“great” book, but there was something missing. It dawned on me that this feeling was, to
a large extent, my own doing. It was MY fault that I wasn’t “getting it,” and it was MY
responsibility to return to the book with my own fire, my own ardour. It was MY
responsibility to find the greatness that I knew was there. Since that realization (it was an
epiphany of sorts), I’ve collected various reminders—pieces of poetry, prose, drama—
that it’s MY job to have the work inspire me. The artists have done their jobs. Now it’s
my turn. If I can’t feel something intensely, I’ve failed. The work of art hasn’t failed. I’ve
failed. Below are some of the passages that I’ve collected over the years that inspire me
to bring excitement to any encounter with art that I have. Some of these will make sense
to you, despite the fact that they are uncontextualized. Others may not. I’ll highlight those
passages that are important to me.
From His Letters (1817 and 1818)
I spent Friday evening with Wells, and went next morning to see Death on the Pale Horse. It
is a wonderful picture, when West's age is considered; But there is nothing to be intense
upon; no woman one feels mad to kiss, no face swelling into reality
-The excellence of every
art is its intensity, capable of making all disagreeables evaporate, from their being in
close relationship with Beauty and Truth.
Examine 'King Lear', and you will find this
exemplified throughout; but in this picture we have unpleasantness without any momentous
depth of speculation excited, in which to bury its repulsiveness.
[S]everal things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a
Man of Achievement especially in Literature & which Shakespeare possessed so
enormously--I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in
uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason--
Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the
Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge.
This pursued through Volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that
with a great
poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all
A poet is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence; because he has no Identity—he is
continually in for—and filling some other Body—The Sun, the Moon, the Sea and Men and
Women who are creatures of impulse are poetical and have about them an unchangeable
the poet has none; no identity—he is certainly the most unpoetical of all
God’s Creatures. . . . When I am in a room with People if I ever am free from
speculating on creations of my own brain, then not myself goes home to myself: but the
identity of every one in the room begins to press upon me that, I am in a very little time
annihilated—not only among Men; it would be the same in a Nursery of children.