Here’s what you have to do, at least on the poetry side, according to Arnold:
1. Forget all your present notions of verse and poetry.
2. Read Hazlitt’s essay On Poetry in General
3. After a week’s interval, read the essay again.
4. Open the Bible and read the fortieth chapter of Isaiah.
5. Go back to Hazlitt, and see if you can find anything which throws light on the psychology of your won emotions upon reading Isaiah.
6. Read Wordsworth’s The Brothers. Forget that it is a poem. It’s a short story. Once read examine your sensations. ..I’d call them ‘disturbing.’ To disturb the spirit is one of the greatest aims of art. One of the highest pleasures a highly organized man can enjoy. This truth can only be learned by repetitions of experience.
7. Between Wordsworth and Hazlett you will learn all that it behooves you to know of the nature, aims, results of poetry. 85
8. Re-read as much Wordsworth as you can assimilate (don’t attempt either of his long poems). Read them in light of author’s defence and explanation.
Interest yourself in the story of Browning’s Aurora Leigh. In it you will encounter pretty well all the moods of poetry that exist: tragic, humorous, ironic, elegiac, lyric, everything.
Note which passages give you the most pleasure. Wordsworth held up Chaucer, Shakespeare, Spenser and Milton as supreme examples.
Only now can you commence an inquiry into questions of rhythm, verse structure, and rhyme. 90
You can download a copy of Bennett’s Literary Taste (from whence Arnold’s advice was culled) for free from the Gutenburg Project’s website here.