It is a great matter to observe propriety in these several modes of expression compound words, strange (or rare) words, and so forth. But the greatest thing by far is to have a command of metaphor. This alone cannot be imparted by another; it is the mark of genius for to make good metaphors implies an eye for resemblances.
We should destroy the beauty of the most part of Homer’s verses, if in the place of those choice and noble terms he used, we should put proper words. For example: When Homer says (to represent the terrible noise which the enraged sea makes) : `The rivers roar’d,’ we should put, `The rivers cried,’ we should spoil it.
‘Tis not the property of a poet to relate things just as they came to pass, but as they might or ought necesrarily or probably to happen. For an historian and a poet don’t differ in that one writes in prose, and the other in verse; for truly Herodotus’s history might very well be put into verse, and ‘twould be no less a history when in verse, than ’tis now in prose. But they differ in this, that an historian writes what did happen, and a poet what might, or ought to have, come to pass.
We have laid it down that tragedy is a representation of an action that is whole and complete and of a certain magnitude, since a thing may be a whole and yet have no magnitude. A whole is what has a beginning and middle and end. A beginning is that which is not a necessary consequent of anything else but after which something else exists or happens as a natural result. An end on the contrary is that which is inevitably or, as a rule, the natural result of something else, but from which nothing else follows; a middle follows something else and something follows from it. Well constructed plots must not therefore begin and end at random, but must embody the formulae we have stated.
Moreover, in everything that is beautiful, whether it be a living creature or any organism composed of parts, these parts must not only be well arranged but must also have a certain magnitude of their own; for beauty consists in magnitude and arrangement. From which it follows that neither would a very small creature be beautiful for our view of it is almost instantaneous and therefore confused nor a very Iarge one, since, being unable to view it all at once, we lose the effect of a single whole; for instance, suppose a creature a thou-sand miles long. As then creatures and other organic structures must have a certain magnitude and yet be easily taken in by the eye, so too with plots; they must have length but must be easily taken in by the memory.
A considerable aid to clarity and distinction is the lengthening and abbreviation and alteration of words. Being otherwise than in the ordinary form and thus unusual, these will produce the effect of distinction, and clarity will be preserved by retaining part of the usual form. Those critics are therefore wrong who censure this manner of idiom and poke fun at the poet, as did the elder Eucleides, who said it was easy to write poetry, granted the right to lengthen syllables at will. He had made a burlesque in this very style.
With regard to problems, and the various solutions of them, how many kinds there are, and the nature of each kind, all will be clear if we look at them like this. Since the poet represents life, as a painter does or any other maker of likenesses, he must always represent one of three things either things as they were or are; or things as they are said and seem to be; or things as they should be. These are expressed in diction with or with-out rare words and metaphors, there being many modifications of diction, all of which we allow the poet to use. Moreover, the standard of what is correct is not the same in the art of poetry as it is in the art of life or any other art. In the actual art of poetry there are two kinds of errors, essential and accidental. If a man meant to represent something and failed through incapacity, that is an essential error. But if his error is due to his original conception being wrong and his portraying, for example, a horse advancing both its right legs, that is then a technical error in some special branch of know-ledge, in medicine, say, or whatever it may be; or else some sort of impossibility has been portrayed, but that is not an essential error. These considerations must, then, be kept in view in meeting the charges contained in these objections.
Let us first take the charges against the art of poetry itself. If an impossibility has been portrayed, an error has been made. But it is all right if the poet thus achieves the object of poetry what that is has been already stated and makes that part or some other part of the poem more striking. The pursuit of Hector is an example of this.’ If, however, the object could have been achieved better or just as well without sacrifice of technical accuracy, then he has not done well, for, if possible there should be no error at all in any part of the poem. Again, one must ask of which kind is the error, is it an error in poetic art or a chance error in some other field? It is less of an error not to know that a female stag has no horns than to make a picture that is unrecognizable.