“…Could the exterior world be evaded altogether, when poetry would refer to nothing but its own abstractions, and so aspire to music, the most creative of the arts? The doctrine came from Edgar Allan Poe, but was taken up most enthusiastically by French poets, who strove for a poesie pure of unclouded lyric intensity. Ideas of the workaday world, its decencies, passions, or rationale, were unwanted, indeed were detrimental. Only two things counted. There was the language itself: the phonetic properties of words, their connotations, sounds, half-heard melodies, etymologies, etc. And there were symbols: the fire, heaven, ice, lilies, soul, etc. that each poet explored and developed. The symbols were not arbitrary, and were more discovered than created by the poet.
How discovered? There were many views, each spawning a line of poetic development. Some poets regarded symbols as corresponding to an ultimate reality (Baudelaire) or to supernal beauty (Poe). That was the Neoplatonist tradition, which sees poetry as transcending the world of appearances and apprehending divine truth itself. Plato had used myths, images and symbols to express his ideas, and the Neoplatonists added a good deal of their own, from Roman Egypt and middle eastern mythology, alchemy and astrology. The result could be baffling to the uninitiated, but by using these symbols poets were tapping into what we now call archetypes, and emphasizing the metaphoric nature of language…”