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Title: Poetic art
Original Title: Poétique, art
Volume and Page: Vol. 12 (1765), p. 847
Author: Louis, chevalier de Jaucourt (biography)
Translator: Anne-Marie Feenberg-Dibon [Simon Fraser University, afeenber@sfu.ca]
Subject terms:
Poetry
Original Version (ARTFL): Link
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URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.did2222.0000.751
Citation (MLA): Jaucourt, Louis, chevalier de. "Poetic art." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Anne-Marie Feenberg-Dibon. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2015. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.did2222.0000.751>. Trans. of "Poétique, art," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 12. Paris, 1765.
Citation (Chicago): Jaucourt, Louis, chevalier de. "Poetic art." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Anne-Marie Feenberg-Dibon. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2015. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.did2222.0000.751 (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Poétique, art," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 12:847 (Paris, 1765).

Poetic art can be defined as a collection of precepts for imitating nature in a way that is pleasing to those who produce this imitation.

To make such works pleasing, one has to 1. make a choice among the objects one wants to imitate; 2. imitate them perfectly; 3. make the expression of the imitation as perfect as possible. This expression is done through words in poetry; thus the words must be as perfect as possible. All the rules of Horace’s poetics concern these three objects.

The first two of these three points are common to all arts of imitation; hence everything that Horace says about them can apply equally to Music, Dance and Painting. They can also be suitable for Eloquence and Architecture since they also borrow from the arts, but only up to a point. As for the third article, if one considers the detailed rules, they are only valid for poetry, just as the rules concerning colors are only suitable for Painting, those for intonation only for Music and the rules for gestures only for Dance. However, the general rules, and fundamental principles of expression remain the same. Whatever means of expression the arts use, their expressions must be correct, clear, smooth and proper. This is why the general precepts for poetic elocution are the same for Music, Painting and Dance. The only difference is in what specifically pertains to words, tones, gestures and colors. This is the extent of poetic art and especially that of Horace; the author often rises up to first principles, to give his readers a brighter and more accurate light and to show them more things at the same time, if they are smart enough to understand them.

However, while Horace’s work is entitled Poetic art , it does not mean that it gives detailed rules for every genre. The author addressed his subject matter to the superior human. Rising with his philosophical perspectives above minor details, he went straight to principles and left it up to the intelligent reader to draw conclusions. He does not speak of the apology, the eclogue, or even comedy. He only mentions them on occasion, when it concerns tragedy, which he has chosen as the object of his rules. Having studied his subject matter thoroughly, he understood that a single genre included almost all the others; and that only verisimilitude, with all the rules it implies, created a poetic universe. By treating this matter well, even if it only concerned one genre, he could explain the others as well, especially if that genre were to comprise almost all the others. This is what he found in tragedy. It is heroic like the epic, dramatic like comedy, in verse like all the other poems, forming its characters according to nature and assuming a style appropriate to its characters and it comprises all the parts that are the object of poetics ; therefore it can include all the rules.

We now have to speak of poetic art by Vida and Despréaux.

Marc-Jérôme Vida was born in Cremona, a city in Italy, in 1507 AD. He became the bishop of Alba and died in 1566. He lived in the great century of Leo X who had the same sentiments for literature that were hereditary in the Medici family. Upon this pontiff’s request and that of Clement VII he began to write a poetic art . He also wrote sacred hymns, a poem on Our Lord’s suffering, and another on silkworms and on chess.

His work shows a ready mind, a cheerful imagination and a light, easy elocution, which is however sometimes too much influenced by Virgil’s work. This gives the appearance of pastiche in some passages in his work.

His poetic art has pleasant verse but it seems made less for masters than for merchants. He takes the student of the muses at the cradle; trains his ear and shows him models and then abandons him to his own devices. Horace did much better; he goes back to first principles and starts at such height that he can legislate for all artists, no matter how great they are. He even prescribes the rules of art, while Vida only offers its practices. Nevertheless one can find in the latter’s work precepts and advice that are very useful. What he says about elocution is charming and clear; and Latin poetry is as good as what moderns can do in this language.

If there is a French poem that deserves to appear in a study of literature, it is Despréaux’ poetic art . Horace only spoke of tragedy; and strictly speaking, Vida only speaks of the epic style; but in a few words, Despréaux acquaints you with each genre separately and provides the general rules that are common to all. Not only should young people read them, but they should learn them by heart as the rule and model of good taste. The Count of Ericeyra, Livy’s worthy heir in his country, translated this fine work into Portuguese verse.