The Imaginative and the Imaginary

I SHOULD LIKE TO BEGIN BY DISTINGUISHING TWO SOCIAL CONTEXTS OF the human mind. What I say in this connexion will be familiar enough to you, but I need to establish some common ground between an association of psychiatrists and a literary critic. Man lives in an environment that we call nature, and he also lives in a society or home, a human world that he is trying to build out of nature. There is the world he sees and the world he constructs, the world he lives in and the world he wants to live in. In relation to the world he sees, or the environment, the essential attitude of his mind is that of recognition, the ability to see things as they are, the clear understanding of what is, as distinct from what we should like it to be. This is an attitude often associated, sometimes correctly, with the reason. I should prefer to call it "sense," because it is a pragmatic and practical habit of mind, not theoretical, as reason is, and because it requires emotional as well as intellectual balance. It is the attitude with which the scientist initially faces nature, determined to see first of all what is there without allowing any other of his mental interests to cook the evidence. And it is, I should think, the attitude that psychiatry would take as the standard of the "normal," the condition of mental health from which mental illness deviates.

     The other attitude is usually described as "creative," a somewhat hazy metaphor of religious origin, or as imaginative. This is the vision, not of what is, but of what otherwise might be done with a given situation. Along with the given world, there is or may be present an invisible model of something non-existent but possible and desirable. Imagination exists in all areas of human activity, but in three of particular importance, the arts, love and religion. Where we see a landscape, a painter also sees the possibility of a picture. He sees more than we see, and the picture itself is the proof that he really does see it. The standard of reality does not inhere in what is there, but in an unreal and subjective excess over what is there which then comes into being with its own kind of reality. In love, we frequently hear the voice of sense in some such phrase as "I don't know what he sees in her," or vice versa. But it is generally admitted that here it is the subjective excess over reality which is appropriate. Similarly in religion. The New Testament defines faith as the evidence of things unseen: reality in religion is not "there": it is brought into being through a certain kind of experience. The religious life is, like the artist's picture, the manifestation of such experience in the world of sense, or what the gospel calls letting one's light shine.

     The imaginative or creative force in the mind is what has produced everything that we call culture and civilization. It is the power of transforming a sub-human physical world into a world with a human shape and meaning, a world not of rocks and trees but of cities and gardens, not an environment but a home. The drive behind it we may call desire, a desire which has nothing to do with the biological needs and wants of psychological theory, but is rather the impulse toward what Aristotle calls telos, realizing the form that one potentially has. As desire, it works dialectically, separating what is wanted from what is not wanted. Planting a garden develops the conception "weed," a conception of vegetable value unintelligible except in the context of a garden.

     The attitude we have just called sense can only distinguish itself from what is below itself. It can separate the real from the imaginary, sense from nonsense, what is there from what is not there, but it has no criteria for recognizing what is above itself. It is a fact of experience that the world we live in is a world largely created by the human imagination. It is a part of sense's own recognition of reality that there must be a standard above sense, and one that has the power of veto over it. But it is the resemblance between vision and hallucination, ecstasy and neurosis, the imaginative and the imaginary, that impresses itself on sense. These resemblances are, of course, obvious and remarkable. The creative and the neurotic reactions to experience are both dissatisfied with what they see; they both believe that something else should be "there"; they both attempt to remake the world of experience into something more responsive to their desire. There are equally important differences, but in themselves the visions of the artist, the lover and the saint can only be regarded by sense as illusions, and all that sense can say about them is that certain significant types of activity seem to be guided by illusion.

     We may therefore see the creative imagination as polarized by two opposite and complementary forces. One is sense itself, which tells us what kind of reality the imagination must found itself on, what is possible for it, and what must remain on the level of wish or fantasy. The other pole I shall call vision, the pure uninhibited wish or desire to extend human power or perception (directly or by proxy in gods or angels) without regard to its possible realization. This polarizing of creative power between vision and sense is the basis of the distinction between the arts and the sciences. The sciences begin with sense, and work toward a mental construct founded on it. The arts begin with vision, and work toward a complementary mental construct founded on it. As sense is incorporated in science, and as science continually evolves and improves, wrhat sense declares to be impossible in one age, such as aeroplanes, may become possible in the next. The arts do not evolve or improve, partly because vision, being pure wish, can reach its conceivable limits at once. The aeroplane is a recent invention, but the vision that produced it was already ancient in the arts when Daedalus flew out of the labyrinth and Jehovah rode the sky on the wings of a seraph.

     But there may be considerable differences of emphasis within the arts themselves. Some cultures have a more uninhibited vision than other cultures: we find the most soaring imaginations, as a rule, in defeated or oppressed nations, like the Hebrews and the Celts. The attitude in the arts that we call "romantic," too, tends to stress vision rather than sense, and our ordinary use of the word indicates that a "romantic" approach to things may some¬times be in danger of a facile or rose-coloured idealization. On the other hand, a culture may be dominated by a feeling of proportion and limitation derived ultimately from what we have been calling sense, and a culture of this kind may achieve the clarity and simplicity that we associate with the word "classical." The most impressive example of such a culture is probably the Chinese, but in our Western tradition we tend naturally to think of the Greeks.

     Greek culture was founded on the conception of dike, a contract entered into by gods, man and nature, where each accepted certain limitations. The working out of this contract was the process of ananke or inoira, words that we translate, very loosely, as "fate." Zeus, in the Iliad, goes to bed with his consort Hera and nearly allows the Greeks to win the Trojan war, that being Hera's idea in getting him to bed, and scrambles out in time to help the Trojans, whom on the whole he prefers. But the contract says that the Greeks are to win in the end, and Zeus himself dares not ignore it. And if the contract binds even the king of gods and men, still more is man bound to avoid the proud and boastful spirit that the Greeks called hybris and saw as the main cause of tragedy; still more must he avoid excess and seek moderation and limits in all things. Know thyself, said the Delphic oracle, implying that self-knowledge was the final secret of wisdom. For man's mind is turned outward to nature, and his knowledge of himself is an inference from his knowledge of the much greater thing that is not himself.

     The classical inheritance was incorporated into later Western culture: medieval philosophers described the attitude we call sense as prudentia, and gave it a central place in their moral hierarchy. Even so, the attitude of the age of Shakespeare to sense and imagination was very different from ours, and perhaps we can learn something about our own age by examining the differences.

     When Shakespeare's Theseus, in A Midsummer Night's Dream, classified "The lunatic, the lover, and the poet," as being "of imagination all compact," he was expressing an Elizabethan commonplace, and one usually summed up in the word "melancholy." Melancholy was a physiological disturbance caused by the excess of one of the four humours, but this excess in its turn was the cause of emotional and mental illness. Body and mind were therefore treated as a unit: a collection of remarkably cheerful songs bears the title "Pills to Purge Melancholy." There were two kinds of melancholy. One was a disease; the other was a mood which was the prerequisite of certain important experiences in religion, love or poetry. Love and poetry were combined in the literary convention within which the bulk of poetry in that age was produced. A young man sees his destined mistress and instantly falls a prey to melancholy. He stays awake all night and keeps his house dark all day; he mopes, sighs, forsakes his friends, turns absent-minded and slovenly in his appearance. More to the point, he writes poetry incessantly, complaining of his lady's inflexibility, cruelty and disdain. It was understood that a poet could hardly get properly started as a poet without falling in love in this way, and that a lover was hardly doing his duty by his lady without leaving a stack of lyrical complaints at her door. In the background was the religious experience on which this conventional love was modelled, and of which it was to some extent a parody: the experience of becoming aware of sin and the wrath of God, of the necessity for supplicating grace and acceptance.

     Melancholy of this kind was certainly an emotional disturbance: it could become a mental disease, or at least there are many love poems threatening madness or suicide to impress an obdurate mistress. Normally, however, such disturbance was more in the nature of a calculated risk, undertaken for the sake of a certain intensity of experience. It was a kind of male pregnancy, a creative state with some analogies to illness. But melancholy as a disease was equally familiar, and Shakespeare's audience would have recognized its characteristic symptoms in Hamlet. The indecision, the inability to act through "thinking too precisely on th' event," the clairvoyant sense of the evil and corruption of human nature, the addiction to black clothes, the obsession with death both in others and in oneself, the deranged behavior that could easily modulate into actual madness with little outward change, were stock attributes of melancholy. So too was the fact that Hamlet, though not a poet, as he tells Ophelia, shows many similarities to the poetic temperament. Polonius, who has literary tastes, has a literary explanation for Hamlet's melancholy: he is in love with Ophelia; but the audience has already been given a more convincing reason. Of course a tendency to melancholy would be greatly increased if one had been born under either of the two melancholy planets, Saturn and the moon, which tended to make one saturnine or lunatic. Nations as well as individuals had their tutelary planets, and the fact that England's was the moon was responsible for many jokes, including some from Hamlet's grave-digger.

     Not only the most fascinating play of the period, but its greatest prose work (in England), has melancholy for its theme. Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy is an exhaustive analysis of the causes, symptoms, treatment and cure of melancholy, with two enormous appendices on love melancholy and religious melancholy. Burton was an Oxford don, and his chief amusement is said to have been going down to the Isis river and listening to the bargemen swear. The story may be true, or it may have been invented by someone who noticed that the qualities of Burton's prose, with its vast catalogues, piled-up epithets, Latin tags, allusiveness and exhaustive knowledge of theology and personal hygiene, are essentially the qualities of good swearing. Burton assumes rather than discusses the connexion of melancholy with creative power: being a scholar himself, like Hamlet, he associates it rather with the scholarly temperament, and includes a long digression on the miseries of scholars. On religious melancholy his position is simple: one can best avoid it by sticking to the reasonable middle way of the Church of England, avoiding the neurotic extremes of papist and puritan on either side. But in love there is no reasonable ground to take, for its very essence is illusion. On this point we had better let Burton speak for himself:
Every lover admires his mistress, though she be very deformed of herself, ill-favoured, wrinkled, pimpled, pale, red, yellow, tanned, tallow-faced, having a swollen juggler's platter face, or a thin, lean, chitty face, have clouds in her face, be crooked, dry, bald, goggle-eyed, blear-eyed, or with staring eyes, she looks like a squis'd cat, hold her head still awry, heavy, dull, hollow-eyed, black or yellow about the eyes, or squint-eyed, sparrow-mouthed, Persian hook-nosed, have a sharp fox-nose, a red nose, China flat, great nose, nare simo patuloque, a nose like a promontory, gubber-tushed, rotten teeth, black, uneven, brown teeth, beetle-browed, a witch's beard, her breath stink all over the room, her nose drop winter and summer, with a Bavarian poke under her chin, a sharp chin, lave-eared, with a long crane's neck, which stands awry too, pendulis mammis, "her dugs like two double jugs," or else no dugs, in that other extreme, bloody-fallen fingers, she have filthy, long unpared nails, scabbed hands or wrists, a tanned skin, a rotten carcass, crooked back, she stoops, is lame, splay-footed, "as slender in the middle as a cow in the waist," gouty legs, her ankles hang over her shoes, her feet stink, she breed lice, a mere changeling, a very monster, an oaf imperfect, her whole complexion savours, an harsh voice, incondite gesture, vile gait, a vast virago, or an ugly tit, a slug, a fat fustilugs, a truss, a long lean rawbone, a skeleton, a sneaker (si qua latent meliora puta, and to thy judgment looks like a mard in a lanthorn, whom thou couldst not fancy for a world, but hatest, loathest, and wouldest have spit in her face, or blow thy nose in her bosom, remedium amoris to another man, a dowdy, a slut, a scold, a nasty, rank, rammy, filthy, beastly quean, dishonest peradventure, ob¬scene, base, beggarly, rude, foolish, untaught, peevish, Irus' daughter, Thersites' sister, Grobian's scholar; if he love her once, he admires her for all this, he takes no notice of any such errors or imperfections of body or mind, Ipsa haec Delectant, veluti Balbinum polypus Agnae; he had rather have her than any woman in the world.
     Renaissance w/iters, when they speak of the imagination, are interested chiefly in its pathology, in hysteria and hallucination and the influence of the mind on the body. This is true of Montaigne's essay on the force of imagination, where an example of what may be called psychological vampirism comes from his own experience:
Simon Thomas was a great Physician in his daies. I remember upon a time comming by chance to visit a rich old man that dwelt in Tholouse, and who was troubled with the cough of the lungs, who discoursing with the said Simon Thomas of the meanes of his recoverie, he told him, that one of the best was, to give me occasion to be delighted in his companie, and that fixing his eyes upon tlje livelines and freshness of my face, and setting his thoughts upon the jolitie and vigor, wherewith my youthfull age did then flourish, and filling all his senses with my florishing estate, his habitude might thereby be amended, and his health recovered. But he forgot to say, that mine might also be empaired and infected.
At that stage of scientific development, scientific and occult explanations could be given of the same phenomena, and hysteria and hallucination might be explained either as mental disorders or as caused by witchcraft or diabolical suggestion. Burton gives a good deal of attention to such matters, though with a detachment toward them unusual in his age. He has read all the books about devils and witches, and has gathered from them that there is more theorizing than solid knowledge of the subject. He drops a hint that belief in their existence is convenient for an organized priestcraft, and continues:
Many such stories I find amongst pontifical writers, to prove their assertions; let them free their own credits; some few I will recite in this kind out of most approved physicians, Cornelius Gemma, lib. 2 de nat. mirac. cap. 4, related of a young maid, called Katherine Gualter, a cooper's daughter, anno 1571, that had such strange passions and convulsions, three men could not sometimes hold her; she purged a live eel, which he saw, a foot and a half long, and touched himself; but the eel afterwards vanished; she vomited some twenty-four pounds of fulsome stuif of all colours, twice a day for fourteen days; and after that she voided great balls of hair, pieces of wood, pigeon's dung, parchment, goose dung, coals; and after them two pound of pure blood, and then again coals and stones, of which some had inscriptions, bigger than a walnut, some of them pieces of glass, brass, etc., besides paroxysms of laughing, weeping and ecstasies, etc. Et hoc (inquit) cum horrore vidi, "this I saw with horror." They could do no good on her by physic, but left her to the clergy.
Burton is aware that he is describing a case of hysteria; what he is not sure of is whether it was the doctor or the patient who had it, and the reader is left with the feeling that Burton regards hysteria as a highly contagious illness.

     We notice that the association of poetry, love and melancholy extends only so far. The lover's melancholy was of no more lasting importance in his life than a contemporary teen-ager's crush on a movie star: it was understood to be normal, even expected, of youth, and it had nothing to do with the serious business of marriage which was being arranged for him by his parents. Religious melancholy would turn instantly to the church, and be restored to normality by the sacraments and disciplines of that church. The kind of lyrical poetry produced by the lover's melancholy, too, was regarded as relatively minor poetry, appropriate to young poets learning their trade or to well-born amateurs who were merely using poetry as a status symbol. The major poet, who had advanced to the major or heroic genres of epic and tragedy, was no longer inspired by melancholy but was working in the same general educational area as the philosopher, the jurist or the theologian. Thus the difference between the creative imagination of the professional artist and the practical skill of other professional men was minimized as far as possible. The great epic poet of Shakespeare's age, Edmund Spenser, includes in the second book of his Faerie Queene an allegory of the human body and mind, which he calls the House of Alma, and compares to a building. He explores the brain, and finds it divided into three parts. At the back of the brain is an old man called Eumnestes, good memory, who is concerned with the past. In the middle is the judgement, which is concerned with the present. In front is a melancholy figure named Phantastes, born under Saturn, concerned not so much with the future as with the possible, or rather with that uncritical kind of perception which cannot clearly distinguish the real from the fanciful:
His chamber was dispainted all within,
With sundry colours, in the which were writ
Infinite shapes of things dispersed thin;
Some such as in the world were neuer yit,
Ne can deuized be of mortall wit;
Some daily scene, and knowen by their names,
Such as in idle fantasies doe flit:
Infernall Hags, Centaurs, feendes, Hippodames,
Apes, Lions, Aegles, Owles, fooles, louers, children, Dames.
The poetic faculty, it is important to notice, does not belong to this aspect of the brain: it belongs to the judgement in the middle, which also produces philosophy and law:
     Of Magistrates, of courts, of tribunals,
     Of commen wealthes, of states, of policy,
     Of Lawes, of iudgements, and of decretals;
     All artes, all science, all Philosophy,
And all that in the world was aye thought wittily.
     Spenser had a disciple in the next generation, Phineas Fletcher, who produced a long didactic poem called The Purple Island (i.e., the body of man, traditionally formed of red clay). Half of it consists of an expansion of Spenser's House of Alma, an exhaustive survey of anatomy under the allegory of a building. Fletcher finds the same three divisions in the brain that Spenser found: he seems in fact to be merely cribbing from Spenser, but when he comes to Phantastes he makes a significant change:
The next that in the Castles front is plac't,
Phantastes hight; his yeares are fresh and green,
His visage old, his face too much defac't
With ashes pale, his eyes deep sunken been
     With often thoughts, and never slackt intention:
     Yet he the fount of speedy apprehension,
Father of wit, the well of arts, and quick invention.
Here, we see, Phantastes is the source of the arts, and of the creative aspect of the mind generally. The change may be sheer inadvertence, or it may mean that an actual change of emphasis is beginning to make itself felt on the level of informed but un-specialized opinion represented by such a poem. If so, it was not for another century that the change becomes generally perceptible.

     The refusal of Renaissance thinkers to carry through the association of the creative and the neurotic temperaments is the result of a certain view of the world that was ultimately religious in origin. They thought of human culture and civilization as an order of nature or reality separable from, and superior to, the ordinary physical environment. This latter world is theologically "fallen"; man entered it with Adam's sin, and is now in it but not of it. He does not belong in physical nature like the animals and plants; he is confronted with a moral choice, and must either rise above nature into his own proper human home, or sink below it into sin, the latter a degradation that the animals cannot reach. The crux of the argument, however, is that the higher human order was not created by man: it was created by God and designed for man. Adam awoke in a garden not of his planting, a human world pre-established and ordered by a divine mind. In Milton's Paradise Lost Adam and Eve are suburbanites in the nude, and angels on a brief outing from the City of God drop in for lunch. But the City of God was there, along with another city in hell, long before the descendants of Cain started imitating them on earth. The corollary of this view was that the divine intention in regard to man was revealed in law and in the institutions of society, not in the dreams of poets. All ancient societies tend to ascribe their laws and customs to the gods, and, as the name of Moses reminds us, the Judaeo-Christian tradition is no exception.

     We said at the beginning that the order of human existence represented by such words as culture and civilization has been established by man. This statement may seem obviously true now, but it is only within the last two centuries that it has been generally accepted. In earlier centuries, when man was not regarded as the creator of the human order, it could even be disputed whether the arts themselves, poetry, painting, architecture, were genuinely educational agencies or not. Naturally the poets insisted that poetry at least was; for most, however, obedience to law, the habit of virtue, and the disciplines of religion were far safer guides than the arts.

     Even those who were sympathetic to poetry, in fact even the poets themselves, placed strict limits on human creative power. The poet was urged to follow nature, and the nature he was to follow was conceived, not as the physical world, which could only be copied at second hand, but as an order of reality, a structure or system of divine ordinance. If one believes, as Sir Thomas Browne says in his Religio Medici, that "nature is the art of God," the art of man which follows nature does not transform the world but merely comes to terms with it. The social results of such a view are, of course, intensely conservative. Whatever is of serious importance, in the arts or elsewhere, serves the interests of the community of church and state; whatever is immature is also divisive and anarchic, and exalts the individual at the expense of society. The imaginary belongs to the melancholy individual and his whims;, the imaginative is incorporated into a natural and human order established by divine decree.

     The eighteenth century was the period in which this view of the imagination struggled with, and was finally defeated by, an opposed conception which came to power in the Romantic movement. At the beginning of the century, we have Swift, for whom established authority in church and state was the only thing in human life strong enough to restrain the desperately irrational soul of man. In his day the conception of "melancholy" was out of fashion, but another ancient medical notion of "spirits" or "vapors" rising from the loins into the head was still going strong. For Swift, or at least for the purposes of Swift's satire, all behavior that breaks down society is caused by an uprush either of digestive disturbances or of sexual excitement into the head. Swift's chief target is the left-wing Protestantism which in the seventeenth century had carried religious melancholy to the point of replacing the authority of the Church with private judgement and had made a virtue even of political rebellion. But he finds the same phenomena in the political tyrant who substitutes his own will for the social contract, or the poet who allows his emotions to take precedence over communication. "The very same principle," he says, "that influences a bully to break the windows of a whore who has jilted him, naturally stirs up a great prince to raise mighty armies, and dream of nothing but sieges, battles and victories." In his Discourse of the Mechanical Operation of Spirit Swift says that three sources of abnormal behavior have been generally recognized. One is of divine origin, or revelation, one of demonic origin, or possession, and one of natural origin, which produces such emotions as grief and anger. To these he proposes to add a fourth, which is artificial or mechanical, and is essentially a transfer of sexual energy to the brain, where it produces lofty rationalizations of erotic drives. Or, as Swift says with a nice calculation of doubles entendres:
.... however Spiritual Intrigues begin, they generally conclude like all others; they may branch upwards toward Heaven, but the Root is in the Earth. Too intense a Contemplation is not the Business of Flesh and Blood; it must by the necessary Course of Things in a little Time, let go its Hold, and fall into Matter. Lovers, for the sake of Celestial Converse, are but another sort of Platonicks, who pretend to see Stars and Heaven in Ladies Eyes, and to look or think no lower; but the same Pit is provided for both; and they seem a perfect Moral to the Story of that Philosopher, who, while his Thoughts and Eyes were fixed upon the Constellations, found himself seduced by his lower Parts into a Ditch.
     Swift is a satirist, and the attitude he takes is congenial to satire. For satire usually takes the point of view of sense: it requires a standard of the normal against which the absurd is to be measured, and, like sense, does not distinguish what is above it from what is below it. Such satire speaks with the voice of the consensus of society, and society can protect itself but cannot surpass itself. Hence a great age of satire like the early eighteenth century is likely to represent a culture which has clearly defined views about madness, but feels fairly confident about its own sanity.

     But even as Swift was writing there was beginning one of those great changes in cultural attitude, where we cannot see any origin or clear development of the change, but realize after a certain time that we are looking at a different world. As this different world, which came in with Romanticism, is essentially our world, we may take a moment to characterize some of the changes. Slowly but steadily the doctrine of the divine creation of the human order fades out, not perhaps as a religious conception, but as a historical and literal fact taking place at a specific point in past time. Man thus comes to be thought of as the architect of his own order, a conception which instantly puts the creative arts in the very centre of human culture. This new emphasis on the primacy of the arts in social life is clear in the statements and assumptions of the Romantic poets. The conception of nature as a divine artefact also fades out, and nature is thought of, not so much as a structure or system presented objectively to man, but rather as a total creative process in which man, the creation of man, and the creation of man's art, are all involved. For the Romantics, the poet no longer follows nature: nature works through the poet, and poems are natural as well as human creations. But if man has created his own order, he is in a position to judge of his own achievement, and to measure that achievement against the kind of ideals his imagination suggests. In Rousseau we meet the doctrine that much of human culture and civilization has in fact been perverse in direction, full of inequalities caused by aggression which have blotted out the true form of human community. This latter Rousseau saw as a society made up of a "general will" of free and equal individuals. And as society can speak only with the middle voice of sense, and cannot by itself distinguish the creative from the neurotic, we thus arrive at two typically Romantic, and therefore modern, conceptions.

     First, any genuinely creative individual is likely to be regarded by society as antisocial or even mad, merely because he is creative. The association of the creative and the neurotic, being largely imposed on the artist by society, places creative abilities under a curse, a capacity of misunderstanding that may blight or destroy the artist's social personality. Baudelaire symbolizes the creative spirit by an albatross, so superbly beautiful in its lonely flight, so grotesquely awkward and comic when captured and brought into the view of a human society. If we compare the target of Swift's satire, the melancholy individual creating his own poetry and religion out of a powerful erotic stimulus, with the figure of Byron a century later, we can see how completely cultural standards have reversed themselves. Byron like Swift was a satirist, but his satire does not speak with the voice of society against the erratic individual: it speaks with the voice of the individual against society, and assumes the individual's possession of a set of standards superior to those of society. This leads us at once to the second new conception: a society may judge an individual to be mad because that society is actually mad itself.

     The notion that the whole of mankind has been injured in its wits as the result of Adam's fall was familiar enough, and is the basis for a great deal of satire, including that of Burton's Anatomy. In the seventeenth century the poet and dramatist Nathaniel Lee, a contemporary of Dryden, remarked when confined to a madhouse: "They said I was mad, and I said they were mad, and, damn them, they outvoted me." Fifty years later Hogarth, depicting the last stage of the rake's progress in the madhouse of Bed-larn, sticks an enormous penny on the wall, indicating that the whole of Britannia is as mad as the rake. But the notion that madness can be a social disease affecting a specific society at a specific time is, I think, not older than the French Revolution. At that time those on one side of politics saw a whole society gone mad in revolutionary France; those on the opposite side saw an equally dangerous delusion in accepting the status quo. This social dimension of madness is, to put it mildly, still with us in the century of Fascism, Communism, and the parasites in the democracies who devote themselves to spreading hysteria.

     Of all the great artists of the Romantic movement, the most interesting for our present purposes is William Blake. Blake had practically no influence in his own day, and his reputation during his life and for long after his death was that of a lunatic. Gradually it was realized that he was a great creative genius, and that if the normal attitude regards him as a lunatic, so much the worse for the normal attitude. Blake himself had very clear notions of what constituted mental health and mental disease. For him, mental health consisted in the practice of the imagination, a practice exemplified by the artist, but manifested in every act of mankind that proceeds from a vision of a better world. Madness, for Blake, was essentially the attitude of mind that we have been calling sense, when regarded as an end in itself. The world outside us, or physical nature, is a blind and mechanical order, hence if we merely accept its conditions we find ourselves setting up blind and mechanistic patterns of behaviour. The world outside is also a fiercely competitive world, and living under its conditions involves us in unending war and misery. Blake's lyrics contrast the vision of experience, the stupefied adult view that the evils of nature are built into human life and cannot be changed, with the vision of innocence in the child, who assumes that the world is a pleasant place made for his benefit. The adult tends to think of the child's vision as ignorant and undeveloped, but actually it is a clearer and more civilized vision than his own.

     Blake interpreted the ancient myths of titans, giants and universal deluges to mean that man had in the past very nearly succeeded in exterminating himself. He warns us that this danger will return unless we stop accepting experience and shift our energies to remaking the world on the model of a more desirable vision. This model Blake found in the Bible, but in his reading of the Bible he identifies God with the imaginative or creative part of the human mind. Thus his vision is quixotic in the strict sense, seeing the world about him as having fallen away from the vision of the Word of God, just as Don Quixote saw the world of his day as having fallen away from a vision of chivalry which he found in his library.

      Don Quixote is of course another great Renaissance masterpiece in which imagination is treated primarily as diseased vision. It would be easy to see in Quixote a relatively harmless example of a very sinister type, one of the line of paranoiacs culminating in Hitler who have attempted to destroy the present on the pretext of restoring the past. But we soon realize that there is something better than this in Quixote, something that gives him a dignity and pathos which he never loses in his wildest escapades. He is followed by Sancho Panza, who is so completely an incarnation of sense that only one thing about him is mysterious: the source of his loyalty to Quixote. We get a clue to this near the beginning of the book. Quixote and Sancho meet a group of peasants who invite them to share their lunch of goat's milk and acorns. Acorns were traditionally the food of those who lived in the golden age, that legendary time of simplicity and equality which has haunted so many discussions of human culture from Plato's Laws to Rousseau's Social Contract. Don Quixote is prompted by the sight of acorns to make a long speech about the golden age, first inviting Sancho to sit beside him, quoting from the Bible the verse about the exalting of the humble. He says that it is his mission to restore the golden age, which is, incidentally, exactly what Blake said the purpose of his art was. True, elsewhere he tells Sancho that the golden age would soon return if people would only see things as they really are, and not allow themselves to be deluded by enchanters who make giants look like windmills. But we can see that Quixote's obsession about chivalry is not so much what he believes in as what he thinks he believes in, a childish world where dreams of conquered giants and rescued damsels keep coming true, and which has thrust itself in front of his real social vision. This latter is a vision of simplicity and innocence, not childish but childlike, the element in Quixote that makes him courteous, chaste, generous (except that he has no money), intelligent and cultured within the limits of his obsession, and, of course, courageous. It is the solid core of moral reality in the middle of his fantasy that holds the loyalty not only of Sancho but of the readers of his adventures. For this wistful sense of a golden age, lost but still possible, the child's vision which the Gospel tells us is so dangerous to lose, is something that makes Quixotes of us all, and gives our minds, too, whatever dignity they may possess.

     In Part Two of the book, Quixote and Sancho come into the dominions of a duke who has read Part One, and who, to amuse himself, makes Sancho the governor of an island. We are perhaps less surprised than he to learn that Sancho rules his island so honestly and efficiently that he has to be pulled out of office in a hurry before he starts to disintegrate the Spanish aristocracy. We are even less surprised to find that Quixote's advice to him is full of gentle and shrewd good sense. The world is still looking for that lost island, and it still asks for nothing better than to have Sancho Panza for its ruler and Don Quixote for his honoured counsellor.

     In the fifth book of Wordsworth's Prelude, the great epic poem in which he describes the growth and formation of his own very modern mind, Wordsworth deals with the influence that his reading has had on him. As a student he was interested in mathematics and literature, and the literary works he particularly mentions are the Arabian Nights and Don Quixote. He tells us that he (at least we may assume it was he) fell asleep while reading Don Quixote, and had a strange dream. He saw an Arab horseman, who was also Don Quixote, riding over the sands of a desert carrying a stone and a shell, which were also books. The books were Euclid and an unnamed book of poetry: in other words they were the keys to the worlds of words and numbers, the two great instruments that man has invented for transforming reality. The Arab, or "Semi-Quixote" as Wordsworth calls him, is fleeing from some unimaginable catastrophe, which the poet calls a deluge, and is going to bury these two books to keep them safe until the disaster is past. Wordsworth says that he often reverts to this dream, and that he has felt
A reverence for a Being thus employ'd;
And thought that in the blind and awful lair
Of such a madness, reason did lie couch'd.
Enow there are on earth to take in charge
Their Wives, their Children, and their virgin Loves,
Or whatsoever else the heart holds dear;
Enow to think of these; yea, will I say,
In sober contemplation of the approach
Of such great overthrow, made manifest
By certain evidence, that I, methinks,
Could share that Maniac's anxiousness, could go
Upon like errand.
Perhaps in the age of the useless bomb-shelter it may be easier for us than it was even for Wordsworth to understand that if the human race is to have any future at all, it can only obtain it through a concern for preserving its powers of creation which it will be difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish clearly from a "'Maniac's anxiousness."

Lord Byron


IT IS HARDLY POSSIBLE TO DISCUSS BYRON'S POETRY WITHOUT TELLING the story of his life in some detail. His father was Captain Jack Byron, a nephew of the fifth Baron Byron, and a psychopathic spendthrift and sponger on women who had run through the fortunes of two heiresses. The first, a marchioness, he had acquired by divorce from her husband, and by her he had a daughter, Augusta Byron, later Augusta Leigh, the poet's half-sister. The second was a Scotswoman, Catherine Gordon of Gight, an explosive, unbalanced, ill-educated but affectionate woman whose only child was the poet. Byron was born in London on January 22, 1788, in great poverty and distress as his mother was returning from France to Scotland to get some relief from her rapacious spouse. He was handicapped at birth with a lameness that embittered his life (what was wrong, and which leg was affected, are still uncertain points), and he also had some glandular imbalance that forced him to a starvation diet in order to avoid grotesque corpulence. The mother brought up her boy in Aberdeen, where his religious training was naturally Presbyterian, giving many a later critic a somewhat dubious cliche about the "persisting Calvinism" in Byron's mind. When Byron was three his father died; when he was six his cousin, the heir to the Byron title, was killed; and when he was ten his great-uncle, who held the title, died and the poet became the sixth Lord Byron. The fact that Byron made so professional a job of being a lord is perhaps the result of his entering on that state when he was old enough to notice the difference his title made in the attitude that society took toward him.

     He was then educated at Harrow and at Trinity College, Cambridge. The most important of the friendships he formed there was with John Cam Hobhouse, in later life Lord Broughton, who founded a "Whig Club" at Cambridge, and whose influence had much to do with Byron's left-of-center political views. Byron's chief athletic interests were swimming and pistol-shooting, the latter a useful accomplishment in the days when gentlemen were expected to fight the odd duel, and he got around a regulation against keeping a dog at Cambridge by keeping a bear instead. What with his extravagance, his lack of discipline, and the liberties he took with his rank, he was anything but a model student. He announced more than once that he wished he had gone to Oxford instead, and the Cambridge authorities must often have wished so too. However, he acquired the usual gentleman's classical education, and while still an undergraduate he produced a slim volume of melodious if not very arresting lyrics. This volume was, after some vicissitudes, published in 1807 under the title given it by the publisher, Hours of Idleness. Hours of Idleness got roughly handled in the Edinburgh Review, and the result was Byron's first major satire, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809). Although the motivation for this poem was revenge on the Edinburgh reviewer, Byron took the opportunity to satirize most of his poetic contemporaries, including Scott, Southey, Wordsworth and Coleridge. Meanwhile Byron had been planning a variant of the "Grand Tour" that it was fashionable for young well-to-do Englishmen to take. Instead of the usual journey to France and Italy, he decided to go first to Portugal and Spain, bypass Italy by way of Malta, and then travel in what were at that time Turkish dominions: Greece, Asia Minor, and the practically unknown Albania. He set out with Hobhouse on July 2, 1809, on the "Lisbon Packet." The Peninsular War wras in progress, but life was made easy for people in Byron's social position, and one would never dream from his letters that this was the time and place of Goya's Disasters of War. The travelers passed through Malta, where a Mrs. Spencer Smith became the "Florence" of some of Byron's love poems, and on to Albania. Byron and his party were hospitably received by a local ruler, Ali Pasha, who found Byron as attractive as most people did, besides having political reasons for welcoming English visitors. Once, on suspicion that was no more than gossip, he had had fifteen women kidnapped and flung into the sea. Another woman narrowly escaped the same fate on a charge of infidelity: this incident was used by Byron as the basis for his tale The Giaour, and rumor maintained that Byron himself had been her lover. Next came Greece and Asia Minor, where Byron duplicated Leander's famous swim across the Hellespont, pondered over the sites of Marathon and Troy, and deplored the activities of Lord Elgin, who was engaged in hacking off the sculptures now called the Elgin Marbles from the ruined Parthenon and transporting them to England. Byron's satire on Lord Elgin's enterprise, "The Curse of Minerva" (i.e., Athene, the patron of Athens), was not published until 1815. Meanwhile he had begun to write a poem about his travels, Childe Harold, the first two cantos of the poem we now have.

     On his return to England in July, 1811, he went back to New-stead, the estate of the Byrons, where he had established himself before he left, a rambling "Gothic" mansion he was later forced to sell. His mother died suddenly soon after his arrival, and the deaths of three close friends occurred about the same time. The relations between Byron and his mother had always been tense, especially after she had begun to see some of his father's extravagance reappearing in him, but they were fond enough of each other when they were not living together. Byron now entered upon a phenomenally successful literary and social career. Childe Harold, as he said, made him famous overnight, and it was followed by a series of Oriental tales, The Giaour, The Bride of Abydos, The Corsair, and Lara, which appeared in 1813 and 1814. He wrote with great speed, completing the thousand-odd lines of The Bride of Abydos in four days, and he seldom revised. "I am like the tyger," he said: "If I miss my first Spring, I go growling back to my Jungle. There is no second. I can't correct; I can't, and I won't."

     When Byron said in Beppo:
I've half a mind to tumble down to prose,
But verse is more in fashion — so here goes.
The last statement, incredible as it may seem now, was true when he wrote. Nobody would turn to poetry for stories nowadays, but in Byron's day there was a popular demand for verse tales that Byron did not create, though he did much to expand it. The melancholy misanthropy, so full of romantic frisson, the pirates and the harems, the exotic Orientalism, the easy and pleasant versification, swept London as they were later to sweep the Continent. As a celebrity Byron could hold his own even in the most absorbing period of the Napoleonic War. The Corsair sold 10,000 copies on the day of its publication by John Murray, and ran through seven editions in a month. Byron probably made more money from his poetry than any other English poet, though being a lord who derived his income from rents, he often gave his royalties away to friends. The first money he accepted on his own account was £ 700 for the copyright of Lara.

     Apart from literature Byron had many other activities, both serious and scandalous. Before he had left England he had taken the seat in the House of Lords that his title gave him, and he now became active in Whig circles. His first speech was made In defence of the "framebreakers," or workers who had destroyed some textile machines through fear of unemployment. He also supported a number of other liberal causes, including the relief of Catholics in Ireland. When Napoleon was banished to Elba, Byron wrote an ode on him in which he contrasted him unfavorably with Washington as a fighter for liberty. (There is an impressive musical setting of this ode, for orchestra and Sprechgesang solo, by Arnold Schonberg.) But his hatred of the reactionary English government, especially Lord Castlereagh, was strong enough to give him a considerable admiration for Napoleon, even to the point of regretting the outcome of Waterloo: he had hoped, he said, to see Castlereagh's head on a pole. In fact his attitude to Napoleon always retained a good deal of self-identification.

     Meanwhile Byron was carrying on some highly publicized affairs with several women of fashion. Lady Caroline Lamb, always something of an emotional exhibitionist, kept London, which on Byron's social level was still a small town, buzzing with gossip over her pursuit of Byron, her visits to him disguised, her tan¬trums, and her public scenes. Lady Oxford, whose children, in an erudite contemporary joke, were known as the Harleian Miscellany, was another mistress of his, and there were briefer encounters with others. Despite his crowded schedule, Byron began seriously to consider marriage, making a trusted confidante of Lady Melbourne, Caroline Lamb's mother-in-law, to whom he wrote many frank and unaffected letters. Given Byron's temperament, he could only marry some kind of femme fatale; and the only really fatal type of woman for him would be an earnest, humorless, rather inhibited female who would represent everything that was insular and respectable in English society. His choice fell on Annabella Milbanke, heiress to a title in her own right and niece of Lady Melbourne, and who otherwise reminds one a little of Mary Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. She was highly intelligent and had many interests, including mathematics (Byron called her the "Princess of Parallelograms," as in those days any woman with such an interest could expect to be teased about it), but her mind ran to rather vague maxims of general conduct, and to an interest in the moral reformation of other people which boded ill for marriage to an unreformed poet with an unusually concrete view of life.

     The marriage lasted a year (January, 1815, to January, 1816) and then fell apart. A separation (they were never divorced) was agreed upon, and Lady Byron obtained custody of their daughter, Augusta Ada. Byron appears to have gone somewhat berserk in his matrimonial bonds, and his wife's doubts about his sanity were probably genuine. The situation was aggravated by financial difficulties and by the fact that gossip had begun to whisper about Byron and his half-sister Augusta. That there were sexual relations between them seems obvious enough, though the matter is hotly disputed, and the relevant documents have been carefully removed from the prying eyes of scholars. The combination of this exceptionally delicious scandal with the matrimonial one, along with his expression of some perverse pro-French political views, made things unpleasant for Byron, and although social disapproval was perhaps not as intense as he pretended or thought, he felt forced to leave England once more. He set out for the Continent on April 25, 1816, never to return to England.

     He made his way to Geneva, where he met, by prearrangement, Shelley and his wife Mary Godwin, along with her stepsister, Claire (or Jane) Clairmont. The last named had visited Byron before his departure from England and had thrown herself, as biographers say, at his head, the result of this accurate if morally unguided missile being a daughter, Allegra, whom Byron eventually placed in an Italian convent to be brought up as a Roman Catholic, and who died there at the age of eight The association with Shelley, one of Byron's few intellectual friends, is marked in the new poetry that Byron now began writing — the third canto of Childe Harold; Manfred; the two remarkable poems "Darkness" and "The Dream"; and the most poignant of his tales, "The Prisoner of Chillon." Shelley's reaction to Byron may be found in his poem "Julian and Maddalo," but for all the skepticism he ascribes to Byron, he was unable to convince him that Christianity was less reasonable than his own brand of Platonism.

     In the fall of 1817 Byron went over the Alps and settled in Venice. His "Ode to Venice," Beppo, the opening of the fourth canto of Childe Harold, and two of his dramas, Marino Faliero and The Two Foscari, are some of the evidence for the fascination that this dreamlike World's Fair of a city had for him. At Venice he plunged into an extraordinary sexual debauch, but he also wrote some of his best poetry, including the fourth canto of Childe Harold and the beginning of his greatest work, Don Juan. In the spring of 1819 he met Teresa Guiccioli, the wife of an elderly Count, who was both attractive enough to hold Byron and astute enough to keep other women away from him. Byron moved into the Guiccioli household in Ravenna, and settled down with Teresa into what by Byronic standards was practically an old-fashioned marriage. Ravenna saw the composition of Sardanapalus and Cain, as well as The Vision of Judgment, but his poetic energies were increasingly absorbed by Don Juan.

     At that time the two great centers of classical civilization, Greece and Italy, were under foreign occupation: Greece was a Turkish dependency, and most of northern Italy was controlled by Austria. Byron and Shelley were passionate supporters of the efforts of Italian and Greek nationalists to get free of their foreign yokes. Teresa's family, the Gambas, were also Italian nationalists in sympathy, and hence were, as was Byron, closely watched and reported on by the Austrian police. The Gambas were forced to move from Ravenna to Pisa, and Byron followed them. At Pisa Byron rejoined the Shelleys, and here Shelley, on July 8, 1822, was drowned at sea and cremated on the shore. The cremation was carried out by Byron and their friend Edward Trelawny, an extraordinarily circumstantial liar who had reconstructed his past life along the general lines of a Byronic hero. Meanwhile Byron had broken with his publisher John Murray, and had formed an alliance through Shelley with Leigh Hunt, whom he brought to Pisa. The plan was to found a literary and left-wing political magazine, and this magazine, called The Liberal, printed a good deal of Byron's poetry, including The Vision of Judgment, in its four numbers. Hunt, however, was somewhat irresponsible (he is the original of Harold Skimpole in Dickens' Bleak House), and his absurd and even more Dickensian wife and their demonic children helped to keep relations strained.

     Eventually the Gamba-Byron menage was forced to move on to Genoa, where Byron wrote some unimportant poems and finished what we have of Don Juan — sixteen cantos and a fragment of a seventeenth. Meanwhile a group of revolutionaries in Greece had been planning an insurrection against the Turkish authority, and knowing of Byron's sympathy with their cause, they offered him membership in their Committee. Byron had been meditating the possibility of going to Greece for some time, and on July 23, 1823, he left in the company of Trelawny and Pietro Gamba, Teresa's brother. He established connection at Missolonghi on January 5, 1824, with Prince Alexander Mavrocordato, the leader of the Western Greek revolutionaries, and put his money and his very real qualities of leadership at the service of the Greek cause. His health, which had been precarious for some time, broke down in a series of fevers, and he died at Missolonghi on April 19, 1824, three months after he had passed the thirty-sixth birthday which his valedictory poem records.


     The main appeal of Byron's poetry is in the fact that it is Byron's. To read Byron's poetry is to hear all about Byron's marital difficulties, flirtations, love for Augusta, friendships, travels, and political and social views. And Byron is a consistently interesting person to hear about, this being why Byron, even at his worst of self-pity and egotism and blither and doggerel, is still so incredibly readable. He proves what many critics declare to be impossible, that a poem can make its primary impact as a historical and biographical document. The critical problem involved here is crucial to our understanding of not only Byron but literature as a whole. Even when Byron's poetry is not objectively very good, it is still important, because it is Byron's. But who was Byron to be so important? certainly not an exceptionally good or wise man. Byron is, strictly, neither a great poet nor a great man who wrote poetry, but something in between: a tremendous cultural force that was life and literature at once. How he came to be this is what we must try to explain as we review the four chief genres of his work: the lyrics, the tales (including Childe Harold), the dramas, and the later satires.

     Byron's lyrical poetry affords a good exercise in critical catholicity, because it contains nothing that "modern" critics look for: no texture, no ambiguities, no intellectualized ironies, no intensity, no vividness of phrasing, the words and images being vague to the point of abstraction. The poetry seems to be a plain man's poetry, making poetic emotion out of the worn and blunted words of ordinary speech. Yet it is not written by a plain man: it is written, as Arnold said, with the careless ease of a man of quality, and its most striking and obvious feature is its gentlemanly amateurism. It is, to be sure, in an amateur tradition, being a romantic, subjective, personal development of the kind of Courtly Love poetry that was written by Tudor and Cavalier noblemen in earlier ages. Byron's frequent statements in prefaces that this would be his last work to trouble the public with, his offhand deprecating comments on his work, his refusal to revise, all give a studious impression of a writer who can take poetry or leave it alone. Byron held the view that lyrical poetry was an expression of passion, and that passion was essentially fitful, and he distrusted professional poets, who pretended to be able to summon passion at will and sustain it indefinitely. Poe was later to hold much the same view of poetry, but more consistently, for he drew the inference that a continuous long poem was impossible, whereas Childe Harold has the stretches of perfunctory, even slapdash writing that one would expect with such a theory.

     In Byron's later lyrics, especially the Hebrew Melodies of 1815, where he was able to add some of his Oriental technicolor to the Old Testament, more positive qualities emerge, particularly in the rhythm. "The Destruction of Sennacherib" is a good reciter's piece (though not without its difficulties, as Tom Sawyer discovered), and anticipates some of the later experiments in verbal jazz by Poe and Swinburne. Some of the best of his poems bear the title "Stanzas for Music," and they have the flat conventional diction appropriate to poems that depend partly on another art for their sound:
One shade the more, one ray the less,
     Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
     Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
     How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
     (If the reader would like a clue to the caressing rhythm of this stanza, he should read the iambic meters so as to give the stresses twice the length of the unstressed syllables. Then the lines will fall into four bars of three-four time, beginning on the third beat, and the rhythm of a nineteenth-century waltz will emerge.) We notice that while Byron's amateur predecessors wrote in a convention and Byron from personal experience, Byron was equally conventional, because his personal experience conformed to a literary pattern. Byron's life imitated literature: this is where his unique combination of the poetic and the personal begins.

     Byron was naturally an extroverted person, fond of company, of travel, of exploring new scenes, making new friends, falling in love with new women. Like Keats, in a much more direct way, he wanted a life of sensations rather than of thoughts. As he said: "I can not repent me (I try very often) so much of anything I have done, as of anything I have left undone. Alas! I have been but idle, and have the prospect of an early decay, without having seized every available instant of our pleasurable years." In the records of his journeys in his letters and Hobhouse's diaries, it is the more introverted Hobhouse who dwells on the dirt and the fleas, and it is Hobhouse too who does the serious studying and takes an interest in archaeology. It is Byron who swims across the Hellespont, learns the songs of Albanian mountaineers, makes friends with a Moslem vizier, amuses himself with the boys in a monastery school, flirts with Greek girls, and picks up a smattering of Armenian. He was continually speculating about unknown sensations, such as how it would feel to have committed a murder, and he had the nervous dread of growing older that goes with the fear of slowing down in the rhythm of experience. His writing depends heavily on experience; he seldom describes any country that he has not seen, and for all his solitary role he shows, especially in Don Juan, a novelist's sense of established society.

     It was an essential part of his strongly extroverted and empirical bent that he should not be a systematic thinker, nor much interested in people who were. He used his intelligence to make common-sense judgements on specific situations, and found himself unable to believe anything that he did not find confirmed in his own experience. In his numerous amours, for example, the absence of any sense of sin was as unanswerable a fact of his experience as the presence of it would have been to St. Augustine. He thought of sexual love as a product of reflex and mechanical habit, not of inner emotional drives. When he said: "I do not believe in the existence of what is called love," we are probably to take him quite literally. Nevertheless, his extroversion made him easily confused by efforts at self-analysis, and he flew into rages when he was accused of any lack of feeling. One reason why his marriage demoralized him so was that it forced such efforts on him. Now if we look into Byron's tales and Childe Harold we usually find as the central character an inscrutable figure with hollow cheeks and blazing eyes, wrapped in a cloud of gloom, full of mysterious and undefined remorse, an outcast from society, a wanderer of the race of Cain. At times he suggests something demonic rather than human, a Miltonic Satan or fallen angel. He may be a sinister brigand like the Corsair, or an aloof and icily polite aristocrat like the Lucifer of The Vision of Judgment, but he is always haughty and somber of demeanor; his glance is difficult to meet; he will not brook questioning, though he himself questions all established social standards, and he is associated with lonely and colorful predatory animals, as ordinary society is with gregarious ones like sheep and domestic fowl. "The lion is alone, and so am I," says Manfred. The name of the Corsair is "linked with one virtue, and a thousand crimes": the virtue is manifested when he refuses, as a prisoner, to assassinate his captor to escape being impaled. Fortunately his mistress Gulnare was less scrupulous. As for Lara, who is the Corsair returned from exile to his estates:
He stood a stranger in this breathing world,
An erring spirit from another hurled.
     This type of character is now known as the "Byronic hero," and wherever he has appeared since in literature there has been the influence, direct or indirect, of Byron. And if we ask how a witty, sociable, extroverted poet came to create such a character, we can see that it must have arisen as what psychologists call a projection of his inner self, that inner self that was so mysterious and inscrutable even to its owner.

     It happened that this type of character had already been popularized in the "Gothic" thrillers or "horrid stories" of Mrs. Radcliffe, M. G. Lewis (a friend of Byron's, known as "Monk" Lewis from his violent and sadistic tale The Monk), John Moore, whose Zeluco, a much more serious work, Byron greatly admired, and lesser writers. The period of their greatest popularity was the last decade of the eighteenth century, but they survived through Byron's lifetime. Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey was written as a parody of them in 1798, but it still had a point when it was published in 1818. These thrillers were intended for an English Protestant middle-class reading public: consequently their horrid surroundings were normally Continental, Catholic and upper class, though Oriental settings also had a vogue. Into such settings stalked a character type, sometimes a villain, sometimes presented in a more sympathetic, or more-sinned-against-than-sinning, role, but in either case misanthropic, misunderstood, and solitary, with strong diabolical overtones. The devil is a powerfully erotic figure, his horns and hoofs descending from the ancient satyrs, and the various forms of sadism and masochism glanced at in these thrillers helped to make them extremely popular, not least with the female part of the reading public.

     Childe Harold and the other lowering heroes of Byron's tales not only popularized a conventional type of hero, but popularized Byron himself in that role. For Byron was a dark and melancholy-looking lord with a reputation for wickedness and free thought; he seemed to prefer the Continent to England, and took a detached view of middle-class and even Christian morality. He owned a gloomy Gothic castle and spent evenings with revelers in it; he was pale and thin with his ferocious dieting; he even had a lame foot. No wonder he said that strangers whom he met at dinner "looked as if his Satanic Majesty had been among them." The prince of darkness is a gentleman, and so was Byron. Again, when a "nameless vice" was introduced into a Gothic thriller, as part of the villain's or hero's background, it generally turned out, when named, to be incest. This theme recurs all through Romantic literature, being almost obsessive in Shelley as well as Byron, and here again a literary convention turns up in Byron's life. Even a smaller detail, like the disguising of the ex-Corsair's mistress in Lara as the pageboy Kaled, recurs in Byron's liaison with Caroline Lamb, who looked well in a page's costume.

     Byron did not find the Byronic hero as enthralling as his public did, and he made several efforts to detach his own character from Childe Harold and his other heroes, with limited success. He says of Childe Harold that he wanted to make him an objective study of gloomy misanthropy, hence he deliberately cut humor out of the poem in order to preserve a unity of tone. But Byron's most distinctive talents did not have full scope in this part of his work. Most of the Gothic thriller writers were simple-minded popular novelists, but the same convention had also been practised on a much higher level of literary intelligence. Apart from Goethe's early Sorrows of Werther, an extraordinarily popular tale of a solemn suicide, Addison in The Vision of Mirza and Johnson in Rasselas had used the Oriental tale for serious literary purposes. Also, Horace Walpole in The Castle of Otranto (1764) and William Beckford in Vathek (1786) had written respectively a Gothic and an Oriental romance in which melodrama and fantasy were shot through with flickering lights of irony. They were addressed to a reading public capable, to use modern phraseology, of taking their corn with a pinch of salt. It was this higher level of sophistication that Byron naturally wanted to reach, and he was oppressed by the humorless solemnity of his own creations. His sardonic and ribald wit, his sense of the concrete, his almost infallible feeling for the common-sense perspective on every situation, crackles all through his letters and journals, even through his footnotes. But it seems to be locked out of his serious poetry, and only in the very last canto of Don Juan did he succeed in uniting fantasy and humor.

     Byron's tales are, on the whole, well-told and well-shaped stories. Perhaps he learned something from his own ridicule of Southey, who was also a popular writer of verse tales, sometimes of mammoth proportions. In any case he is well able to exploit the capacity of verse for dramatizing one or two central situations, leaving all the cumbersome apparatus of plot to be ignored or taken for granted. But he seemed unable to bring his various projections of his inner ghost to life: his heroes, like the characters of a detective story, are thin, bloodless, abstract, and popular. Nor could he seem to vary the tone, from romance to irony, from fantasy to humor, as Beckford does in Vathek. Byron was strongly attracted by Beckford, and is thinking of him at the very opening of Childe Harold, as Beckford had lived for two years in Portugal. When Byron writes:
     Deep in yon cave Honorius long did dwell,
In hope to merit Heaven by making earth a Hell.
     he obviously has in mind the demure remark in the opening of Vathek: "He did not think . . . that it was necessary to make a hell of this world to enjoy paradise in the next." But though Byron is the wittiest of writers, the Byronic hero cannot manage much more than a gloomy smile. Here, for instance, is Childe Harold on the "Lisbon Packet":
The sails were filled, and fair the light winds blew,
As glad to waft him from his native home ...
And then, it may be, of his wish to roam
Repented he, but in his bosom slept
The silent thought, nor from his lips did come
One word of wail, whilst others sate and wept,
And to the reckless gales unmanly moaning kept.
     and here is Byron himself in the same situation:
Hobhouse muttering fearful curses,
     As the hatchway down he rolls,
Now his breakfast, now his verses,
     Vomits forth — and damns our souls . . .
"Zounds! my liver's coming up:
I shall not survive the racket
Of this brutal Lisbon Packet."
     The same inability to combine seriousness and humor is also to be found in the plays, where one would expect more variety of tone. The central character is usually the Byronic hero again, and again he seems to cast a spell over the whole action. Byron recognized this deficiency in his dramas, and to say that his plays were not intended for the stage would be an understatement. Byron had a positive phobia of stage production, and once tried to get an injunction issued to prevent a performance of Marino Faltero. "I never risk rivalry in anything," he wrote to Lady Melbourne, and being directly dependent on the applause or booing of a crowd (modern theaters give us no notion of what either form of demonstration was like in Byron's day) was something he could not face, even in absence. Besides, he had no professional sense, and nothing of the capacity to write for an occasion that the practising dramatist needs. Hence, with the exception of Werner, a lively and well-written melodrama based on a plot by somebody else, Byron's plays are so strictly closet dramas that they differ little in structure from the tales.

     The establishing of the Byronic hero was a major feat of characterization, but Byron had little power of characterization apart from this figure. Like many brilliant talkers, he had not much ear for the rhythms and nuances of other people's speech. Here again we find a close affinity between Byron's personality and the conventions of his art. For instance, in his life Byron seemed to have curiously little sense of women as human beings. Except for Lady Melbourne, he addressed himself to the female in them, took a hearty-male view of their intellectual interests, and concentrated on the ritual of love-making with the devotion of what an earlier age would have called a clerk of Venus. This impersonal and ritualistic approach to women is reflected in his tales and plays, where again it fits the conventions of Byronic romance. It is difficult for a heroine of strong character to make much headway against a gloomy misanthropic hero, and Byron's heroines, like the heroines of Gothic romance in general, are insipid prodigies of neurotic devotion.

     But if Byron's plays are not practicable stage plays, they are remarkable works. Manfred, based on what Byron had heard about Goethe's Faust, depicts the Byronic hero as a student of magic whose knowledge has carried him beyond the limits of human society and given him superhuman powers, but who is still held to human desire by his love for his sister (apparently) Astarte. At the moment of his death the demons he has controlled, with a sense of what is customary in stories about magicians, come to demand his soul, but Manfred, in a crisp incisive speech which retains its power to surprise through any number of rereadings, announces that he has made no bargain with them, that whatever he has done, they can go to hell, and he will not go with them. The key to this final scene is the presence of the Abbot. Manfred and the Abbot differ on all points of theory, but the Abbot is no coward and Manfred is no villain: they face the crisis together, linked in a common bond of humanity which enables Manfred to die and to triumph at the same time.

     Two of Byron's plays, Cain and Heaven and Earth, are described by Byron as "mysteries," by which he meant Biblical plays like those of the Middle Ages. Wherever we turn in Byron's poetry, we meet the figure of Cain, the first man who never knew Paradise, and whose sexual love was necessarily incestuous. In Byron's "mystery" Cain is Adam's eldest son and heir, but what he really inherits is the memory of a greater dispossession. "Dost thou not live?" asks Adam helplessly. "Must I not die?" retorts Cain. Adam cannot comprehend the mentality of one who has been born with the consciousness of death. But Lucifer can, for he too has been disinherited. He comes to Cain and gives him what he gave Adam: fruit of the tree of knowledge, of a kind that Raphael, in the eighth book of Paradise Lost, warned Adam against: a knowledge of other worlds and other beings, a realization that the fortunes of humanity are of less account in the scheme of things than he had assumed. From such knowledge develops the resentment that leads to the murder of Abel and to Cain's exile. And just as Milton tries to show us that we in Adam's place would have committed Adam's sin, so Byron makes us feel that we all have something of Cain in us: everybody has killed something that he wishes he had kept alive, and the fullest of lives is wrapped around the taint of an inner death. As the princess says in The Castle of Otranto: "This can be no evil spirit: it is undoubtedly one of the family."

     The other "mystery," Heaven and Earth, deals with the theme of the love of angels for human women recorded in some mysterious verses of Genesis, and ends with the coming of Noah's flood. Angels who fall through sexual love are obvious enough subjects for Byron, but Heaven and Earth lacks the clear dramatic outline of Cain. All Byron's plays are tragedies, and as Byron moved further away from the easy sentiment of his earlier tales he moved toward intellectual paradox rather than tragedy. It is particularly in the final scenes that we observe Byron becoming too self conscious for the full emotional resonance of tragedy. In Sardanapalus, for example, we see the downfall of a king who pursued pleasure because he was too intelligent to want to keep his people plunged into warfare. His intelligence is identified by his people with weakness, and his pursuit of pleasure is inseparably attached to selfishness. What we are left with, despite his final death on a funeral pyre, is less tragedy than an irony of a kind that is very close to satire. Byron's creative powers were clearly running in the direction of satire, and it was to satire that he turned in his last and greatest period.

     In English Bards and Scotch Reviewers Byron spoke of Wordsworth as "that mild apostate from poetic rule." This poem is early, but Byron never altered his opinion of the Lake Poets as debasers of the currency of English poetry. His own poetic idol was Pope, whom he called "the moral poet of all civilization," and he thought of himself as continuing Pope's standards of clarity, craftsmanship and contact with real life against the introverted metaphysical mumblings of Coleridge and Wordsworth. Byron's early models were standard, even old-fashioned, later eighteenth-century models. English Bards is in the idiom of eighteenth-century satire, less of Pope than of Pope's successors, Churchill, Wolcot, and Gifford, and the first part of Childe Harold, with its pointless Spenserian stanza and its semi-facetious antique diction — fortunately soon dropped by Byron — is also an eighteenth-century stock pattern. Byron was friendly with Shelley, but owes little to him technically, and in his letters he expressed a vociferous dislike for the poetry of Keats (considerably toned down in the eleventh canto of Don Juan). His literary friends, Sheridan, Rogers, Gilford, were of the older generation, and even Tom Moore, his biographer and by far his closest friend among his poetic contemporaries, preserved, like so many Irish writers, something of the eighteenth-century manner.

     It was also an eighteenth-century model that gave him the lead for the phase of poetry that began with Beppo in September, 1817, and exploited the possibilities of the eight-line (ottava rima) stanza used there and in Don Juan and The Vision of Judgment. Byron seems to have derived this stanza from a heroi-comical poem, Whistlecraft, by John Hookham Frere, whom Byron had met in Spain, and which in its turn had owed something to the Italian romantic epics of the early Renaissance. Byron went on to study the Italian poems, and translated the first canto of one of the best of them, Pulci's tale of a good-natured giant, Morgante Maggiore. But there was one feature in Frere that he could not have found in the Italians, and that was the burlesque rhyme. In Italian the double rhyme is normal, but it is a peculiarity of English that even double rhymes have to be used with great caution in serious poetry, and that all obtrusive or ingenious rhymes belong to comic verse. This is a major principle of the wit of Hudibras before Byron's time, as of W. S. Gilbert and Ogden Nash since, and without it the wit of Don Juan is hardly conceivable:
But — Oh! ye lords of ladies intellectual,
Inform us truly, have they not hen-pecked you all?
     Armed with this new technique, Byron was ready to tackle a narrative satire, and in narrative satire he found not only a means of exploiting all his best qualities, but of turning his very faults as a poet into virtues. He could digress to his heart's content, for digression is part of the fun in satire — one thinks of Tristram Shandy and the "Digression in Praise of Digressions" in A Tale of a Tub. He could write doggerel, but doggerel in satire is a sign of wit rather than incompetence. He could be serious if he liked, for sudden changes of mood belong to the form, and he could swing back to burlesque again as soon as he was bored with seriousness, or thought the reader might be. It is particularly the final couplet that he uses to undercut his own romantic Byronism, as in the description of Daniel Boone in Canto VIII:
Crime came not near him — she is not the child
     Of solitude; Health shrank not from him — for
Her home is in the rarely trodden wild,
     Where if men seek her not, and death be more
Their choice than life, forgive them, as beguiled
     By habit to what their own hearts abhor-
In cities caged. The present case in point I
Cite is, that Boon lived hunting up to ninety.
     In the new flush of discovery, Byron wrote exultantly to his friend Douglas Kinnaird: "[Don Juan] is the sublime of that there sort of writing — it may be bawdy, but is it not good English? It may be profligate but is it not life, is it not the thing? Could any man have written it who has not lived in the world?" But even Byron was soon made aware that he was not as popular as he had been. The women who loved The Corsair hated Don Juan, for the reason that Byron gives with his usual conciseness on such subjects: "the wish of all women to exalt the sentiment of the passions, and to keep up the illusion which is their empire." Teresa, as soon as she understood anything of the poem, boycotted it, and forced Byron to promise not to go on with it, a promise he was able to evade only with great difficulty. His friend Harriet Wilson, significantly enough a courtesan who lived partly by blackmail, wrote him: "Dear Adorable Lord Byron, don't make a mere coarse old libertine of yourself."

     Don Juan is traditionally the incautious amorist, the counterpart in love to Faust in knowledge, whose pursuit of women is so ruthless that he is eventually damned, as in the last scene of Mozart's opera Don Giovanni. Consequently he is a logical choice as a mask for Byron, but he is a mask that reveals the whole Byronic personality, instead of concealing the essence of it as Childe Harold does. The extroversion of Byron's temperament has full scope in Don Juan. There is hardly any characterization in the poem: even Don Juan never emerges clearly as a character. We see only what happens to him, and the other characters, even Haidee, float past as phantasmagoria of romance and adventure. What one misses in the poem is the sense of engagement or participation. Everything happens to Don Juan, but he is never an active agent, and seems to take no responsibility for his life. He drifts from one thing to the next, appears to find one kind of experience as good as another, makes no judgements and no commitments. As a result the gloom and misanthropy, the secret past sins, the gnawing remorse of the earlier heroes is finally identified as a shoddier but more terrifying evil — boredom, the sense of the inner emptiness of life that is one of Byron's most powerfully compelling moods, and has haunted literature ever since, from the ennui of Baudelaire to the Angst and nausee of our own day.

     The episodes of the poem are all stock Byronic scenes: Spain, the pirates of the Levant, the odalisques of Turkish harems, battlefields, and finally English high society. But there is as little plot as characterization: the poem exists for the sake of its author's comment. As Byron says:
     This narrative is not meant for narration,
But a mere airy and fantastic basis,
To build up common things with common places.
     Its wit is constantly if not continuously brilliant, and Byron's contempt of cant and prudery, his very real hatred of cruelty, his detached view of all social icons, whether conservative or popular, are well worth having. Not many poets give us as much common sense as Byron does. On the other hand the opposition to the poem made him increasingly self-conscious as he went on, and his technique of calculated bathos and his deliberate refusal to "grow metaphysical" — that is, pursue any idea beyond the stage of initial reaction — keep the poem too resolutely on one level. The larger imaginative vistas that we are promised ("a panoramic view of hell's in training") do not materialize, and by the end of the sixteenth canto we have a sense of a rich but not inexhaustible vein rapidly.thinning out. As Don Juan is not Don Juan's poem but Byron's poem, it could hardly have been ended, but only abandoned or cut short by its author's death. The Mozartian ending of the story Byron had already handled, in his own way, in Manfred.

      The Vision of Judgment is Byron's most original poem, and therefore his most conventional one; it is his wittiest poem, and therefore his most serious one. Southey, Byron's favorite target among the Lake poets, had become poet laureate, and his political views, like those of Coleridge and Wordsworth, had shifted from an early liberalism to a remarkably complacent Toryism. On the death of George III in 1820 he was ill-advised enough to compose, in his laureate capacity, a "Vision of Judgment" describing the apotheosis and entry into heaven of the stammering, stupid, obstinate, and finally lunatic and blind monarch whose sixty-year reign had lost America, alienated Ireland, plunged the country into the longest and bloodiest war in its history, and ended in a desolate scene of domestic misery and repression. George III was not personally responsible for all the evils of his reign, but in those days royalty was not the projection of middle-class virtue that it is now, and was consequently less popular and more open to attack. The apotheosis of a dead monarch, as a literary form, is of classical origin, and so is its parody, Byron's poem being in the tradition of Seneca's brilliant mockery of the entry into heaven of the Emperor Claudius.

     Byron's religious views were certainly unusual in his day, but if we had to express them in a formula, it would be something like this: the best that we can imagine man doing is where our conception of God ought to start. Religions that foment cruelty and induce smugness, or ascribe cruelty and smugness to God, are superstitions. In Heaven and Earth for example, the offstage deity who decrees the deluge at the end is clearly the moral inferior of every human creature he drowns. In The Vision of Judgment the sycophantic Southey is contrasted with John Wilkes, who fought King George hard all his life, but who, when encouraged to go on persecuting him after death, merely says:
I don't like ripping up old stories, since
His conduct was but natural in a prince.
This is a decent human attitude, consequently it must be the least we can expect from heaven, and so the poet takes leave of the poor old king "practising the hundredth Psalm."


     Byron has probably had more influence outside England than any other English poet except Shakespeare. In English literature, though he is always classified with the Romantic poets, he is Romantic only because the Byronic hero is a Romantic figure: as we have seen, he has little technically in common with other English Romantics. But on the Continent Byron has been the arch-romantic of modern literature, and European nineteenth-century culture is as unthinkable without Byron as its history would be without Napoleon. From the painting of Delacroix to the music of Berlioz, from the poetry of Pushkin to the philosophy of Nietzsche, the spell of Byron is everywhere. Modern fiction would be miserably impoverished without the Byronic hero: Balzac, Stendhal, Dostoevsky, have all used him in crucial roles. In the more advanced political atmosphere of England, Byron was only a Whig intellectual, whereas in Greece and Italy he was a revolutionary fighter for freedom, a poetic Mazzini or Bolivar, though, like them, not a class leveler. As he said:
          I wish men to be free
As much from mobs as kings — from you as me.
     Among English readers the reputation of the Romantic and sentimental Byron has not kept pace with his reputation as a satirist, but it would be wrong to accept the assertion, so often made today, that Byron is of little importance apart from his satires and letters. An immense amount of imitation and use of Byron, conscious or unconscious, direct or indirect, has taken place in English literature, too, and nearly all of it is of the Romantic Byron. Melville (whose Ishmael is in the line of Cain), Conrad, Hemingway, A. E. Housman, Thomas Wolfe, D. H. Lawrence, W. H. Auden — these writers have little in common except that they all Byronize.

     The most important reason for Byron's great influence is that he was a portent of a new kind of sensibility. For many centuries poets had assumed a hierarchy of nature with a moral principle built into it. For Dante, for Shakespeare, for Milton, there was a top level of divine providence; a level of distinctively human nature which included education, reason and law; a level of physical nature, which was morally neutral and which man could not, like the animals, adjust to; and a bottom level of sin and corruption. This hierarchy corresponded to the teachings of religion and science alike. But from Rousseau's time on a profound change in the cultural framework of the arts takes place. Man is now thought of as a product of the energy of physical nature, and as this nature is subhuman in morality and intelligence and capacity for pleasure, the origin of art is morally ambivalent, and may even be demonic. The Byronic hero, for whom, as for Manfred, pride, lack of sympathy with humanity and a destructive influence even in love are inseparable from genius, dramatizes this new conception of art and life alike more vividly than anything else in the culture of the time. Hence it is no exaggeration to say that Byron released a mainspring of creative energy in modern culture.

     Byron's immediate influence in his own country, on the other hand, though certainly very great, was qualified in many ways, by queasiness about his morality, by a refusal to separate him from his posing heroes, by a feeling that he lacked the sterner virtues and wrote with too much pleasure and too few pains. The first canto of Don Juan centers on the nervous prudery of Donna Inez, who is, not surprisingly, modeled on Byron's wife. But Donna Inez was Britannia as well. The sands of the Regency aristocracy were running out, the tide of middle-class morality had already set in, and the age that we think of as Victorian, with its circulating libraries, its custom of reading aloud to large family circles, and its tendency not to be amused, at any rate by anything approaching the ribald, was on the way. As Byron admitted ruefully of the opening cantos:
     . . . the publisher declares, in sooth,
Through needles' eyes it easier for the camel is
To pass, than those two cantos into families.
     A more important barrier was raised by the lack of any sense of moral involvement in Don Juan, already mentioned. With the British Empire developing, and a greater number of poets and intellectuals issuing stentorian calls to duty, such detachment seemed inadequate, except for the fact that Byron himself took matters out of Don Juan's hands and died for a cause in Greece. In Sartor Resartus Carlyle summed up the later view of Byron as a poet who had gone through a gloomy stage of denial and defiance, an "Everlasting No," had then moved into a "Centre of Indifference," but had never gone on to the final "Everlasting Yea." For this final stage, Carlyle recommended: "Close thy Byron; open thy Goethe."

     However, Carlyle himself hardly succeeded in closing his Byron, as when he went on to work out his conception of the Great Man what he actually produced was a vulgarization of the Byronic hero. The author of The Corsair would have raised a quizzical eyebrow at Carlyle's hero journeying forward "escorted by the Terrors and the Splendours, the Archdemons and Archangels." This tendency to underestimate Byron without surpassing him has recurred more than once. Bernard Shaw, in the preface to his Don Juan play, Man and Superman, dismissed Byron's Don Juan as a mere "libertine vagabond." Yet Byron had certainly anticipated Shaw's central idea, that woman takes the lead in sexual relations and that Don Juan is consequently as much a victim as a pursuer. No, Byron will not stay closed. It is a better idea to open Goethe, and when we do we find a more liberal view of Byron. Goethe in fact was fascinated by Byron, who dedicated Sardanapalus to him, and he referred to him in the second part of Faust as Euphorion, a kind of Eros-figure whose passion for liberty, if self-destructive, is also an acceptance of life simply because it is there, and has nothing of the compulsion to justify existence that is often close to a distrust of its worth.

     We have not yet shaken off our nineteenth-century inhibitions about Byron. A frequent twentieth-century jargon term for him is "immature," which endorses the Carlyle view that Byron is a poet to be outgrown. One thinks of Yeats's penetrating remark that we are never satisfied with the maturity of those whom we have admired in boyhood. Even those who have not admired Byron in boyhood have gone through a good deal of Byronism at that stage. There is certainly something youthful about the Byronic hero, and for some reason we feel more defensive about youth than about childhood, and more shamefaced about liking a poet who has captured a youthful imagination. If we replace "youthful" with the loaded term "adolescent" we can see how deeply ingrained this feeling is.

     Among intellectuals the Southey type, who makes a few liberal gestures in youth to quiet his conscience and then plunges into a rapturous authoritarianism for the rest of his life, is much more common than the Byron type, who continues to be baffled by unanswered questions and simple anomalies, to make irresponsible jokes, to set his face against society, to respect the authority of his own mood — in short, to retain the rebellious or irreverent qualities of youth. Perhaps it is as dangerous to eliminate the adolescent in us as it is to eliminate the child. In any case the kind of poetic experience that Byronism represents should be obtained young, and in Byron. It may later be absorbed into more complex experiences, but to miss or renounce it is to impoverish whatever else we may attain.

The Realistic Oriole: A Study of Wallace Stevens

Note: All references to Stevens' poetry are accompanied by the page number in The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, 1954, and all references to his critical essays by the page number in The Necessary Angel, 1951, preceded by the letters N.A. I am sorry if this procedure makes the article typographically less attractive, but the proper place for such references, the margin, has disappeared from modern layout.

WALLACE STEVENS WAS A POET FOR WHOM THE THEORY AND THE practice of poetry were inseparable. His poetic vision is informed by a metaphysic; his metaphysic is informed by a theory of knowledge; his theory of knowledge is informed by a poetic vision. He says of one of his long meditative poems that it displays the theory of poetry as the life of poetry (486), and in the introduction to his critical essays that by the theory of poetry he means "poetry itself, the naked poem" (N.A. viii). He thus stands in contrast to the dualistic approach of Eliot, who so often speaks of poetry as though it were an emotional and sensational soul looking for a "correlative" skeleton of thought to be provided by a philosopher, a Cartesian ghost trying to find a machine that will fit. No poet of any status — certainly not Eliot himself — has ever "taken over" someone else's structure of thought, and the dualistic fallacy can only beget more fallacies. Stevens is of particular interest and value to the critical theorist because he sees so clearly that the only ideas the poet can deal with are those directly involved with, and implied by, his own writing: that, in short, "Poetry is the subject of the poem" (176).

     It has been established in criticism ever since Aristotle that histories are direct verbal imitations of action, and that anything in literature with a story in it is a secondary imitation of an action. This means, not that the story is at two removes from reality, but that its actions are representative and typical rather than specific. For some reason it has not been nearly so well understood that discursive writing is not thinking, but a direct verbal imitation of thought; that any poem with an idea in it is a secondary imitation of thought, and hence deals with representative or typical thought: that is, with forms of thought rather than specific propositions. Poetry is concerned with the ambiguities, the unconscious diagrams, the metaphors and the images out of which actual ideas grow. Poet and painter alike operate in "the flux Between the thing as idea and the idea as thing" (295). Stevens is an admirable poet in whom to study the processes of poetic thought at work, and such processes are part of what he means by the phrase "supreme fiction" which enters the title of his longest poem. The poet, he says, "gives to life the supreme fictions without which we are unable to conceive of it" (N.A. 31), and fictions imitate ideas as well as events.

     Any discussion of poetry has to begin with the field or area that it works in, the field described by Aristotle as nature. Stevens calls it "reality," by which he means, not simply the external physical world, but "things as they are," the existential process that includes ordinary human life on the level of absorption in routine activity. Human intelligence can resist routine by arresting it in an act of consciousness, but the normal tendency of routine is to work against consciousness. The revolution of consciousness against routine is the starting-point of all mental activity, and the centre of mental activity is imagination, the power of transforming "reality" into awareness of reality. Man can have no freedom except what begins in his own awareness of his condition. Naturally historical periods differ greatly in the amount of pressure put on free consciousness by the compulsions of ordinary life. In our own day this pressure has reached an almost intolerable degree that threatens to destroy freedom altogether and reduce human life to a level of totally preoccupied compulsion, like the life of an animal. One symptom of this is the popular demand that the artist should express in his work a sense of social obligation. The artist's primary obedience however is not to reality but to the "violence from within" (N.A. 36) of the imagination that resists and arrests it. The minimum basis of the imagination, so to speak, is ironic realism, the act of simply becoming aware of the surrounding pressures of "things as they are." This develops the sense of aliena¬tion which is the immediate result of the imposing of consciousness on reality:
From this the poem springs: that we live in a place
That is not our own and, much more, not ourselves. (383)
     The "act of the mind" (240) in which imagination begins, then, is an arresting of a flow of perceptions without and of impressions within. In that arrest there is born the principle of form or order: the inner violence of the imagination is a "rage for order" (130). It produces the "jar in Tennessee" (76), the object which not only is form in itself, but creates form out of all its surroundings. Stevens follows Coleridge in distinguishing the transforming of experience by the imagination from the re-arranging of it by the "fancy," and ranks the former higher (ignoring, if he knew it, T. E. Hulme's clever pseudo-critical reversal of the two). The imagination contains reason and emotion, but the imagination keeps form concrete and particular, whereas emotion and reason are more apt to seek the vague and the general respectively.

     There are two forms of mental activity that Stevens regards as unpoetic. One is the breaking down of a world of discrete objects into an amorphous and invisible substratum, a search for a "pediment of appearance" (361), a slate-colored world of substance (15, 96) which destroys all form and particularity, symbolized by the bodiless serpent introduced in "The Auroras of Autumn" (411), "form gulping after formlessness." This error is typically an error of reason. The other error is the breaking down of the individual mind in an attempt to make it a medium for some kind of universal or pantheistic mind. This is typically an error of emotion, and one that Stevens in his essays calls "romantic," which is a little confusing when his own poetry is so centrally in the Romantic tradition. What he means by it is the preference of the invisible to the visible which impels a poet to develop a false rhetoric intended to be the voice, not of himself, but of some invisible super-bard within him (N.A. 61). In "Jumbo" (269), Stevens points out that such false rhetoric comes, not from the annihilation of the ego, but from the ego itself, from "Narcissus, prince Of the secondary men." Such an attitude produces the "nigger mystic" (195, 265), a phrase which naturally has nothing to do with Negroes, but refers to the kind of intellectual absolute that has been compared to a night in which all cows are black, a world clearly no improvement on "reality," which is also one color (N.A. 26).

     A third mode of mental activity, which is poetic but not Stevens' kind of poetry, is the attempt to suggest or evoke universals of mind or substance, to work at the threshold of consciousness and produce what Stevens calls "marginal" poetry and associates with Valery (N.A. 115). Whatever its merit, such poetry for him is in contrast with "central" poetry based on the concrete and particular act of mental experience. Stevens speaks of the imagination as moving from the hieratic to the credible (N.A. 58), and marginal poetry, like the structures of reason and the surrenderings of emotion, seeks a "hierophant Omega" (469) or ultimate mystery. There is a strong tendency, a kind of intellectual death-wish, to conceive of order in terms of finality, as something that keeps receding from experience until experience stops, when it becomes the mirage of an "after-life" on which all hierophants, whether poets or priests, depend. But for the imagination "Reality is the beginning not the end" (469), "The imperfect is our paradise" (194), and the only order worth having is the "violent order" produced by the explosion of imaginative energy, which is also a "great disorder" (215).

     This central view of poetry is for Stevens based on the straight Aristotelian principle that if art is not quite nature, at least it grows naturally out of nature. He dislikes the term "imitation," but only because he thinks it means the naive copying of an external world: in its proper Aristotelian sense of creating a form of which nature is the content, Stevens' poetry is as imitative as Pope's. Art then is not so much nature methodized as nature realized, a unity of being and knowing, existence and consciousness, achieved out of the flow of time and the fixity of space. In content it is reality and we are "Participants of its being" (463); in form it is an art which "speaks the feeling" for "things as they are" (424). All through Stevens' poetry we find the symbol of the alphabet or syllable, the imaginattive key to reality which, by bringing reality into consciousness, heightens the sense of both, "A nature that is created in what it says" (490).

     However, the imagination does bring something to reality which is not there in the first place, hence the imagination contains an element of the "unreal" which the imaginative form incorporates. This unreal is connected with the fact that conscious experience is liberated experience. The unreal, "The fabulous and its intrinsic verse" (31), is the sense of exhilaration and splendor in art, the "radiant and productive" atmosphere which it both creates and breathes, the sense of the virile and the heroic implied by the term "creative" itself, "the way of thinking by which we project the idea of God into the idea of man" (N.A. 150). All art has this essential elegance or nobility, including ironic realism, but the nobility is an attribute of art, not its goal: one attains it by not trying for it, as though it were definable or extrinsic. Although art is in one sense an escape from reality (i.e., in the sense in which it is an escape of reality), and although art is a heightening of consciousness, it is not enough for art simply to give one a vision of a better world. Art is practical, not speculative; imaginative, not fantastic; it transforms experience, and does not merely interrupt it. The unreal in imaginative perception is most simply described as the sense that if something is not there it at least ought to be there. But this feeling in art is anything but wistful: it has created the tone of all the civilizations of history. Thus the "central" poet, by working outwards from a beginning instead of onwards toward an end, helps to achieve the only genuine kind of progress. As Stevens says, in a passage which explains the ambivalence of the term "mystic" in his work: "The adherents of the central are also mystics to begin with. But all their desire and all their ambition is to press away from mysticism toward that ultimate good sense which we term civilization" (N.A. 116).

     Such ultimate good sense depends on preserving a balance between objective reality and the subjective unreal element in the imagination. Exaggerating the latter gives us the false heroics that produce the aggressive symbols of warfare and the cult of "men suited to public ferns" (276). Exaggerating the former gives us the weariness of mind that bores the "fretful concubine" (211) in her splendid surroundings. Within art itself there has been a corresponding alternation of emphasis. In some ages, or with some poets, the emphasis is on the imaginative heightening of reality by visions of a Yeatsian "noble rider"
On his gold horse striding, like a conjured beast,
Miraculous in its panache and swish. (426)
At other times the emphasis is ironic, thrown on the minimum role of the imagination as the simple and subjective observer of reality, not withdrawn from it, but detached enough to feel that the power of transforming it has passed by. These two emphases, the green and the red as Stevens calls them (340), appear in Stevens' own poetry as the summer vision and the autumn vision respectively.

     The summer vision of life is the gaya scienza (248), the "Lebensweisheitspielerei" (504), in which things are perceived in their essential radiance, when "the world is larger" (514). This summer vision extends all over the Harmonium poems, with their glowing still lifes and gorgeous landscapes of Florida and the Caribbean coasts. Its dominating image is the sun, "that brave man" (138), the hero of nature who lives in heaven but transforms the earth from his mountain-top (65), "the strong man vaguely seen" (204). As "we are men of sun" (137), our creative life is his, hence the feeling of alienation from nature in which consciousness begins is really inspired by exactly the opposite feeling. "I am what is around me" (86), the poet says; the jar in Tennessee expresses the form in Tennessee as well as in itself, and one feels increasingly that "The soul ... is composed Of the external world" (51) in the sense that in the imagination we have "The inhuman making choice of a human self" (N.A. 89), a subhuman world coming to a point of imaginative light in a focus of individuality and consciousness. Such a point of imaginative light is a human counterpart of the sun. The poet absorbs the reality he contemplates "as the Angevine Absorbs Anjou" (224), just as the sun's light, by giving itself and taking nothing, absorbs the world in itself. The echo to the great trumpet-call of "Let there be light" is "All things in the sun are sun" (104).

     There are two aspects of the summer vision, which might be called, in Marvellian language, the visions of the golden lamp and of the green night. The latter is the more contemplative vision of the student in the tradition of Milton's penseroso poet, Shelley's Athanase, and Yeats's old man in the tower. In this vision the sun is replaced by the moon (33 ff.), or, more frequently, the evening star (25), the human counterpart of which is the student's candle (51, 523). Its personified form, corresponding to the sun, is often female, an "archaic" (223) or "green queen" (339), the "desired" (505) one who eventually becomes an "interior paramour" (524) or Jungian anima (cf. 321), the motionless spinning Penelope (520) to whom every voyager returns, the eternal Eve (271) or naked bride (395) of the relaxed imagination. Here we are, of course, in danger of the death-wish vision, of reading a blank book. Some of the the irony of this is in "Phosphor Reading by his Own Light" < as well as in "The Reader" (146). The bride of such a narcist vision is the sinister "Madame La Fleurie" (507). But in its genuine form such contemplation is the source of major Imagination (387-8), and hence Stevens, like Yeats, has his tower mountain of vision or "Palaz of Hoon" (65; cf. 121), where sun and poet come into alignment:
It is the natural tower of all the world,
The point of survey, green's green apogee,
But a tower more precious than the view beyond,
A point of survey squatting like a throne,
Axis of everything. (373)
From this point of survey we are lifted above the "cat," symbol of life absorbed in being without consciousness, and the "rabbit" who is "king of the ghosts" and is absorbed in consciousness without being (209,223).

     The autumnal vision begins in the poet's own situation. To perceive "reality" as dingy or unattractive is itself an imaginative act ("The Plain Sense of Things," 502), but an ironic act, an irony deepened by the fact that other modes of perception are equally possible, the oriole being as realistic as the crow (154), and there can be no question of accepting only one as true. It is a curious tendency in human nature to believe in disillusionment: that is, to think we are nearest the truth when we have established as much falsehood as possible. This is the vision of "Mrs. Alfred Uruguay" (248), who approaches her mountain of contemplation the wrong way round, starting at the bottom instead of the top. (Her name is apparently based on an association with "Montevideo.") The root of the reductive tendency, at least in poetry, is perhaps the tran¬sience of the emotional mood which is the framework of the lyric. In Harmonium the various elaborations of vision are seen as projected from a residual ego, a comedian (27 ff.) or clown (Peter Quince is the leader of a group of clowns), who by himself has only the vision of the "esprit batard" (102), the juggler in motley who is also a magician and whose efforts are "conjurations." When we add the clown's conjurations to the clown we get "man the abstraction, the comic sun" (156): the term "abstraction" will meet us again.

     This esprit batard or dimmed vision of greater maturity, un monocle d'un oncle, so to speak, comes into the foreground after the "Credences of Summer" (372) and the "Things of August" (489) have passed by. In September the web of the imagination's pupa is woven (208); in November the moon lights up only the death of the god (107); at the onset of winter the auroras of a vanished heroism flicker over the sky, while in the foreground stand the scarecrows or hollow men of the present (293, 513).

     To this vision belong the bitter "Man on the Dump" (201); the ironic "Esthetique du Mal" (313), with its urbane treatment of the religio-literary cliches, such as "The death of Satan was a tragedy For the imagination," which are the stock in trade of lesser poets, and the difficult and painfully written war poems. It is more typical of Stevens, of course, to emphasize the reality which is present in the imaginative heightening of misery, the drudge's dream of "The Ordinary Women" (10) which none the Jess reminds us that "Imagination is the will of things" (84). The true form of the autumnal vision is not the irony which robs man of his dignity, but the tragedy which confers it ("In a Bad Time," 426).

     At the end of autumn corne the terrors of winter, the sense of a world disintegrating into chaos which we feel socially when we see the annihilation wars of our time, and individually when we face the fact of death in others or for ourselves. We have spoken of Stevens' dislike of projecting the religious imagination into a world remote in space and time. The woman in "Sunday Morning" (66) stays home from church and meditates on religion surrounded by the brilliant oranges and greens of the summer vision, and in "A High-Toned Old Christian Woman" (59) it is suggested that the poet, seeking an increase rather than a diminishing of life, gets closer to a genuinely religious sense than morality with its taboos and denials. For Stevens all real religion is concerned with a re¬newal of earth rather than with a surrender to heaven. He even says "the great poems of heaven and hell have been written and the great poem of the earth remains to be written" (N.A. 142). It is part of his own ambition to compose hymns "Happy rather than holy but happy-high" (185) which will "take the place Of empty heavens" (167), and he looks forward to a world in which "all men are priests" (254). As this last phrase shows, he has no interest in turning to some cellophane-wrapped version of neo-paganism. He sees, like Yeats, that the poet is a "Connoisseur of Chaos" (215) aware that "Poetry is a Destructive Force" (192), and Stevens' imagery, for all its luxuriance and good humor, is full of menace. From the "firecat" of the opening page of the Collected Poems, through the screaming peacocks of "Domination of Black" (8), the buzzard of "The Jack-Rabbit" (50; cf. 318), the butcher of "A Weak Mind in the Mountains" (212), the bodiless serpent of "The Auroras of Autumn" (411) and the bloody lion of "Puella Parvula" (456), we are aware that a simple song of carpe diem is not enough.

     In the later poems there is a growing preoccupation with death, as, not the end of life or an introduction to something unconnected with life, but as itself a part of life and giving to life itself an extra dimension. This view is very close to Rilke, especially the Rilke of the Orpheus sonnets, which are, like Stevens' poetry in general, "a constant sacrament of praise" (92). "What a ghastly situation it would be," Stevens remarks, "if the world of the dead was actually different from the world of the living" (N.A. 76), and in several poems, especially the remarkable "Owl in the Sarcophagus" (431), there are references to carrying on the memories or "souvenirs" of the past into a world which is not so much future as timeless, a world of recognition or "rendezvous" (524), and which lies in the opposite direction from the world of dreams:
There is a monotonous babbling in our dreams
That makes them our dependent heirs, the heirs
Of dreamers buried in our sleep, and not
The oncoming fantasies of better birth. (39)
     In the poems of the winter vision the solar hero and the green queen become increasingly identified with the father and mother of a Freudian imago (439). The father and mother in turn expand into a continuous life throughout time of which we form our unitary realizations. The father, "the bearded peer" (494), extends back to the primordial sea (501), the mother to the original maternity of nature, the "Lady Lowzen" of "Oak Leaves are Hands" (272). In "The Owl in the Sarcophagus" these figures are personified as sleep and memory. The ambivalence of the female figure is expressed by the contrast between the "regina of the clouds" in "Le Monocle de mon Oncle" (13) and the "Sister and mother and diviner love" of "To the One of Fictive Music" (87). The poet determined to show that "being Includes death and the imagination" (444) must go through the same world as the "nigger mystic," for a "nigger cemetery" (150) lies in front of him too, just as the sunrise of the early play, Three Travellers Watch a Sunrise, is heralded by a hanged man. The search for death through life which is a part of such recreation leads to a final confronting of the self and the rock (N.A. viii), the identification of consciousness and reality in which the living soul is identified with its tombstone which is equally its body (528). In this final triumph of vision over death the death-symbols are turned into symbols of life. The author of the Apocalypse prophesies to his "back-ache" (which is partly the Weltschmerz of the past) that the venom of the bodiless serpent will be one with its wisdom (437). The "black river" of death, Swatara (428), becomes "The River of Rivers in Connecticut" (533), a river this side of the Styx which "flows nowhere, like a sea" because it is in a world in which there is no more sea.

     If we listen carefully to the voice of "the auroral creature musing in the mind" (263), the auroras of autumn will become, not the after-images of remembrance, but the Morgenrot of a new recognition. As the cycle turns through death to a new life, we meet images of spring, the central one being some modification of Venus rising from the sea: the "paltry nude" of the poem of that name (5); "Infanta Marina" (7); Susanna lying in "A wave, interminably flowing" (92); "Celle qui fut Heaulmiette" (438) reborn from the mother and father of the winter vision, the mother having the "vague severed arms" of the maternal Venus of Milo. This reborn girl is the Jungian anima or interior paramour spoken of before, the "Golden Woman in a Silver Mirror" (460). She is also associated with the bird of Venus, "The Dove in the Belly" (366; cf. 357 and "Song of Fixed Accord," 519). It is also a bird's cry, but one outside the poet, which heralds "A new knowledge of reality" in the last line of the Collected Poems. The spring vision often has its origin in the commonplace, or in the kind of innocent gaudiness that marks exuberant life. Of the spring images in "Celle qui fut Heaulmiette" the author remarks affectionately, "Another American vulgarity"; the "paltry nude" is a gilded ship's prow, and the "emperor of ice-cream" presides over funeral obsequies in a shabby household (64). "It is the invasion of humanity That counts," remarks a character in Three Travellers Watch a Sunrise. "Only the rich remember the past," the poet says (225) and even in "Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour" (524) there is still a parenthetical association of new vision with a poverty which has nothing to lose.

     In "Peter Quince at the Clavier" beauty is called "The fitful tracing of a portal." Portal to what? The word itself seems to mean something to Stevens (N.A. 60, 155), and in the obviously very personal conclusion of "The Rock" it is replaced by "gate" (528). Perhaps Stevens, like Blake, has so far only given us the end of a golden string, and after traversing the circle of natural images we have still to seek the centre.

     The normal unit of poetic expression is the metaphor, and Stevens was well aware of the importance of metaphor, as is evident from the many poems which use the word in title or text. His conception of metaphor is regrettably unclear, though clearer in the poetry than in the essays. He speaks of the creative process as beginning in the perception of "resemblance," adding that metamorphosis might be a better word (N.A. 72). By resemblance he does not mean naive or associative resemblance, of the type that calls a flower a bleeding heart, but the repetitions of color and pattern in nature which become the elements of formal design in art. He goes on to develop this conception of resemblance into a conception of "analogy" which, beginning in straight allegory, ends in the perception that "poetry becomes and is a transcendent analogue composed of the particulars of reality" (N.A. 130). But nowhere in his essays does he suggest that metaphor is anything more than likeness or parallelism. "There is always an analogy be¬tween nature and the imagination, and possibly poetry is merely the strange rhetoric of that parallel" (N.A. 118).

     Clearly, if poetry is "merely" this, the use of metaphor could only accentuate what Stevens' poetry tries to annihilate, the sense of a contrast or great gulf fixed between subject and object, consciousness and existence. And in fact we often find metaphor used pejoratively in the poems as a form of avoiding direct contact with reality. The motive for metaphor, we are told, is the shrinking from immediate experience (288). Stevens appears to mean by such metaphor, however, simile or comparison, "the intricate evasions of as" (486; cf. "Add This to Rhetoric," 198). And metaphor is actually nothing of the kind. In its literal grammatical form metaphor is a statement of identity: this is that, A is B. And Stevens has a very strong sense of the crucial importance of poetic identi¬fication, "where as and is are one" (476), as it is only there that one finds "The poem of pure reality, untouched By trope or deviation" (471). Occasionally it occurs to him that metaphor might be used in a less pejorative sense. He speaks of "The metaphor that murders metaphor" (N.A. 84), implying that a better kind of metaphor can get murdered, and "Metaphor as Degeneration" (444) ends in a query how metaphor can really be degeneration when it is part of the process of seeing death as a part of life.

     When metaphor says that one thing "is" another thing, or that a man, a woman and a blackbird are one (93), things are being identified with other things. In logical identity there is only identification as. If I say that the Queen of England "is" Elizabeth II, I have not identified one person with another, but one person as herself. Poetry also has this type of identification, for in poetic metaphor things are identified with each other, yet each is identified as itself, and retains that identity. When a man, a woman and a blackbird are said to be one, each remains what it is, and the identification heightens the distinctive form of each. Such a metaphor is necessarily illogical (or anti-logical, as in "A violent disorder is an order") and hence poetic metaphors are opposed to likeness or similarity. A perception that a man, a woman and a blackbird were in some respects alike would be logical, but would not make much of a poem. Unfortunately in prose speech we often use the word identical to mean very similar, as in the phrase "identical twins," and this use makes it difficult to express the idea of poetic identity in a prose essay. But if twins were really identical they would be the same person, and hence could be different in form, like a man and the same man as a boy of seven. A world of total simile, where everything was like everything else, would be a world of total monotony; a world of total metaphor, where every¬thing is identified as itself and with everything else, would be a world where subject and object, reality and mental organization of reality, are one. Such a world of total metaphor is the formal cause of poetry. Stevens makes it clear that the poet seeks the particular and discrete image: many of the poems in Parts of a World, such as "On the Road Home" (203), express what the title of the book expresses, the uniqueness of every act of vision. Yet it is through the particular and discrete that we reach the unity of the imagina¬tion, which respects individuality, in contrast to the logical unity of the generalizing reason, which destroys it. The false unity of the dominating mind is what Stevens condemns in "The Bagatelles the Madrigals" (213), and in the third part of "The Pure Good of Theory" (331-2), where we find again a pejorative use of the term metaphor.

     When a thing is identified as itself, it becomes an individual of a class or total form: when we identify a brown and green mass as a tree we provide a class name for it. This is the relating of species to genera which Aristotle spoke of as one of the central aspects of metaphor. The distinctively poetic use of such metaphor is the identifying of an individual with its class, where a tree becomes Wordsworth's "tree of many one," or a man becomes mankind. Poets ordinarily do not, like some philosophers, replace individual objects with their total forms; they do not, like allegorists, represent total forms by individuals. They see individual and class as metaphorically identical: in other words they work with myths, many of whom are human figures in whom the individual has been identified with its universal or total form.

     Such myths, "archaic forms, giants Of sense, evoking one thing in many men" (494) play a large role in Stevens' imagery. For some reason he speaks of the myth as "abstract." "The Ultimate Poem is Abstract" (429; cf. 270, 223 and elsewhere), and the first requirement of the "supreme fiction" is that it must be abstract (380), though as far as dictionary meanings are concerned one would expect rather to hear that it must be concrete. By abstract Stevens apparently means artificial in its proper sense, something constructed rather than generalized. In such a passage as this we can see the myth forming out of "repetitions" as the individual soldier becomes the unknown soldier, and the unknown soldier the Adonis or continuously martyred god:
How red the rose that is the soldier's wound,
The wounds of many soldiers, the wounds of all
The soldiers that have fallen, red in blood,
The soldier of time grown deathless in great size. (318)
     Just as there is false metaphor, so there is false myth. There is in particular the perverted myth of the average or "root-man" (262), described more expressively as "the total man of glubbal glub" (301). Whenever we have the root-man we have, by compensation, "The super-man friseured, possessing and possessed" (262), which is the perversion of the idea of Ubermenschlichkeit (98) into the Carlylean great man or military hero. Wars are in their imaginative aspect a "gigantomachia" (289) of competing aggressive myths. The war-myth or hero of death is the great enemy of the imagination: he cannot be directly fought except by another war-myth; he can only be contained in a greater and more genuine form of the same myth (280, section xv). The genuine form of the war-hero is the "major man" (334; 387-8) who, in "The Owl in the Sarcophagus," is personified as peace (434), the direct opposite of the war-hero, and the third of the figures in "the mythology of modern death" which, along with sleep and memory, conquer death for life.

     We thus arrive at the conception of a universal or "central man" (250), who may be identified with any man, such as a fisherman listening to wood-doves:
The fisherman might be the single man
In whose breast, the dove, alighting, would grow still. (357)
This passage, which combines the myth of the central man with the anima myth of the "dove in the belly" (366), is from a poem with the painfully exact title, "Thinking of a Relation between the Images of Metaphors." The central man is often symbolized by glass or transparency, as in "Asides on the Oboe" (250) and in "Prologues to What is Possible" (515). If there is a central man, there is also a central mind (298) of which the poet feels peculiarly a part. Similarly there is a "central poem" (441) identical with the world, and finally a "general being or human universe" (378), of which all imaginative work forms part:
That's it. The lover writes, the believer hears,
The poet mumbles and the painter sees,
Each one, his fated eccentricity,
As a part, but part, but tenacious particle,
Of the skeleton of the ether, the total
Of letters, prophecies, perceptions, clods
Of color, the giant of nothingness, each one
And the giant ever changing, living in change. (443)
In "Sketch of the Ultimate Politician" (335) we get a glimpse of this human universe as an infinite City of Man.

     To sum up: the imaginative act breaks down the separation I>< tween subject and object, the perceiver shut up in "the enclosures of hypothesis" (516) like an embryo in a "naked egg" (173) or glass shell (297), and a perceived world similarly imprisoned in the remoteness of its "irreducible X" (N.A. 83), which is also an egg (490). Separation is then replaced by the direct, primitive identi¬fication which Stevens ought to have called metaphor and which, not having a word for it, he calls "description" (339) in one of his definitive poems, a term to which he elsewhere adds "apotheosis" (378) and "transformation" (514; cf. N.A. 49), which come nearer to what he really means. The maxim that art should conceal art is based on the sense that in the greatest art we have no sense of manipulating, posing or dominating over nature, but rather of emancipating it. "One confides in what has no Concealed creator" (296), the poet says, and again:
There might be, too, a change immenser than
A poet's metaphors in which being would

Come true, a point in the fire of music where
Dazzle yields to a clarity and we observe,

And observing is completing and we are content,
In a world that shrinks to an immediate whole,

That we do not need to understand, complete
Without secret arrangements of it in the mind. (341)
     The theoretical postulate of Stevens' poetry is a world of total metaphor, where the poet's vision may be identified with anything it visualizes. For such poetry the most accurate word is apocalyptic, a poetry of "revelation" (344) in which all objects and experiences are united with a total mind. Such poetry gives us:
. . . the book of reconciliation,
Book of a concept only possible
In description, canon central in itself,
The thesis of the plentifullest John. (345)
     Apocalypse, however, is one of the two great narrative myths that expand "reality," with its categories of time and space, into an infinite and eternal world. A myth of a total man recovering a total world is hardly possible without a corresponding myth of a Fall, or some account of what is wrong with our present perspective. Stevens' version of the Fall is similar to that of the "Orphic poet" at the end of Emerson's Nature:
     Why, then, inquire
Who has divided the world, what entrepreneur?
No man. The self, the chrysalis of all men

Became divided in the leisure of blue day
And more, in branchings after day. One part
Held fast tenaciously in common earth

And one from central earth to central sky
And in moonlit extensions of them in the mind
Searched out such majesty as it could find. (468-9)
     Such poetry sounds religious, and in fact does have the infinite perspective of religion, for the limits of the imagination are the conceivable, not the real, and it extends over death as well as life. In the imagination the categories of "reality," space and time, are reversed into form and creation respectively, for art is "Description without Place" (339) standing at the centre of "ideal time" (N.A. 88), and its poetry is "even older than the ancient world" (N.A. 145). Religion seems to have a monopoly of talking about infinite and eternal worlds, and poetry that uses such conceptions seems to be inspired by a specifically religious interest. But the more we study poetry, the more we realize that the dogmatic limiting of the poet's imagination to human and subhuman nature that we find, for instance, in Hardy and Housman, is not normal to poetry but a technical tour de force. It is the normal language of poetic imagination itself that is heard when Yeats says that man has invented death; when Eliot reaches the still point of the turning world; when Rilke speaks of the poet's perspective as that of an angel containing all time and space, blind and looking into himself; when Stevens find his home in "The place of meta-men and para-things" (448). Such language may or may not go with a religious commitment: in itself it is simply poetry speaking as poetry must when it gets to a certain pitch of metaphorical concentration. Stevens says that his motive is neither "to console Nor sanctify, but plainly to propound" (389).

     In Harmonium, published in the Scott Fitzgerald decade, Stevens moves in a highly sensuous atmosphere of fine pictures, good food, exquisite taste and luxury cruises. In the later poems, though the writing is as studiously oblique as ever, the sensuousness has largely disappeared, and the reader accustomed only to Harmonium may feel that Stevens' inspiration has failed him, or that he is attracted by themes outside his capacity, or that the impact of war and other ironies of the autumnal vision has shut him up in an uncommunicative didacticism. Such a view of Stevens is of course superficial, but the critical issue it raises is a genuine one.

     In the criticism of drama there is a phase in which the term "theatrical" becomes pejorative, when one tries to distinguish genuine dramatic imagination from the conventional cliches of dramatic rhetoric. Of course eventually this pejorative use has to disappear, because Shakespeare and Aeschylus are quite as theatrical as Cecil de Mille. Similarly, one also goes through a stage, though a shorter one, in which the term "poetic" may acquire a slightly pejorative cast, as when one may decide, several hundred pages deep in Swinburne, that Swinburne can sometimes be a poetic bore. Eventually one realizes that the "poetic" quality comes from al-lusiveness, the incorporating into the texture of echoes, cadences, names and thoughts derived from the author's previous literary experience. Swinburne is poetic in a poor sense when he is being a parasite on the literary tradition; Eliot is poetic in a better sense when, in his own phrase, he steals rather than imitates. The "poetic" normally expresses itself as what one might loosely call word-magic or incantation, charm in its original sense of spell, as it reinforces the "act of the mind" in poetry with the dream-like reverberations, echoes and enlarged significances of the memory and the unconscious. We suggested at the beginning that Eliot lacks what Stevens has, the sense of an autonomous poetic theory as an inseparable part of poetic practice. On the other hand Eliot has pre-eminently the sense of a creative tradition, and this sense is partly what makes his poetry so uniquely penetrating, so easy to memorize unconsciously.

     In Stevens there is a good deal of incantation and imitative harmony; but the deliberately "magical" poems, such as "The Idea of Order at Key West," "To the One of Fictive Music," and the later "Song of Fixed Accord" have the special function of expressing a stasis or harmony between imagination and reality, and hence have something of a conscious rhetorical exercise about them. In "The Idea of Order at Key West" the sense of carefully controlled artifice enters the theme as well In other poems where the texture is dryer and harder, the schemata on which "word-magic" depends are reduced to a minimum. The rhymes, for instance, when they occur, are usually sharp barking assonances, parody-rhymes (e.g., "The Swedish cart to be part of the heart," 369), and the metres, like the curious blank terza rima used so often, are almost parody-metres. A quality that is not far from being anti-"poetic" seems to emerge.

     Just as the "poetic" is derived mainly from the reverberations of tradition, so it is clear that the anti-"poetic" quality in Stevens is the result of his determination to make it new, in Pound's phrase, to achieve in each poem a unique expression and force his reader to make a correspondingly unique act of apprehension. This is a part of what he means by "abstract" as a quality of the "supreme fiction." It was Whitman who urged American writers to lay less emphasis on tradition, thereby starting another tradition of his own, and it is significant that Whitman is one of the very few traditional poets Stevens refers to, though he has little in common with him technically. It is partly his sense of a poem as belonging to experiment rather than tradition, separated from the stream of time with its conventional echoes, that gives Stevens' poetry its marked affinity with pictures, an affinity shown also in the curiously formalized symmetry of the longer poems. "Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction," for instance, has three parts of ten sections each, each section with seven tercets, and similarly rectangular distributions of material are found in other poems.

     When we meet a poet who has so much rhetorical skill, and yet lays so much emphasis on novelty and freshness of approach, the skill acquires a quality of courage: a courage that is without compromise in a world full of cheap rhetoric, yet uses none of the ready-made mixes of rhetoric in a world full of compromise. Stevens was one of the most courageous poets of our time, and his conception of the poem as "the heroic effort to live expressed As victory" (446) was unyielding from the beginning. Courage implies persistence, and persistence in a distinctive strain often develops its complementary opposite as well, as with Blake's fool who by persisting in his folly became wise. It was persistence that transformed the tropical lushness of Harmonium into the austere clairvoyance of The Rock, the luxurious demon into the necessary angel, and so rounded out a vision of major scope and intensity. As a result Stevens became, unlike many others who may have started off with equal abilities, not one of our expendable rhetoricians, but one of our small handful of essential poets.