Descriptive poetry is the name given to a class of literature belongs mainly to the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries in Europe. From the earliest times, all poetry not subjectively lyrical was apt to indulge in ornament which might be named descriptive. But the critics of the 17th century formed a distinction between the representations of the ancients and those of the moderns. Boileau stated that, while Virgil paints, Tasso describes. This may be a useful indication in defining not what should, but what in practice has been called descriptive poetry.
- "Descriptive poetry is poetry in which it is not imaginative passion that prevails, but a didactic purpose or even something of the instinct of a sublimated auctioneer. In other words, the landscape, architecture, still life or whatever may be the object of the poet's attention, is not used as an accessory, but is itself the centre of interest. In this sense, it is not correct to call poetry in which description is only the occasional ornament of a poem and not its central subject, descriptive poetry. The landscape or still life must fill the canvas or, if human interest is introduced, that must be treated as an accessory. Thus, in the Hero and Leander of Marlowe and in the Alastor of Shelley, description of a very brilliant kind is largely introduced. Yet, these are not examples of what is technically called descriptive poetry because it is not the strait between Sestos and Abydos and it is not the flora of a tropical glen, which concentrates the attention of the one poet or of the other, but it is an example of physical passion in the one case and of intellectual passion in the other, which is diagnosed and dilated on. On the other hand, Thomson's Seasons, in which landscape takes the central place, and Drayton's Polyolbion, where everything is sacrificed to a topographical progress through Britain, are strictly descriptive."—Edmund Gosse in Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition.
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“Like speaks to like only; labor to labor, philosophy to philosophy, criticism to criticism, poetry to poetry. Literature speaks how much still to the past, how little to the future, how much to the East, how little to the West.”
—Henry David Thoreau (18171862)