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we shall employ to distinguish these two kinds of style are terms not always held apart. But this arbitrary use is convenient. We call the first (a different kind), which refers to the meaning, Trope, we call the second (different arrangement), which refers to the order, Figure.
Tropes and Figures make up the bulk of those peculiarities of style which we are wont to call poetic. But there are other means by which we make expression more vivid ; and though these latter, like many figures and tropes, are frequently used in an ordinary prose style, still they must be briefly mentioned as aids to poetic language. Thus instead of the variation from ordinary expressions, we may have additions. Familiar are the “poetic” adjectives and adverbs. As a rule, an abundance of adjectives means poverty of imagination. But often an adjective may “connote ” so much as to make a positive addition to the vividness which is the object of poetry. When Marlowe speaks of "shallow rivers by whose falls Melodious birds sing madrigals," the imagination registers a gain. “Shallow " suggests clearness, murmurs, ripples, etc. So, too, Shakspere's "multitudinous sea.” Springing from the same intense and abiding wish of poetry to avoid the commonplace, the cold, the abstract, is the use of Epithets (cf. below § 1, under Kenning). The epic cannot mention even a hero's name without attaching to it a concrete notion : it is “crest-tossing Hector," "swift-footed Achilles." From this to trope is only a step; we next make an object more vivid, more individual, by the aid of another object (cf. below, Metaphor). The limit of this process is reached, when, instead of a rapid confusion of one object with another, the poet places them both before our eyes and thus makes the original thing compared as individual and important as possible (Simile). [An attempt to explain the superiority of poetic style to prose style will be found in § IV. of H. Spencer's Philosophy of Style.]
§ 1. HISTORICAL SKETCH. Professor Heinzel 1 has shown that many traits of poetical style are common to the Indian Vedas and our own early Germanic song. We consider briefly some of the prominent traits. First, there is the love of repetition. This affects words (subject or object) and phrases. In the Vedas : “now will I sing Indra's herodeeds, that the lightning-hurler has done.” Indra is repeated under another name — a descriptive name. Something like this is Lear's
“I do not bid the thunder-bearer shoot,
Act II. Sc. 4. Look at Beowulf, and we have a similar figure; as in 3111 ff.:
“ Then straightway bade the son of Wîhstân,
many of the heroes,
that they hither should bring from far the bale-wood, the folk-shielders.” In prose: “Wîhstân's son, the battle-keen man, bade many of the heroes, the house-owners, that they, the folk-shielders, should bring funeral-wood." The result of this repetition in Anglo-Saxon poetry is to give a restless, forward-and-back motion to it, so that, as has
1 Ueber den Stil der altgermanischen Poesie, Strasburg, 1875.
been said, we seem to be very active, but do not move forward. This is in strong contrast to the quiet movement of the Greek epic.
Sometimes this “ Variation” is applied to a whole clause. Thus Beowulf, 48 ff. :
They let the wave bear him, they gave him to ocean; grave was their heart, mournful their mood."
But there are also tropes in the stricter sense of the word. Our oldest poetry has almost no formal comparisons or similes (cf. below). It had no time to turn to a quite foreign object and describe it, leaving, meanwhile, the matter in hand, as the Homeric poems are so fond of doing. But our poetry makes up for this lack by its profusion in Epithets, or characteristics. For the thing itself is substituted a characteristic of the thing. This trope is often called by its Norse name, Kenning. Thus the sea was the "whale's bath,” the "water-street,” the "path of the swan,” the "foamy fields,” the "wavebattle," and so on. Arrows are “battle-adders." See too the above extracts from Beowulf. A wife is prettily called “the weaver of peace," for marriage often put a stop to feuds and wars.
It is to be noted that the Anglo-Saxon trope was confined to a few words. It did not take long flights. Extended metaphorical phrases are unknown. A short, vivid epithet, - often several such, not at all harmoniously joined, — much repetition, variation, ceaseless forward-and-back : such are the chief characteristics. Speaking of a sword, the poet tells us “the battlegleam was unwilling to bite." “Battle-gleam” is a vivid trope for literal “sword”; but by the time the
poet reaches his verb, he has forgotten his noun, and does not stop to ask how a “gleam " can “bite,” but uses another vivid word simply with regard to the common (cf. below) personification of weapons. Here lie at once the merit and the defect of our old poetical style. There is also something of this haste in Hebrew poetry.
It is a long journey from the style of those poets who sang of their Germanic heroes to the finish and brilliancy of a modern singer who can not only “take all knowledge for his province,” but also use a hundred smooth roads through it. The style of Beowulf differs from the style of Tennyson just as a prairie of last century differs from the wheat-field of to-day. The enormous change is due chiefly to the influence of the Greek and Latin classics, in which flourished every sort of trope and figure. Modern literature is essentially “Gothic" — i.e. Germanic; but its style of expression is overwhelmingly classical in all external qualities. A writer in one of our journals recently remarked that the history of the development of modern poetical style remains to be written. It is here our business simply to treat that style as we find it in our best poets.
§ 2. TROPES. This turning out of the beaten track of language is confined to the meaning, and does not concern the form and order of words. The poet wishes to put in a vivid, palpable way some thought or idea which he has in his mind. To express this vividly and at the same time beautifully, — for beauty, harmony, is the object of all art, — he chooses some picture that shall at once
interpret the thought and also in itself satisfy our instinct for beauty. Instead of saying that a pleasant idea comes without labor into his mind, the poet turns aside from these colorless words and gives us a picture:
“ There flutters up a happy thought,
Self-balanced on a joyous wing.” Or take the following stanza of Whittier's Ichabod, and see how, in his intense feeling, the poet uses the vivid trope rather than the literal symbol of thought :
“O dumb be passion's stormy rage,
When he who might
Falls back in night.”
That is, it is best to endure in silence the sorrow and shame that one feels when a great man betrays his trust. Even in this prose rendering, we slip into a trope - but it is not vivid and concrete, as in the poem. The more intense, the more true to nature a concrete trope is, the stronger its poetical effect. Thus Dante, Inferno, 33, —“I did not weep, I was so turned to stone within.” The terrible fidelity of this trope is what gives it force. A moment's reflection will show how this instinct runs through all speech. “Hard” or “soft” heart; "sweet " disposition - and so on; - are tropes that are no longer thought of as tropes. In this way, all language has its poetical elements; and it has been said that every word was at its beginning a poem. Brush off the dust of common use, and the poetry of any word whose etymology we know will at once flash out. Poetry uses tropes consciously, boldly, and systematically; restores, as far as it can, color and freshness