The Complete Poetical Works of Edgar Allan Poe Including Essays on Poetry

By Edgar Allan Poe

Page 100

'Give me,' I demanded of a
scholar some time ago, 'give me a definition of poetry.'
'_Tres-volontiers;_' and he proceeded to his library, brought me a Dr.
Johnson, and overwhelmed me with a definition. Shade of the immortal
Shakespeare! I imagine to myself the scowl of your spiritual eye upon
the profanity of that scurrilous Ursa Major. Think of poetry, dear
B----, think of poetry, and then think of Dr. Samuel Johnson! Think of
all that is airy and fairy-like, and then of all that is hideous and
unwieldy; think of his huge bulk, the Elephant! and then--and then think
of the 'Tempest'--the 'Midsummer Night's Dream'--Prospero--Oberon--and

"A poem, in my opinion, is opposed to a work of science by having, for
its _immediate_ object, pleasure, not truth; to romance, by having, for
its object, an _indefinite_ instead of a _definite_ pleasure, being a
poem only so far as this object is attained; romance presenting
perceptible images with definite, poetry with _in_definite sensations,
to which end music is an _essential_, since the comprehension of sweet
sound is our most indefinite conception. Music, when combined with a
pleasurable idea, is poetry; music, without the idea, is simply music;
the idea, without the music, is prose, from its very definitiveness.

"What was meant by the invective against him who had no music in his

"To sum up this long rigmarole, I have, dear B----, what you, no doubt,
perceive, for the metaphysical poets as poets, the most sovereign
contempt. That they have followers proves nothing:

"'No Indian prince has to his palace
More followers than a thief to the gallows.'"

* * * * *


SCIENCE! true daughter of Old Time thou art!
Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet's heart,
Vulture, whose wings are dull realities
How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise,
Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,
Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing!
Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car?
And driven the Hamadryad from the wood
To seek a shelter in some happier star?
Hast thou not torn the Naiad from

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--The "MS.