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One of the problems with defining 'classical' poetry is that the term is used to mean two very different things. All the poetry of the Greeks and Romans is called Classical, but there are not really any common characteristics to such a varied canon of work. The other use of the term 'Classical' is to distinguish the main movement in European writing between the end of Renaissance Humanism and the beginning of the Romantic Movement. These writers are also called Augustans, and in French they run from about Ronsard to about Chateaubriand, in English from probably Dryden to Coleridge. In this sense, Classical writers tend to focus on social issues, where Romantic writers tend to foreground the individual. Pope writes about the literary scene in London (the Dunciad), whereas Wordsworth writes about going for a lonely walk and finding some daffodils. Classical writers tend to overvalue clear and precise thinking (Pope's Essay on Criticism), Romantic writers are more interested in dream states (Coleridge' Ancient Mariner). At a formal level, Classical writers favour strict meters (almost all Dryden's important work is in heroic couplets) where Romantic writers prefer free rhythms (Wordsworth's Ode on the Intimations of Mortality). Classical poetry has the best renditions of love poems, and that’s where I want to begin. Of anything that has the potential to inspire the sleeping spirit, the telling of love can invigorate those childlike ideals and fairytale notions most of us have long forgotten about. The major characteristics of the classical poetry are:
1. Concentration Concentration refers to the hold of one idea or line of argument. Concentration is common in many classical poets such as Homer, Virgil, Chaucer, Donne, Pope, etc. The principle argument makes the theme of the poetic piece.
2. Extension of Epigram No word is wasted in the classical masterpiece of poetry. The style is sinewy. Verses are always enforcing the sense of the theme.
3. Conceit Conceit is the major characteristic of the classical poetry. Conceit is basically a simile, or comparison between two dissimilar things. In a conceit, the dissimilarity between the things compared is so great that the reader is always fully conscious of it even while having to concede the likeness implied by the poet. Donne’s poetry is the best example of use of conceit.
4. Wit Classical poetry shows formidable wit. Wit displays the hardcore of logic. Wit is evident in the paradoxes employed in the poetry. Wit describes the underlying meaning. Wit used in classical poetry is subtle and striking.
5. Combination of Passion and Thought Most of the classical work shows a combination of passion and thought. There is unification of sensibility. Classical poetry shows intellectual analysis of emotion. Arguments and reasoning balances the passion. The tone of the classical poetry is a blend of love, emotion and intellect.
6. Use of Colloquial Speech Most of the classical work implies colloquial speech. The diction of the text is grand and magnanimous. The content and the style is verbose and long sentences are used to describe in detail.
7. Realism Realism means the revelation of truth of life as a poet sees it. Though much of the classical poetry is full of allegory and dreamy atmosphere but Chaucer has a marked realism in his Canterbury Tales. It is a picture of the real life of the 14th Century.
8. Chivalry Medieval poetry reflects the chivalric spirit of the time. The characters are mostly knights and the brave heroes. Ancient literature shows various characters like King Priam, Hector, and Odysseus etc. The classic poetry is actually a collection of stories of heroes, knights and warriors. Although it includes social, moral, ethical and political issues covering mostly the 17th and 18th century.
9. Allegory Allegory is the term used for description with two meanings. One is the apparent meaning and the other is the underlying meaning. Allegory is often the result of reactionary mood. Spencer’s “Faerie Queene” is the best example of the allegory.
Grandeur of Thought
Grandeur of thought springs from great souls. The true eloquent must not free from ignoble and low thoughts. This is the key feature of the classical poetry.
Skillful selection and organization of material
The sublimity of the style comes from wise and systematic selection of the most important elements and their combination into a single whole.
Use of Figures
Classical poets first see imaginatively what they describe, and then try to produce a similar allusion in his readers. The aim of the poetical images is to astound and startle the readers; the aim of rhetorical images is to impart vividness and clearness. Both, however, seek to stir the passions and the emotion.
The choice of proper and striking words is essential element of the classic work because it is through words that a writer expresses himself. Beautiful words are the very light of lofty thought.
The Use of Metaphors
The use of metaphors is another key feature of the classical poetry. Metaphors are used in impassioned and descriptive style. Metaphors are best used when the passion rolls like a torrent and sweeps a multitude of them down their resistless flood. The use of metaphors is determined by the occasion.
Classical poetry is of dignified composition and arrangement. There is a rhythm in lines of the poems. The words are harmoniously set and their harmony is natural instrument not only of persuasion and pleasure but of lofty emotions as well. Such harmonious combination of words appeals to the soul, and enable the readers to share in the emotions of the author. Prof. A.R. Somroo