Poetic Imitation: Its Universality
Plato and Aristotle both agreed that poetry like other fine arts was imitative. They differed, however, in their concept of the nature of imitation. Plato considered poetry to be a servile copy of the phenomenal world, and hence, twice removed from reality. Reality lay in the ‘idea’. Aristotle declared that the imitation involved in poetry was ‘creative’. The poet draws material from the world around him but creates something new out of it—he imitates his idea of certain things or thoughts. Further, poetry imitates things not as they are existing but as they are thought to be or as they ought to be.In each case a transformation is implied. What poetry recreates, is the permanent and universal aspect of human nature. Thus, from the real phenomenal world the poet creates something ideal and universal.
Poetry more Philosophical than History
Poetry deals with an idealised presentation of reality, i.e. with what may happen or what is possible within the laws of probability and necessity. Thus poetry is different from history, for the latter relates what has already happened. The historian confines himself to particular happenings and hence he deals with a superficial and factual reality. The poet, like the philosopher, deals with ultimate truth, while the historian deals with ephemeral particular, facts. Poets can invest universality to particular facts. It is thus that the Trojan War has been given a universal and permanent value and meaning through poetry by Homer in his Iliad. Thus poetry is more philosophical than history and embodies the “highest reality”.
Willing Suspension of Disbelief: Rules of Probability
Poetry imitates men in action. It has to follow the rules of probability and necessity. In other words, the incidents should seem believable: they should also be so connected that their order seems inevitable. Further, the character should be true to their natures and act in a credible manner. The truth depicted by poetry is an ideal truth—i.e. if the represented situation became real, the represented sequences of incidents would also become inevitable. It is the poet’s law of probability that makes even the impossible seem probable. Indeed, Aristotle prefers the “probable impossibility” to the “improbable possibility.” It is the poet’s ability to apply the rule of probability that creates “willing suspension of disbelief” in the audience or reader. It is a shrewd judgement by Aristotle.
Aristotle thus defends poetic truth and places it on a higher level than.history, which merely presents factual truth. The poet relates what may happen, within the laws of probability. He universalises particular facts and invests permanence on transient happenings.