Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Delacroix: Poetry and Painting

I can distinguish poets and prose writers among painters. The rhyme, the restraints imposed by the metre, the form that is indispensable to poetry and gives it so much vigour are like the inner symmetry in a picture- the studied, yet inspired rhythm that governs the junction or separation of lines and spaces, the echoing notes of colour, etc. It would be easy to demonstrate this thesis, were it not that more active faculties and keener sensibilities are needed to distinguish errors, discords and misstatements among lines of colours, than to discover that a rhyme is faulty, or a hemistich clumsily or wrongly put together. But the beauty of poetry does not depend on exact obedience to laws, whose neglect is obvious to the most ignorant. It lies in a thousand harmonies and subtle arrangements of words and sounds which give to poetry its power and appeal directly to the imagination, just as in painting, the imagination is affected by a happy selection of forms and a proper understanding of their relationship one to another. David's picture Thermopylae (above) is, I consider, an essay in masculine and vigorous prose. And Poussin hardly ever uses other means to rouse our ideas than the more or less expressive gestures of his figures. His landscapes seem to be more carefully thought out, but like those other painters whom I call the prose writers in contrast to the poets, he seems more often than not to assemble the tones and arrange the lines of his composition at random. The poetic or expressive idea never strikes one at first glance.
- The Journal of Delacroix, 19 September 1847

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