chapter  4
2 Pages

The Command of Life

The chief characteristic of poets is their amazing com m and of words. This is not a mere matter of vocabulary, though it is sig­ nificant that Shakespeare’s vocabulary is the richest and most varied that any Englishman has ever used. It is not the quantity of words a writer has at his disposal, but the way in which he disposes them that gives him his rank as a poet. His sense of how they modify one another, how their separate effects in the mind combine, how they fit into the whole response, is what matters. As a rule the poet is not conscious of the reasons why just these words and no others best serve. They fall into their place without his conscious control, and a feeling of rightness, of inevitability is commonly his sole conscious ground for his { 4 9 } certainty that he has ordered them aright. It would as a rule be idle to ask him why he used a particular rhythm or a particular epithet. He might give reasons, but they would probably be [39] mere rationalizations having nothing to do with the matter. For the choice of the rhythm or the epithet was not an intellectual matter (though it may be capable of an intellectual justifica­ tion), but was due to an instinctive impulse seeking to confirm itself, or to order itself with its fellows.