Poetry Or Bust

“Poetry is the universal language which the heart holds with nature and itself. He who has a contempt for poetry, cannot have much respect for himself, or for anything else. It is not a mere frivolous accomplishment, (as some persons have been led to imagine), the trifling amusement of a few idle readers or leisure hours- it has been the study and delight of mankind in all ages. Many people suppose that poetry is something to be found only in books, contained in lines of ten syllables, with like endings: but wherever there is a sense of beauty, or power, or harmony, as in the motion of a wave of the sea, in the growth of a flower that ‘spreads its sweet leaves to the air, and dedicates its beauty to the sun,’- there is poetry, in its birth. If history is a grave study, poetry may be said to be graver: its materials lie deeper, and are spread wider. History treats, for the most part, of the cumbrous and unwieldy masses of things, the empty cases in which the affairs of the world are packed, under the heads of intrigue or war, in different states, and from century to century: but there is no thought or feeling that can have entered into the mind of man, which he would be eager to communicate to others, or which they would listen to with delight, that is not a fit subject for poetry. It is not a branch of authorship: it is ‘the stuff of which our life is made.’ The rest is ‘mere oblivion,’ a dead letter: for all that is worth remembering in life, is the poetry of it. Fear is poetry, hope is poetry, love is poetry, hatred is poetry; contempt, jealousy, remorse, admiration, wonder, pity, despair, or madness, are all poetry. Poetry is that fine particle within us, that expands, rarefies, refines, raises our whole being: without it ‘man’s life is poor as beast’s.'”

-William Hazlitt, “On Poetry In General,” Selected Essays of William Hazlitt (London: Nonesuch, 1970), pp. 386-387


2 thoughts on “Poetry Or Bust

    • I think Hazlitt woul argue that math is an expression of poetry because the order and beauty it possesses are functions of the poetry within reality. I think I’m inclined to agree because I experience an explosion of joy if I see the equation for s Kerr black hole on a chalkboard, and yet I’d rather read Tennyson than a math text book. Where do you think Morrissey would stand?


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