Statue of Mark Twain by Gary Price
located in front of the Monrovia Public Library,
Courtesy of Dave Thomson.
| What a lumbering poor vehicle prose is for
the conveying of a great thought! ...Prose wanders around with a lantern
& laboriously schedules & verifies the details & particulars
of a valley & its frame of crags & peaks, then Poetry comes, &
lays bare the whole landscape with a single splendid flash.
- Letter to W. D. Howells, 2/25/1906
I have thought many times since that if poets when they get discouraged would
blow their brains out, they could write very much better when they got
My usual style of ciphering out the merits of poetry, which is to read
a line or two near the top, a verse near the bottom and then strike an
A "connoisseur" should never be in doubt about anything. It is ruinous.
I will give you a few hints. Attribute all the royal blank verse, with a martial
ring to it, to Shakspeare; all the grand ponderous ditto, with a solemn lustre
as of holiness about it, to Milton; all the ardent love poetry, tricked out
in affluent imagery, to Byron; all the scouring, dashing, descriptive warrior
rhymes to Scott; all the sleepy, tiresome, rural stuff, to Thomson and his eternal
Seasons; all the genial, warm-hearted jolly Scotch poetry, to Burns; all the
tender, broken-hearted song-verses to Moore; all the broken-English poetry to
Chaucer or Spenser - whichever occurs to you first; all the heroic poetry, about
the impossible deeds done before Troy, to Homer; all the nauseating rebellion
mush-and-milk about young fellows who have come home to die - just before the
battle, mother - to George F. Root and kindred spirits; all the poetry that
everybody admires and appreciates, but nobody ever reads or quotes from, to
Dryden, Cowper and Shelley; all the grave-yard poetry to Elegy Gray or Wolfe,
indiscriminately; all the poetry that you can't understand, to Emerson; all
the harmless old platitudes, delivered with a stately and oppressive pretense
of originality, to Tupper, and all the "Anonymous" poetry to yourself.
Bear these rules in mind, and you will pass muster as a connoisseur; as long
as you can talk glibly about the "styles" of authors, you will get
as much credit as if you were really acquainted with their works. Throw out
a mangled French phrase occasionally, and you will pass for an accomplished
man, and a Latin phrase dropped now and then will gain you the reputation of
being a learned one. Many a distinguished "connoisseur" in belles
lettres and classic erudition travels on the same capital I have advanced you
in this rather lengthy paragraph. Make a note of that "Anonymous"
suggestion - never let a false modesty deter you from "cabbaging"
anything you find drifting about without an owner. I shall publish a volume
of poems, shortly, over my signature, which became the "children of my
fancy" in this unique way.
- "Answers to Correspondents," The Californian, June 17, 1865
The poetry is all in the anticipation, for there is none in reality.
- quoted by Mrs. Lee Whipple-Haslam in Early Days in California
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