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Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained

ART, by                 Poet's Biography


Theophile Gautier's "Art" serves as an eloquent manifesto for the artist who seeks not just to create, but to leave an enduring mark on the annals of human expression. The poem opens with a simple but profound truth: "All things are doubly fair / If patience fashion them / And care." This statement serves as the cornerstone upon which the entire edifice of the poem is built. The idea that true beauty arises from a combination of "patience" and "care" underscores the symbiotic relationship between inspiration and craftsmanship, between imagination and execution.

Gautier directly addresses various forms of art-verse, enamel, marble, and gem-each with its unique set of challenges and idiosyncrasies. To the poet, he advises restraint and diligence, dismissing the "facile measure" as nothing more than a vessel easily entered and left by the inelegant foot of an amateur. To the sculptor, he extols the virtues of working with resistant materials like Carrara marble and Paros stone, believing that the "subtle line and fair" can only be achieved by wrestling with mediums that demand the artist's full engagement. In his eyes, the act of creation is not a passive endeavor but a form of struggle against the limitations imposed by material and form.

This emphasis on struggle against the limitations of one's medium extends to painters, whom he advises to spurn "watery hue" in favor of enamels that are burned true with fire. Whether it is in the choice of a painting medium or the act of chiseling a marble block, the artist's struggle with the "unyielding" nature of their chosen form is integral to the creation of art that is "doubly fair."

The poem's latter half becomes almost elegiac, contemplating the transience of all earthly things. "All things return to dust," Gautier writes, except for those "beauties fashioned well." In this, he parallels the earlier poem by Henry Austin Dobson, echoing the sentiment that "Art alone / Enduring stays to us." For Gautier, it's not just the human-made bust or citadel that is subject to decay but even gods can die. Yet what remains, "deathless and more strong / Than brass," is the art that has been meticulously crafted, a "sovereign song" that outlasts even the divine.

Gautier closes with a call to action: "Chisel and carve and file, / Till thy vague dream imprint / Its smile / On the unyielding flint." This final exhortation encapsulates the essence of the poem: that art is not merely an act of creation, but one of imposition, a will exerted upon the world. It is through the painstaking process of "chiseling," "carving," and "filing" that an artist imprints their vision onto a medium, transforming both it and, by extension, the world. In doing so, they achieve a form of immortality, leaving behind works of art that are not just beautiful but "doubly fair"-fair in form and enduring in substance.


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