The Poet’s Spells

Any talk of the spiritual in poetry reveals a lack of understanding.  It is forgivable for the poet to misunderstand his work in this way, and say, for instance, that he searches for the god within or the divine spark.  But for the critic this mistake is the worst of crimes.  He should know better.  He can’t afford to be charmed by pretty ideas which make him feel comforted or elated.  If Hamlet teaches us anything it is this.  We must be on our guard against the poet’s spells.  Shakespeare knew this, and that is why he is the most worthy poet.  That is, he is most worthy where he is no poet at all.  Shakespeare the critic writes Hamlet.  Hamlet is the poet in Shakespeare exorcised and, ultimately, sacrificed.  There is one exception to this, and it occurs in Hamlet’s last line, where he reaches an apotheosis, which can only be characterized as critical.  Strangely, it is here, where he is clearest, that he is most misunderstood.  Horatio, once sober minded, steals the scene, and tries to out-Hamlet Hamlet.  We would do better to stick to the Hamlet revealed to us lately than believe flights of angels or a solider’s drum ought to follow the prince to his grave.

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