Poetry

The satisfactory tracing out with certainty of the original invention of poetry, appears to me to be a more difficult and perplexing task than the attempt to discover the source of either of the other arts. This art, doubtless, originated entirely in feeling and passion; but in what precise manner the expression of that feeling or passion was first embodied in any set form of words, which, it is contended, constituted the earliest poetic effort, it is difficult to determine, inasmuch as all distinct traces of very early artistical compositions of this kind appear to be lost, there being no permanent material in which they could be produced and preserved. The earliest attempts at poetry of which we have any record, or seem to have any notion, consist of words set in order to accompany music, which some therefore contend to be the germ of poetry itself. This art, however, appears, like painting and sculpture, to have been at once invented, independently of any sustaining medium as its support. As soon as these pristine poetic efforts were moulded into any sort of regular or set form, instead of running into merely wild, irregular, ejacular phrases, the taste of man led him to arrange them in harmonious periods ; and after harmonious periods in time followed rhyme, which is one peculiar characteristic of poetry, or at least of a large portion of it. And probably the aiming at regularity in the measure and rhyme of the poetry, induced also an attempt at corresponding regularity in the terminations of the lines ; and as imitation of nature largely influenced the constitution and construction of poetry, so it might without extravagance be suggested that echo in nature was what led to the invention of rhyme in poetry, which is a sort of reflection or imitation of a preceding sound; the second verse echoing, as it were, in its termination, the first, just as we hear in nature the termination of a series of continued sounds echoed back to the ear.

In some specimens of early poetry alliteration was resorted to instead of rhyme, and was availed of before the use of the latter was invented. Alliteration, like rhyme, consists in a sort of reflection or repetition of the sound of particular syllables in the verse, and is so far strictly analogous to rhyme. It is now, however, as frequently introduced into prose as into poetry, and is as efficient in the former as it is in rhyme.