Saturday, January 24, 2009

The mock-school of poetry

It is as easy to write a gaudy style without ideas as it is to spread a pallet of showy colours or to smear in a flaunting transparency. "What do you read?" "Words, words, words."-- What is the matter? "Nothing, "it might be answered. […] Keep to your sounding generalities, your tinkling phrases, and all will be well. Swell out an unmeaning truism to a perfect tympany of style. A thought, a distinction is the rock on which all this brittle cargo of verbiage splits at once. Such writers have merely verbal imaginations, that retain nothing but words. […] They may be considered hieroglyphical writers. Images stand out in their minds isolated and important merely in themselves, without any ground-work of feeling-- there is no context in their imaginations. Words affect them in the same way, by the mere sound, that is, by their possible not by their actual application to the subject in hand. They are fascinated by first appearances, and have no sense of consequences. Nothing more is meant by them than meets the ear: they understand or feel nothing more than meets their eye. The web and texture of the universe, and of the heart of man, is a mystery to them: they have no faculty that strikes a chord in unison with it. They cannot get beyond the daubings of fancy, the varnish of sentiment. Objects are not linked to feelings, words to things, but images revolve in splendid mockery, words represent themselves in their strange rhapsodies. The categories of such a mind are pride and ignorance -- pride in outside show, to which they sacrifice everything, and ignorance of the true worth and hidden structure both of words and things. With a sovereign contempt for what is familiar and natural, they are the slaves of vulgar affectation -- of a routine of high-flown phrases. Scorning to imitate realities, they are unable to invent anything, to strike out one original idea. They are not copyists of nature, it is true; but they are the poorest of all plagiarists, the plagiarists of words. All is far-fetched, dear bought, artificial, oriental in subject and allusion; all is mechanical, conventional, vapid, formal, pedantic in style and execution. They startle and confound the understanding of the reader by the remoteness and obscurity to their illustrations; they sooth the ear by the monotony of the same everlasting round of circuitous metaphors. They are the mock-school in poetry and prose. -- William Hazlitt

4 comments:

Lemon Hound said...

Loving this and wondering why I haven't read Hazlitt and so it goes in line with others.

Wanted to say something about the other Lowell. What a surprise to find two American Lowells...well, three I suppose after Amy, no? Can't forget her.

Don Share said...

Lemon - Robert Lowell was also related to another poet named... Robert Lowell!! Both, in fact, named Robert Traill Spence Lowell.

Go figure!!

the unreliable narrator said...

But come now, Mr. Hazlitt—tell us what you really think.

Lemon Hound said...

Really, I am loving Hazlitt and can't believe I haven't been reading him all these years...