Alex MacInnis

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The Four Ages of Poetry...According to Thomas Love Peacock

I came across this description of the origin of poetry. Thomas Love Peacock states that the origin of poetry came in different stages and ages, them being the the age of iron; the second, of gold; the third, of silver; and the fourth, of brass. The first, or iron age of poetry, is that in which men were warriors and society was built upon the premise of three characters - a king, the thief, or the beggar. In time, "...the successful warrior becomes a chief; the successful chief becomes a king: his next want is an organ to disseminate the fame of his achievements and the extent of his possessions; and this organ he finds in a bard, who is always ready to celebrate the strength of his arm, being first duly inspired by that of his liquor. This is the origin of poetry, which, like all other trades, takes its rise in the demand for the commodity, and flourishes in proportion to the extent of the market" (Peacock). Rude songs told by bards were of battles and the men killed. They tell of how the chiefs plundered others belongings and left many for the grave. His social standings were based on how successful he was in battle. According to Peacock, the subject speaking of these times is poetical because they are being expressed in that sense. He claims, "Poets are as yet the only historians and chroniclers of their time." They are also the only ones sharing something relevant without the need to be physical.
The second age of poetry (golden age) begins amidst the age of iron. "Poetry begins to be retrospective; when something like a more extended system of civil polity is established" (Peacock). This means that the men in the previous and current power positions are no longer as relevant as before. It is now the petty and poor who have acquired the stability and form. "It is cultivated by the greatest intellects of the age, and listened to by all the rest. This is the age of Homer, the golden age of poetry. Poetry has now attained its perfection: it has attained the point which it cannot pass: genius therefore seeks new forms for the treatment of the same subjects" (Peacock).
Then comes the silver age, or the poetry of civilized life. This poetry is of two kinds, imitative and original. The imitative is poetry of the golden age that is redone and 'polished.' The original is chiefly comic, didactic, or satiric. The poetry is very word and expression based, but labored. Hence the effect of numerous tries, but very little success. "This state of poetry is however a step towards its extinction" (Peacock). The poetry is a mix of feeling and imagination, and in this time society was very science driven and comprehensive. Therefore, according to Peacock, poetry could not follow along because these things it is not. " Thus the empire of thought is withdrawn from poetry, as the empire of facts had been before. In respect of the latter, the poet of the age of iron celebrates the achievements of his contemporaries; the poet of the age of gold celebrates the heroes of the age of iron; the poet of the age of silver re-casts the poems of the age of gold" (Peacock).
The final age, the age of brass, deals with poetry trying to get back to that golden age, "...the second childhood of poetry"(Peacock).
There is a lot more information to the Peacock's take on the origin of poetry, but still interesting to read. For anyone who wants to read up more on it, the website is as follows:
Work Cited: Copytext: Brett-Smith 1921: 3-19.Source: "The Four Ages of Poetry," Olliers Literary Miscellany in Prose and Verse by Several Hands to be Continued Occasionally, no. 1 (1820): 183-200.Ed. (text): H. F. B. Brett-Smith.Ed. (e-text): Ian Lancashire, Rep. Criticism On-line (1996).


  • At October 27, 2004 at 8:36 p.m., Blogger sue_sue said…

    Thanks for the valuable information! I'm thinking that that was what the prof wanted instead of someone like me merely analyzing a poem from the iron age...or it might actually be from the golden age. At any rate that was some awesome in depth research.

    It will be interesting to see if we will formally cover poetry from all of these ages in class? Hmmmm...two areas down only two to go.


  • At October 30, 2004 at 2:41 p.m., Blogger Dr J said…

    Nice to see someone mentioning Peacock. If you're interested, you can glance at the Peacock-related ramble (sorry, it does go on a bit, but it's hard to be concise with such things) here. Hope it helps a bit. Cheers.

    Very nice summary, by the way.


Post a Comment

<< Home