According to Book 5 of Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, what makes good poetry?


Aurora Leigh

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In the extended discussion of poetry that this Book contains, the narrator discusses what, to her mind, makes good poetry and what detracts from it. In particular, what she finds to be problematic about so much poetry is how poets insist on looking back into history for their inspiration and refuse to engage with the present. The problem with always harking back to some kind of "golden age," the narrator argues, is that "death inherits death," and that poetry should engage with the present and the events of the now rather than the history of yesterday. Note what she says about the kind of qualities that poets should strive to gain:

But poets should
Exert a double vision; should have eyes
To see near things as comprehensibly
As if afar they took their point of sight,
And distant things, as intimately deep,
As if they touched them. Let us strive for this.

Poetry should therefore be able to look both upon "near things," or events going on in their lifetime, from a distance, and be able to put them in to the context of what has gone on before, or "distant things." They need to have the ability to change with the times and explore what is going on in the present and place that in the larger picture of what has gone before, rather than merely looking to the past alone for their inspiration.


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