Poetry, music, and painting are three correlated arts, connected not merely by an accidental classification, but by their intrinsic nature. For they all possess the same essential function, namely, to interpret the uninterpretable, to reveal the undiscoverable, to express the inexpressible.
They all attempt, in different forms and through different languages, to translate the invisible and eternal into sensuous forms, and through sensuous forms to produce in other souls experiences akin to those in the soul of the translator, be he poet, musician, or painter.
But while it is true that these three arts are correlative and co-operative, they do not duplicate one another. Each not only speaks in a language of its own, but expresses in that language a life which the others cannot express. As color and fragrance combine to make the flower, but the color expresses what the fragrance cannot express, and the fragrance expresses what the color cannot express, so in the musical drama, music, poetry, and painting combine, not by duplicating but by supplementing each other.
One may describe in language a symphony; but no description will produce the effect which the symphony produces. One may describe a painting; but no description will produce the effect which the painting will produce. So neither music, nor painting, nor both combined, can produce the same effect on the soul as poetry.
The music and scenery are no more accessories to the words than the words are accessories to the music and scenery. The three combine in a triple language to express and produce one life, and it can be expressed and produced in no other way than by the combination of the three arts in harmonious action. This is the reason why no parlor readings can ever take the place of the theatre, and no concert performance can ever take the place of the opera. This is the reason why all attempts to suppress the theatre and opera are and always will be in vain. There are attempts to suppress the expression and awakening of a life which can neither be expressed nor awakened in any other way; and suppression of life, however successfully it may be accomplished for a time, is never permanently possible.
Man is not a creator, he is only a discoverer. The imagination is not creative, it is only reportorial. Ideals are realities; imagination is seeing. The musician, the artist, the poet, discover life which others have not discovered, and each with his own instrument interprets that life to those less sensitive than himself.
In one sense and in one only can art be called creative: the artist, whether he be painter, musician, or poet, so interprets to other men the experience which has been created in him by his vision of the supersensible and eternal, that he evokes in them a similar experience. He is a creator only as he conveys to others the life which has been created in himself. As the electric wire creates light in the home; as the band creates the movement in the machinery; thus and only thus does the artist create life in those that wait upon him. He is in truth an interpreter and transmitter, not a creator. Nor can he interpret what he has not first received, nor transmit what he has not first experienced. The music, the painting, the poem are merely the instruments which he uses for that purpose. The life must first be in him or the so-called music, painting, poem are but dead simulacra; imitations of art, not real art. This is the reason why no mechanical device, be it never so skillfully contrived, can ever take the place of the living artist. The pianola can never rival the living performer; nor the orchestrion the orchestra; nor the chromo the painting. No mechanical device has yet been invented to produce poetry; even if some shrewd people should invent a printing machine which would pick out rhymes as some printing machines seem to pick out letters, the result would not be a poem. This is the reason too why mere perfection of execution never really satisfies. “She sings like a bird.” Yes! and that is exactly the difficulty with her. We want one who sings like a woman. The popular criticism of the mere musical expert that he has no soul, is profound and true. It is soul we want; for the piano, the organ, the violin, the orchestra, are only instruments for the transmission of soul. This is also the reason why the most flawless conductor is not always the best. He must have a soul capable of reading the soul of the composer; and the orchestra must receive the life of the composer as that is interpreted to them through the life of the conductor, or the performance will be a soulless performance.
Into each of these arts, therefore—music, painting, poetry—enter two elements: the inner and the outer, the truth and the language, the reality and the symbol, the life and the expression.
The painter must have something to express, but he must also have skill to express it; the musician must have music in his soul, but he must also have a power of instrumentation; the poet must feel the truth, or he is no poet, but he must also have power to express what he feels in such forms as will create a similar feeling in his readers, or he is still no poet.
Multitudes of women send to the newspapers poetical effusions which are not poems. The feeling of the writer is excellent, but the expression is bad. The writer has seen, but she cannot tell what she has seen; she has felt, but she cannot express her experience so as to enkindle a like experience in others. These poetical utterances of inarticulate poets are sometimes whimsical but oftener pathetic; sometimes they are like the prattle of little children who exercise their vocal organs before they have anything to say; but oftener they seem like the beseeching eyes of a dumb animal, full of affection and entreaty for which he has no vocal expression. It is just as essential that poetical feeling should have poetical expression in order to constitute poetry as it is that musical feeling should have musical expression in order to constitute music. And, on the other hand, as splashes of color without artistic feeling which they interpret are not art, as musical, sounds without musical feeling which they interpret are not music, so poetical forms without poetical feeling are not poetry. Poetical feeling in unpoetical forms may be poetical prose, but it is still prose. And on the other hand, rhymes, however musical they may be to the ear, are only rhymes, not poetry, unless they express a true poetical life. Poetry is not common thought expressed in an uncommon manner; it is not an artificial phrasing of even the higher emotions. The higher emotions have a phrasing of their own; they fall naturally—whether as the result of instinct or of habit need not here be considered—into fitting forms.
Thus the study of poetry is the study of life, because poetry is the interpretation of life. Poetry is not a mere instrument for promoting enjoyment; it does not merely dazzle the imagination and excite the emotions. Through the emotions and the imagination it both interprets life and ministers to life. When the critic attempts to express that truth, that is, to interpret the interpreter, which he can do only by translating the poetry into prose, and the language of imagination and emotion into that of philosophy, he destroys the poem in the process, much as the botanist destroys the flower in analyzing it, or the musical critic the composition in disentangling its interwoven melodies and explaining the nature of its harmonic structure. The analysis, whether of music, art, or poetry, must be followed by a synthesis, which, in the nature of the case, can be accomplished only by the hearer or reader for himself.
Not to amplify too much, we have confined these considerations to the three arts of music, painting, and poetry; but they are also applicable to sculpture and architecture. All are attempts by men of vision to interpret to the men who are not equally endowed with vision, what the invisible world about us and within us has for the enrichment of our lives. It is true that at times the arts have been sensualized, the emphasis has been put on the form of expression, not on the life expressed.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS:
HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW Frontispiece
Photogravure from photograph by Hanfstaengl after portrait by Kramer.
PENELOPE AWAITING ULYSSES
The patient grief and endurance of Absence: while the tapestry woven by day stands on the frame to be unravelled by night, as the loyal wife puts off her suitors.
Painting by Rudolph von Deutsch.
“What shall I do with all the days and hours
That must be counted ere I see thy face?”
From a photograph by the Berlin Photographic Co., after a painting by R. Pötzelberger.
WAIL OF PROMETHEUS BOUND
“Behold me, a god, what I endure from gods!
Behold, with throe on throe,
How, wasted by this woe,
I wrestle down the myriad years of Time!”
From photograph after a painting by G. Graeff.
PIERRE-JEAN DE BÉRANGER
From lithograph after a crayon-drawing by H. Alophe.
After an engraving from contemporary portrait.
ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING
After a photograph from life by Talfourd, London.
THE COUNTRY CHURCHYARD
“Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree’s shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a moldering heap,
Each in his narrow cell forever laid,
The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.”
After an original drawing by Harry Fenn.
LOVE AND DEATH
Death comes in,
Though Love, with outstretched arms and wings outspread,
Would bar the way.”
From photogravure after the painting by George Fredeick Watts.
After a life-photograph by Rockwood, New York.
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE
From an engraving after the drawing by George Richmond.
SIR EDWIN ARNOLD
After a life-photograph by Elliott and Fry, London.
(Adapted from The Project Gutenberg EBook of The World’s Best Poetry, Volume 3, by Various)