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Poetic Reason in Thomas Mann

ISSUE:  Winter 1938

In a literary epoch that has produced such figures as Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Paul Valry, and T. S. Eliot, it is not surprising that little should have been said about Thomas Mann as an innovator. Orderly interest in contemporary spiritual and social problems and respect for the orthodoxies of syntax are virtues that have not been at an artistic premium. Any new ways Mr. Mann has of saying things occasion so little cognitive discomfort that they have been generally assumed to be old, familiar ways, and the things he says are so clearly to the contemporary point that his chief fame has been as a kind of mentor, like Andre Gide and D. H. Lawrence.

To be esteemed as a mentor, however, is doubtless quite as embarrassing to Mr. Mann as to have his artistry taken for granted. Although he makes frequent use of ethical subject-matter, the inspiration of his fiction differs fundamentally from the messianic muse of Mr. Lawrence and Mr. Gide and acts neither from prophetic ardor nor towards doctrinal conclusions. (I speak only of his fiction, of course, not of his essays or of his recent public letters and addresses.) And while he misbehaves with his medium no more than they do with theirs, he manages, nevertheless, to make it serve a new technique.

The clue to this new technique lies in the dualism or polarity which always characterizes Mr. Mann’s subject-matter. Such large antitheses as life and death, time and individuality, fertility and decay, flesh and spirit, invariably constitute the themes of his novels. Mr. Mann never allows this dualism to become vitiated, for it is the formal and operative principle of his aesthetic. He never prefers one term of his antithesis to the other, for his interest is not in arguing theses but in developing themes. Hence we misunderstand his fiction if we isolate individual symbols from their dualistic context in order to lend the weight of Mr. Mann’s authority to questions of conduct.

The life-death theme, which has been more often the focus of his attention than any other, is a good case in point. Not once in any of his novels, so far as I have been able to discover, does this theme assert the simple, unequivocal proposition that all men are mortal. People sometimes die, to be sure; death often negates life in a kind of dialectical way, but quite as often we find life spoken of in such terms as “inorganic matter become sick,” or “the existence of the ac-tually-impossible-to-exist.” In Mr. Mann’s scheme death and life, life and death both unremittingly affirm and unremittingly negate each other in a paradox worthy of Zeno. Actually, Mr. Mann’s interest in paradox is even more final than was Zeno’s, for Zeno saw in his paradoxes only a convenient means of refuting those philosophers who held that the world was plural; while Mr. Mann sees, in his, the very core and heart of his world:

Beautiful is resolution. But the really fruitful, the productive, and hence the artistic principle is that which we call reserve. In the sphere of music we love it as the prolonged note, the teasing melancholy of the not-yet, the inward hesitation of the soul, which bears within itself fulfilment, resolution, and harmony, but denies it for a space, withholds and delays, scruples exquisitely yet a little longer to make the final surrender. In the intellectual sphere we love it as irony: that irony which glances at both sides, which plays slyly and irresponsibly—yet not without benevolence— among opposites, and is in no great haste to take sides and come to decisions; guided as it is by the surmise that in great matters, in matters of humanity, every decision may prove premature; that the real goal to reach is not decision, but harmony, accord. And harmony, in a matter of eternal contraries, may lie at infinity; yet that playful reserve called irony carries it within itself as the sustained note carries the resolution.

Mr. Mann, then, is first and foremost an ironist, but this is scarcely a novelty for a writer. Secondly, he is a symbolist, and in one respect his symbolism is not even modern. His cemeteries mean death, his jungles stand for life, his Peeperkorns mean spontaneous vitality, and his Naphtas mean over-refined intellectuality in the conventional way in which Dante’s selva oscura stands for spiritual darkness, or the flag for the country—not in the symboliste manner in which “patience amiable, amiably” signifies Gertrude Stein’s idea of Bernard Fay, or “the hyacinth girl” a very personal aspect of Mr. Eliot’s Weltschmerx.

Now Mr. Mann could doubtless have accomplished many of his ironic purposes within the bounds of conventional symbolism. Every typical death symbol, for example, could have been given its counterpart in a typical life symbol, every jungle could have its adjacent cemetery, every Peep-erkorn his Naphta. But so deepseated, so radical is Mr. Mann’s irony that it will not allow him an unambiguous feeling even about an individual symbol: in the jungle, which represents life at its most lush, he sees the breeding place of the plague; the “little O” which Peeperkorn is forever shaping “with forefinger and thumb . . . the other fingers standing stiffly erect beside it,” is clearly a phallus, but to Mr. Mann it is just as clearly a cipher; the “lying-down position” of the body is the posture of repose, healing, and love-making, but it is also the posture of sickness, dying, and the grave; the bark of the quinine tree is medicinal but poisonous, that of the deadly upas tree both aphrodisiacal and lethal; the ancient burial urn is covered with fertility symbols.

It is to this insatiable ironic temper, I believe, that we may ascribe chief responsibility for the newness of Mr. Mann’s symbolism. In the process of trying to achieve the symbolic identifications which his irony demands, he has ereated a new technique for the exploitation of poetic meaning, a technique in which no symbol is allowed univocal connotation or independent status, but refers to all the others and is bound rigorously to them by means of a highly intricate system of subtly developed associations. Such a system constitutes the structure of each of his major novels. Its function is always synthetic: one by one the various antithetical symbols are identified with each other and finally fused into the single, nuclear, paradoxical meaning which Mr. Mann wishes to emphasize. There is no escape from this meaning; at every point the reader’s characteristic tendency to stray off into realms of private association is checked by the rigid poetic logic of the story, and he is led ineluc-tably to the specific response which Mr. Mann intends that he shall experience. This represents, I believe, a singularly successful solution to what Stevenson thought the most difficult of all poetic problems: not that of getting the reader to feel, but of making him feel in precisely the way in which the poet thinks he ought to feel. Poets who work within the bounds of rigidly controlled symbolic references sometimes achieve results more like mathematical demonstrations or bank statements than poems. Mr. Mann, however, consistently manages to produce effects that are genuinely poetic. I should like to examine the short novel, “Death in Venice,” which is perhaps the finest expression of his genius in this respect, in order to discover how his system of structural symbolic associations operates.


“Death in Venice” is a powerful, strangely haunting, and tragic story about a middle-aged artist who takes a holiday from his work, and finds himself held in Venice by the charms of a twelve-year old boy until he goes to seed in a most shocking way, and at last succumbs to the plague which he might otherwise have fled. There is no more of a plot than that. There are other people, however, who wander in and out of the story apparently at random, but who leave their mark both on the artist, Aschenbach, and on the reader: a red-haired, snub-nosed traveler, whose vitality and air of distant climes first suggest to Aschenbach that he himself go off on a trip; a painted and primped old scapegrace from Pola who gets on Aschenbach’s Venice-bound steamer with a coterie of young men; a gondolier, sinister of aspect, who rows Aschenbach from Venice to the Lido and vanishes without collecting his money; a mendicant singer who, shortly before Aschenbach’s death, goes through his comic turns on the porch of the hotel, smelling all the while of the carbolic acid which has become associated with the plague.

These people seem to serve only as atmosphere, to be quite unrelated both to one another and to the development of the story, but in truth they constitute the very structure of its elaboration. One is reminded of the musical form known as the passacaglia, where a ground bass, repeating the same theme over and over again for progressive variations in the upper register, occasionally emerges into the treble itself, with the effect of affirming emphatically the singleness of the thematic material in both registers.

In “Death in Venice,” the treble is the simple narrative sequence of Aschenbach’s voyage, his life on the Lido, his love for the boy Tadzio, and his death. The ground bass is the “life and death” theme repeated as a sort of undertone to the story by those characters who seem to have no very obvious connection with the proper narrative content.

Before attempting to understand how the symbols of the bass are related to those of the treble, it should be remarked that despite the almost mathematical precision with which the intricate associations are accomplished, they are not meant to be understood. To be free from artificiality, from the appearance of tour de force, such a highly complicated formal pattern must gain its effectiveness immediately; that is, not through rational processes. This is a comparatively easy accomplishment for the musician, whose medium does not involve meaning, but it demands rare subtlety from a writer. Mr. Mann’s deftness is, of course, prodigious, and he contrives to keep his formalized meanings from the explicit attention of the reader largely by the simple technical expedient of hiding them from Aschenbach himself.

For example, Aschenbach never notices—and hence the reader seldom does—that the vital stranger who aroused in him the desire to stop working and to try merely living for a while, is the same man as the sinister gondolier who later ferries him to the Lido and his eventual death, and that the clowning beggar of the hotel porch is none other than the gondolier still further down at the heel. Nor is he ever aware that this ubiquitous person bears a shocking resemblance to the loathsome old fop from Pola. Least of all does it occur to him that all of these questionable people, as morbid caricatures of the heroes of his own novels, are really merely images of himself and his loved-one Tadzio, though it is this final identification which constitutes the meaning and effect of the entire story.

If, as readers, we are not supposed to be consciously aware of these relationships, we may, as critics, proceed to seek them out. The life and death theme is announced at the very beginning of the story: Aschenbach is waiting by the North Cemetery when he sees a wandering stranger. His reveries proper to the funereal setting, sober, necro-scopic, are changed by this man’s striking vitality into extravagant fancies of the jungle, lush with phallic imagery. Death and life, entering the scene thus hand-in-hand, induce their characteristic emotions, and Aschenbach’s heart knocks “with fear and with puzzling desires.”

At this point, a retrospect of Aschenbach’s life as man and artist breaks the narrative, and we are introduced to the second important symbol. This time, it is not a person of the story, but a type of person found in Aschenbach’s own stories—a kind of character that proclaims much the same virtues as does the figure of Saint Sebastian in painting, and that represents to Aschenbach’s readers a new ideal for spiritual and moral heroism. This figure is really Aschenbach’s artistic projection of his own personality, an apotheosis of his own “distinguishing moral trait,” and though it is not yet at this place associated with the first symbol, the stranger of the cemetery, it already begins, obviously, to reflect its symbolism on Aschenbach. Equally important, it reintroduces the life-death theme of the ground bass, for this paradoxical “hero-type” combines “a crude and vicious sensuality capable of fanning its rising passions into pure flame” with “a delicate self-mastery by which any inner deterioration, any biological decay was kept concealed from the eyes of the world.”

These are the grounds for a gruesome association which soon follows; the shameless old fraud from Pola—Aschenbach’s fellow-traveler to the southland where he has been drawn by his “puzzling desires”—this revolting old man, weazened and rouged, decayed and feeble, but more waggish and gay than any of his young companions, is none other than a loathsome travesty of the Sebastian-like hero-type: in him, the hero’s “crude and vicious sensuality” burns no “pure flame” but reeks of perversion; the “delicate self-mastery” which distinguishes Aschenbach’s characters and is the controlling principle of his own art, appears here as ugly artifice, and “biological decay” shows doubly horrible through the old man’s paint.

But Aschenbach fails to see the image of himself; indeed, even when, towards the end of the story, he himself resorts to cosmetics in his wooing of Tadzio, the kinship does not occur to him. And though he is now “fascinated with loathing” at the old man on the boat, he does not remember his “fear and desire” of the cemetery, or even the vital stranger, whose insolence and habit of grimacing were not unlike the old dandy’s. Neither does the reader make this association consciously, but the ground is nonetheless well prepared for the reappearance of the stranger when the ship docks at Venice.

This time the stranger is not framed in the portico of a funeral hall, to be sure, but he is riding a gondola: “strange craft . . . with that peculiar blackness which is found elsewhere only in coffins—it suggests silent, criminal adventures in the rippling night, it suggests even more strongly death itself, the bier and the mournful funeral, and the last silent journey.” And as Aschenbach transfers from the ship to be rowed by this modern Charon on his own last journey, he observes guilelessly “that the seat of such a barque, this arm-chair of coffin-black veneer and dull black upholstery, is the softest, most luxurious, most lulling seat in the world.” This time the “desire” has taken the form of a “poisonous but delectable inertia.” But “fear” is there also, deriving from the illicit aspect of the gondolier, whose present dilapidation hides his identity both from us and from Aschenbach and renders his vitality and pugnacious insolence distinctly menacing. The red hair, however, the snub nose, the long, white savage teeth and the frail build are those of the vital stranger; there are even certain frayed remnants of his former costume if we were but to observe them, and his second disappearance is quite as uncanny as his first.

The life-death theme, firmly established by these devices, is now taken up for development by the story proper, the details of which I need not enter into here. Rumors of the plague run an increasingly sinister counterpoint to Aschenbach’s growing love for Tadzio, his young fellow-guest at a hotel on the Lido. An ominous odor of death thus conditions but intensifies the seductiveness of this new life-symbol until the climax of the story when the stranger, entering for the third and last time, performs his antics for the hotel audience.

He is a beggar now, and he smells of disinfectant. Even his arrogance has become tainted with obsequiousness. In the repulsively suggestive movements of his mouth, in “his gestures, the movements of his body, his way of blinking significantly and letting his tongue play across his lips,” our symbol of organic life reveals himself to be as rotten at the core as the sleazy old cheat of Pola. The latter, we may remember, “showed a deplorable insolence . . . winked and tittered, lifted his wrinkled, ornamented index finger in a stupid attempt at bantering, while he licked the corners of his mouth with his tongue in the most abominably suggestive manner.” And the vital stranger’s smell is the smell that has become associated with the constant rumors of death. Aschenbach goes, the next day, to the tourist office to inquire about these rumors. He learns that they are true: there is death in Venice, death that was hatched as pestilence in jungle swamps. And the jungle had meant life to Aschenbach, had lured him away from the stern and desiccating discipline of his existence to seek “an element of freshness” for his blood, to live!

That night he has a dream in which he joins a fertility dance in the heart of the jungle—an orgiastic nightmare, compounded of fear and desire, which completes the annihilation of his “substance . . . the culture of his lifetime.” “His repugnance” at the awful carousal, “his fear, were keen—he was honorably set on defending himself to the very last against the barbarian, the foe to intellectual poise and dignity. But . . . his heart fluttered, his head was spinning, he was caught in a frenzy, in a blinding, deafening lewdness—and he yearned to join the ranks of the god.” When the obscene symbol was raised at last, he could resist no longer; he abandoned himself to the hideous debauchery and “his soul tasted the unchastity and fury of decay.”

A short coda-like section completes the development of the symbol of imposture; then, in a concluding synthesis, the hero-type symbol is resolved. The symbol of fraud is no longer the old fop, but Aschenbach himself. Harassed by chronic apprehensiveness, ravaged by his illicit passion, undone by the anguish of his dream, Aschenbach begins to show the marks of death. But “like any lover, he wanted to please. . . .” And when, after a scandalous pursuit of his loved one through the infected alleys of Venice, he sits by the cistern in the deserted square with his mouth hanging open, panting for breath, sticky with sweat, trembling, lugubrious and old, but with blossoming youth painted on his lips and cheeks, dyed into his hair, sketched about his eyes—as he sprawls thus in ghastly caricature of his own spiritual and moral ideal, we not only do not loathe him, but we temper with a new access of sympathy the loathing we originally felt for the old cheat of Pola. For when the magnificent stranger showed his frailty, we felt how it must be with everyone.

The synthesis which brings the story to an end reveals the full meaning of the hero-type symbol, and effects at the same time a final merger of all the other meanings. At the sacrifice of his art, of his ideals, of his very life itself, Aschenbach found Tadzio; now Tadzio, the object of his sacrifice, the goal of his desire, the instrument of his death, reveals that he is Aschenbach’s art, his own ideal creation, and thus is Aschenbach himself no less than are the stranger and the cheat.

The scene which accomplishes this denouement was prepared for in Aschenbach’s first meeting with Tadzio. After days of worshiping the god-like beauty of the boy at a distance, but of giving no outward sign of his feelings, indeed scarcely admitting them even to himself, Aschenbach chanced to come face-to-face with him so suddenly one evening that “he had no time to entrench himself behind an expression of repose and dignity,” but smiled at him in infatuated and undisguised admiration. And the exquisite smile which Tadzio gave back to his smitten admirer was “the smile of Narcissus [the italics throughout are mine] bent over the reflecting water, that deep, fascinated, magnetic smile with which he stretches out his arms to the image of his own beauty . . . coquettish, inquisitive and slightly tortured . . . infatuated and infatuating.” Quite broken up by the episode, Aschenbach sought solitude in the darkness of the park, and as he whispered fervently the “fixed formula of desire . . . ‘I love you!’ ” his voice was for none but his own ears. That the “night-smell of vegetation” pointed up the frenzy of his passion in this scene, is typical of the faithfulness and subtlety with which Mr. Mann introduces fragments of his bass theme into the details of the treble.

Unknowing, Aschenbach was confronted with the image of his own beauty. What was this image but the Sebastianlike hero-type, his own apotheosis, his spiritual essence-parodied in the old cheat, revealed in its uncompromising duplicity in the stranger, and displayed in its pathos in the painted Aschenbach?

Now, in the final scene, that ideal is at last glorified again by the frail, the exquisite Tadzio. Tadzio is out on a sandbar in the ocean. His playmates of the beach have brutalized and humiliated him, but he stands haughty and graceful, “separated from the mainland by the expanse of water, separated from his companions by a proud moodiness . . . a strongly isolated and unrelated figure . . . placed out there in the sea, the wind, against the vague mists.” Here he is the true Sebastian, the living hero-type —that figure which by a power of “more than simple endurance,” by “an act of aggression, a positive triumph . . . [is] poised against fatality . . . [meets] adverse conditions gracefully . . . stands motionless, haughty, ashamed, with jaw set, while swords and spear-points beset the body.” He is Aschenbach’s ideal incarnated.

And he is outlined against the sea. Once before he was outlined thus—long ago, when for the first time Aschenbach learned the full poignancy of his beauty. Aschenbach then, too, was seated in his beach chair, but he had been watching the sea, pondering its power over him, feeling himself drawn to it “because of that yearning for rest, when the hard-pressed artist hungers to shut out the exacting multiplicities of experience and hide himself on the breast of the simple, the vast; and because of a forbidden hankering—seductive, by virtue of its being directly opposed to his obligations—after the incommunicable, the incommensurate, the eternal, the non-existent. To be at rest in the face of perfection is the hunger of everyone who is aiming at excellence ; and what is the non-existent but a form of perfection?” And then, suddenly, “just as his dreams were so far out in vacancy . . . the horizontal fringe of the sea was broken by a human figure; and as he brought his eyes back from the unbounded, and focused them, it was the lovely boy who was there. . . .”

Now, at the last, Tadzio is standing out there again, beyond the shore this time, out in the vast expanse itself. Slowly he turns from the hips, looks over his shoulder with twilight-grey eyes toward the artist seated on the shore, and seems to beckon to Aschenbach to come. Once more arousing himself to the call of his own spiritual form—out from the incommensurate, the incommunicable, the non-existent —the stricken artist stands up to follow, then collapses in his chair.


This is an outline, by no means exhaustive, of the symbol structure of “Death in Venice.” The clearest view of Mr. Mann’s synthetic technique, and of the nature of the change that occurs in an individual symbol during the process of synthesis, is furnished by the episodes which involve the vital stranger, first in the cemetery, second in the gondola, and third on the hotel porch.

To connote the life-death antithesis in the episode of the cemetery, three pairs of symbols are used: the stranger versus the funeral hall, Aschenbach’s jungle fancies versus his necroscopic reveries, his desire versus his fear. These fall roughly into the three realms of physical things, of ideas, and of emotions.

In the gondola episode, the same three realms are preserved, each with two symbols: in the world of things the gondola opposes the stranger; ideally, Aschenbach’s attention is divided between the gondola’s luxurious comfort and the illicit aspect of the stranger; and feelings of fear still mingle with his desire.

Some interesting things follow from this rather dull arithmetic. In the first episode, the symbols were for the most part unambiguous: the stranger meant life and life only; the cemetery, death and death only. Further, they were mutually exclusive in their functions: the stranger supplanted the cemetery as a focus of attention, the jungle images disposed entirely of thoughts of the grave. Finally, the causal progression between Aschenbach’s physical impressions and his emotional reactions seemed also to be without ambiguity: the stranger was solely responsible for his jungle fancies and these fancies alone aroused his desire, just as the funeral hall alone inspired his morbid reveries and these, presumably, his fear. But let it be noted that even in this first episode, fear and desire held the emotional stage together! Ambiguity had already begun.

In the gondola episode the situation is very different. Synthetic activity is well under way, and the ambiguity which marked the emotional realm in the first instance, extends here to the other two realms. The stranger still seems to be the physical symbol of life and the gondola of death, but in the realm of Aschenbach’s ideas the whole thing is confused; the vital stranger looks “illicit” and “perverse” to him, capable, indeed, of those very “criminal adventures in the rippling night” which were originally brought to mind by the death-symbol, the gondola. And the gondola, “coffin-like barque” though it be, is by this time, in Aschenbach’s dreamy fancy, naught but the “most luxurious seat in the world.” Thus his desire—that “poisonous but delectable inertia”—issues from the death-symbol, “from the seat of the gondola itself,” while his fear is of the vital stranger!

The merging of the life and death symbols, initiated in the emotional realm during the scene in the cemetery, now absorbs the symbols in the realm of Aschenbach’s ideas, and, because one is never sure which of his ideas is caused by the gondola and which by its conductor, even the symbols of the physical realm begin to be drawn in.

It remains for the third episode to complete the synthesis. Here the same three realms are preserved: the stranger goes through his physical antics on the hotel porch; Aschenbach indulges in some new reflections about the jungle, and his dream is an orgy of emotion. But in each realm there is now only one symbol, no longer two: the fuzzy boundaries distinguishing life from death have disappeared entirely and these antitheses have become functions of single symbols: decay is seen in the vital stranger himself; the lush jungle is known as the source of the plague; the fertility-dance is felt as a carousal of death. Even the causal chain which, in the other episodes, connected the three realms, is missing here; indeed, the three realms are quite separate in time. The stranger, with no necroscopical setting now but smelling of death itself, makes his final, awful bow, and departs from the story. The next day, in no connection with the stranger, Aschenbach learns from someone at the tourist office that the plague was hatched in the jungle and thinks his morbid thoughts. The anguish of fear and desire, which he experiences in his dream many hours later, constitutes still a separate event.

What has happened to the symbols in these transmutations? In the episode of the cemetery, and even in that of the gondola, each symbol in each realm contributed its own small part to the construction of the total life-death meaning. In the last episode, however, the entire connotation is contained in each symbol, and the others are not needed to complete it. The symbols have lost their discursive character and taken on, each for itself, a sort of synoptic one; so their function in the climax is not, as in the other instances, to build up to the meaning in three syllogistic-like steps but to enunciate it in its entirety three separate times. The intensifying effect of such synoptic repetition needs no comment.

The same general principles govern the resolution of the fraud and the hero-type symbols, though these, of course, are more inclusive in their synthetic function, embracing Aschenbach and Tadzio as well as the stranger. A single, total meaning is slowly built up out of separate elements— the vital stranger, Aschenbach, the hero-type, the old cheat, and Tadzio, each contributing his small share. This meaning is summarized first in the climax by the stranger alone; then it is given again in its entirety by Aschenbach in the episode of the cosmetics; finally it is repeated a third time, in still a different way, by Tadzio on the sand-bar.

The most interesting product of the complicated structural relations which this analysis has brought to light is, to me at least, the poetic simplicity of mood which distinguishes one’s response to “Death in Venice.” The type of control which makes it possible has been rejected by most contemporary poets, probably under the influence of the tradition of symbolisme. Two points are usually raised against it: first, that the rational or logical element in it tends to falsify poetry’s true object—indeterminate, fluctuating, concrete reality as presented to immediate experience; and, secondly, that it leaves no room for that exquisite quality of response which, under the name sens du mystbre, is often identified with what Poe referred to as the “vague and therefore spiritual effect” of “suggestive indefi-niteness.” How Mr. Mann provides for what Poe was talking about we have already remarked. His control operates entirely below the reader’s conscious attention; meanings are never forced, they are intimated and suggested rather than stated, and the reader is allowed the illusion, at least, of a good deal of imaginative freedom.

But the feeling of mystery which characterizes authentic poetic response is not, I believe, merely this feeling of freedom of reference. The problem is less simple; it is probably not a technical one at all. Poor poets fail to conjure up mystery even with methodical mystification, yet it often flourishes in classical poetry in the full light of logical reference from symbol to meaning. I suspect that mystere is to be sought rather in the aspect of experience comprehended in a poem than in the form of its elaboration. At this level there is essential, not artificial, mystery, deriving, perhaps, from the nature of experience itself. Both the nuance of private feeling, the “immediate experience” of the symbolistes, and Mr. Mann’s “infinity” where, “in a matter of eternal contraries,” harmony lies—both of these are, in the last analysis, quite un-understandable, and hence, unsusceptible of totally adequate communication. At the level of mystere, the mediated experience is no less valid a poetic object than the immediate one.

These, however, are properly questions for aesthetics rather than for literary criticism. Here I have been concerned less with the latent content of poetry, with its mystery, than with that other quality which is often forgotten today but which Mr. Mann has so richly remembered—the quality of lucidness, of intelligibility, by whose virtue the incommunicable seems, at least, to be communicated.


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