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226 ] Dante1 M. Paul Valéry, a writer for whom I have considerable respect, has placed in his most recent statement upon poetry a paragraph which seems to me of very doubtful validity. I have not seen the complete essay, and know the quotation only as it appears in a critical notice in the Athenaeum, July 23, 1920: La philosophie, et même la morale tendirent à fuir les œuvres pour se placer dans les réflexions qui les précèdent. . . . Parler aujourd’hui de poésie philosophique (fût-ce en invoquant Alfred de Vigny, Leconte de Lisle, et quelques autres), c’est naïvement confondre des conditions et des applications de l’esprit incompatibles entre elles. N’est-ce pas oublier que le but de celui qui spécule est de fixer ou de créer une notion – c’est-à-dire un pouvoir et un instrument de pouvoir, cependant que le poète moderne essaie de produire en nous un état et de porter cet état exceptionnel au point d’une jouissance parfaite. . . .2 It may be that I do M. Valéry an injustice which I must endeavour to repair when I have the pleasure of reading his article entire. But the paragraph gives the impression of more than one error of analysis. In the first place, it suggests that conditions have changed, that “philosophical” poetry may once have been permissible, but that (perhaps owing to the greater specialization of the modern world) it is now intolerable. We are forced to assume that what we do not like in our time was never good art, and that what appears to us good was always so. If any ancient “philosophical” poetry retains its value, a value which we fail to find in modern poetry of the same type, we investigate on the assumption that we shall find some difference to which the mere difference of date is irrelevant. But if it be maintained that the older poetry has a “philosophic” element and a “poetic” element which can be isolated, we have two tasks to perform. We must show first in a particular case – our case is Dante – that the philosophy is essential to the structure and that the structure is essential to the poetic beauty of the parts; and we must show that the philosophy is employed in a different form from that which it takes in admittedly unsuccessful philosophical poems. And if M. Valéry is in error in his complete exorcism of [ 227 Dante “philosophy,” perhaps the basis of the error is his apparently commendatory interpretation of the effort of the modern poet, namely, that the latter endeavours “to produce in us a state.” The early philosophical poets, Parmenides and Empedocles, were apparently persons of an impure philosophical inspiration. Neither their predecessors nor their successors expressed themselves in verse; Parmenides and Empedocles were persons who mingled with genuine philosophical ability a good deal of the emotion of the founder of a second-rate religious system. They were not interested exclusively in philosophy, or religion, or poetry, but in something which was a mixture of all three; hence their reputation aspoetsislowandasphilosophersshouldbeconsiderablybelowHeraclitus, Zeno, Anaxagoras, or Democritus.3 The poem of Lucretius is quite a different matter. For Lucretius was undoubtedly a poet. He endeavours to expound a philosophical system, but with a different motive from Parmenides or Empedocles, for this system is already in existence; he is really endeavouring to find the concrete poetic equivalent for this system – to find its complete equivalent in vision.4 Only, as he is an innovator in this art, he wavers between philosophical poetry and philosophy. So we find passages such as: But the velocity of thunderbolts is great and their stroke powerful, and they run through their course with a rapid descent, because the force when aroused first in all cases collects itself in the clouds and . . . Let us now sing what causes the motions of the stars. . . . Of all these different smells then which strike the nostrils one may reach to a much greater distance than another. . . .5 * But Lucretius’ true tendency is to express an ordered vision of the life of man, with great vigour of real poetic image and often acute observation. quod petiere, premunt arte faciuntque dolorem corporis et dentes inlidunt saepe labellis osculaque adfligunt, quia non est pura voluptas et stimuli subsunt qui instigant laedere id ipsum quodcumque est, rabies unde illaec germina surgunt . . .6 medio de fonte leporum surgit amari aliquid quod in ipsis floribus...


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