It is commonly asserted and accepted that Paradise Lost is among the two or three greatest English poems; it may justly be taken as the type of supreme poetic achievement in our literature.
To know anything of a poet but his poetry is, so far as the poetry is concerned, to know something that may be entertaining, even delightful, but is certainly inessential.
So it is in poetry. All we ask is that the mood recorded shall impress us as having been of the kind that exhausts the imaginative capacity; if it fails to do this the failure will announce itself either in prose or in insignificant verse.
To take an analogy: if we say that a democratic government is the best kind of government, we mean that it most completely fulfills the highest function of a government – the realisation of the will of the people.
There can be no proof that Blake’s lyric is composed of the best words in the best order; only a conviction, accepted by our knowledge and judgment, that it is so.
It should here be added that poetry habitually takes the form of verse.
When the poet makes his perfect selection of a word, he is endowing the word with life.
The musician – if he be a good one – finds his own perception prompted by the poet’s perception, and he translates the expression of that perception from the terms of poetry into the terms of music.
A lyric, it is true, is the expression of personal emotion, but then so is all poetry, and to suppose that there are several kinds of poetry, differing from each other in essence, is to be deceived by wholly artificial divisions which have no real being.
Any long work in which poetry is persistent, be it epic or drama or narrative, is really a succession of separate poetic experiences governed into a related whole by an energy distinct from that which evoked them.