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Sentences are not different enough to hold the attention unless they are dramatic. No ingenuity of varying structure will do. All that can save them is the speaking tone of voice somehow entangled in the words and fastened to the page for the ear of the imagination. That is all that can save poetry from sing-song, all that can save prose from itself.
To evade such temptations is the first duty of the poet. For as the ear is the antechamber to the soul, poetry can adulterate and destroy more surely then lust or gunpowder. The poet's, then, is the highest office of all. His words reach where others fall short. A silly song of Shakespeare's has done more for the poor and the wicked than all the preachers and philanthropists in the world.
But the mark of American merit in painting, in sculpture, in poetry, in fiction, in eloquence, seems to be a certain grace withoutgrandeur, and itself not new but derivative; a vase of fair outline, but empty,--which whoso sees, may fill with what wit and character is in him, but which does not, like the charged cloud, overflow with terrible beauty, and emit lightnings on all beholders.
If you are ambitious of climbing up to the difficult, and in a manner inaccessible, summit of the Temple of Fame, your surest way is to leave on one hand the narrow path of Poetry, and follow the narrower track of Knight-Errantry, which in a trice may raise you to an imperial throne.
You may rely on it that you have the best of me in my books, and that I am not worth seeing personally, the stuttering, blunderingclod-hopper that I am. Even poetry, you know, is in one sense an infinite brag and exaggeration. Not that I do not stand on all that I have written,--but what am I to the truth I feebly utter?
If you, historians or poets or mathematicians, had not seen things through your eyes, you would only be able to report them poorly by writing. And if you, poet, claim to portray a story as if painting with your pen, the painter with his brush will more readily satisfy and will be understood less tediously. If you assert that painting is dumb poetry, then the painter may call poetry blind painting.