secluded in his own self: when it is a question of a great modern poet, this is true only on the condition that one adds that in this single self and its emotion unknown things grasped in the world are present, and some more than real reality is passing. Where in modern poems is that interest for a host of other human beings which fills the Divine Comedy? Is the modern poet unable to enter into creative communication with other selves than his own? As far as the Poem, or the Song, is concerned, it is not with other subjectivities, it is indeed with the world to be revealed together with his own subjectivity that all his creative knowledge has to be occupied. Yet modern poetry is capable of knowing through connaturality, and making live, a host of human beings. This is the business of the poetry of the Novel. Just as the Theater at the time of Lope de Vega and the Elizabethans, the Novel in modern times has allowed the Poem to free itself from functions which are alien to it and alienate it from its nature.

"A poem of any length," Coleridge said, "neither can be, nor ought to be, all poetry."{29a} But the modern poem is determined, and bound, to be all poetry. This is perhaps why Edgar Allan Poe considered a long poem "simply a flat contradiction in terms."{30} If it relates to the length of a poem materially considered, the quantity of lines, this statement might be questioned. At least one would like to know at what number of lines a poem starts to be long. St.-John Perse's Anabase, which Poe would have admired, I assume, is a comparatively long poem. (As to Mallarmé, he could not finish Hérodiade, and I wonder whether greater length than that of "The Hound of Heaven," for instance, or of "The Wreck of the Deutschland," may be expected as a rule of a modern poem.) But Poe's statement is simply true, I believe, if it relates to the length of a poem in relation to its own inner measure, which is the poetic sense. The developed narrative, the description of characters, the exposition of a system, appear from this point of view as invested with incurable length. A great modern poem can be philosophical—why not?—or in the form of a tale. It must always be contained within the span of a free and pure conveyance of anything intuitively caught in and through the night of subjectivity.

T. S. Eliot remarks, in his essay on Baudelaire, that "many people who enjoy Dante enjoy Baudelaire." There must be some reason for this. In the strict order of poetry, Baudelaire appears in modern times, with his extraordinary depth in poetic intuition, his creative innocence surrounded by all the demons of impurity, as the most significant counterpart of Dante's extraordinary depth in poetic intuition, but blessed and lucky.

Baudelaire was wounded and destroyed by his time, as Dante was served by his. He waged within himself a hopeless spiritual war against his time, as Dante assumed his in exultation. He revealed the eternal and supernatural in man in man's perversity as Dante revealed it in God's justice and mercy. He was torn between God and the devil in his love for Beauty the idol as Dante was carried along toward his Savior in his love for Beauty the sacrament. I am aware of his atrocious weaknesses. Yet in his frustrated dreams he also had his muse and guardian angel, a poor Beatrice of his own, powerless to save him. If we assume that he had perceived what kind of hell is our modern universe, and had descended into this hell, and looked at everything from there, we realize that, in distortion and cruelty, his vision of human love was the most profound—I do not say true—that the corrupt eye of a lost epoch was capable of; in darkness and division, his sense of the reality of sin and of the transcendent destiny of the soul, and his assertion of the necessity of Christianity—so thoroughly serious and personal, as Eliot emphasized—were the most gravely pressing, I do not say well-balanced, that the corrupt heart of a lost epoch was capable of.

Be all that as it may, what matters over and above all is the fact that Baudelaire had intelligence, and the creative innocence proper to the depths of poetry, to such an exceptional degree that the comparison with Dante forces itself upon us; and that in his despairing struggle with inspiration and with style, he succeeded in giving the poem, reduced to its pure essence, such inwardness and revealing power that what he did for poetry in concentration and intensity may be compared to what Dante did for it in sovereignty and immensity, while embracing in a unique work the joint virtues of a triple poetic essence.

When T. S. Eliot wrote that "in the adjustment of the natural to the spiritual, of the bestial to the human and the human to the supernatural, Baudelaire is a bungler compared with Dante,"{31} I wonder whether he did not forget that Baudelaire, in the place where he was, and from which he looked at things, was precisely required by poetry not to perceive the adjustment, but to feel the split and derangement.

Allen Tate and Waldo Frank are right in pointing out the inadequacy of the theme in Hart Crane's poetry, and the tragic solitude and disintegration of the world in which his intellect and sensibility moved. But (apart from his moral weakness in the face of this world) the error of Crane, it seems to me, was to attempt a disproportionate task, and to look for a cosmic greatness which was but a cerebral ambition, a dream of a poet unaware of the limits of his own poetry. There was more soundness of the theme—as a simple objective reflection of the poetic sense—there was more greatness, proportionate to the universe of the Song, in the admirable purity, less ambitious, and more deeply revealing, of Emily Dickinson's profound poetry. There was also more greatness, and genuine force, in Walt Whitman's verbal outpouring, because he innocently obeyed the impulse of a free fervor.

14. In quite another sense than when it was a question of Dante, the luck of the modern poet has to do with the time proper to poetry, and the moment at which he was born to poetry. The self-awareness, and the sense of its own freedom, that poetry has gained in modern times, place him from the very start at the center of the citadel.

His ill luck has to do with the time proper to culture, and the moment at which he was born to the world.

Modern poets, at least a number of them, may be reproached with many things—with the previously mentioned propensity to take upon themselves the part of the hero, and become the prophets and priests of the world; and with the lack of that quality which Matthew Arnold called high seriousness, and which is but an aspect, perhaps, of the naiveté of creative innocence; and with a futile submission to the demons of the time.

It is hard for any man, especially for a poet, to struggle against the streams of his world. Nevertheless the poet, though not in the manner of the saint, is also in this world without being of this world. If he wants to save his poetry, he must resist the world, at least to preserve or reconquer the basic presences or existential certitudes of which it was a question above, and to keep and purify those aesthetic virtues whose kinship with Christian virtues Max Jacob stressed—in other words, to be the guardian of his Angel, as Cocteau put it.{31a} If he wants to save his soul, he must do more. Then he will be in a state of separation, and obliged, however, as a poet, to remain open and permeable to all that moves and ferments in his world and his time. He cannot escape being wounded. He may not be destroyed. All the troubles of the time may enter the soul of a man, and be mastered by creative innocence—that is the miracle of poetry. And they may enter the soul of man, and be mastered by the innocence of the heart —that is the miracle of sainthood. In both cases much suffering is involved; in the second, much love and contemplative experience.

The poet who endeavors to makes a stand against the spirit of his time risks indulging in a certain stiffening of the intellect and the will which may impair his work—to the extent to which he is a minor poet or a beginner. He is helped nevertheless by poetic experience. It is certain that such a stand can be made without any detriment to the work—let us think of the spiritual attitude of William Blake with regard to his time, or of Léon Bloy or Chesterton, Falla, Lourié, Rouault, or T. S. Eliot, with regard to theirs. In this country Allen Tate: has long maintained a similar independence, from which his work has not suffered—rather it witnesses to the possibility that modern poetry can gain a new intellectual firmness. I admit nevertheless that modern poets, as a rule are but too eager for the ill luck and the evil spells that their culture and their time bestow on them.

For all that, there is a thing with which modern poets can never be reproached. They can never be reproached with modern poetry.

15. Poetry, with which this book is fundamentally concerned, is the free creativity of the spirit, and the intuitive knowledge through emotion, which transcend and permeate all arts, inasmuch as they tend toward beauty as an end beyond the end. Then poetry, like Plato's mousikè, is taken in a primary, most universal sense.

This primary and universal sense can be restricted. Then we have poetry as using and quickening the particular artistic activity which creates a work of words: let us say poetry of verbal expression.

My point is that by virtue of the necessary differentiation on which I have laid stress, poetry of verbal expression manifests itself in the three specific forms previously mentioned, whose distinction depends on an intrinsic difference in the spiritual structure itself of the work: the poetry of the Poem or the Song, the poetry of the Theater, and the poetry of the Novel—which, I hasten to observe, are not to be confused with the art of writing verses, the dramatic art, and the art of the novel. For just as not every piece of verse is poetry (not to speak of the fact that poems in prose may be) so not every play and not every novel are poetry—far from it. But between the many novels, plays, and poems which have no poetry, and those which have, there is so total a difference that the former are only nonexisting artifacts, fit at best to give the senses an instant of pleasure, and inflate the vanity or the purse of their author.

I would like to designate the poetry of the Poem or the Song as the poetry of internal music. I have spoken a great deal of this poetry. When I said{32} that the poetic sense is the soul or the entelechy of the poem, I thought especially of the Poem properly so called, or of the poetry of internal music. It is only in regard to it that this statement is entirely true.

The poetic sense is the first epiphany of creative intuition. In it consists, as we have seen, the prime and basic intentional value in the structure of the poem. Through it the poem receives the intentional influx of the creative source in an immediate manner. The poetic sense is the immediate expression of poetic intuition, its native and purest expression—because still steeped in the intuitive night of subjectivity. It is therefore through the poetic sense that the poi receives its poetic essence and its existence before the mind. All this holds true for the three realms in poetry of verbal expression that we are discussing. But in the poetry of internal music, in the Poem strictly so called, the poetic sense alone, the inner melody alone (that is, the immediate expression of creative intuition, the meaning whose intentional content is purely a recess of the subjectivity awakened to itself and things—perceived through an obscure, simple, and totally nonconceptual apperception) gives the poem its poetic essence and its existence before the mind. The poetic sense is the inwardly constructive "form" or principle, the entelechy of the poem. The action and the number are essentially needed and necessary properties in plus, in which the poetic sense superabounds. The poem does as it is.

The poetry of the Theater is the poetry of the action. Then the poetic sense gives the work its poetic essence and its existence before the mind only inchoatively. It cannot achieve that except by virtue of the second epiphany of creative intuition, of that objectivization of poetic intuition in terms of motion—and still nonconceptual, but definitely engaged in the world of things—which is the action. It is through the action that the work receives, purely and simply speaking, its poetic essence and its existence before the mind. The action is, as Aristotle said (and as the authors of medieval mystery plays knew so well), the soul of the drama, its inwardly constructive "form" or principle, its entelechy. Only number or harmonic expansion is an essentially needed and necessary property in plus, in which the action superabounds. The drama is in doing.

The poetry of the Novel I would like to call the poetry of the picture of man. Then not only the poetic sense, but also the action—however basic, and prior in the order of intentional values—are insufficient to make the work exist, except by virtue of the final epiphany of creative intuition, the number or harmonic expansion that fills the poetic space with parts in mutual tension which are, this time, characters or free agents, human persons. It is through the number or harmonic expansion that the work receives, purely and simply speaking, its poetic essence and its existence before the mind. The number is the soul, the inwardly constructive "form" or principle, the entelechy of the novel. The novel is (and does) in filling its space. For obvious reasons the plastic arts—since their work exists only and totally in space—are with regard to the spiritual structure of the work in the same category as the novel,{33} while the dance is, I believe, in the same category as the drama, and music in the same category as the poem.

Great novelists are poets. They are few. In order for a novel to be poetry a particularly powerful creative intuition is required, capable of carrying its influx up to the inner recesses of other human selves living in the work. This is possible only because the creative intuition of a great novelist involves—starting with some primordial emotive awakening of his own self—that poetic knowledge of other subjectivities in and through his own, that knowledge through affective connaturality which makes him penetrate his characters and foresee their actions through the medium of his own inclinations, and which extends and develops all along the development of the characters and the production of the work, in such a way that the novel is made both by the poet and by his creatures.

The novelist is primarily concerned not with the action, but with the agents.{34} This principle, which stresses the essential difference between the novel and the drama, helps us understand certain characteristics of the novel: the transposition, the recasting of human nature into the fabric of the work, is less profound in the novel than in the drama; because of this, the "purgation of passions" is a privilege of the drama, especially the tragedy, where we contemplate our Passions moving on a superior plane, both detached from ourselves and obeying their own fateful law; at the same time the inflexible necessity peculiar to the action in the drama gives room in the novel to a development in which contingency plays a greater part—the characters do sometimes more what they want than what the author wants. Finally one may say, as Mauriac likes to do, that "the aim of the novel is knowledge of the human heart"—and this has never been said of the drama, which implies such knowledge, no doubt, but does not aim at it.{35}

In Balzac or Dostoevski, Emily Brontë or Melville, Proust or Joyce—or in Cervantes, the greatest poet of the imaginary knowledge of man—the novel appears as a fruit of the slow process of revelation of the Self often alluded to in this book. While being a modern heir of the epic, the chanson de geste, the medieval romance, and more generally the story or the tale, it has carried the narrative to a point of spiritual interiority which is transcendent with respect to all preceding forms.

The fact remains, however, that the novelist is an artist, and that, therefore, knowledge of the human heart is involved for him in a primary aim which is of the order of the making—the production of a certain work into existence. And that work which is a novel exists only if it "fills its space"; it exists only by virtue of the consistency between the inner development and the evolution of events, and the composition of the reactions of the individual strands to one another. Henry James's theory of the "reflector" was but a particular application of this principle. Important as it may be in the drama, the multiple plot{36}with the shifting perspectives it involves and the harmonic spaciousness it creates from clash and continuity, has still greater and more characteristic importance in the novel. When all the interest is concentrated on a single character, as in certain novels of Julian Green or Bernanos, his figure has such relief, and the movement of his internal life such amplitude, that he seems to fill the expanse of the earth. A novel, like the novels of Proust, may have almost no concern with action; it has all the more concern with the orchestral arrangement of the free units, each one a universe unto itself, which are its parts: the inner world of its agents, and the vicissitudes of the psyche, expand into a totality possessed a the intensive plenitude of the number. All this explains and confirms the idea that the soul or entelechy of the novel is the harmonic expansion of all that composes a whole of human agents, passions, events, and destinies.

16. There are, on the part of readers or listeners, three typically different kinds of poetic sensibility—lyrical sensibility, histrionic sensibility, as Francis Fergusson puts it,{37} and introspective sensibility—which correspond to the three specific forms of what has been called above the poetry of verbal expression. I have tried to describe these three specific forms, as I see them, and the spiritual structure of the poetic work typical of each one of them.

Great as the poetry of the Theater and the poetry of the Novel may be, the poetry of the Poem or the Song is by nature and will always remain the prime and most spiritual type of poetry, and the dearest to the human soul, because it is the closest to creative intuition. As has been observed in another chapter, in connection with "obscure" or "clear" poems, the poem has always a certain clarity, at least some allusive and diffuse glimmer of logical or intelligible sense, because nothing can be conveyed to the spirit of man save through the intellect, and without some element of intelligible objectivity; and it has always a certain obscurity, at least a shadow of emotive content extending beyond the intelligible sense, because what it essentially conveys is born in the night of intuitive subjectivity, to which its very raison d'être, the poetic sense, refers.

Shall we turn now toward Homer, Vergil or Dante, Shakespeare, Racine, Pushkin or Baudelaire, looking for the testimony of the greatest poetry? There, in the fullness of the poetic sense the intelligible sense expands freely, and supreme clarity appears as the privilege of supreme mastery. Creative innocence is so powerful in them that it permeates with intuitive freedom the stoutest materials—things of nature and man perceived in all their rational objectivity, entanglements of instinct and passion, "store of clear and precise knowledge, as well as the most prosaic necessities of the language—and brings them to a state of fusion. Everything burns in those 'ravishers of fire,' and everything takes the form wanted by poetry's sweet will. Here we are confronted with unheard-of discoveries and pure poetry, intuition and understanding. Arid this poetry persuades us that the mystery of the sun and of a radiant day is no lesser than that of obscure night."{38}

Magic as a Free "In plus"

17. To conclude, I should like to touch upon a question I raised in another book,{39} in connection with music.

In this essay I tried to single out a particular quality present in certain great musical works, absent from others, which had something to do, I thought, with the Plotinian notion of grace, and which, for want of a better word, I designated by the name of "magic"—in a sense altogether different from that in which this word is used in the preceding chapters of the present book.

The point is that this quality seems to suggest a completely free element, a kind of separate "grace" superior to the poetry of the work as engaged or absorbed in the meaning and substance of the work. It is as if the soul of the work, acting on us, as it were, beyond its own capacity, became "an instrument of an alien spirit, a sign through which passes a superior causality, the sacrament of a separate poetry which makes a game of art."

"Fearing," I wrote, "to lay a parricidal hand on the greatest of musicians, dare I say that there is little of magic in Johann Sebastian Bach? Yes, I shall say that this most sublime of music, this mother-music, is a music without magic." This was probably too absolute a statement, neglecting some particular moments in the work of Bach, yet it holds true in the main, I believe. I went on to observe that in Bach (and this is perhaps the secret of his power and his fecundity) poetry is entirely integrated in the making and substance of the work, whose soul is not instrument but queen and goddess always. "That is why the music of Bach prays with a great vocal prayer that is elevated to the contemplation which theology calls 'acquired contemplation'; it does not pass the threshold of mystical or infused orison.

"The danger of magic arises from the fact that it is a gift of an order superior to art. He who has it without having sought it receives something from heaven or from hell—sometimes difficult to bear, and which exacts an art strong enough to obey. He who seeks it inevitably alters his art, fabricates counterfeit money. Wagner lived only for magic; if we except Tristan, there is no magic in his music, not even a ghost of black magic—only the frauds and the drugs of a head drunk with science and genius.

"The case of Satie is the reverse. Through the passion for probity, he detests, he excommunicates in himself all possible magic, he ferociously cleanses his work of it. Repressed, magic then disguises itself it the queer taste for mystification that disarms the enterprises of mystery, and that protects the ironic shows of a virgin music.

"There is no magic in Beethoven; and yet who makes himself loved better than he? Different indeed from Wagner, he does not seek for magic; how resist this great heart that gives itself, spirit and soul confounded, and which supplements a certain ungratefulness of the workman's invention by the generosity of his personal substance dispensed without measure?

"There is magic in Schubert, in Chopin, in Moussorgsky. Magic is not always white. The magic of Lourié rises from a sort of catastrophe of being whose tragic or desperate character remains so to speak in suspense, because of the face of God which passes through the walls. His music, when it prays, crosses the threshold of supernatural inwardness. The marvel with him, as with the other princes of magic, is that magic makes stronger and more intense the art through which it passes, which obeys without ever bending. The magic of the chief of princes is an angelic magic: I do not say that with Mozart an innocent angel is alone at work; in this miracle of heroic childhood the cruelty of the child and the angel, a murderous grace traverses at times the transparency and lucidity of infused knowledge, of the infallible play."

18. May such suggestions be generalized, and extended to the whole field of mousikè, to all arts, and especially to the poem? Yes, I think, but to different degrees, the first rank in this connection belonging to music.

Let us try, first, to analyze things more closely in the case of music.

I think that the magic of the works I alluded to is only a free surplus of poetry. The "alien spirit" or "separate poetry" of whose presence and action magic gives the impression, is nothing but an inexhaustible intuitive emotion, diffuse in the composer's entire subjectivity, which has not been "caught" in the actuation of the free creativity of the spirit engendering the work through the instrumentality of art, and which, however, passes into music that has a magical quality. How does this occur?

Of every music it is true to say that the song begins where the word stops,{40} as a bursting forth of a spiritual and emotional stir or exultation of the subjectivity—too deeply subjective, too existentially singular, too incommunicably affective to be possibly conveyed by any meaning of words.

Now I would say that in most cases this profound stir of the composer's subjectivity is entirely condensed, embraced, or caught in that deep and sovereign actuation, at the single root of the powers of the soul, which is poetic or creative intuition.

But in some cases the stir is, it seems to me, so imbued with intelligence or passion, so rich in intuitive virtuality or emotive power, that it cannot be entirely caught in this spiritual actuation. There is an in plus which remains—separate: the surplus, the inexhaustible intuitive emotion behind, to which I just alluded. This in plus passes nevertheless through creative intuition, but not as caught by it; it passes, on the contrary, as a free element, a free "spirit," which overflows the creative intuition through which it passes, and immediately moves and permeates, as a grace in addition, the working activity, without the composer's having the least awareness of it. Then there is magic, and we have the impression of an alien spirit, a separate poetry which freely makes a game of art, and gives more than any poetry engaged and absorbed in the making and the substance of the work can give.

This "separate" poetry—which overflows the creative intuition through which it passes, and which is not caught, but free—also overflows the making and the substance of the work; it is there, and it acts there, but as an element in plus, and free with the pure freedom of the nocturnal depths. And it overflows also the power with which the work attains intuitively the listener. More things that are unknown and unseizable stir in a deeper and more expansive way his energies of emotion, intelligence, and imagination, poetry strikes him in more obscure darkness, he is more completely and defenselessly taken hold of by it. It is because the work is thus endowed with greater power, born in night and operating in night, that the word magic seems appropriate, despite its ambiguity.

Such is the interpretation I submit in regard to the magic in music. If this way of understanding things is correct, we must conclude that the possibility of magic is not reserved only to music (for the process I have outlined can evidently take place in the other realms of poetry). But we must also say that the possibility of magic exists in music to a higher degree than in the other arts: since music, taken in its nature, even before any consideration of magic, has the peculiar privilege, as we have observed, of expressing—beyond any possible meaning of words—the most deeply subjective, singular and affective stirs of creative subjectivity, too deep-seated to be possibly expressed by any other art.

Yet poetry (the "poetry of verbal expression") is close to music in this connection, especially the first of the three types of poetry we have distinguished, the Poem—do we not say, moreover, Song as well? Did I not call the poem poetry of internal music? Though it uses words, there is in the poem, just after music, it seems to me, the greatest possibility of magic, because of the supremacy that the poetic sense enjoys in it over the intelligible sense, and because the soul or entelechy of the poem uniquely consists of the poetic sense, the first epiphany of creative intuition, in its native freedom. As in the case of composers, there are great poets who have little or no magic (say Ronsard{41} or Hugo, Byron or Goethe) and great poets in whom we immediately feel the presence of this free in plus. Taking some names at random, we may call as witnesses Racine and Dante, Keats, Coleridge{42} and Pushkin, Baudelaire, Holderlin and Rimbaud (especially the Rimbaud of Une Saison en Enfer),as well as, in an art less close to music, Watteau or Hieronymus Bosch, Rembrandt or El Greco. Dance and architecture, as any other "free" art, might also give evidence of a possibility of magic.

On the other hand—and apart from the natural kinship and attraction between music and poetry—the fact that music is eminently favored with respect to magic explains the singular ascendency that it exercises on those poets who look desperately for magic—for spurious magic,{43} thus betraying poetry, however adored, for the sake of power. Music leads them astray, though the blame is theirs. And they miss both spurious magic (with which poetry has nothing to do), and genuine magic, which shuns them because they seek after it.

Creative intuition is the only supreme gift that a poet, in any art whatsoever, ought to seek—in the way in which a gift can be sought: not in the sense that it might be acquired by any effort of the human will, but in the sense that it can be cared for, and protected, and assisted, when it is there. And it is there, perhaps in a humbler way than he believes, in any man who is inclined toward the workings of art by an inner necessity. Sometimes, and in the greatest artists, creative intuition may be at work in darkness and despairing agony. Then they may think of what Pascal felt about another kind of grace, and this holds true for them also: "Take comfort, thou wouldst not be seeking me, hadst thou not found me."


1. New York: Liveright, 1933.

2. Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren, Understanding Poetry (NewYork: Henry Holt, 1938), pp. 141, 489, 581, 640.

2a. "Tragedy is an imitation, not of men, but of an action and of life, and life consists in action, and its end is a mode of action, not a quality." Poetics, ch. 6, 1450 a 16-19.

3. Francis Fergusson, The Idea of a Theater (Princeton University Press, 1949), pp. 4-5, 36-37; 229-34.

4. Lectures and Notes on Shakespeare and Other Dramatists (New York: Harper, 1853), pp. 181-82 (on Othello).

5. See infra, pp. 394-95.

6. The action plays as necessary a part in painting as in poetry. "There are,' Poussin said, "two instruments for influencing the minds of an audience: action and speech. Action is by itself so potent and effective that Demosthenes assigned to it the primacy among rhetorical devices; Marcus Tullius called it the language of the body, and Quintilian attributed to it such vigor and force that he deemed thoughts, proofs, and emotions ineffective without it. In like manner, if in a painting there is no action its lines and colors are ineffective." Artists on Art (New York: Pantheon Books, 1945), p. 155.

7. Brooks and Warren, op. cit., p. 521.

8. Be it noted that in the things of nature, because they are material, quantity is the first accident of substance. In the spiritual structure of the poem, on the other hand, harmonic expansion is the ultimate (in the order of nature, of course, not of time) constitutive actuation, complementing both the poetic sense and the action.

9. When the sense of the number is lost, we have what Nietzsche called the "anarchy of atoms." "How," he said, "is decadence in literature characterized? By the fact that in it life no longer animates the whole. Words become predominant and leap right out of the sentence to which they belong, the sentences themselves trespass beyond their bounds, and obscure the sense of the whole page, and the page in its turn gains in vigour at the cost of the whole—the whole is no longer a whole." The Case of Wagner, trans. A. M. Ludovici (London: Allen and Unwin, 1911).

10. See Chapter I, p. 15, n.

11. In relation to that acclimatization of the machine by modem poetry with which he was so much concerned, Hart Crane wrote: "Mere romantic speculation on the power and beauty of machinery keeps it at a continual remove; it cannot act creatively in our lives until, like the unconscious nervous responses of our bodies, its connotations emanate from within—forming as spontaneous a terminology of poetic reference as the bucolic world of pasture, plow, and barn." "Modem Poetry”(in Collected Poems,New York: Liveright, 1933). — From within, that's true. But it is not only a question of "forming a terminology or poetic reference." Or rather this very formation, with respect to some new reality, depends on something which is more of a gift than of a deliberate effort—an original poetic experience spontaneously invaded by an intuitive sense of this new reality.

12. Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, Ch. XVII.

13. See infra, §15.

14. See supra, p. 175.

15. Cf. supra, Chapter VII, p. 249.

16. Epistola X, to Can Grande della Scala.

17. "Dante comes as near perfection in allegory as any poet has come. Allegory for him is not a trick. It is the truest language of a world the whole of which is organized in terms of meaning." Mark Van Doren, The Noble Voice (New York: Henry Holt, 1946), p. 176.

"Dante's allegory at its best, which means most of the time, declares itself in silence: one thing is another, and that is all, except that it is itself too. The mutual meanings are as immediate, and as noiseless, as communication among mirrors. The result of this is that he does not have to call our attention to what he is doing; the poem is doing it as we read and understand. But his allegory is not always at its best. Upon occasion Dante must pause and point; his cunning has not been adequate to his plan." Ibid., pp. 183-84.

18. Ye who are living refer every cause up to the heavens alone, even as if they swept all with them of necessity.

Were it thus, Freewill in you would be destroyed, and it were not just to have joy for good and mourning for evil.

The heavens set your impulses in motion; I say not all but suppose I said it,a light is given you to know good and evil,

and Freewill, which, if it endure the strain in its first battlings with the heavens, at length gains the whole victory, if it be well nurtured.

Ye lie subject, in your freedom, to a greater power and to a better nature; and that creates in you mind which the heavens have not in their charge.

Purgatorio, XVI, 67-81.(Trans. ThomasOkey, The Temple Classics, London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1946.)

19. ". . . His private belief becomes a different thing in becoming poetry. It is interesting to hazard the suggestion that this is truer of Dante than of any other philosophical poet. With Goethe, for instance, I often feel too acutely 'this is what Goethe the man believed,' instead of merely entering a world which Goethe has created; with Lucretius also; less with the Bhagavad-Gita, which is the next greatest philosophical poem to the Divine Comedy within my experience. . . . Goethe always arouses in me a strong sentiment of disbelief in what he believes: Dante does not. I believe that this is because Dante is the purer poet, not because I have more sympathy with Dante the man than Goethe the man." T. S. Eliot, "Dante," in Selected Essays (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1932), p. 219.

20. Ibid.

21. "If we consider the method of speech the method is lax and humble, for it is the vernacular speech in which very women communicate." Epistola X, to Can Grande della Scala.

22. "Dante," in Selected Poetry and Prose, ed. Stephen Potter (New York: Random House, 1933), p. 330.

23. Ibid., p. 329.

24. Because all those living lights, far brightlier shining, began songs which from my memory must slip and fall.

O sweet love, smile-bemantled, how glowing didst thou seem in those flute-holes breathed on only by sacred ponderings! Paradiso, XX, 10-15. (Trans. Thomas Okey, The Temple Classics.)

25. Francis Fergusson, The Idea of a Theater, pp. 39-40. The author goes on to say: "The Purgatorio especially, though an epic and not a drama, evidently moves in the tragic rhythm, both as a whole and in detail. The daylight climb up the mountain, by moral effort, and in the light of natural reason, corresponds to the first moment, that of `purpose.' The night, under the sign of Faith, Hope, and Charity, when the Pilgrim can do nothing by his own unaided efforts, corresponds to the moments of passion and perception. The Pilgrim, as he pauses, mulls over the thoughts and experiences of the day; he sleeps and dreams, seeing ambivalent images from the mythic dreaming of the race, which refer, also, both to his own `suppressed desires' and to his own deepest aspirations. These images gradually solidify and clarify, giving place to a new perception of his situation. This rhythm, repeated in varied forms, carries the Pilgrim from the superficial but wholehearted motivations of childhood, in the Antipurgatorio, through the divided counsels of the growing soul, to the new innocence, freedom, and integrity of the Terrestrial Paradise--the realm of The Tempest or of Oedipus at Colons. The same rhythmic conception governs also the detail of the work, down to the terza rima itself—that verse-form which is clear at any moment in its literal fiction yet essentially moving ahead and pointing to deeper meanings."

26. Ibid., pp. 227, 228.

27. Then he turned back, and seemed like one of those who run for the green cloth at Verona through the open field; and of them seemed he who gains, not he who loses.

Inferno, XV, 121-24 (Trans. Thomas Okey, The Temple Classics.)

28. Speaking of the Inferno, there is a far-reaching observation of Mark Van Doren about the punishments inflicted by the poet on those he puts in his Hell which I should like to cite here, though it deals with a question extraneous to my subject. "It is proper," Mr. Van Doren said, in a discussion of the Divine Comedy, "to understand as Dante's meaning that all these persons have punished themselves. They are getting what they wanted. They died in life. They are the only persons in the poem who are really dead." — "Capaneus, one of the heroes of The Seven Against Thebes, says: 'What I was living, that I am in Hell,'" Mr. Tate added. Huntington Cairns, Allen Tate, Mark Van Doren, Invitation to Learning (New York: Random House, 1941), pp. 300-301.

29. Francis Fergusson, op. cit., p. 227.

29a. Biographia Literaria, Ch. XIV.

30. "The Poetic Principle." In The Great Critics, ed. J. H. Smith and E. W. Parks(rev. ed.; New York: Norton, 1939), p. 586. — Cf. T. S. Eliot's remarks in The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1933) p. 145.

31. "Baudelaire," in Selected Essays, p. 343.

31a. "Nous abritons un Ange que nom choquons sans cesse. Nous devons etre gardiens de cet Ange." Jean Cocteau, Le Coq et l'Arlequin, 1918 (Le Rappel a l'Ordre, Paris: Stock, 1926).

32. See Chapters III and VII, pp. 75 and 258.

33. This passage from Marin's letters is a remarkable illustration of the requirements and prime importance of harmonic expansion in painting:

"To get to my picture, or to come back, I must for myself insist that when finished, that is when all the parts are in place and are working, that now it has become an object and will therefore have its boundaries as definite as that the prow, the stern, the sides and bottom bound a boat.

"And that this my picture must not make one feel that it bursts its boundaries. The framing cannot remedy. That would be a delusion and I would have it that nothing must cut my picture off from its finalities. And too, I am not to be destructive within. I can have things that clash. I can have a jolly good fight going on. There is always a fight going on where there are living things. But I must be able to control this fight at will with a Blessed Equilibrium." In Artists on Art, p. 467.

The following passages refer also, more or less directly, to the laws of harmonic expansion in painting: "The elements of this [the logical connection of parts to the whole], therefore, are solidity of objects and transparency of shadows in a breathable atmosphere through which we are conscious of spaces and distances. By the rendering of these elements we suggest the invisible side of painting, and the want of that grammar gives to pictures either the flatness of the silhouette or the vulgarity of an overstrained objectivity or the puddling twaddle of Preraphaelism." Inness, ibid., p. 344. — "A drawing must have a power of expansion which can bring to life the space which surrounds it." Matisse, ibid., p. 410. — "When, in Italy, I learned to understand architectural monuments I had at once to chalk up a remarkable advance in knowledge. Though they serve a practical purpose, the principles of art are more clearly expressed in them than in other works of art. Their easily recognizable structure, their exact organism, makes possible a more fundamental education than all the 'head- nude- and composition-studies.' Even the dullest will understand that the obvious commensurability of parts, to each other and to the whole, corresponds to the hidden numerical proportions that exist in other artificial and natural organisms. It is clear that these figures are not cold and dead, but full of the breath of life; and the importance of measurement as an aid to study and creation becomes evident." Paul Klee, ibid., p. 443.

The emphasis put by Severini on the "aesthetics of number" and "the laws of harmonic relations" comes from his deep realization of the essential part played by harmonic expansion in painting. A similar realization is the reason for Rouault's primary concern to have his picture perfectly fill its space. I think that Rouault would be in special agreement with Marin's views quoted at the beginning of this note.

The notion of harmonic expansion, as I see it, seems to me to be quite close to the Chinese concept of K'ai-ho or "unity of coherence." "From the revolution of the world to our own breathing," Shen Tsung-ch`ien, a writer of the eighteenth century, said, "there is nothing that is not k’ai-ho. If one can understand this, then we can discuss how to bring the painting to a conclusion. If you analyze a large k'ai-ho, within it there is more k’ai-ho. Even down to one tree and one rock, there is nothing that does not have both expanding and winding up. Where things grow and expand that is k'ai; where things are gathered up, that is ho. When you expand (k’ai) you should think of gathering up (ho) and then there will be structure; when you gather up (ho) you should think of expanding (k’ai) and then you will have inexpressible effortlessness and an air of inexhaustible spirit. In using brush and in laying out the composition, there is not one moment when you can depart from k'ai-ho."

As George Rowley observes at this point, "ch'i, the basic principle of rhythmic abstraction, has become k'ai-ho, the basic principle of rhythmic relationship." And after having indicated the essential importance of this "unity of coherence" in the writing of ideographs, he concludes: "From this analogy of the ideograph we can understand Why, in painting, when you expand (k’ai) you must think of the gathering up (ho), or else the composition will fly apart through the explosive tendency of creativity, and the structural unity of the whole will be lost'; when you pull the parts together (ho) you should think of the vital force which gave them birth (k’ai), 'or else tin result will be a dead mechanical adjustment and the whole will have missed the life breath of the spirit' " Rowley, Principles o, Chinese Painting (Princeton University) Press, 1947), pp. 48-49.

Chinese theorists elucidated the notion of k'ai-ho in the particular perspective of Taoist philosophy, and Chinese painters pit it into force in their own particular way But this notion—let us say the notion of harmonic expansion—has of itself universa value because it has to do with the very) essence of painting as quickened by poetic intuition. In looking at all great Occidental as well as Oriental painters we can verify the fact that harmonic expansion, the ultimate epiphany of creative intuition, is the entelechy, the definitely existence-giving "form" of a work made up of space-extended tensions.

34. In tragedy, Aristotle said, "the agents are imitated mainly with a view to the action." Poetics, ch. 6, 1450 b 3-5. We may say that in the novel the action is imitated mainly with a view to the agents. — "Without action there is no tragedy, Aristotle also said, but there might be one without character" (ch. 6, 1450 a 24).

35. The sole defect, to my mind, in the interesting discussion on Aristotle's Poetics related in Invitation to Learning (pp. 222-23), was the assumption that Aristotle's theory of tragedy covers the novel as well as the tragedy. Had the specific distinction we are stressing here been recognized, such excellent remarks as the following ones would have been given their full bearing:

"Van Doren: We get in many modern novels the whole life of a man, beginning perhaps in his childhood and going on through his marriage and through his professional or business career.

"Tate: Aristotle provides for that too, does he not? He says that unity of character does not mean unity of plot. That is, if you have a man named John Smith running through a novel, it does not mean that the novel has unity in terms of the plot. Smith remains a unit, but the plot is disorderly.

"Van Doren: The biography of a man is not necessarily a plot.

"Cairns: He goes even further. He says that dramatic action is not developed with a view to the representation of character; character comes in as subsidiary to the action. The incidents and the plot are the end of a tragedy and without action there cannot be a tragedy; there may be tragedy without character.

"Tate: We get that principle in Homer. Aristotle says that Homer omits certain characters that were traditionally attributed to the Odyssey. They would not fit into the plot.

"Van Doren: A famous novel of our time which is biographical in form, namely, Of Human Bondage, by Somerset Maugham, follows the hero from the time he is a little boy until he is married and has settled down in his profession of doctor. It might be Aristotle s point that Maugham's novel might be more interesting if the events in which we find Philip Carey, the hero, had a greater Unity. At the end, you may remember, Philip Carey looks back over his life so far and says: 'I can find no meaning in it except insofar as the pattern of any life has meaning if we are absorbed as we follow the intricacies of that pattern.' Maugham has there very conveniently referred us back to Aristotle. A tragic hero, according to Aristotle's definition, would be capable of looking back over his life—Shakespeare's tragic heroes always did—and saying, 'It was this or that.'

"Tate: There is James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. We know that it is largely, though not strictly, autobiographical. And it is significant that at the end of The Portrait of the Artist, the hero, Stephen Dedalus, says that he is going on to other things. He is going to have a new life elsewhere.

"Cairns: In other words, it is not a complete action. . . ."

36. Cf. Fergusson, op. cit., p. 104. It is significant that the passage of Aristotle alluding to such complexity (Poetics, ch. 8, 1451 a 24-30) relates to the Odyssey.

37. Op. cit., pp. 10-11.

38. Raissa Maritain, "Sens et Non-sens en poésie," in Situation de la Poésie (Paris: Desclée De Brouwer, 1938), p. 33 (new ed., PP. 34-35).

39. "La Clef des Chants" in Frontieres de la Poésie (Paris: Rouart, 1935). — "The Freedom of Song" in Art and Poetry (New York: Philosophical Library, 1943).

40. Cf. supra, Chapter VII, p. 251.

41. I wonder that Humbert Wolfe could write of Ronsard's famous line: "Quand vows serez Bien vieille, au soir, a its chandelle," "Isthere any single line in all English poetry more subdued to magic?" Quoted in The Limits of Art, coll. and ed. Huntington Cairns (Bollingen Series XII; New York: Pantheon Books, 1948), p. 528; from Wolfe's Pierre de Ronsard: Sonnets pour Hélene (New York: Macmillan, 1934). This line is beautiful indeed, and has deep human resonance. There is not the least trace of magic in it.

42. On Coleridge's magic see the passage from Francis Thompson quoted in Texts without Comment for Chapter VIII, No. 2.

43. Spurious with respect to poetry, but not with respect to the original sense of the word magic, since it is a question of acting directly upon things and transforming them, and mastering reality through the power of words.

Chapter VIII. The Internalization of Music

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