Tag Archives: Four Ages of Poetry

Marginalia, no.37

While the historian and the philosopher are advancing in, and accelerating, the progress of knowledge, the poet is wallowing in the rubbish heap of departed ignorance, and raking up the ashes of dead savages to find gewgaws and rattles for the grown babies of the age… A poet in our times is a semi-barbarian in a civilized community.  He lives in the days that are past.  His ideas, thoughts, feelings associations, are all with barbarous manners, obsolete customs and exploded superstitions.  The march of his intellect is like that of a crab, backward.  The brighter the light diffused around him by the progress of reason, the thicker is the darkness of antiquated barbarism, in which he buries himself like a mole, to throw up the barren hillocks of his Cimmerian labours.

~ Thomas Love Peacock, The Four Ages of Poetry (1820)

By 1820 Peacock himself had published no fewer than nine volumes of poetry.  The good-humored butchering of one’s own sacred cows can be a source of rich and unexpected nourishment. I wonder if this capacity for self-satire belongs to nature or to the critical influences of civilization.  It’s surely one of the signs of a civilized people.  You don’t imagine the Vandals and Huns went in for this kind of thing.

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