from A Retrospect
Use no superfluous word, no adjective which does not reveal something.
Don’t use such an expression as “dim lands of peace.” It dulls the image. It mixes an abstraction with the concrete. It comes from the writer’s not realizing that the natural object is always the adequate symbol.
Go in fear of abstractions. Do not retell in mediocre verse what has already been done in good prose. Do’t think any intelligent person is going to be decieved when you try to shirk all the difficulties of the unspeakably difficult art of good prose by chopping your composition into line lengths.
What the expert is tired of today the public will be tired of tomorrow.
Don’t imagine that the art of poetry is any simpler than the art of music, or that you can please the expert before you have spent at least as much effort on the art of verse as an average piano teacher spends on the art of music.
Be influenced by as many great artists as you can, but have the decency either to acknowledge the debt outright, or to try to conceal it.
Don’t allow “influence” to mean merely that you mop up the particular decorative vocabulary of some one or two poets whom you happen to admire. A Turkish war correspondent was recently caught red-handed babbling in his despatches of “dove-grey” hills, or else it was “pearl-pale,” I can not remember.
Use either no ornament or good ornament.
I have not written a good novel. I have not written a novel. I don’t expect to write any novels and shall not tell anyone else how to do it until I have.
If you want to study the novel, go, READ the best you can find. All I know about it, I have learned from reading:
Tom Jones, by Fielding.
Tristram Shandy and The Sentimental Journey by Sterne (and I don’t recommend anyone ELSE to try to do another Tristram Shandy).
The novels of Jane Austen and Trollope.
[Note: If you compare the realism of Trollope’s novels with the realism of Robert McAlmon’s stories you will get a fair idea of what a good novelists means by ‘construction’. Trollope depicts a scene or a person, and you can clearly see how he ‘leads up to an effect’.]
The novels of Henry James, AND especially the prefaces to his collected edition; which are the one extant great treatise on novel writing in English.
In French you can form a fairly good ideogram from:
Benjamin Constant’s Adolphe.
The first half of Stendhal’s Rouge et Noir and the first eighty pages of La Chartreuse de Parme.
Madame Bovary, L’Education Sentimentale, Trois Contes, and the unfinished Brouvard et Pecuchet of FLAUBERT, with Goncourt’s preface to Germinie Lacerteux.
After that you would do well to look at Madox Ford’s A Call.
When you have read Jame’s prefaces and twenty of his other novels, you would do well to read The Sacred Fount.
There for perhaps the first time since about 1300 a writer has been able to deal with a sort of content wherewith Cavalcanti has been ‘concerned’.
You can get a very brilliant cross-light via Donne. I mean the difference and nuances between psychology in Guido, abstract philosophic statement in Guido, the blend in Donne, and again psychology in Henry James, and in all of them the underlying concept of FORM, the structure of the whole work, including its parts.
This is a long way from an A B C. In fact it opens the vistas of post-graduate study.
From Ezra Pound’s ABC of Reading (New Directions).