Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Archive for May 11th, 2013

Should you imitate Dante or Shakespeare?

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Portrait of T.S. Eliot by Irving Penn

When I affirm that more can be learned about how to write poetry from Dante than from any English poet, I do not at all mean that Dante’s way is the only right way, or that Dante is thereby greater than Shakespeare, or, indeed, any other English poet. I put my meaning into other words by saying that Dante can do less harm to any one trying to learn to write verse than can Shakespeare. Most great English poets are inimitable in a way in which Dante was not. If you try to imitate Shakespeare you will certainly produce a series of stilted, forced, and violent distortions of language. The language of each great English poet is his own language; the language of Dante is the perfection of a common language. In a sense, it is more pedestrian than that of Dryden or Pope. If you follow Dante without talent, you will at worst be pedestrian and flat; if you follow Shakespeare or Pope without talent, you will make an utter fool of yourself.

T.S. Eliot, Selected Essays

Written by nevalalee

May 11, 2013 at 9:50 am

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