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by fitting to metrical arrangement a selection of the real 5 language of men in a state of vivid sensation, that sort of
pleasure and that quantity of pleasure may be imparted, which a poet may rationally endeavour to impart.
The principal object, then, proposed in these poems was to choose incidents and situations from common life, and to 10 relate or describe them, throughout, as far as was possible,
in a selection of language really used by men, and, at the same time, to throw over them a certain coloring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the
mind in an unusual aspect; and, further, and above all, 15 to make these incidents and situations interesting by trac
ing in them, truly though not ostentatiously, the primary laws of our nature: chiefly, as far as regards the manner in which we associate ideas in a state of excitement. Humble
and rustic life was generally chosen, because, in that condi20 tion, the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in
which they can attain their maturity, are less under restraint, and speak a plainer and more emphatic language; because in that condition of life our elementary feelings co-exist in
a state of greater simplicity, and, consequently, may be more 25 accurately contemplated, and more forcibly communicated;
because the manners of rural life germinate from those elementary feelings; and from the necessary character of rural occupations, are more easily comprehended, and are
more durable; and, lastly, because in that condition the pas30 sions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and per
manent forms of nature. The language, too, of these men has been adopted (purified indeed from what appear to be its real defects, from all lasting and rational causes of dislike
or disgust) because such men hourly communicate with the 35 best objects from which the best part of language is originally derived; and because, from their rank in society and the sameness and narrow circle of their intercourse, being less under the influence of social vanity, they convey their feelings and notions in simple and unelaborated expressions. Accordingly such a language, arising out of repeated 40 experience and regular feelings, is a more permanent, and a far more philosophical language, than that which is frequently substituted for it by poets, who think that they are conferring honor upon themselves and their art, in proportion as they separate themselves from the sympathies of men, and indulge in 45 arbitrary and capricious habits of expression, in order to furnish food for fickle tastes, and fickle appetites, of their own creation.
I cannot, however, be insensible to the present outcry against the triviality and meanness, both of thought and language, which some of my contemporaries have occasionally 50 introduced into their metrical compositions; and I acknowledge that this defect, where it exists, is more dishonorable to the writer's own character than false refinement or arbitrary innovation, though I should contend at the same time, that it is far less pernicious in the sum of its consequences. 55 From such verses the poems in these volumes will be found distinguished at least by one mark of. difference, that each of them has a worthy purpose. Not that I always began to write with a distinct purpose formally conceived; but habits of meditation have, I trust, so prompted and regu-60 lated my feelings, that my descriptions of such objects as strongly excite those feelings, will be found to carry along with them a purpose. If this opinion is erroneous, I can have little right to the name of a poet. For all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: and though 65 this be true, poems to which any value can be attached were never produced on any variety of subjects but by a man, who, being possessed of more than usual organic sensibility, had also thought long and deeply.
Passages Dealing with Poetry in General
(From the Same) What is a poet? To whom does he address himself? And what language is to be expected from him? - He is a man speaking to men: a man, it is true, endowed with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness, who has 5 a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul, than are supposed to be common among mankind; a man pleased with his own passions and volitions, and who rejoices more than other men in the spirit of life that
is in him; delighting to contemplate similar volitions and 10 passions as manifested in the goings-on of the universe, and
habitually impelled to create them where he does not find them.
Poetry is the image of man and nature.
The poet writes under one restriction only, namely, the necessity of giving immediate pleasure to a human being 15 possessed of that information which may be expected from
him, not as a lawyer, a physician, a mariner, an astronomer, or a natural philosopher, but as a man.
Poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge; it is the impassioned expression which is in the countenance 20 of all science.
Poetry is the first and last of all knowledge – it is as immortal as the heart of man.
Poets do not write for poets alone, but for men.
An accurate taste in poetry and in all the other arts, as 25 Sir Joshua Reynolds has observed, is an acquired talent,
which can only be produced by thought and a long-continued intercourse with the best models of composition.
Expostulation and Reply
“Why, William, on that old grey stone,
“You look round on your Mother Earth,
it cannot choose but see;
'mid all this mighty sum
Then ask not wherefore, here, alone,