Leopardi and the Theory of Poetry
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In this first detailed and comprehensive account of Leopardi's theory of poetry, G. Singh assesses both the literary and critical attainments of a poet whose eminence ranks him with Dante and Petrarch. Singh's analysis, which employs extensive reference to Leopardi's work in order to illustrate the author's own comments, sets forth Leopardi's views on the larger questions of tradition, inspiration, and the imagination in poetry. Later chapters are concerned with the more specific matters of the poetic image, style, and language.
Wordsworth declared when he said that "the human mind is capable of being excited without the application of gross and violent stimulants; and he must have a very faint perception of its beauty and dignity who does not know that."7 Not that Leopardi thinks that one set of objects or one species of poetic material is necessarily superior to another so far as its creative utility is concerned; what he does, however, think and regret is that imagination should have reached such a stage of torpor
the other hand, incompatible with the lack of persuasion is sentiment, because "sentiment, if it is not grounded in persuasion, is just nothing." 32 In ancient Greek mythology, one finds the combination of reason and imagination effected by what Leopardi calls "amiable and natural illusions" which serve to add sentiment to imagination, and thus a certain degree of persuasion to the mythology itself. In the use of mythology, too, the ancient poets were both happier and wiser than the moderns. They
"Memory is nothing but an imitation of the past sensation, and subsequent remembrances nothing but imitations of the past remembrances. Memory is almost an imitator of itself.... Man imitates even while he is inventing, though in a larger way, that is to say, he imitates the inventions by means of other inventions, and he does not acquire the inventive faculty (which seems to be [ 106] The Creative Use of Memory something altogether opposite of the imitative faculty) except in virtue of
strongly recommended the study of classics and the pursuit of knowledge as one of the happiest and the most fruitful occupations of human life-"commerce with the wise," Leopardi tells us of himself "is not only useful, but necessary to me"-but then Leopardi distinguishes between the kind of knowledge that is useful and even necessary to a scholar or a scientist or a philosopher and the one that is useful and, indeed, necessary to a poet. What fundamentally interests a poet is not the truth or the
language the very language he is used to hear from such persons in real life in similar circumstances, may at the same time find it new and incomparably more beautiful than the ordinary language on account of the poetic ornaments, the new style, in a word, the new form and body which the poet has given itP This reads like a condensed but more lucid account of practically all the major arguments that parade through Wordsworth's celebrated Preface as well as through Coleridge's equally celebrated