The Mirror or the Lamp?

After many years I have returned to reading M. H. Abrams’s The Mirror and the Lamp. I don’t know if I’ll finish it, as I’m (even now) slowly making my way through the first hundred pages. Nevertheless, it has brought me to this question: Why do we (readers, poets, critics) care so much about the origins of poetry? In the outburst of passion. In the method of memory. In the mirror of imitation.  Or, to put it another way, why do we need to assign to one type of poetry (epic, narrative, lyric) the status of prime parent? Of course, I understand that doing so informs a reader’s poetics or a reader’s way of evaluating what is and is not “good” verse, but is it possible to have an aesthetic without having an implicit (or explicit) allegiance to the chicken or the egg? (January 11, 2009)

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