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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/557

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DISCUSSION AND CORRESPONDENCE.

darkness of the unknown into which his eyes cannot pierce.

There is another phase of the question that must not pass unnoticed. As the region of the unknown widens it offers more objects of interest and may thereby more fully absorb attention. When reality is sufficiently rich in experience we do not care to indulge in dreams. When the present satisfies us and answers all our needs we are less inclined to look forward to the future, whether that glows before us with the hues of promise or darkens with the threat of coming storm. But the fullest life may weary at times and wish, for the mere rest of change, to go outside of itself and find in the strangeness of something new and not yet known a relaxation and recreation for the tired hand and brain. And so the strenuousness of modern life with its ceaseless outreaching for new pleasures and new truths will be ready always for the soothing restfulness of a poetry that gives the form of beauty to things just beyond the wonderland of the known.

But how to make poetry of these things is the perplexing problem. Truth, whether of the world of fact or of the world of imagination reaching out into the spiritual realm, is not poetry until in some fashion it is made beautiful in its appeal to our sensibilities. A hundred years ago the things that were fitting subjects for poetic treatment were much more elementary and as emotional stimulus they reached consciousness in a much more immediate and direct fashion than the themes that are fitted for poetry now. The poet who would achieve distinct success in the higher walks of poetry to-day must be master of an art surpassing that of all but a few of his brethren of the craft who have gone before him. The world of the known is so large, comparatively, now, and the individual is so far removed from the boundaries of the unknown, save, perhaps, at one point, that more art is required to induce him to travel the longer distance out of the world of cold fact into the borderland of strangeness where suggestions of new truth and new beauty may come to quicken aspirations.

It is true that there are themes that were new a thousand years ago and will be new a thousand years hence, but a poet to achieve distinct success must strike a note not only individual, but one closely attuned to the thought and feeling of his time. Milton we know rather as a voice of Puritan England than as a poetic genius. We call Wordsworth a great poet and are conscious as we do so, that he deserves the distinction rather because he interpreted to men a new phase of thought and feeling, than because he knew how to make his verse wholly pure poetry rather than bald prose. Even poets of such spiritual elevation as Shelley and Coleridge caught the feeling and the tone of their time, and the revolutionary spirit and the love of nature that was molding Wordsworth finds a distinct voice in them as well. Even Burns, isolated as he was, is not altogether an anomaly, and no one need be told that Byron was in an extreme degree the voice of the reactionary spirit of post-revolutionary Europe. William Morris, retelling old legends of Greek and Saxon, none the less informed his verse with the humanitarian and ├Žsthetic spirit of modern life, and applied his sense of the beautiful to the problems of nineteenth century existence. Swinburne, too, is democratic and in his vision the world moves on to new glories even though the old be not wholly faded from the earth.

Robert Browning is first and fundamentally a painter of character, a student of the more subtle moods that dominate the individual, and toward this the reader of English fiction would hardly fail to see that the development of literature has steadily been advancing for two centuries. Even Mrs. Browning through the somewhat morbid and mawkish sentimentality and the over-strained art of "Aurora Leigh," in the vague and uncertain way of a woman