Axidava

The Character Of A Small Poet

The Small Poet is one that would fain make himself that which nature never meant him; like a fanatic that inspires himself with his own whimsies. He sets up haberdasher of small poetry, with a very small stock and no credit.

He believes it is invention enough to find out other men’s wit; and whatsoever he lights upon, either in books or company, he makes bold with as his own. This he puts together so untowardly, that you may perceive his own wit as the rickets, by the swelling disproportion of the joints. You may know his wit not to be natural, ’tis so unquiet and troublesome in him: for as those that have money but seldom, are always shaking their pockets when they have it, so does he, when he thinks he has got something that will make him appear witty. He is a perpetual talker; and you may know by the freedom of his discourse that he came lightly by it, as thieves spend freely what they get. He is like an Italian thief, that never robs but he murders, to prevent discovery; so sure is he to cry down the man from whom he purloins, that his petty larceny of wit may pass unsuspected. He appears so over-concerned in all men’s wits, as if they were but disparagements of his own; and cries down all they do, as if they were encroachments upon him. He takes jests from the owners and breaks them, as justices do false weights, and pots that want measure. When he meets with anything that is very good, he changes it into small money, like three groats for a shilling, to serve several occasions. He disclaims study, pretends to take things in motion, and to shoot flying, which appears to be very true, by his often missing of his mark. As for epithets, he always avoids those that are near akin to the sense. Such matches are unlawful and not fit to be made by a Christian poet; and therefore all his care is to choose out such as will serve, like a wooden leg, to piece out a maimed verse that wants a foot or two, and if they will but rhyme now and then into the bargain, or run upon a letter, it is a work of supererogation. For similitudes, he likes the hardest and most obscure best; for as ladies wear black patches to make their complexions seem fairer than they are, so when an illustration is more obscure than the sense that went before it, it must of necessity make it appear clearer than it did; for contraries are best set off with contraries. He has found out a new sort of poetical Georgics—a trick of sowing wit like clover-grass on barren subjects, which would yield nothing before. This is very useful for the times, wherein, some men say, there is no room left for new invention. He will take three grains of wit like the elixir, and, projecting it upon the iron age, turn it immediately into gold. All the business of mankind has presently vanished, the whole world has kept holiday; there has been no men but heroes and poets, no women but nymphs and shepherdesses: trees have borne fritters, and rivers flowed plum-porridge. When he writes, he commonly steers the sense of his lines by the rhyme that is at the end of them, as butchers do calves by the tail. For when he has made one line, which is easy enough, and has found out some sturdy hard word that will but rhyme, he will hammer the sense upon it, like a piece of hot iron upon an anvil, into what form he pleases. There is no art in the world so rich in terms as poetry; a whole dictionary is scarce able to contain them; for there is hardly a pond, a sheep-walk, or a gravel-pit in all Greece, but the ancient name of it is become a term of art in poetry. By this means, small poets have such a stock of able hard words lying by them, as dryades, hamadryades, aönides, fauni, nymphæ, sylvani, &c. that signify nothing at all; and such a world of pedantic terms of the same kind, as may serve to furnish all the new inventions and “thorough reformations” that can happen between this and Plato’s great year.

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