The Epic eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 80 pages of information about The Epic.
But in each case, while the occurrence of regular epic was seeming so improbable, it nevertheless happened that poetry was written which was certainly nothing like epic in form, but which was strongly charged with a profound pressure of purpose closely akin to epic purpose; and De Rerum Natura and La Divina Commedia are very suggestive to speculation now.  Of course, the fact that, in both these cases, regular epic did eventually occur, must warn us that in artistic development anything may happen; but it does seem as if there were a deeper improbability for the occurrence of regular epic now than in the times just before Virgil and Tasso—­of regular epic, that is, inspired by some vital import, not simply, like Sigurd the Volsung, by archaeological import.  Lucretius is a good deal more suggestive than Dante; for Dante’s form is too exactly suited to his own peculiar genius and his own peculiar time to be adaptable.  But the method of Lucretius is eminently adaptable.  That amazing image of the sublime mind of Lucretius is exactly the kind of lofty symbolism that the continuation of epic purpose now seems to require—­a subjective symbolism.  I believe Wordsworth felt this, when he planned his great symbolic poem, and partly executed it in The Prelude and The Excursion:  for there, more profoundly than anywhere out of Milton himself, Milton’s spiritual legacy is employed.  It may be, then, that Lucretius and Wordsworth will preside over the change from objective to subjective symbolism which Milton has, perhaps, made necessary for the continued development of the epic purpose:  after Milton, it seems likely that there is nothing more to be done with objective epic.  But Hugo’s method, of a connected sequence of separate poems, instead of one continuous poem, may come in here.  The determination to keep up a continuous form brought both Lucretius and Wordsworth at times perilously near to the odious state of didactic poetry; it was at least responsible for some tedium.  Epic poetry will certainly never be didactic.  What we may imagine—­who knows how vainly imagine?—­is, then, a sequence of odes expressing, in the image of some fortunate and lofty mind, as much of the spiritual significance which the epic purpose must continue from Milton, as is possible, in the style of Lucretius and Wordsworth, for subjective symbolism.  A pregnant experiment towards something like this has already been seen—­in George Meredith’s magnificent set of Odes in Contribution to the Song of the French History.  The subject is ostensibly concrete; but France in her agonies and triumphs has been personified into a superb symbol of Meredith’s own reading of human fate.  The series builds up a decidedly epic significance, and its manner is extraordinarily suggestive of a new epic method.  Nevertheless, something more Lucretian in central imagination, something less bound to concrete and particular event, seems required for the complete development of epic purpose.

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The Epic from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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