The poet has in an extraordinary degree the gift of imagination, or vision. He seems to be endowed with a sixth sense. In his moments of inspiration he can see and feel the essential mystery, the spiritual meaning, of what appears to us as ordinary and commonplace. The unimaginative man is aware only of what he perceives through his senses. Like Wordsworth’s Peter Bell,
“A primrose on the river’s brim
A yellow primrose was to him,
And it was nothing more.”
But to Wordsworth, the poet, it was much more; for he said.
“To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.”
But the poet can do more than see himself; he can make us see too. He can express the vision he has seen, and can communicate it to us in words so compelling that we see that he has seen, feel what he has felt, and experience what he has experienced. He has the wonderful gift of enabling others to share his private imaginative experience.
For, as one critic says, poetry is an art “whereby experience may be transferred whole and unimpaired, in all its subtlety and complexity, from one mind to another.” What a poet conveys to us in a given poem is not the object or even that inspired the poem, but his own personal impression of it; his own reaction to it, the mood which it evoked in him. For example, take this little poem by Tennyson:-
“Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in may hand,
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.”
Now the poet does not give us any information here; he does not describe the flower, or even tell us its name. What does he convey to us? He conveys the impression that wild plant made on his mind. It was only a common weed; but suddenly it became to him a mystery.
The wonder of that mysterious power, life, filled him with awe. And as we read, we too feel that startled sense of wonder. We see a common weed in a new light. Our eyes are opened to the deep meaning, the significance, of commonplace things. We feel and see what the poet felt and saw.
This means that a poet can convey something of himself to us in his poetry. And this will be something of his highest self; for when a poet is inspired to write a poem, he is in an exalted mood. It is, therefore, the transfigured life of the poet that is expressed in all great poetry.