There is only one thing which can master the perplexed stuff of epic material into unity and that is an ability to see in particular human experience some significant symbolism of man’s general destiny.
Epic poetry exhibits life in some great symbolic attitude. It cannot strictly be said to symbolize life itself but always some manner of life.
But the development of human society does not go straight forward and the epic process will therefore be a recurring process the series a recurring series – though not in exact repetition.
But the gravest difficulty and perhaps the most important in poetry meant solely for recitation is the difficulty of achieving verbal beauty or rather of making verbal beauty tell.
The balance of private good and general welfare is at the bottom of civilized morals but the morals of the Heroic Age are founded on individuality and on nothing else.
The Border Ballads for instance and the Robin Hood Ballads clearly suppose a state of society which is nothing but a very circumscribed and not very important heroic age.
The reason can only be this: heroic poetry depends on an heroic age and an age is heroic because of what it is not because of what it does.
By the general process of epic poetry I mean the way this form of art has constantly responded to the profound needs of the society in which it was made.
If epic poetry is a definite species the sagas do not fall within it.
Poetry is the work of poets not of peoples or communities artistic creation can never be anything but the production of an individual mind.
That is to say epic poetry has been invented many times and independently but as the needs which prompted the invention have been broadly similar so the invention itself has been.
Traditional matter must be glorified since it would be easier to listen to the re-creation of familiar stories than to quite new and unexpected things the listeners we must remember needed poetry chiefly as the re-creation of tired hours.
With several different kinds of poetry to choose from a man would decide that he would like best to be an epic poet and he would set out in conscious determination on an epic poem.