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Sacred Poetry,



January, 1832.


There are few errors, that have gained popularity, which admit of a readier confutation than the notion that Poetry is either an unsuitable medium for the conveyance of religious sentiments, or that religion, if it employs poetry as a vehicle of instruction, must first deprive it of those striking characteristics which give it its chief power over the imagination and the affections. It can hardly be disputed that the more dignified a sentiment may be, the more dignified ought to be the language in which it is conveyed ; that the more the substance of a narrative may teem with impressive and lofty lessons, the nobler ought to be the mirror in which they are displayed, and that even in the description of objects remarkable either for beauty or sublimity, expressions ought to be employed which would be extravagant if used in respect to things of a less noble nature, but which are in these cases necessary to affect the mind with a feeling corresponding to what would arise at the view of the objects themselves. But a composition, the language of which is throughout dignified, abounding in brilliant expressions and images, and reflecting in its bright and copious stream the starry

empire of thought, possesses all the most essential characteristics of poetry, and it would be unreasonable to consider that by adding to a composition of this kind the graces of rhythm, often in itself an aid to solemn feeling, it could be rendered less proper for the conveyance of serious and elevated sentiment.

So inadequate, indeed, have all nations found the language in ordinary use, to impress the popular mind with lofty or devotional thought, that both patriotism and religion have from the earliest ages employed poetry as the vehicle of their appeals. Custom, which has generally its birth in some strong, natural feeling, thus agrees with reason in pointing out the fitness of poetry, elevating both by the language to which it has a sort of prescriptive right, and by its association with music, for being employed as a medium of high moral instruction.

But the number of persons who feel disposed to doubt the propriety of using poetry as a channel of religious instruction, is incomparably less than that of those who deem that poetry, when so employed, must be of a less stirring, impassioned, or elevating nature than when engaged on themes of an earthly or temporary character. Nor is the error of this opinion less apparent than that already noticed. To suppose that subjects, sublime not only in their own nature, but in all the associations to which they give rise, can be unfit for poetry, is to contradict

It is therefore, advisable, perhaps, to inquire how so untenable a notion could ever have gained ground. In doing this we shall readily discover that it had its rise in a very confined idea of poetry itself, in ignorance of its history, and the

common sense.

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