Poetry as a language

To intimate things rather than state them plainly was thus one of the primary aims of Symbolism. (…) The assumptions which underlay Symbolism lead us to formulate some such doctrine as the following : Every feeling or sensation we have, every moment of consciousness, is different from every other ; and it is, in consequence, impossible to render our sensations as we actually experience them through the conventional and universal language of ordinary literature. Each poet has his unique personality ; each of his moments has its special tone, its special combination of elements. And it is the poet’s task to find, to invent, the special language which will alone be capable of expressing his personality and feelings. Such a language must make use of symbols : what is so special, so fleeting and so vague cannot be conveyed by direct statement or description, but only by a succession of words, of images, which will serve to suggest it to the reader.

(…) And Symbolism may be defined as an attempt by carefully studied means – a complicated association of ideas represented by a medley of metaphors – to communicate unique personal feelings.

Edmund Wilson, in Axel’s Castle, A study of the imaginative literature of 1870-1930, Farrar, Straus and Giroux Editions, p18-19

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