« AnteriorContinuar »
pretative diction and the same meaning told in the literal or prosaic way. There can be no absolute or exclusive elements in art, since objective manifestations are inert unless spiritually discerned. Nothing can be called an art element that does not occasion specific experiences of spiritual quality unproduced by other means. Conversely, every ultimate thing that does produce such experiences generically is an element. That which is found in the painted portrait of a face that is not found in a photograph of the same, namely, interpretative handling, feeling put for knowing, is generically an element. Nothing will better serve as a first example than what we find at the opening of "Paradise Lost.” Expressed baldly, with no least yielding to the interpretative impulse, Milton's first nine lines and a half would amount to nothing more than this: "Concerning man's fall, its cause, and its consequences, up to the redemption wrought by Christ, I propose to write." Here are three subpoints to be touched upon in the interpretative vein: the fall, salvation, and declaration of a purpose. The first of these is enlarged by the author, in the truth presentation, thus:
Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit
The reference to redemption, which is the second subpoint, is couched interpretatively thus:
Till one greater Man
Then finally, instead of saying, "I now intend to write or treat this theme,” Milton borrows the old classic idea of inspiration through a specific genius or deity, identifying the influence he means by its work in the seership of Moses; and this influence he invokes to indite his strains:
Sing, heavenly muse, that on the secret top
To a Buddhist or Brahmanic reader, no matter how well versed in English speech, unless he chance to be expert in the higher truths and principles of Christian theology, this opening passage would be unintelligible. Even our native college youth and maidens, themselves well-languaged and well-instructed in the lore of the catechism, often find the diction of this poem intolerable, and sometimes conclude, after a trial or two, that they have not the brains to read it. The reason is not merely that they lack a certain spiritual or philosophic maturity—for the literal meanings of “Paradise Lost,” as all else of Milton's poetry, are throughout simple, but they have not yet learned to kindle at the first note of lofty feeling. Unawakened minds must always, perhaps, regard that master work as a mass of trite and exploded notions told in tedious circumlocution. On the other hand, there are always bookworms and other lovers of literature for its own sake who prefer neat and finical paraphrasing to straightforward diction. There is possibly, also, another group of readers with tastes so etherealized as to insist that literal and commonplace things come to view, not as upon the solid plane of fact where they belong, but by mirage, solely in the upper air of the spiritual. Neither of these is the class of true readers for whom Milton and Shakespeare and Sophocles and Dante and Tennyson and the other masters of true interpretation write, and who are capable of fully understanding them.
We cannot account for the style and language of the "Paradise Lost” as merely periphrastic for the sake of elegance, or as ingeniously varied to avoid triteness, but only as inspired by a generic sentiment of the sublime. This feeling, induced in advance by the transcendental proportions of the theme, by the vast conceptions that from the first had gathered about the plan, enforced the author to lay aside his literal or matter-of-fact vocabulary and manner and admit only such expressions as would befit the loftiness of his purpose. It may be noted that "Paradise Regained" lacks the noble indirectness of the earlier epic. Thus, at the opening of the second paragraph, wishing to ask rhetorically the reason for Eve's and Adam's disloyalty, Milton goes to considerable interpretative length in expressing it:
Say first what cause
Any such circumlocution would be intolerable in prose; yet a more curt or condensed mode of utterance under these circumstances would fail of the controlling sentiment in the author's mind. Poetry, whether metrical or not, is in reality a sort of interpreted prose, and amounts to retelling in spiritual terms something already known or assumed to have been already told in the fact way. In primitive and rudimentary literature there is often a double statement, one prosaic or literal and one interpretative. We see examples of this most frequently in the Hebrew Psalms:
When Israel went forth out of Egypt. (Literal.) The house of Jacob from a people of strange language. (Interpretative.)
Judah became his sanctuary,
Israel his dominion. O come, let us sing unto the Lord. (Literal.) Let us make a joyful noise to the Rock of our Salvation. (Interpre
It will thus be found that the supposed parallelisms of the Hebrew Scriptures are not strictly parallel, or intended to be merely repetitions of single notions, but are attempts to express undeveloped residues of inner spiritual meaning.
The literature of mature civilizations and authorship is generally too intense to permit a literal statement and an interpretative repetition of the same idea; a single presentation is made to do duty for both clauses. In such case it is naturally the fitter that survives; the principle, which is greater than the fact, is put for principle and fact together. This presentation will, of course, be of the second or third kind. We illustrate by the opening paragraph of “The Holy Grail:"
From noiseful arms, and acts of prowess done
It is interesting to note how completely the literal or "prose" meanings are evaded, or expressed by implication only. The first part of the passage is essentially equivalent, with the literal and interpretative meanings unmerged, to this:
From wars, or noiseful arms, and from tournaments or tilts, and acts of real prowess done therein, Sir Percivale, whom Arthur and his knights believed to have achieved the ideal of purity to which they were sworn, and whom hence they called “the Pure," had entered an abbey, and thus passed into the silent life of prayer, praise, fasting, and alms-soliciting.
The last line of the paragraph, as will have been noted, is not interpretative, but ends the whole, though strongly, in the prosaic way. Camelot, it must be remembered, is not to be taken as geographic merely, but associational of great towers and marvelous riches and beauty. The sentence, if completed as begun, might have closed somewhat as thus:
and leaving for the cowl
There is palpably at bottom in this opening paragraph a similar sentiment of the sublime to that which inspires the lines quoted some minutes back from the beginning of “Paradise Lost.” The sympathetic and responsive reader adjusts his mind immediately to the same imaginative pitch. The passage involves but little difficulty, even to the tyro, in carrying the fundamental sense; though one hears, at times, of high-school, and even of college, learners not quite equal to it. We seem in the main, so far as poetry is concerned, to have gained a stage beyond marginal notes and glosses. We are at once reminded of Poe's strictures on the prose introduction to Longfellow's "Skeleton in Armor,” and of the good they wrought. If a reader cannot get the sense of a poem, we no longer suffix a moral, to mend his stumbling. Interpretative prose is not yet above lending, upon occasion, gratuitous and inartistic aid. So Hawthorne, speaking of the unpractical philosophers gathered in near proximity to the Old Manse, alludes thus to the man who was their chief attraction:
These hobgoblins of flesh and blood were attracted thither by the widespreading influence of a great original thinker, who had his earthly abode at the opposite extremity of our village. His mind acted upon other minds of a certain constitution with won. derful magnetism, and drew many men upon long pilgrimages to speak with him face to face. Young visionaries—to whom just so much of insight had been imparted as to make life all a labyrinth around them-came to seek the clew that should guide them out of their self-involved bewilderment. Gray-headed theorists—whose sys. tems, at first air, had finally imprisoned them in an iron framework --traveled painfully to his door, not to ask deliverance, but to in. vite the free spirit into their own thraldom.
All this is sufficiently potential of the person meant, so that even he who should read might run and not fail from the generic experiences of the man's soul quality to identify the man himself. But Hawthorne seems constrained to add, for prosaic clearness, a much more definite reference, as this next sentence proves: "People that had lighted on a new thought, or a thought that they had fancied new, came to Emerson, as the finder of a glittering gem hastens to a lapidary, to ascertain its quality and value.”
It is of the essence of interpretative writing, as has been sufficiently expounded, that if we begin with a generic experience of spiritual quality, we shall soon find ourselves identifying the individual thing or person exhibiting such quality. Hawthorne believed in the second element, nevertheless, and also left his reader to make out his knowing by way of feeling in the poet's way, as other examples from the same quotation show. A few pages back from his reference to Emerson, in a paragraph discoursing of the restful influences of a sojourn at the Old Manse upon his guests, is this passage: