He may wish, as many lyric poets have wished, to write a drama or a novel, but the story is so distinct from the lyric that few poets, despite a tendency of poets to be expansive in their ambitions, have been eminent in both poetic arts.
Shelley and Keats had a maximum of aspiration but hardly a minimum of gift for plot and character, and even Browning, with his surpassing delineation of men and women in dramatic monologue, could not make anything happen in a drama.
What is here taken as ultimate in poetry is what is true of all good poems: they give a high order of distinctive pleasures, and it may be said summarily of high and distinctive pleasures that no man seems in danger of exceeding his allotment.
In a way a poet is untroubled about all this—about writing or writing poetry, for these are abstractions that cannot be engaged in, and he is trying to find the first or next word, and after “thick rotundity” he listens to “of” and is troubled, and then hears “o’ ” and so moves on to other troubles, leaving behind him “the thick rotundity o’ th’ world.” In a way, then, even in a long life a poet never writes poetry—just a few poems; and in this sense a poet’s problems do not begin until he closes in upon a piece of paper with something less abstract in mind than writing or writing poetry.
All of us, therefore, seem to be asking for less than we expect when we ask that poems have ; but this is so commonly the language of the request that we shall assume it means what we expect it does—that the emotions aroused by any good poem should be psychologically compatible and also of a kind out of which attachments are formed.
We may ask for many other things from poems—biographical information, or political or theological wisdom—but, in making any of these further requests, we should recognize that we are asking for what only certain good poems give, and then generally not so well as something else.—and the unexpected should not be immediately and totally announced (in other words, expository and imaginative writing should have suspense), for, if the whole is immediately known, why should the writer or reader proceed farther?But the accomplished writer gives his selected material more than shape—he gives it proper .For a piece of writing to have its proper size is an excellent thing, or otherwise it would be lacking in intelligibility or interest or both.Thus, if Lear’s anger had been transformed into madness in a single scene, all the odds are that such a transformation would seem beyond belief, and it is just as certain that the play would have died in the memory of men for want of suspense.That the history of the Lear story concludes in a consummation of art is testified to by another kind of history—the history of men’s literary affections: tragedy, on the whole, has proved to be the most moving of literary forms, and to most critics , although not the most flawless, is the most tragic of Shakespeare’s tragedies.The problem of artistic consummation, being the problem of magnitude in the highest degree, is imperiled by its own scope, but fortunately there is a part of that by assent is its most tragic region, the region where suffering takes on such dimension that even Shakespeare could find no better word than “madness” to contain it.Particular manners of presentation are particular artistic problems, and particular artistic gifts are needed to solve these problems, and, if not, who are those who are both great novelists and great dramatists?And, more particular still, who among dramatists wrote both great comedies and great tragedies, although tragedy is only drama that moves certain emotions in us?Intelligibility, too, has its levels of obligation, on the lowest of individual statements, and even on this level the obligation is never easy to fulfill and perhaps even to genius could be a nightmare if what the genius sought to represent was “madness.” Only to a limited degree, however, can individual statements be intelligible—and in many instances and for a variety of reasons the individual statements are meant to be obscure, as in “mad” speeches.Since full intelligibility depends upon the relations of individual statement to individual statement, the concept of intelligibility, fully expanded, includes , for expository as well as imaginative writing should not be merely what the reader expected it would be—or why should it be written or read?