1825 ca. ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Wordsworth

Henry Mackenzie, Anecdotes and Egotisms, 1825 ca.; ed. Thompson (1927) 162.



Opposite to [the fault I have mentioned] is another which seems to me to prevail in modern poetry, namely, the ultra simple (if I may use a political epithet), which some poets of great genius, and particularly one illustrious member of the Lake School, has brought into notice and indeed into favour. This is never above using any word or expression which it thinks appropriate to the person or thing described, however vulgar or coarse. The legitimacy of this modern pretension to poetical excellence requires a little consideration. It will be admitted that everything that is natural is not poetry, of which the very essence seems to be a certain elevation and elegance of language above the standard of ordinary life. Nobleness and dignity are the attributes of poetry. These may belong to the feelings and the sentiments of inferior persons, but the language in which those feelings and sentiments are to be conveyed seems to require a certain degree of elegance and elevation if it is to be entitled to the denomination of poetry. Language is the dress of thought, and a decency in its apparel seems indispensable if we would avoid disgust, or wish to attain pleasure in their association. The elevation of common and mean objects by the language in which they are described is certainly more congenial to the spirit of poetry and gives much greater delight to the reader of poetry, than the introduction of such objects in the plainer and coarser garb in which in the everyday communications of ordinary life they are clothed. The majesty of Virgil could give grace to the meanest object of a farmyard which Theocritus, but for the noble language in which he wrote, would be found to want, and which, if literally translated into a language less refined, would create a feeling of displeasure or disgust....