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

By Edgar Allan Poe

Page 188

through a psychal necessity, brief. For this reason, at least
one-half of the "Paradise Lost" is essentially prose--a succession of
poetical excitements interspersed, _inevitably_, with corresponding
depressions--the whole being deprived, through the extremeness of its
length, of the vastly important artistic element, totality, or unity of
effect.

It appears evident, then, that there is a distinct limit, as regards
length, to all works of literary art--the limit of a single sitting--and
that, although in certain classes of prose composition, such as
_Robinson Crusoe_ (demanding no unity), this limit may be advantageously
overpassed, it can never properly be overpassed in a poem. Within this
limit, the extent of a poem may be made to bear mathematical relation to
its merit--in other words, to the excitement or elevation--again, in
other words, to the degree of the true poetical effect which it is
capable of inducing; for it is clear that the brevity must be in direct
ratio of the intensity of the intended effect--this, with one
proviso--that a certain degree of duration is absolutely requisite for
the production of any effect at all.

Holding in view these considerations, as well as that degree of
excitement which I deemed not above the popular, while not below the
critical taste, I reached at once what I conceived the proper _length_
for my intended poem--a length of about one hundred lines. It is, in
fact, a hundred and eight.

My next thought concerned the choice of an impression, or effect, to be
conveyed: and here I may as well observe that, throughout the
construction, I kept steadily in view the design of rendering the work
_universally_ appreciable. I should be carried too far out of my
immediate topic were I to demonstrate a point upon which I have
repeatedly insisted, and which, with the poetical, stands not in the
slightest need of demonstration--the point, I mean, that Beauty is the
sole legitimate province of the poem. A few words, however, in
elucidation of my real meaning, which some of my friends have evinced a
disposition to misrepresent. That pleasure which is at once the most
intense, the most elevating, and the most pure, is, I believe, found in
the contemplation of the beautiful. When, indeed, men speak of Beauty,
they mean, precisely, not a quality, as is supposed, but an effect--they
refer, in short, just to that intense and pure elevation of _soul_
--_not_ of intellect, or of heart--upon which I have commented, and
which is experienced in consequence of contemplating "the beautiful."
Now I designate Beauty as the province of the poem, merely because it is
an obvious rule of Art that effects should

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