I am interested in hearing some explanations about what beauty is in poetry and subjectively define what makes a poem beautiful.
According to Richard Maurice Bucke, the 19th century psychiatrist and editor of Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind, beautiful poetry attempts to intuitively illuminate the mind in recognition of the individual soul's ecstatic communal relationship to God (i.e. the One).
In pps 102-3, Bucke quotes Plotinus' letter to Flaccus:
[Ideal] truth...is within us. Here the objects we contemplate and that which contemplates are identical — both are thought. The subject cannot surely know an object different from itself. The world of ideas lies within our intelligence. Truth, therefore, is not the agreement of our apprehension of an external object with the object itself. It is [rather] the agreement of the mind with itself. Consciousness, therefore, is the sole basis of certainty. The mind is its own witness. Reason sees in itself that which is above itself as its source ; and again, that which is below itself as still itself once more.
Knowledge has three degrees — opinion, science, illumination. The means or instrument of the first is sense; of the second dialectic; of the third intuition. To the last I subordinate reason. It is absolute knowledge founded on the identity of the mind knowing with the object known.
In the amorous quest of the soul after the good lies the painful sense of fall and deprivation. But that love is blessing, is salvation, is our guardian genius; without it the centrifugal law would overpower us, and sweep our souls out far from their source toward the cold extremities of the material and the manifold. The wise man recognizes the idea of the good within him. This he develops by withdrawal into the holy place of his own soul. He who does not understand how the soul contains the beautiful within itself, seeks to realize beauty without by laborious production. His aim should rather be to concentrate and simplify, and so to expand his being; instead of going out into the manifold, to forsake it for the One...
It is the office of reason to distinguish and define. The Infinite, therefore, cannot be ranked among its objects. You can only apprehend the Infinite by a faculty superior to reason, by entering into a state in which you are your finite self no longer — in which the divine essence is communicated to you [intuitively]. This is ecstasy [Cosmic Consciousness]. It is the liberation of your mind from its finite consciousness. Like only can apprehend like; when you thus cease to be finite, you become one with the Infinite. In the reduction of your soul to its simplest self, its divine essence, you realize this union — this identity.
All that tends to purify and elevate the mind will assist you in this attainment, and facilitate the approach and the recurrence of these happy intervals [of cosmic consciousness]. There are, then, different roads by which this end may be reached: The love of beauty which exalts the poet; science which makes the ambition of the philosopher; and that love and those prayers by which some devout and ardent soul tends in its moral purity towards perfection. These are the great highways conducting to that height above the actual and the particular, where we stand in the immediate presence of the Infinite, who shines out as from the deeps of the soul.
Further developing the idea that poetry expressing cosmic consciousness is indeed beautiful, Bucke later (pps 128-49) speculated that many of the most exquisite Shakespearean sonnets were written after the author (whom Buck believed might have really been Francis Bacon) had achieved spiritual illumination. Bucke presented a fairly persuasive argument with examples and commentaries on several of the sonnets, and explored the idea with the work of other poets as well.
So to answer the question, "What is beauty in poetry?":
- Beautiful poetry succeeds in expressing ecstatic consciousness of the individual soul's unity with that of the cosmic (universal) soul of God, so that when we read poetry with which we identify deeply we are able to relate to it on a spiritual level, realizing there are like-minded others who feel as we do and therefore we are not completely alone. In other words, it battles alienation.