Epic And Lyric Poetry -- By: James Lindsay

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 066:264 (Oct 1909)
Article: Epic And Lyric Poetry
Author: James Lindsay

Epic And Lyric Poetry

Rev. James Lindsay

A generous license, in the mode of living, is allowed by Milton to the lyric poet, but water and a wooden bowl are all he can afford the epic poet — singer of the gods and their descent unto men. No doubt, lyric poetry is, in essence, the expression of individual passion, and, as such, cannot quench love as supreme passion. Only in Alexandrian and later Greek literature did love enter as a main interest or motive into the epic. But in poetry itself, the dividing line between epic and lyric is often dimly drawn, and an epical lyric, as well as a lyrical epic, can be warrantably used of certain compositions. Not even the quaint stateliness of Spenser’s epic poetry can hide the lyric spirit that pervades much of it. But, indeed, the epic sums in itself all poetry — not merely epic, but dramatic, idyllic, and elegiac elements as well. For the epic is the most comprehensive of all kinds of poetry. It is inclusive of the romance, as Tasso very clearly perceived. In the “Odyssey” of Homer, we find the epic become the most romantic of all poetry. For it has all experience for its province. With calmness and self-possession the epic poet represents his past events as action in progress, so differing from the dramatic poet, who imports immediacy and vehemence into his representation of events as real and present. The dramatic poet cannot afford to carry the equanimity of the epic poet.

And yet, to do lyrical poetry justice, it must be said that

lyric verse ranges from the deepest to the highest in a way that gives it a width of feeling and expression scarcely open to the epic. Besides which, the epic can hardly, in its historic and descriptive character, be so realistic as the lyric, dealing with the hate of hate, the scorn of scorn, the love of love, of the world within. And, though the epic subsumes under itself the lyrical impulse or element, in the way we have noted, yet the lyrical in poetry at times has the epical for its subject. But it takes from the epical just so much as it wants while keeping true to itself as lyrical poetry, with the emotions peculiar thereto. The psychic form, indeed, of the vital unit in all poetic creation is just poetic mood, which has no simpler embodiment than the lyrical. Whereas the epic must have, for its subject, one great complex action, the single rapturous thrill, out of which no long poem could be made, is the inspiration of the lyric. For the lyric is poetry in its simplest, purest, most subjective, and personal — but yet ideal — form. The lyric is therefore the most perfect vehicle for the expression of spiritual life, from the way in which it precipitates the essence of the ideal. The pure lyric,...

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