Friday, April 27, 2018

On Poetry in General by William Hazlitt

Happy Poetry Month! Many Writers have tried to define that elusive something that we call poetry and writer and literary critic William Hazlitt (1778-1830) was no exception. To Hazlitt poems cannot merely describe an object or a feeling; their words have to heighten the imagination.

He laments the "advances" in civilization (scientific knowledge, modernization, etc.) that are unfavorable to poetry because they cause more indifference and less awe. Society, by degrees, is constructed into a machine that carries us safely and insipidly from one end of life to the other, in a very prose style. . . It is to overcome the flats and sharps of prose that poetry was invented.

Hazlitt says that poetry lifts the spirit above the earth and draws the soul out of itself with indescribable longings. Because of that definition he cites Pilgrim's Progress and Robinson Crusoe as great poetic works. The great poetry in the world, according to him, is found in Homer, the Bible, and Dante. (Beautiful language that elevates the mind is essential, but obviously to him, rhyming is not.)

 "On Poetry" was one of several essays gathered together by Jacob Zeitlin in 1913 and is fifteen pages long. I found a free online copy here. If you don't already love poetry, this article is probably too dry to change your mind, but I appreciated Hazlitt's insights.


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