The world being ... put under the mind for verb and noun, the poet is he who can articulate it. For, though life is great, and fascinates, and absorbs, — and though all men are intelligent of the symbols through which it is named, — yet they cannot originally use them. We are symbols, and inhabit symbols; workman, work, and tools, words and things, birth and death, all are emblems; but we sympathize with the symbols, and, being infatuated with the economical uses of things, we do not know that they are thoughts. The poet, by an ulterior intellectual perception, gives them a power which makes their old use forgotten, and puts eyes, and a tongue, into every dumb and inanimate object. He perceives the independence of the thought on the symbol, the stability of the thought, the accidency and fugacity of the symbol. As the eyes of Lyncaeus were said to see through the earth, so the poet turns the world to glass, and shows us all things in their right series and procession. For, through that better perception, he stands one step nearer to things, and sees the flowing or metamorphosis; perceives that thought is multiform; that within the form of every creature is a force impelling it to ascend into a higher form; and, following with his eyes the life, uses the forms which express that life, and so his speech flows with the flowing of nature. All the facts of the animal economy, sex, nutriment, gestation, birth, growth, are symbols of the passage of the world into the soul of man, to suffer there a change, and reappear a new and higher fact. He uses forms according to the life, and not according to the form. This is true science. The poet alone knows astronomy, chemistry, vegetation, and animation, for he does not stop at these facts, but employs them as signs. He knows why the plain, or meadow of space, was strewn with these flowers we call suns, and moons, and stars; why the great deep is adorned with animals, with men, and gods; for, in every word he speaks he rides on them as the horses of thought.
By virtue of this science the poet is the Namer, or Language-maker, naming things
sometimes after their appearance, sometimes after their essence, and giving to every one
its own name and not another's, thereby rejoicing the intellect, which delights in
detachment or boundary. The poets made all the words, and therefore language is the
archives of history, and, if we must say it, a sort of tomb of the muses. For, though the
origin of most of our words is forgotten, each word was at first a stroke of genius, and
obtained currency, because for the moment it symbolized the world to the first speaker and
to the hearer. The etymologist finds the deadest word to have been once a brilliant
picture. Language is fossil poetry. As the limestone of the continent consists of infinite
masses of the shells of animalcules, so language is made up of images, or tropes, which
now, in their secondary use, have long ceased to remind us of their poetic origin. But the
poet names the thing because he sees it, or comes one step nearer to it than any other.
This expression, or naming, is not art, but a second nature, grown out of the first, as a
leaf out of a tree. What we call nature, is a certain self-regulated motion, or change;
and nature does all things by her own hands, and does not leave another to baptise her,
but baptises herself; and this through the metamorphosis again....
Art is the path of the creator to his work. The paths, or methods, are ideal and
eternal, though few men ever see them, not the artist himself for years, or for a
lifetime, unless he come into the conditions. The painter, the sculptor, the composer, the
epic rhapsodist, the orator, all partake one desire, namely, to express themselves
symmetrically and abundantly, not dwarfishly and fragmentarily. They found or put
themselves in certain conditions, as, the painter and sculptor before some impressive
human figures; the orator, into the assembly of the people; and the others, in such scenes
as each has found exciting to his intellect; and each presently feels the new desire. He
hears a voice, he sees a beckoning. Then he is apprised, with wonder, what herds of
daemons hem him in. He can no more rest; he says, with the old painter, "By God, it
is in me, and must go forth of me." He pursues a beauty, half seen, which flies
before him. The poet pours out verses in every solitude. Most of the things he says are
conventional, no doubt; but by and by he says something which is original and beautiful.
That charms him. He would say nothing else but such things. In our way of talking, we say,
'That is yours, this is mine;' but the poet knows well that it is not his; that it is as
strange and beautiful to him as to you; he would fain hear the like eloquence at length.
Once having tasted this immortal ichor, he cannot have enough of it, and, as an admirable
creative power exists in these intellections, it is of the last importance that these
things get spoken. What a little of all we know is said! What drops of all the sea of our
science are baled up! and by what accident it is that these are exposed, when so many
secrets sleep in nature! Hence the necessity of speech and song; hence these throbs and
heart-beatings in the orator, at the door of the assembly, to the end, namely, that
thought may be ejaculated as Logos, or Word.
Doubt not, O poet, but persist. Say, 'It is in me, and shall out.' Stand there, baulked
and dumb, stuttering and stammering, hissed and hooted, stand and strive, until, at last,
rage draw out of thee that dream-power which every night shows thee is thine own;
a power transcending all limit and privacy, and by virtue of which a man is the conductor
of the whole river of electricity. Nothing walks, or creeps, or grows, or exists, which
must not in turn arise and walk before him as exponent of his meaning. Comes he to that
power, his genius is no longer exhaustible. All the creatures, by pairs and by tribes,
pour into his mind as into a Noah's ark, to come forth again to people a new world. This
is like the stock of air for our respiration, or for the combustion of our fireplace, not
a measure of gallons, but the entire atmosphere if wanted. And therefore the rich poets ... have obviously no limits to their works,
except the limits of their lifetime, and resemble a mirror carried through the street,
ready to render an image of every created thing.
O poet! a new nobility is conferred in groves and pastures, and not in castles, or by
the sword-blade, any longer. The conditions are hard, but equal. Thou shalt leave the
world, and know the muse only. Thou shalt not know any longer the times, customs, graces,
politics, or opinions of men, but shalt take all from the muse.... And this is the reward: that the
ideal shall be real to thee, and the impressions of the actual world shall fall like
summer rain, copious, but not troublesome, to thy invulnerable essence. Thou shalt have
the whole land for thy park and manor, the sea for thy bath and navigation, without tax
and without envy; the woods and the rivers thou shalt own; and thou shalt possess that
wherein others are only tenants and boarders. Thou true land-lord! sea-lord! air-lord!
Wherever snow falls, or water flows, or birds fly, wherever day and night meet in
twilight, wherever the blue heaven is hung by clouds, or sown with stars, wherever are
forms with transparent boundaries, wherever are outlets into celestial space, wherever is
danger, and awe, and love, there is Beauty, plenteous as rain, shed for thee, and though
thou shouldest walk the world over, thou shalt not be able to find a condition inopportune