In Truants And Rebels from "Preface To Poetry"

In an interesting article, 'Logical Structure in Eighteenth-Century Poetry' (Philological Quarterly,xxxi, No. 3,July 1952, pp. 315-36), Mr. D. J. Greene takes exception to a statement of mine that

'The poetry written in England from the time of Dryden had been characterized . . . by a sound logical structure'.

Although he seems to me to have been carried too far by the ardour of his pursuit in the opposite direction, I now see that the phrase 'logical structure' is misleading, and I have withdrawn it. If Mr. Greene had pondered what I say on pp. 109-10 he would have seen that I do not maintain that eighteenth-century poetry often lived up to Shaftesbury's demand that

'every several part or portion (should fit) its proper place so exactly that the least transposition would be impracticable'.

What I still wish to maintain is that the eighteenth-century poet normally proceeded from point to point, if not logically, at any rate on the plane of reasonable discourse, that an argument, however discursive, usually emerges, and that his readers felt reassured when he effected his transitions from one point to another at least with a show of reason. Quoting the poem printed on pp. 162-3, Mr. Greene remarks:

'But where, we ask after reading the poem, is the argument?... The poem leads to no conclusion at all. It is a reiterated statement that the poet is in love, and will remain in love.'

I am sorry that poor Barton Booth should be brought blinking back into a limelight that neither he nor his poem can easily face. But the argument, such as it is, is surely not hard to find:

  1. 'As the needle is true to the pole etc.... so am I true and constant to you.
  2. As the lamb.., kid.., nightingale follow what they like best, so I pursue you, my soul's desire.
  3. Although the face of Nature changes with the seasons, the seasons bring no change to my love for you.
  4. Not time itself, which changes almost all things, can destroy my love for you.'

This, I will agree, is not a logical structure: but it is surely an argument, i.e. 'a connected series of statements or reasons intended to establish a position' (O.E.D.).

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