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Aesthetic Poetry by Walter Pater
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AESTHETIC POETRY+

WALTER HORATIO PATER


[213] THE "aesthetic" poetry is neither a mere reproduction of Greek
or medieval poetry, nor only an idealisation of modern life and
sentiment. The atmosphere on which its effect depends belongs to no
simple form of poetry, no actual form of life. Greek poetry,
medieval or modern poetry, projects, above the realities of its time,
a world in which the forms of things are transfigured. Of that
transfigured world this new poetry takes possession, and sublimates
beyond it another still fainter and more spectral, which is literally
an artificial or "earthly paradise." It is a finer ideal, extracted
from what in relation to any actual world is already an ideal. Like
some strange second flowering after date, it renews on a more
delicate type the poetry of a past age, but must not be confounded
with it. The secret of the enjoyment of it is that inversion of
home-sickness known to some, that incurable thirst for the sense of
escape, which no actual form of life [214] satisfies, no poetry even,
if it be merely simple and spontaneous.

The writings of the "romantic school," of which the aesthetic poetry
is an afterthought, mark a transition not so much from the pagan to
the medieval ideal, as from a lower to a higher degree of passion in
literature. The end of the eighteenth century, swept by vast
disturbing currents, experienced an excitement of spirit of which one
note was a reaction against an outworn classicism severed not more
from nature than from the genuine motives of ancient art; and a
return to true Hellenism was as much a part of this reaction as the