Part 5 out of 5
predicted circumstance, in the foresight of the wise. A wild
luxuriance of foliage, utterly unknown before, burst out upon every
Yet another day--and the evil was not altogether upon us. It was now
evident that its nucleus would first reach us. A wild change had come
over all men; and the first sense of _pain_ was the wild signal for
general lamentation and horror. The first sense of pain lay in a
rigorous construction of the breast and lungs, and an insufferable
dryness of the skin. It could not be denied that our atmosphere was
radically affected; the conformation of this atmosphere and the
possible modifications to which it might be subjected, were now the
topics of discussion. The result of investigation sent an electric
thrill of the intensest terror through the universal heart of man.
It had been long known that the air which encircled us was a compound
of oxygen and nitrogen gases, in the proportion of twenty-one measures
of oxygen and seventy-nine of nitrogen in every one hundred of the
atmosphere. Oxygen, which was the principle of combustion, and the
vehicle of heat, was absolutely necessary to the support of animal
life, and was the most powerful and energetic agent in nature.
Nitrogen, on the contrary, was incapable of supporting either animal
life or flame. An unnatural excess of oxygen would result, it had been
ascertained, in just such an elevation of the animal spirits as we had
latterly experienced. It was the pursuit, the extension of the idea,
which had engendered awe. What would be the result of a _total
extraction of the nitrogen_? A combustion irresistible, all-devouring,
omni-prevalent, immediate;--the entire fulfilment, in all their
minute and terrible details, of the fiery and horror-inspiring
denunciations of the prophecies of the Holy Book.
Why need I paint, Charmion, the now disenchained frenzy of mankind?
That tenuity in the comet which had previously inspired us with hope,
was now the source of the bitterness of despair. In its impalpable
gaseous character we clearly perceived the consummation of Fate.
Meantime a day again passed--bearing away with it the last shadow of
Hope. We gasped in the rapid modification of the air. The red blood
bounded tumultuously through its strict channels. A furious delirium
possessed all men; and with arms rigidly outstretched towards the
threatening heavens, they trembled and shrieked aloud. But the nucleus
of the destroyer was now upon us;--even here in Aidenn I shudder while
I speak. Let me be brief--brief as the ruin that overwhelmed. For a
moment there was a wild lurid light alone, visiting and penetrating
all things. Then--let us bow down, Charmion, before the excessive
majesty of the great God!--then, there came a shouting and pervading
sound, as if from the mouth itself of HIM; while the whole incumbent
mass of ether in which we existed, burst at once into a species of
intense flame, for whose surpassing brilliancy and all-fervid heat
even the angels in the high Heaven of pure knowledge have no name.
Thus ended all.
* * * * *
Yea! though I walk through the valley of the _Shadow_.
'Psalm of David'.
Ye who read are still among the living; but I who write shall have long
since gone my way into the region of shadows. For indeed strange things
shall happen, and secret things be known, and many centuries shall pass
away, ere these memorials be seen of men. And, when seen, there will be
some to disbelieve and some to doubt, and yet a few who will find much
to ponder upon in the characters here graven with a stylus of iron.
The year had been a year of terror, and of feeling more intense than
terror for which there is no name upon the earth. For many prodigies and
signs had taken place, and far and wide, over sea and land, the black
wings of the Pestilence were spread abroad. To those, nevertheless,
cunning in the stars, it was not unknown that the heavens wore an aspect
of ill; and to me, the Greek Oinos, among others, it was evident that
now had arrived the alternation of that seven hundred and ninety-fourth
year when, at the entrance of Aries, the planet Jupiter is enjoined with
the red ring of the terrible Saturnus. The peculiar spirit of the skies,
if I mistake not greatly, made itself manifest, not only in the physical
orb of the earth, but in the souls, imaginations, and meditations of
Over some flasks of the red Chian wine, within the walls of a noble
hall, in a dim city called Ptolemais, we sat, at night, a company of
seven. And to our chamber there was no entrance save by a lofty door of
brass: and the door was fashioned by the artisan Corinnos, and, being of
rare workmanship, was fastened from within. Black draperies, likewise in
the gloomy room, shut out from our view the moon, the lurid stars, and
the peopleless streets--but the boding and the memory of Evil, they
would not be so excluded. There were things around us and about of which
I can render no distinct account--things material and spiritual--
heaviness in the atmosphere--a sense of suffocation--anxiety--and, above
all, that terrible state of existence which the nervous experience when
the senses are keenly living and awake, and meanwhile the powers of
thought lie dormant. A dead weight hung upon us. It hung upon our
limbs--upon the household furniture--upon the goblets from which we
drank; and all things were depressed, and borne down thereby--all things
save only the flames of the seven iron lamps which illumined our revel.
Uprearing themselves in tall slender lines of light, they thus remained
burning all pallid and motionless; and in the mirror which their lustre
formed upon the round table of ebony at which we sat each of us there
assembled beheld the pallor of his own countenance, and the unquiet
glare in the downcast eyes of his companions. Yet we laughed and were
merry in our proper way--which was hysterical; and sang the songs of
Anacreon--which are madness; and drank deeply--although the purple wine
reminded us of blood. For there was yet another tenant of our chamber in
the person of young Zoilus. Dead and at full length he lay,
enshrouded;--the genius and the demon of the scene. Alas! he bore no
portion in our mirth, save that his countenance, distorted with the
plague, and his eyes in which Death had but half extinguished the fire
of the pestilence, seemed to take such an interest in our merriment as
the dead may haply take in the merriment of those who are to die. But
although I, Oinos, felt that the eyes of the departed were upon me,
still I forced myself not to perceive the bitterness of their
expression, and gazing down steadily into the depths of the ebony
mirror, sang with a loud and sonorous voice the songs of the son of
Teos. But gradually my songs they ceased, and their echoes, rolling afar
off among the sable draperies of the chamber, became weak, and
undistinguishable, and so faded away. And lo! from among those sable
draperies, where the sounds of the song departed, there came forth a
dark and undefiled shadow--a shadow such as the moon, when low in
heaven, might fashion from the figure of a man: but it was the shadow
neither of man nor of God, nor of any familiar thing. And quivering
awhile among the draperies of the room it at length rested in full view
upon the surface of the door of brass. But the shadow was vague, and
formless, and indefinite, and was the shadow neither of man nor
God--neither God of Greece, nor God of Chaldaea, nor any Egyptian God.
And the shadow rested upon the brazen doorway, and under the arch of the
entablature of the door and moved not, nor spoke any word, but there
became stationary and remained. And the door whereupon the shadow rested
was, if I remember aright, over against the feet of the young Zoilus
enshrouded. But we, the seven there assembled, having seen the shadow as
it came out from among the draperies, dared not steadily behold it, but
cast down our eyes, and gazed continually into the depths of the mirror
of ebony. And at length I, Oinos, speaking some low words, demanded of
the shadow its dwelling and its appellation. And the shadow answered, "I
am SHADOW, and my dwelling is near to the Catacombs of Ptolemais, and
hard by those dim plains of Helusion which border upon the foul
Charonian canal." And then did we, the seven, start from our seats in
horror, and stand trembling, and shuddering, and aghast: for the tones
in the voice of the shadow were not the tones of any one being, but of a
multitude of beings, and varying in their cadences from syllable to
syllable, fell duskily upon our ears in the well remembered and familiar
accents of many thousand departed friends.
* * * * *
The mountain pinnacles slumber; valleys, crags, and caves _are silent_.
"LISTEN to _me_," said the Demon, as he placed his hand upon my head.
"The region of which I speak is a dreary region in Libya, by the borders
of the river Zaeire. And there is no quiet there, nor silence.
"The waters of the river have a saffron and sickly hue; and they flow
not onward to the sea, but palpitate forever and forever beneath the red
eye of the sun with a tumultuous and convulsive motion. For many miles
on either side of the river's oozy bed is a pale desert of gigantic
water-lilies. They sigh one unto the other in that solitude, and stretch
towards the heaven their long and ghastly necks, and nod to and fro
their everlasting heads. And there is an indistinct murmur which cometh
out from among them like the rushing of subterrene water. And they sigh
one unto the other.
"But there is a boundary to their realm--the boundary of the dark,
horrible, lofty forest. There, like the waves about the Hebrides, the
low underwood is agitated continually. But there is no wind throughout
the heaven. And the tall primeval trees rock eternally hither and
thither with a crashing and mighty sound. And from their high summits,
one by one, drop everlasting dews. And at the roots, strange poisonous
flowers lie writhing in perturbed slumber. And overhead, with a rustling
and loud noise, the gray clouds rush westwardly forever until they roll,
a cataract, over the fiery wall of the horizon. But there is no wind
throughout the heaven. And by the shores of the river Zaeire there is
neither quiet nor silence.
"It was night, and the rain fell; and, falling, it was rain, but, having
fallen, it was blood. And I stood in the morass among the tall lilies,
and the rain fell upon my head--and the lilies sighed one unto the other
in the solemnity of their desolation.
"And, all at once, the moon arose through the thin ghastly mist, and was
crimson in color. And mine eyes fell upon a huge gray rock which stood
by the shore of the river and was lighted by the light of the moon. And
the rock was gray and ghastly, and tall,--and the rock was gray. Upon
its front were characters engraven in the stones; and I walked through
the morass of water-lilies, until I came close unto the shore, that I
might read the characters upon the stone. But I could not decipher them.
And I was going back into the morass when the moon shone with a fuller
red, and I turned and looked again upon the rock and upon the
characters;--and the characters were DESOLATION.
"And I looked upwards, and there stood a man upon the summit of the
rock; and I hid myself among the water-lilies that I might discover the
action of the man. And the man was tall and stately in form, and wrapped
up from his shoulders to his feet in the toga of old Rome. And the
outlines of his figure were indistinct--but his features were the
features of a deity; for the mantle of the night, and of the mist, and
of the moon, and of the dew, had left uncovered the features of his
face. And his brow was lofty with thought, and his eye wild with care;
and in the few furrows upon his cheek, I read the fables of sorrow, and
weariness, and disgust with mankind, and a longing after solitude.
"And the man sat upon the rock, and leaned his head upon his hand, and
looked out upon the desolation. He looked down into the low unquiet
shrubbery, and up into the tall primeval trees, and up higher at the
rustling heaven, and into the crimson moon. And I lay close within
shelter of the lilies, and observed the actions of the man. And the man
trembled in the solitude;--but the night waned, and he sat upon the
"And the man turned his attention from the heaven, and looked out upon
the dreary river Zaeire, and upon the yellow ghastly waters, and upon the
pale legions of the water-lilies. And the man listened to the sighs of
the water-lilies, and to the murmur that came up from among them. And I
lay close within my covert and observed the actions of the man. And the
man trembled in the solitude;--but the night waned, and he sat upon the
"Then I went down into the recesses of the morass, and waded afar in
among the wilderness of the lilies, and called unto the hippopotami
which dwelt among the fens in the recesses of the morass. And the
hippopotami heard my call, and came, with the behemoth, unto the foot of
the rock, and roared loudly and fearfully beneath the moon. And I lay
close within my covert and observed the actions of the man. And the man
trembled in the solitude;--but the night waned, and he sat upon the
"Then I cursed the elements with the curse of tumult; and a frightful
tempest gathered in the heaven, where before there had been no wind. And
the heaven became livid with the violence of the tempest--and the rain
beat upon the head of the man--and the floods of the river came
down--and the river was tormented into foam--and the water-lilies
shrieked within their beds--and the forest crumbled before the wind--and
the thunder rolled--and the lightning fell--and the rock rocked to its
foundation. And I lay close within my covert and observed the actions of
the man. And the man trembled in the solitude;--but the night waned, and
he sat upon the rock.
"Then I grew angry and cursed, with the curse of silence, the river, and
the lilies, and the wind, and the forest, and the heaven, and the
thunder, and the sighs of the water-lilies. And they became accursed,
and _were still._ And the moon ceased to totter up its pathway to
heaven--and the thunder died away--and the lightning did not flash--and
the clouds hung motionless--and the waters sunk to their level and
remained--and the trees ceased to rock--and the water-lilies sighed no
more--and the murmur was heard no longer from among them, nor any shadow
of sound throughout the vast illimitable desert. And I looked upon the
characters of the rock, and they were changed;--and the characters were
"And mine eyes fell upon the countenance of the man, and his countenance
was wan with terror. And, hurriedly, he raised his head from his hand,
and stood forth upon the rock and listened. But there was no voice
throughout the vast illimitable desert, and the characters upon the rock
were SILENCE. And the man shuddered, and turned his face away, and fled
afar off, in haste, so that I beheld him no more."
Now there are fine tales in the volumes of the Magi--in the iron-bound,
melancholy volumes of the Magi. Therein, I say, are glorious histories
of the Heaven, and of the Earth, and of the mighty Sea--and of the Genii
that overruled the sea, and the earth, and the lofty heaven. There was
much lore, too, in the sayings which were said by the sybils; and holy,
holy things were heard of old by the dim leaves that trembled around
Dodona--but, as Allah liveth, that fable which the demon told me as he
sat by my side in the shadow of the tomb, I hold to be the most
wonderful of all! And as the Demon made an end of his story, he fell
back within the cavity of the tomb and laughed. And I could not laugh
with the Demon, and he cursed me because I could not laugh. And the lynx
which dwelleth forever in the tomb, came out therefrom, and lay down at
the feet of the Demon, and looked at him steadily in the face.
* * * * *
* * * * *
THE POETIC PRINCIPLE.
In speaking of the Poetic Principle, I have no design to be either
thorough or profound. While discussing very much at random the
essentiality of what we call Poetry, my principal purpose will be to
cite for consideration some few of those minor English or American poems
which best suit my own taste, or which, upon my own fancy, have left the
most definite impression. By "minor poems" I mean, of course, poems of
little length. And here, in the beginning, permit me to say a few words
in regard to a somewhat peculiar principle, which, whether rightfully or
wrongfully, has always had its influence in my own critical estimate of
the poem. I hold that a long poem does not exist. I maintain that the
phrase, "a long poem," is simply a flat contradiction in terms.
I need scarcely observe that a poem deserves its title only inasmuch as
it excites, by elevating the soul. The value of the poem is in the ratio
of this elevating excitement. But all excitements are, through a psychal
necessity, transient. That degree of excitement which would entitle a
poem to be so called at all, cannot be sustained throughout a
composition of any great length. After the lapse of half an hour, at the
very utmost, it flags--fails--a revulsion ensues--and then the poem is,
in effect, and in fact, no longer such.
There are, no doubt, many who have found difficulty in reconciling the
critical dictum that the "Paradise Lost" is to be devoutly admired
throughout, with the absolute impossibility of maintaining for it,
during perusal, the amount of enthusiasm which that critical dictum
would demand. This great work, in fact, is to be regarded as poetical
only when, losing sight of that vital requisite in all works of Art,
Unity, we view it merely as a series of minor poems. If, to preserve its
Unity--its totality of effect or impression--we read it (as would be
necessary) at a single sitting, the result is but a constant alternation
of excitement and depression. After a passage of what we feel to be true
poetry, there follows, inevitably, a passage of platitude which no
critical prejudgment can force us to admire; but if, upon completing the
work, we read it again; omitting the first book--that is to say,
commencing with the second--we shall be surprised at now finding that
admirable which we before condemned--that damnable which we had
previously so much admired. It follows from all this that the ultimate,
aggregate, or absolute effect of even the best epic under the sun, is a
nullity--and this is precisely the fact.
In regard to the Iliad, we have, if not positive proof, at least very
good reason, for believing it intended as a series of lyrics; but,
granting the epic intention, I can say only that the work is based in an
imperfect sense of Art. The modern epic is, of the supposititious
ancient model, but an inconsiderate and blindfold imitation. But the day
of these artistic anomalies is over. If, at any time, any very long poem
_were_ popular in reality--which I doubt--it is at least clear that no
very long poem will ever be popular again.
That the extent of a poetical work is _ceteris paribus_, the measure of
its merit, seems undoubtedly, when we thus state it, a proposition
sufficiently absurd--yet we are indebted for it to the Quarterly
Reviews. Surely there can be nothing in mere _size_, abstractly
considered--there can be nothing in mere _bulk_, so far as a volume is
concerned, which has so continuously elicited admiration from these
saturnine pamphlets! A mountain, to be sure, by the mere sentiment of
physical magnitude which it conveys, _does_ impress us with a sense of
the sublime--but no man is impressed after _this_ fashion by the
material grandeur of even "The Columbiad." Even the Quarterlies have not
instructed us to be so impressed by it. _As yet_, they have not
_insisted_ on our estimating Lamartine by the cubic foot, or Pollock by
the pound--but what else are we to _infer_ from their continual prating
about "sustained effort"? If, by "sustained effort," any little
gentleman has accomplished an epic, let us frankly commend him for the
effort--if this indeed be a thing commendable--but let us forbear
praising the epic on the effort's account. It is to be hoped thai common
sense, in the time to come, will prefer deciding upon a work of Art
rather by the impression it makes--by the effect it produces--than by
the time it took to impress the effect, or by the amount of "sustained
effort" which had been found necessary in effecting the impression. The
fact is, that perseverance is one thing and genius quite another--nor
can all the Quarterlies in Christendom confound them. By and by, this
proposition, with many which I have been just urging, will be received
as self-evident. In the meantime, by being generally condemned as
falsities, they will not be essentially damaged as truths.
On the other hand, it is clear that a poem may be improperly brief.
Undue brevity degenerates into mere epigrammatism. A _very_ short poem,
while now and then producing a brilliant or vivid, never produces a
profound or enduring effect. There must be the steady pressing down of
the stamp upon the wax. De Beranger has wrought innumerable things,
pungent and spirit-stirring, but in general they have been too
imponderous to stamp themselves deeply into the public attention, and
thus, as so many feathers of fancy, have been blown aloft only to be
whistled down the wind.
A remarkable instance of the effect of undue brevity in depressing a
poem, in keeping it out of the popular view, is afforded by the
following exquisite little Serenade:
I arise from dreams of thee
In the first sweet sleep of night
When the winds are breathing low,
And the stars are shining bright.
I arise from dreams of thee,
And a spirit in my feet
Has led me--who knows how?--
To thy chamber-window, sweet!
The wandering airs they faint
On the dark the silent stream--
The champak odors fail
Like sweet thoughts in a dream;
The nightingale's complaint,
It dies upon her heart,
As I must die on thine,
O, beloved as thou art!
O, lift me from the grass!
I die, I faint, I fail!
Let thy love in kisses rain
On my lips and eyelids pale.
My cheek is cold and white, alas!
My heart beats loud and fast:
O, press it close to thine again,
Where it will break at last!
Very few perhaps are familiar with these lines, yet no less a poet than
Shelley is their author. Their warm, yet delicate and ethereal
imagination will be appreciated by all, but by none so thoroughly as by
him who has himself arisen from sweet dreams of one beloved to bathe in
the aromatic air of a southern midsummer night.
One of the finest poems by Willis, the very best in my opinion which he
has ever written, has no doubt, through this same defect of undue
brevity, been kept back from its proper position, not less in the
critical than in the popular view:
The shadows lay along Broadway,
'Twas near the twilight-tide--
And slowly there a lady fair
Was walking in her pride.
Alone walk'd she; but, viewlessly
Walk'd spirits at her side.
Peace charm'd the street beneath her feet,
And honor charm'd the air;
And all astir looked kind on her,
And called her good as fair--
For all God ever gave to her
She kept with chary care.
She kept with care her beauties rare
From lovers warm and true--
For heart was cold to all but gold,
And the rich came not to woo--
But honor'd well her charms to sell,
If priests the selling do.
Now walking there was one more fair--
A slight girl, lily-pale;
And she had unseen company
To make the spirit quail--
Twixt Want and Scorn she walk'd forlorn,
And nothing could avail.
No mercy now can clear her brow
From this world's peace to pray,
For as love's wild prayer dissolved in air,
Her woman's heart gave way!--
But the sin forgiven by Christ in Heaven,
By man is cursed alway!
In this composition we find it difficult to recognise the Willis who has
written so many mere "verses of society." The lines are not only richly
ideal but full of energy, while they breathe an earnestness, an evident
sincerity of sentiment, for which we look in vain throughout all the
other works of this author.
While the epic mania, while the idea that to merit in poetry prolixity
is indispensable, has for some years past been gradually dying out of
the public mind, by mere dint of its own absurdity, we find it succeeded
by a heresy too palpably false to be long tolerated, but one which, in
the brief period it has already endured, may be said to have
accomplished more in the corruption of our Poetical Literature than all
its other enemies combined. I allude to the heresy of _The Didactic_. It
has been assumed, tacitly and avowedly, directly and indirectly, that
the ultimate object of all Poetry is truth. Every poem, it is said,
should inculcate a moral, and by this moral is the poetical merit of the
work to be adjudged. We Americans especially have patronized this happy
idea, and we Bostonians very especially have developed it in full. We
have taken it into our heads that to write a poem simply for the poem's
sake, and to acknowledge such to have been our design, would be to
confess ourselves radically wanting in the true poetic dignity and
force:--but the simple fact is that would we but permit ourselves to
look into our own souls we should immediately there discover that under
the sun there neither exists nor _can_ exist any work more thoroughly
dignified, more supremely noble, than this very poem, this poem _per
se_, this poem which is a poem and nothing more, this poem written
solely for the poem's sake.
With as deep a reverence for the True as ever inspired the bosom of man,
I would nevertheless limit, in some measure, its modes of inculcation. I
would limit to enforce them. I would not enfeeble them by dissipation.
The demands of Truth are severe. She has no sympathy with the myrtles.
All _that_ which is so indispensable in Song is precisely all _that_
with which _she_ has nothing whatever to do. It is but making her a
flaunting paradox to wreathe her in gems and flowers. In enforcing a
truth we need severity rather than efflorescence of language. We must be
simple, precise, terse. We must be cool, calm, unimpassioned. In a word,
we must be in that mood which, as nearly as possible, is the exact
converse of the poetical. _He_ must be blind indeed who does not
perceive the radical and chasmal difference between the truthful and the
poetical modes of inculcation. He must be theory-mad beyond redemption
who, in spite of these differences, shall still persist in attempting to
reconcile the obstinate oils and waters of Poetry and Truth.
Dividing the world of mind into its three most immediately obvious
distinctions, we have the Pure Intellect, Taste, and the Moral Sense. I
place Taste in the middle because it is just this position which in the
mind it occupies. It holds intimate relations with either extreme; but
from the Moral Sense is separated by so faint a difference that
Aristotle has not hesitated to place some of its operations among the
virtues themselves. Nevertheless we find the _offices_ of the trio
marked with a sufficient distinction. Just as the Intellect concerns
itself with Truth, so Taste informs us of the Beautiful, while the Moral
Sense is regardful of Duty. Of this latter, while Conscience teaches the
obligation, and Reason the expediency, Taste contents herself with
displaying the charms, waging war upon Vice solely on the ground of her
deformity, her disproportion, her animosity to the fitting, to the
appropriate, to the harmonious, in a word, to Beauty.
An immortal instinct deep within the spirit of man is thus plainly a
sense of the Beautiful. This it is which administers to his delight in
the manifold forms, and sounds, and odors, and sentiments amid which he
exists. And just as the lily is repeated in the lake, or the eyes of
Amaryllis in the mirror, so is the mere oral or written repetition of
these forms, and sounds, and colors, and odors, and sentiments a
duplicate source of delight. But this mere repetition is not poetry. He
who shall simply sing, with however glowing enthusiasm, or with however
vivid a truth of description, of the sights, and sounds, and odors, and
colors, and sentiments which greet him in common with all mankind--he, I
say, has yet failed to prove his divine title. There is still a
something in the distance which he has been unable to attain. We have
still a thirst unquenchable, to allay which he has not shown us the
crystal springs. This thirst belongs to the immortality of man. It is at
once a consequence and an indication of his perennial existence. It is
the desire of the moth for the star. It is no mere appreciation of the
Beauty before us, but a wild effort to reach the Beauty above. Inspired
by an ecstatic prescience of the glories beyond the grave, we struggle
by multiform combinations among the things and thoughts of Time to
attain a portion of that Loveliness whose very elements perhaps
appertain to eternity alone. And thus when by Poetry, or when by Music,
the most entrancing of the poetic moods, we find ourselves melted into
tears, we weep then, not as the Abbate Gravina supposes, through excess
of pleasure, but through a certain petulant, impatient sorrow at our
inability to grasp _now_, wholly, here on earth, at once and forever,
those divine and rapturous joys of which _through_ the poem, or
_through_ the music, we attain to but brief and indeterminate glimpses.
The struggle to apprehend the supernal Loveliness--this struggle, on the
part of souls fittingly constituted--has given to the world all _that_
which it (the world) has ever been enabled at once to understand and _to
feel_ as poetic.
The Poetic Sentiment, of course, may develop itself in various modes--in
Painting, in Sculpture, in Architecture, in the Dance--very especially
in Music--and very peculiarly, and with a wide field, in the composition
of the Landscape Garden. Our present theme, however, has regard only to
its manifestation in words. And here let me speak briefly on the topic
of rhythm. Contenting myself with the certainty that Music, in its
various modes of metre, rhythm, and rhyme, is of so vast a moment in
Poetry as never to be wisely rejected--is so vitally important an
adjunct, that he is simply silly who declines its assistance, I will not
now pause to maintain its absolute essentiality. It is in Music perhaps
that the soul most nearly attains the great end for which, when inspired
by the poetic Sentiment, it struggles--the creation of supernal Beauty.
It _may_ be, indeed, that here this sublime end is, now and, then,
attained in _fact._ We are often made to feel, with a shivering delight,
that from an earthly harp are stricken notes which _cannot_ have been
unfamiliar to the angels. And thus there can be little doubt that in the
union of Poetry with Music in its popular sense, we shall find the
widest field for the Poetic development. The old Bards and Minnesingers
had advantages which we do not possess--and Thomas Moore, singing his
own songs, was, in the most legitimate manner, perfecting them as poems.
To recapitulate then:--I would define, in brief, the Poetry of words as
_The Rhythmical Creation of Beauty._ Its sole arbiter is Taste. With the
Intellect or with the Conscience it has only collateral relations.
Unless incidentally, it has no concern whatever either with Duty or with
A few words, however, in explanation. _That_ pleasure which is at once
the most pure, the most elevating, and the most intense, is derived, I
maintain, from the contemplation of the Beautiful. In the contemplation
of Beauty we alone find it possible to attain that pleasurable
elevation, or excitement _of the soul_, which we recognize as the Poetic
Sentiment, and which is so easily distinguished from Truth, which is the
satisfaction of the Reason, or from Passion, which is the excitement of
the heart. I make Beauty, therefore--using the word as inclusive of the
sublime--I make Beauty the province of the poem, simply because it is an
obvious rule of Art that effects should be made to spring as directly as
possible from their causes:--no one as yet having been weak enough to
deny that the peculiar elevation in question is at least _most readily_
attainable in the poem. It by no means follows, however, that the
incitements of Passion, or the precepts of Duty, or even the lessons of
Truth, may not be introduced into a poem, and with advantage; for they
may subserve incidentally, in various ways, the general purposes of the
work: but the true artist will always contrive to tone them down in
proper subjection to that Beauty which is the atmosphere and the real
essence of the poem.
I cannot better introduce the few poems which I shall present for your
consideration, than by the citation of the Proeem to Longfellow's "Waif":
The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
From an eagle in his flight.
I see the lights of the village
Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o'er me,
That my soul cannot resist;
A feeling of sadness and longing,
That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
As the mist resembles the rain.
Come, read to me some poem,
Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
And banish the thoughts of day.
Not from the grand old masters,
Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
Through the corridors of Time.
For, like strains of martial music,
Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life's endless toil and endeavor;
And to-night I long for rest.
Read from some humbler poet,
Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
Or tears from the eyelids start;
Who through long days of labor,
And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
Of wonderful melodies.
Such songs have power to quiet
The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
That follows after prayer.
Then read from the treasured volume
The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice.
And the night shall be filled with music,
And the cares that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.
With no great range of imagination, these lines have been justly admired
for their delicacy of expression. Some of the images are very effective.
Nothing can be better than
--the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
Down the corridors of Time.
The idea of the last quatrain is also very effective. The poem on the
whole, however, is chiefly to be admired for the graceful _insouciance_
of its metre, so well in accordance with the character of the
sentiments, and especially for the _ease_ of the general manner. This
"ease" or naturalness, in a literary style, it has long been the fashion
to regard as ease in appearance alone--as a point of really difficult
attainment. But not so:--a natural manner is difficult only to him who
should never meddle with it--to the unnatural. It is but the result of
writing with the understanding, or with the instinct, that _the tone_,
in composition, should always be that which the mass of mankind would
adopt--and must perpetually vary, of course, with the occasion. The
author who, after the fashion of _The North American Review_, should be
upon _all_ occasions merely "quiet," must necessarily upon _many_
occasions be simply silly, or stupid; and has no more right to be
considered "easy" or "natural" than a Cockney exquisite, or than the
sleeping Beauty in the waxworks.
Among the minor poems of Bryant, none has so much impressed me as the
one which he entitles "June." I quote only a portion of it:
There, through the long, long summer hours,
The golden light should lie,
And thick young herbs and groups of flowers
Stand in their beauty by.
The oriole should build and tell
His love-tale, close beside my cell;
The idle butterfly
Should rest him there, and there be heard
The housewife-bee and humming bird.
And what, if cheerful shouts at noon,
Come, from the village sent,
Or songs of maids, beneath the moon,
With fairy laughter blent?
And what if, in the evening light,
Betrothed lovers walk in sight
Of my low monument?
I would the lovely scene around
Might know no sadder sight nor sound.
I know, I know I should not see
The season's glorious show,
Nor would its brightness shine for me;
Nor its wild music flow;
But if, around my place of sleep,
The friends I love should come to weep,
They might not haste to go.
Soft airs and song, and light and bloom,
Should keep them lingering by my tomb.
These to their soften'd hearts should bear
The thought of what has been,
And speak of one who cannot share
The gladness of the scene;
Whose part in all the pomp that fills
The circuit of the summer hills,
Is--that his grave is green;
And deeply would their hearts rejoice
To hear again his living voice.
The rhythmical flow here is even voluptuous--nothing could be more
melodious. The poem has always affected me in a remarkable manner. The
intense melancholy which seems to well up, perforce, to the surface of
all the poet's cheerful sayings about his grave, we find thrilling us to
the soul--while there is the truest poetic elevation in the thrill. The
impression left is one of a pleasurable sadness. And if, in the
remaining compositions which I shall introduce to you, there be more or
less of a similar tone always apparent, let me remind you that (how or
why we know not) this certain taint of sadness is inseparably connected
with all the higher manifestations of true Beauty. It is, nevertheless,
A feeling of sadness and longing
That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
As the mist resembles the rain.
The taint of which I speak is clearly perceptible even in a poem so full
of brilliancy and spirit as "The Health" of Edward Coote Pinkney:
I fill this cup to one made up
Of loveliness alone,
A woman, of her gentle sex
The seeming paragon;
To whom the better elements
And kindly stars have given
A form so fair, that like the air,
'Tis less of earth than heaven.
Her every tone is music's own,
Like those of morning birds,
And something more than melody
Dwells ever in her words;
The coinage of her heart are they,
And from her lips each flows
As one may see the burden'd bee
Forth issue from the rose.
Affections are as thoughts to her,
The measures of her hours;
Her feelings have the fragrancy,
The freshness of young flowers;
And lovely passions, changing oft,
So fill her, she appears
The image of themselves by turns,--
The idol of past years!
Of her bright face one glance will trace
A picture on the brain,
And of her voice in echoing hearts
A sound must long remain;
But memory, such as mine of her,
So very much endears,
When death is nigh my latest sigh
Will not be life's, but hers.
I fill'd this cup to one made up
Of loveliness alone,
A woman, of her gentle sex
The seeming paragon--
Her health! and would on earth there stood,
Some more of such a frame,
That life might be all poetry,
And weariness a name.
It was the misfortune of Mr. Pinkney to have been born too far south.
Had he been a New Englander, it is probable that he would have been
ranked as the first of American lyrists by that magnanimous cabal which
has so long controlled the destinies of American Letters, in conducting
the thing called 'The North American Review'. The poem just cited is
especially beautiful; but the poetic elevation which it induces we must
refer chiefly to our sympathy in the poet's enthusiasm. We pardon his
hyperboles for the evident earnestness with which they are uttered.
It was by no means my design, however, to expatiate upon the _merits_
of what I should read you. These will necessarily speak for themselves.
Boccalina, in his 'Advertisements from Parnassus', tells us that Zoilus
once presented Apollo a very caustic criticism upon a very admirable
book:--whereupon the god asked him for the beauties of the work. He
replied that he only busied himself about the errors. On hearing this,
Apollo, handing him a sack of unwinnowed wheat, bade him pick out _all
the chaff_ for his reward.
Now this fable answers very well as a hit at the critics--but I am by no
means sure that the god was in the right. I am by no means certain that
the true limits of the critical duty are not grossly misunderstood.
Excellence, in a poem especially, may be considered in the light of an
axiom, which need only be properly _put_, to become self-evident. It is
_not_ excellence if it require to be demonstrated its such:--and thus to
point out too particularly the merits of a work of Art, is to admit that
they are _not_ merits altogether.
Among the "Melodies" of Thomas Moore is one whose distinguished
character as a poem proper seems to have been singularly left out of
view. I allude to his lines beginning--"Come, rest in this bosom." The
intense energy of their expression is not surpassed by anything in
Byron. There are two of the lines in which a sentiment is conveyed that
embodies the _all in all_ of the divine passion of Love--a sentiment
which, perhaps, has found its echo in more, and in more passionate,
human hearts that any other single sentiment ever embodied in words:
Come, rest in this bosom, my own stricken deer,
Though the herd have fled from thee, thy home is still here;
Here still is the smile, that no cloud can o'ercast,
And a heart and a hand all thy own to the last.
Oh! what was love made for, if 'tis not the same
Through joy and through torment, through glory and shame?
I know not, I ask not, if guilt's in that heart,
I but know that I love thee, whatever thou art.
Thou hast call'd me thy Angel in moments of bliss,
And thy Angel I'll be,'mid the horrors of this,--
Through the furnace, unshrinking, thy steps to pursue,
And shield thee, and save thee,--or perish there too!
It has been the fashion of late days to deny Moore Imagination, while
granting him Fancy--a distinction originating with Coleridge--than whom
no man more fully comprehended the great powers of Moore. The fact is,
that the fancy of this poet so far predominates over all his other
faculties, and over the fancy of all other men, as to have induced, very
naturally, the idea that he is fanciful _only._ But never was there a
greater mistake. Never was a grosser wrong done the fame of a true poet.
In the compass of the English language I can call to mind no poem more
profoundly--more weirdly _imaginative,_ in the best sense, than the
lines commencing--"I would I were by that dim lake"--which are the
composition of Thomas Moore. I regret that I am unable to remember them.
One of the noblest--and, speaking of Fancy--one of the most singularly
fanciful of modern poets, was Thomas Hood. His "Fair Ines" had always
for me an inexpressible charm:
O saw ye not fair Ines?
She's gone into the West,
To dazzle when the sun is down
And rob the world of rest
She took our daylight with her,
The smiles that we love best,
With morning blushes on her cheek,
And pearls upon her breast.
O turn again, fair Ines,
Before the fall of night,
For fear the moon should shine alone,
And stars unrivall'd bright;
And blessed will the lover be
That walks beneath their light,
And breathes the love against thy cheek
I dare not even write!
Would I had been, fair Ines,
That gallant cavalier,
Who rode so gaily by thy side,
And whisper'd thee so near!
Were there no bonny dames at home,
Or no true lovers here,
That he should cross the seas to win
The dearest of the dear?
I saw thee, lovely Ines,
Descend along the shore,
With bands of noble gentlemen,
And banners-waved before;
And gentle youth and maidens gay,
And snowy plumes they wore;
It would have been a beauteous dream,
If it had been no more!
Alas, alas, fair Ines,
She went away with song,
With Music waiting on her steps,
And shoutings of the throng;
But some were sad and felt no mirth,
But only Music's wrong,
In sounds that sang Farewell, Farewell,
To her you've loved so long.
Farewell, farewell, fair Ines,
That vessel never bore
So fair a lady on its deck,
Nor danced so light before,--
Alas for pleasure on the sea,
And sorrow on the shore!
The smile that blest one lover's heart
Has broken many more!
"The Haunted House," by the same author, is one of the truest poems ever
written,--one of the truest, one of the most unexceptionable, one of the
most thoroughly artistic, both in its theme and in its execution. It is,
moreover, powerfully ideal--imaginative. I regret that its length
renders it unsuitable for the purposes of this lecture. In place of it
permit me to offer the universally appreciated "Bridge of Sighs:"
One more Unfortunate,
Weary of breath,
Gone to her death!
Take her up tenderly,
Lift her with care;--
Fashion'd so slenderly,
Young and so fair!
Look at her garments
Clinging like cerements;
Whilst the wave constantly
Drips from her clothing;
Take her up instantly,
Loving, not loathing.
Touch her not scornfully
Think of her mournfully,
Gently and humanly;
Not of the stains of her,
All that remains of her
Now is pure womanly.
Make no deep scrutiny
Into her mutiny
Rash and undutiful;
Past all dishonor,
Death has left on her
Only the beautiful.
Where the lamps quiver
So far in the river,
With many a light
From window and casement,
From garret to basement,
She stood, with amazement,
Houseless by night.
The bleak wind of March
Made her tremble and shiver;
But not the dark arch,
Or the black flowing river:
Mad from life's history,
Glad to death's mystery,
Swift to be hurl'd--
Out of the world!
In she plunged boldly,
No matter how coldly
The rough river ran,--
Over the brink of it,
Picture it,--think of it,
Lave in it, drink of it
Then, if you can!
Still, for all slips of hers,
One of Eve's family--
Wipe those poor lips of hers
Oozing so clammily,
Loop up her tresses
Escaped from the comb,
Her fair auburn tresses;
Whilst wonderment guesses
Where was her home?
Who was her father?
Who was her mother!
Had she a sister?
Had she a brother?
Or was there a dearer one
Still, and a nearer one
Yet, than all other?
Alas! for the rarity
Of Christian charity
Under the sun!
Oh! it was pitiful!
Near a whole city full,
Home she had none.
Feelings had changed:
Love, by harsh evidence,
Thrown from its eminence;
Even God's providence
Take her up tenderly;
Lift her with care;
Fashion'd so slenderly,
Young, and so fair!
Ere her limbs frigidly
Stiffen too rigidly,
Smooth and compose them;
And her eyes, close them,
Staring so blindly!
Through muddy impurity,
As when with the daring
Last look of despairing
Fixed on futurity.
Spurred by contumely,
Into her rest,--
Cross her hands humbly,
As if praying dumbly,
Over her breast!
Owning her weakness,
Her evil behavior,
And leaving, with meekness,
Her sins to her Saviour!
The vigor of this poem is no less remarkable than its pathos. The
versification, although carrying the fanciful to the very verge of the
fantastic, is nevertheless admirably adapted to the wild insanity which
is the thesis of the poem.
Among the minor poems of Lord Byron is one which has never received from
the critics the praise which it undoubtedly deserves:
Though the day of my destiny's over,
And the star of my fate hath declined,
Thy soft heart refused to discover
The faults which so many could find;
Though thy soul with my grief was acquainted,
It shrunk not to share it with me,
And the love which my spirit hath painted
It never hath found but in _thee._
Then when nature around me is smiling,
The last smile which answers to mine,
I do not believe it beguiling,
Because it reminds me of thine;
And when winds are at war with the ocean,
As the breasts I believed in with me,
If their billows excite an emotion,
It is that they bear me from _thee._
Though the rock of my last hope is shivered,
And its fragments are sunk in the wave,
Though I feel that my soul is delivered
To pain--it shall not be its slave.
There is many a pang to pursue me:
They may crush, but they shall not contemn--
They may torture, but shall not subdue me--
'Tis of _thee_ that I think--not of them.
Though human, thou didst not deceive me,
Though woman, thou didst not forsake,
Though loved, thou forborest to grieve me,
Though slandered, thou never couldst shake,--
Though trusted, thou didst not disclaim me,
Though parted, it was not to fly,
Though watchful, 'twas not to defame me,
Nor mute, that the world might belie.
Yet I blame not the world, nor despise it,
Nor the war of the many with one--
If my soul was not fitted to prize it,
'Twas folly not sooner to shun:
And if dearly that error hath cost me,
And more than I once could foresee,
I have found that whatever it lost me,
It could not deprive me of _thee_.
From the wreck of the past, which hath perished,
Thus much I at least may recall,
It hath taught me that which I most cherished
Deserved to be dearest of all:
In the desert a fountain is springing,
In the wide waste there still is a tree,
And a bird in the solitude singing,
Which speaks to my spirit of _thee_.
Although the rhythm here is one of the most difficult, the versification
could scarcely be improved. No nobler theme ever engaged the pen of
poet. It is the soul-elevating idea that no man can consider himself
entitled to complain of Fate while in his adversity he still retains the
unwavering love of woman.
From Alfred Tennyson, although in perfect sincerity I regard him as the
noblest poet that ever lived, I have left myself time to cite only a
very brief specimen. I call him, and _think_ him the noblest of poets,
_not_ because the impressions he produces are at _all_ times the most
profound--_not_ because the poetical excitement which he induces is at
_all_ times the most intense--but because it is at all times the most
ethereal--in other words, the most elevating and most pure. No poet is
so little of the earth, earthy. What I am about to read is from his last
long poem, "The Princess:"
Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy Autumn fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.
Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail,
That brings our friends up from the underworld,
Sad as the last which reddens over one
That sinks with all we love below the verge;
So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more.
Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns
The earliest pipe of half-awaken'd birds
To dying ears, when unto dying eyes
The casement slowly grows a glimmering square;
So sad, so strange, the days that are no more.
Dear as remember'd kisses after death,
And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feign'd
On lips that are for others; deep as love,
Deep as first love, and wild with all regret;
O Death in Life, the days that are no more.
Thus, although in a very cursory and imperfect manner, I have endeavored
to convey to you my conception of the Poetic Principle. It has been my
purpose to suggest that, while this Principle itself is strictly and
simply the Human Aspiration for Supernal Beauty, the manifestation of
the Principle is always found in _an elevating excitement of the soul_,
quite independent of that passion which is the intoxication of the
Heart, or of that truth which is the satisfaction of the Reason. For in
regard to passion, alas! its tendency is to degrade rather than to
elevate the Soul. Love, on the contrary--Love--the true, the divine
Eros--the Uranian as distinguished from the Dionasan Venus--is
unquestionably the purest and truest of all poetical themes. And in
regard to Truth, if, to be sure, through the attainment of a truth we
are led to perceive a harmony where none was apparent before, we
experience at once the true poetical effect; but this effect is
referable to the harmony alone, and not in the least degree to the truth
which merely served to render the harmony manifest.
We shall reach, however, more immediately a distinct conception of what
true Poetry is, by mere reference to a few of the simple elements which
induce in the Poet himself the true poetical effect. He recognizes the
ambrosia which nourishes his soul in the bright orbs that shine in
Heaven, in the volutes of the flower, in the clustering of low
shrubberies, in the waving of the grain-fields, in the slanting of tall
eastern trees, in the blue distance of mountains, in the grouping of
clouds, in the twinkling of half-hidden brooks, in the gleaming of
silver rivers, in the repose of sequestered lakes, in the star-mirroring
depths of lonely wells. He perceives it in the songs of birds, in the
harp of AEolus, in the sighing of the night-wind, in the repining voice
of the forest, in the surf that complains to the shore, in the fresh
breath of the woods, in the scent of the violet, in the voluptuous
perfume of the hyacinth, in the suggestive odor that comes to him at
eventide from far-distant undiscovered islands, over dim oceans,
illimitable and unexplored. He owns it in all noble thoughts, in all
unworldly motives, in all holy impulses, in all chivalrous, generous,
and self-sacrificing deeds. He feels it in the beauty of woman, in the
grace of her step, in the lustre of her eye, in the melody of her voice,
in her soft laughter, in her sigh, in the harmony of the rustling of her
robes. He deeply feels it in her winning endearments, in her burning
enthusiasms, in her gentle charities, in her meek and devotional
endurance, but above all, ah, far above all, he kneels to it, he
worships it in the faith, in the purity, in the strength, in the
altogether divine majesty of her _love._
Let me conclude by the recitation of yet another brief poem, one very
different in character from any that I have before quoted. It is by
Motherwell, and is called "The Song of the Cavalier." With our modern
and altogether rational ideas of the absurdity and impiety of warfare,
we are not precisely in that frame of mind best adapted to sympathize
with the sentiments, and thus to appreciate the real excellence of the
poem. To do this fully we must identify ourselves in fancy with the soul
of the old cavalier:
A steed! a steed! of matchless speede!
A sword of metal keene!
Al else to noble heartes is drosse--
Al else on earth is meane.
The neighynge of the war-horse prowde.
The rowleing of the drum,
The clangor of the trumpet lowde--
Be soundes from heaven that come.
And oh! the thundering presse of knightes,
When as their war-cryes welle,
May tole from heaven an angel bright,
And rowse a fiend from hell,
Then mounte! then mounte, brave gallants all,
And don your helmes amaine,
Deathe's couriers, Fame and Honor, call
Us to the field againe.
No shrewish teares shall fill your eye
When the sword-hilt's in our hand,--
Heart-whole we'll part, and no whit sighe
For the fayrest of the land;
Let piping swaine, and craven wight,
Thus weepe and puling crye,
Our business is like men to fight,
And hero-like to die!
* * * * *
THE PHILOSOPHY OF COMPOSITION.
Charles Dickens, in a note now lying before me, alluding to an
examination I once made of the mechanism of _Barnaby Rudge_, says--"By
the way, are you aware that Godwin wrote his _Caleb Williams_ backwards?
He first involved his hero in a web of difficulties, forming the second
volume, and then, for the first, cast about him for some mode of
accounting for what had been done."
I cannot think this the _precise_ mode of procedure on the part of
Godwin--and indeed what he himself acknowledges is not altogether in
accordance with Mr. Dickens's idea--but the author of _Caleb Williams_
was too good an artist not to perceive the advantage derivable from at
least a somewhat similar process. Nothing is more clear than that every
plot, worth the name, must be elaborated to its _denouement_ before
anything be attempted with the pen. It is only with the _denouement_
constantly in view that we can give a plot its indispensable air of
consequence, or causation, by making the incidents, and especially the
tone at all points, tend to the development of the intention.
There is a radical error, I think, in the usual mode of constructing a
story. Either history affords a thesis--or one is suggested by an
incident of the day--or, at best, the author sets himself to work in the
combination of striking events to form merely the basis of his
narrative---designing, generally, to fill in with description, dialogue,
or autorial comment, whatever crevices of fact or action may, from page
to page, render themselves apparent.
I prefer commencing with the consideration of an _effect._ Keeping
originality _always_ in view--for he is false to himself who ventures to
dispense with so obvious and so easily attainable a source of
interest--I say to myself, in the first place, "Of the innumerable
effects or impressions of which the heart, the intellect, or (more
generally) the soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present
occasion, select?" Having chosen a novel first, and secondly, a vivid
effect, I consider whether it can be best wrought by incident or
tone--whether by ordinary incidents and peculiar tone, or the converse,
or by peculiarity both of incident and tone--afterwards looking about me
(or rather within) for such combinations of events or tone as shall best
aid me in the construction of the effect.
I have often thought how interesting a magazine paper might be written
by any author who would--that is to say, who could--detail, step by
step, the processes by which any one of his compositions attained its
ultimate point of completion. Why such a paper has never been given to
the world, I am much at a loss to say--but perhaps the autorial vanity
has had more to do with the omission than any one other cause. Most
writers--poets in especial--prefer having it understood that they
compose by a species of fine frenzy--an ecstatic intuition--and would
positively shudder at letting the public take a peep behind the scenes,
at the elaborate and vacillating crudities of thought--at the true
purposes seized only at the last moment--at the innumerable glimpses of
idea that arrived not at the maturity of full view--at the fully-matured
fancies discarded in despair as unmanageable--at the cautious selections
and rejections--at the painful erasures and interpolations,--in a word,
at the wheels and pinions, the tackle for scene-shifting, the
step-ladders and demon-traps, the cock's feathers, the red paint, and
the black patches, which, in ninety-nine cases out of the hundred,
constitute the properties of the literary _histrio._
I am aware, on the other hand, that the case is by no means common, in
which an author is at all in condition to retrace the steps by which his
conclusions have been attained. In general, suggestions, having arisen
pell-mell, are pursued and forgotten in a similar manner.
For my own part, I have neither sympathy with the repugnance alluded to,
nor, at any time, the least difficulty in recalling to mind the
progressive steps of any of my compositions; and, since the interest of
an analysis, or reconstruction, such as I have considered a
_desideratum_, is quite independent of any real or fancied interest in
the thing analyzed, it will not be regarded as a breach of decorum on my
part to show the _modus operandi_ by which some one of my own works was
put together. I select "The Raven" as most generally known. It is my
design to render it manifest that no one point in its composition is
referrible either to accident or intuition--that the work proceeded,
step by step, to its completion with the precision and rigid consequence
of a mathematical problem.
Let us dismiss, as irrelevant to the poem, _per se_, the
circumstance--or say the necessity--which, in the first place, gave rise
to the intention of composing _a_ poem that should suit at once the
popular and the critical taste.
We commence, then, with this intention.
The initial consideration was that of extent. If any literary work is
too long to be read at one sitting, we must be content to dispense with
the immensely important effect derivable from unity of impression--for,
if two sittings be required, the affairs of the world interfere, and
everything like totality is at once destroyed. But since, _ceteris
paribus_, no poet can afford to dispense with _anything_ that may
advance his design, it but remains to be seen whether there is, in
extent, any advantage to counterbalance the loss of unity which attends
it. Here I say no, at once. What we term a long poem is, in fact, merely
a succession of brief ones--that is to say, of brief poetical effects.
It is needless to demonstrate that a poem is such only inasmuch as it
intensely excites, by elevating the soul; and all intense excitements
are, through a psychal necessity, brief. For this reason, at least
one-half of the "Paradise Lost" is essentially prose--a succession of
poetical excitements interspersed, _inevitably_, with corresponding
depressions--the whole being deprived, through the extremeness of its
length, of the vastly important artistic element, totality, or unity of
It appears evident, then, that there is a distinct limit, as regards
length, to all works of literary art--the limit of a single sitting--and
that, although in certain classes of prose composition, such as
_Robinson Crusoe_ (demanding no unity), this limit may be advantageously
overpassed, it can never properly be overpassed in a poem. Within this
limit, the extent of a poem may be made to bear mathematical relation to
its merit--in other words, to the excitement or elevation--again, in
other words, to the degree of the true poetical effect which it is
capable of inducing; for it is clear that the brevity must be in direct
ratio of the intensity of the intended effect--this, with one
proviso--that a certain degree of duration is absolutely requisite for
the production of any effect at all.
Holding in view these considerations, as well as that degree of
excitement which I deemed not above the popular, while not below the
critical taste, I reached at once what I conceived the proper _length_
for my intended poem--a length of about one hundred lines. It is, in
fact, a hundred and eight.
My next thought concerned the choice of an impression, or effect, to be
conveyed: and here I may as well observe that, throughout the
construction, I kept steadily in view the design of rendering the work
_universally_ appreciable. I should be carried too far out of my
immediate topic were I to demonstrate a point upon which I have
repeatedly insisted, and which, with the poetical, stands not in the
slightest need of demonstration--the point, I mean, that Beauty is the
sole legitimate province of the poem. A few words, however, in
elucidation of my real meaning, which some of my friends have evinced a
disposition to misrepresent. That pleasure which is at once the most
intense, the most elevating, and the most pure, is, I believe, found in
the contemplation of the beautiful. When, indeed, men speak of Beauty,
they mean, precisely, not a quality, as is supposed, but an effect--they
refer, in short, just to that intense and pure elevation of _soul_
--_not_ of intellect, or of heart--upon which I have commented, and
which is experienced in consequence of contemplating "the beautiful."
Now I designate Beauty as the province of the poem, merely because it is
an obvious rule of Art that effects should be made to spring from direct
causes--that objects should be attained through means best adapted for
their attainment--no one as yet having been weak enough to deny that the
peculiar elevation alluded to is _most readily_ attained in the poem.
Now the object Truth, or the satisfaction of the intellect, and the
object Passion, or the excitement of the heart, are, although attainable
to a certain extent in poetry, far more readily attainable in prose.
Truth, in fact, demands a precision, and Passion a _homeliness_ (the
truly passionate will comprehend me) which are absolutely antagonistic
to that Beauty which, I maintain, is the excitement, or pleasurable
elevation, of the soul. It by no means follows from anything here said
that passion, or even truth, may not be introduced, and even profitably
introduced, into a poem--for they may serve in elucidation, or aid the
general effect, as do discords in music, by contrast--but the true
artist will always contrive, first, to tone them into proper
subservience to the predominant aim, and secondly, to enveil them, as
far as possible, in that Beauty which is the atmosphere and the essence
of the poem.
Regarding, then, Beauty as my province, my next question referred to the
_tone_ of its highest manifestation--and all experience has shown that
this tone is one of _sadness_. Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme
development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears. Melancholy
is thus the most legitimate of all the poetical tones.
The length, the province, and the tone being thus determined, I betook
myself to ordinary induction, with the view of obtaining some artistic
piquancy which might serve me as a key-note in the construction of the
poem--some pivot upon which the whole structure might turn. In carefully
thinking over all the usual artistic effects--or more properly _points_,
in the theatrical sense--I did not fail to perceive immediately that no
one had been so universally employed as that of the _refrain_. The
universality of its employment sufficed to assure me of its intrinsic
value, and spared me the necessity of submitting it to analysis. I
considered it, however, with regard to its susceptibility of
improvement, and soon saw it to be in a primitive condition. As commonly
used, the _refrain_, or burden, not only is limited to lyric verse, but
depends for its impression upon the force of monotone--both in sound and
thought. The pleasure is deduced solely from the sense of identity--of
repetition. I resolved to diversify, and so heighten the effect, by
adhering in general to the monotone of sound, while I continually varied
that of thought: that is to say, I determined to produce continuously
novel effects, by the variation _of the application_ of the
_refrain_--the _refrain_ itself remaining, for the most part, unvaried.
These points being settled, I next bethought me of the _nature_ of my
_refrain_. Since its application was to be repeatedly varied, it was
clear that the _refrain_ itself must be brief, for there would have been
an insurmountable difficulty in frequent variations of application in
any sentence of length. In proportion to the brevity of the sentence
would of course be the facility of the variation. This led me at once to
a single word as the best _refrain_.
The question now arose as to the _character_ of the word. Having made up
my mind to a _refrain_, the division of the poem into stanzas was of
course a corollary, the _refrain_ forming the close to each stanza. That
such a close, to have force, must be sonorous and susceptible of
protracted emphasis, admitted no doubt, and these considerations
inevitably led me to the long _o_ as the most sonorous vowel in
connection with _r_ as the most producible consonant.
The sound of the _refrain_ being thus determined, it became necessary to
select a word embodying this sound, and at the same time in the fullest
possible keeping with that melancholy which I had predetermined as the
tone of the poem. In such a search it would have been absolutely
impossible to overlook the word "Nevermore." In fact, it was the very
first which presented itself.
The next _desideratum_ was a pretext for the continuous use of the one
word "nevermore." In observing the difficulty which I at once found in
inventing a sufficiently plausible reason for its continuous repetition,
I did not fail to perceive that this difficulty arose solely from the
pre-assumption that the word was to be so continuously or monotonously
spoken by a _human_ being--I did not fail to perceive, in short, that
the difficulty lay in the reconciliation of this monotony with the
exercise of reason on the part of the creature repeating the word. Here,
then, immediately arose the idea of a _non_-reasoning creature capable
of speech; and very naturally, a parrot, in the first instance,
suggested itself, but was superseded forthwith by a Raven as equally
capable of speech, and infinitely more in keeping with the intended
I had now gone so far as the conception of a Raven, the bird of
ill-omen, monotonously repeating the one word "Nevermore" at the
conclusion of each stanza in a poem of melancholy tone, and in length
about one hundred lines. Now, never losing sight of the object
_supremeness_ or perfection at all points, I asked myself--"Of all
melancholy topics what, according to the _universal_ understanding of
mankind, is the _most_ melancholy?" Death, was the obvious reply. "And
when," I said, "is this most melancholy of topics most poetical?" From
what I have already explained at some length, the answer here also is
obvious--"When it most closely allies itself to _Beauty_; the death,
then, of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in
the world, and equally is it beyond doubt that the lips best suited for
such topic are those of a bereaved lover."
I had now to combine the two ideas of a lover lamenting his deceased
mistress and a Raven continuously repeating the word "Nevermore." I had
to combine these, bearing in mind my design of varying at every turn the
_application_ of the word repeated, but the only intelligible mode of
such combination is that of imagining the Raven employing the word in
answer to the queries of the lover. And here it was that I saw at once
the opportunity afforded for the effect on which I had been depending,
that is to say, the effect of the _variation of application_. I saw that
I could make the first query propounded by the lover--the first query to
which the Raven should reply "Nevermore"--that I could make this first
query a commonplace one, the second less so, the third still less, and
so on, until at length the lover, startled from his original
_nonchalance_ by the melancholy character of the word itself, by its
frequent repetition, and by a consideration of the ominous reputation of
the fowl that uttered it, is at length excited to superstition, and
wildly propounds queries of a far different character--queries whose
solution he has passionately at heart--propounds them half in
superstition and half in that species of despair which delights in
self-torture--propounds them not altogether because he believes in the
prophetic or demoniac character of the bird (which reason assures him is
merely repeating a lesson learned by rote), but because he experiences a
frenzied pleasure in so modelling his questions as to receive from the
_expected_ "Nevermore" the most delicious because the most intolerable
of sorrow. Perceiving the opportunity thus afforded me, or, more
strictly, thus forced upon me in the progress of the construction, I
first established in mind the climax or concluding query--that query to
which "Nevermore" should be in the last place an answer--that query in
reply to which this word "Nevermore" should involve the utmost
conceivable amount of sorrow and despair.
Here then the poem may be said to have its beginning, at the end where
all works of art should begin; for it was here at this point of my
preconsiderations that I first put pen to paper in the composition of
"Prophet," said I, "thing of evil! prophet still if bird or devil!
By that heaven that bends above us--by that God we both adore,
Tell this soul with sorrow laden, if within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore--
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore."
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."
I composed this stanza, at this point, first that, by establishing the
climax, I might the better vary and graduate, as regards seriousness,
and importance the preceding queries of the lover, and secondly, that I
might definitely settle the rhythm, the metre, and the length and
general arrangement of the stanza, as well as graduate the stanzas which
were to precede, so that none of them might surpass this in rhythmical
effect. Had I been able in the subsequent composition to construct more
vigorous stanzas, I should without scruple have purposely enfeebled them
so as not to interfere with the climacteric effect.
And here I may as well say a few words of the versification. My first
object (as usual) was originality. The extent to which this has been
neglected in versification is one of the most unaccountable things in
the world. Admitting that there is little possibility of variety in mere
_rhythm_, it is still clear that the possible varieties of metre and
stanza are absolutely infinite; and yet, for _centuries, no man, in
verse has ever done, or ever seemed to think of doing, an original
thing_. The fact is that originality (unless in minds of very unusual
force) is by no means a matter, as some suppose, of impulse or
intuition. In general, to be found, it must be elaborately sought and,
although a positive merit of the highest class, demands in its
attainment less of invention than negation.
Of course I pretend to no originality in either the rhythm or metre of
the "Raven." The former is trochaic--the latter is octametre
acatalectic, alternating with heptametre catalectic repeated in the
_refrain_ of the fifth verse, and terminating with tetrametre
catalectic. Less pedantically, the feet employed throughout (trochees)
consists of a long syllable followed by a short; the first line of the
stanza consists of eight of these feet, the second of seven and a half
(in effect two-thirds), the third of eight, the fourth of seven and a
half, the fifth the same, the sixth three and a half. Now, each of these
lines taken individually has been employed before, and what originality
the "Raven" has, is in their _combinations into stanzas;_ nothing even
remotely approaching this combination has ever been attempted. The
effect of this originality of combination is aided by other unusual and
some altogether novel effects, arising from an extension of the
application of the principles of rhyme and alliteration.
The next point to be considered was the mode of bringing together the
lover and the Raven--and the first branch of this consideration was the
_locale_. For this the most natural suggestion might seem to be a
forest, or the fields--but it has always appeared to me that a close
_circumscription of space_ is absolutely necessary to the effect of
insulated incident--it has the force of a frame to a picture. It has an
indisputable moral power in keeping concentrated the attention, and, of
course, must not be confounded with mere unity of place.
I determined, then, to place the lover in his chamber--in a chamber
rendered sacred to him by memories of her who had frequented it. The
room is represented as richly furnished--this in mere pursuance of the
ideas I have already explained on the subject of Beauty, as the sole
true poetical thesis.
The _locale_ being thus determined, I had now to introduce the bird--and
the thought of introducing him through the window was inevitable. The
idea of making the lover suppose, in the first instance, that the
flapping of the wings of the bird against the shutter, is a "tapping" at
the door, originated in a wish to increase, by prolonging, the reader's
curiosity, and in a desire to admit the incidental effect arising from
the lover's throwing open the door, finding all dark, and thence
adopting the half-fancy that it was the spirit of his mistress that
I made the night tempestuous, first to account for the Raven's seeking
admission, and secondly, for the effect of contrast with the (physical)
serenity within the chamber.
I made the bird alight on the bust of Pallas, also for the effect of
contrast between the marble and the plumage--it being understood that
the bust was absolutely _suggested_ by the bird--the bust of _Pallas_
being chosen, first, as most in keeping with the scholarship of the
lover, and, secondly, for the sonorousness of the word, Pallas, itself.
About the middle of the poem, also, I have availed myself of the force
of contrast, with a view of deepening the ultimate impression. For
example, an air of the fantastic--approaching as nearly to the ludicrous
as was admissible--is given to the Raven's entrance. He comes in "with
many a flirt and flutter."
Not the _least obeisance made he_--not a moment stopped or stayed he,
_But with mien of lord or lady_, perched above my chamber door.
In the two stanzas which follow, the design is more obviously carried
Then this ebony bird beguiling my _sad fancy_ into smiling
By the _grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore_,
"Though thy _crest be shorn and shaven_, thou," I said, "art sure no
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the nightly shore--
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the night's Plutonian shore?"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."
Much I marvelled _this ungainly fowl_ to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning--little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
_Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door--
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door_,
With such name as "Nevermore."
The effect of the denouement being thus provided for, I immediately drop
the fantastic for a tone of the most profound seriousness--this tone
commencing in the stanza directly following the one last quoted, with
But the Raven, sitting lonely on that placid bust, spoke only, etc.
From this epoch the lover no longer jests--no longer sees anything even
of the fantastic in the Raven's demeanor. He speaks of him as a "grim,
ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore," and feels the
"fiery eyes" burning into his "bosom's core." This revolution of
thought, or fancy, on the lover's part, is intended to induce a similar
one on the part of the reader--to bring the mind into a proper frame for
the _denouement_--which is now brought about as rapidly and as
_directly_ as possible.
With the _denouement_ proper--with the Raven's reply, "Nevermore," to
the lover's final demand if he shall meet his mistress in another
world--the poem, in its obvious phase, that of a simple narrative, may
be said to have its completion. So far, everything is within the limits
of the accountable--of the real. A raven having learned by rote the
single word "Nevermore," and having escaped from the custody of its
owner, is driven at midnight, through the violence of a storm, to seek
admission at a window from which a light still gleams--the
chamber-window of a student, occupied half in pouring over a volume,
half in dreaming of a beloved mistress deceased. The casement being
thrown open at the fluttering of the bird's wings, the bird itself
perches on the most convenient seat out of the immediate reach of the
student, who, amused by the incident and the oddity of the visitor's
demeanor, demands of it, in jest and with out looking for a reply, its
name. The Raven addressed, answers with its customary word,
"Nevermore"--a word which finds immediate echo in the melancholy heart
of the student, who, giving utterance aloud to certain thoughts
suggested by the occasion, is again startled by the fowl's repetition of
"Nevermore." The student now guesses the state of the case, but is
impelled, as I have before explained, by the human thirst for
self-torture, and in part by superstition, to propound such queries to
the bird as will bring him, the lover, the most of the luxury of sorrow
through the anticipated answer "Nevermore." With the indulgence, to the
extreme, of this self-torture, the narration, in what I have termed its
first or obvious phase, has a natural termination, and so far there has
been no overstepping of the limits of the real.
But in subjects so handled, however skilfully, or with however vivid an
array of incident, there is always a certain hardness or nakedness which
repels the artistical eye. Two things are invariably required--first,
some amount of complexity, or more properly, adaptation; and, secondly,
some amount of suggestiveness, some undercurrent, however indefinite of
meaning. It is this latter, in especial, which imparts to a work of art
so much of that _richness_ (to borrow from colloquy a forcible term)
which we are too fond of confounding with _the ideal_. It is the
_excess_ of the suggested meaning--it is the rendering this the upper
instead of the under current of theme--which turns into prose (and that
of the very flattest kind) the so-called poetry of the so-called
Holding these opinions, I added the two concluding stanzas of the
poem--their suggestiveness being thus made to pervade all the narrative
which has preceded them. The undercurrent of meaning is rendered first
apparent in the lines:
"Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore!"
It will be observed that the words, "from out my heart," involve the
first metaphorical expression in the poem. They, with the answer,
"Nevermore," dispose the mind to seek a moral in all that has been
previously narrated. The reader begins now to regard the Raven as
emblematical--but it is not until the very last line of the very last
stanza, that the intention of making him emblematical of _Mournful and
never-ending Remembrance_ is permitted distinctly to be seen:
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamplight o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul _from out that shadow_ that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted--nevermore!
* * * * *
OLD ENGLISH POETRY. 
It should not be doubted that at least one-third of the affection with
which we regard the elder poets of Great Britain should be attributed to
what is, in itself, a thing apart from poetry--we mean to the simple
love of the antique--and that, again, a third of even the proper _poetic
sentiment_ inspired by their writings, should be ascribed to a fact
which, while it has strict connection with poetry in the abstract, and
with the old British poems themselves, should not be looked upon as a
merit appertaining to the authors of the poems. Almost every devout
admirer of the old bards, if demanded his opinion of their productions,
would mention vaguely, yet with perfect sincerity, a sense of dreamy,
wild, indefinite, and he would perhaps say, indefinable delight; on
being required to point out the source of this so shadowy pleasure, he
would be apt to speak of the quaint in phraseology and in general
handling. This quaintness is, in fact, a very powerful adjunct to
ideality, but in the case in question it arises independently of the
author's will, and is altogether apart from his intention. Words and
their rhythm have varied. Verses which affect us to-day with a vivid
delight, and which delight, in many instances, may be traced to the one
source, quaintness, must have worn in the days of their construction a
very commonplace air. This is, of course, no argument against the poems
_now_--we mean it only as against the poets _then_. There is a growing
desire to overrate them. The old English muse was frank, guileless,
sincere and although very learned, still learned without art. No general
error evinces a more thorough confusion of ideas than the error of
supposing Donne and Cowley metaphysical in the sense wherein Wordsworth
and Coleridge are so. With the two former ethics were the end--with the
two latter the means. The poet of the "Creation" wished, by highly
artificial verse, to inculcate what he supposed to be moral truth--the
poet of the "Ancient Mariner" to infuse the Poetic Sentiment through
channels suggested by analysis. The one finished by complete failure
what he commenced in the grossest misconception; the other, by a path
which could not possibly lead him astray, arrived at a triumph which is
not the less glorious because hidden from the profane eyes of the
multitude. But in this view even the "metaphysical verse" of Cowley is
but evidence of the simplicity and single-heartedness of the man. And he
was in this but a type of his _school_--for we may as well designate in
this way the entire class of writers whose poems are bound up in the
volume before us, and throughout all of whom there runs a very
perceptible general character. They used little art in composition.
Their writings sprang immediately from the soul--and partook intensely
of that soul's nature. Nor is it difficult to perceive the tendency of
this _abandon_--to elevate immeasurably all the energies of mind--but,
again, so to mingle the greatest possible fire, force, delicacy, and all
good things, with the lowest possible bathos, baldness, and imbecility,
as to render it not a matter of doubt that the average results of mind
in such a school will be found inferior to those results in one
(_ceteris paribus_) more artificial.
We cannot bring ourselves to believe that the selections of the "Book of
Gems" are such as will impart to a poetical reader the clearest possible
idea of the beauty of the _school_--but if the intention had been merely
to show the school's character, the attempt might have been considered
successful in the highest degree. There are long passages now before us
of the most despicable trash, with no merit whatever beyond that of
their antiquity. The criticisms of the editor do not particularly please
us. His enthusiasm is too general and too vivid not to be false. His
opinion, for example, of Sir Henry's Wotton's "Verses on the Queen of
Bohemia"--that "there are few finer things in our language," is
untenable and absurd.
In such lines we can perceive not one of those higher attributes of
Poesy which belong to her in all circumstances and throughout all time.
Here everything is art, nakedly, or but awkwardly concealed. No
prepossession for the mere antique (and in this case we can imagine no
other prepossession) should induce us to dignify with the sacred name of
poetry, a series, such as this, of elaborate and threadbare compliments,
stitched, apparently, together, without fancy, without plausibility, and
without even an attempt at adaptation.
In common with all the world, we have been much delighted with "The
Shepherd's Hunting" by Withers--a poem partaking, in a remarkable
degree, of the peculiarities of 'Il Penseroso'. Speaking of Poesy, the
"By the murmur of a spring,
Or the least boughs rustleling,
By a daisy whose leaves spread,
Shut when Titan goes to bed,
Or a shady bush or tree,
She could more infuse in me
Than all Nature's beauties con
In some other wiser man.
By her help I also now
Make this churlish place allow
Something that may sweeten gladness
In the very gall of sadness--
The dull loneness, the black shade,
That these hanging vaults have made
The strange music of the waves
Beating on these hollow caves,
This black den which rocks emboss,
Overgrown with eldest moss,
The rude portals that give light
More to terror than delight,
This my chamber of neglect
Walled about with disrespect;
From all these and this dull air
A fit object for despair,
She hath taught me by her might
To draw comfort and delight."
But these lines, however good, do not bear with them much of the general
character of the English antique. Something more of this will be found
in Corbet's "Farewell to the Fairies!" We copy a portion of Marvell's
"Maiden lamenting for her Fawn," which we prefer--not only as a specimen
of the elder poets, but in itself as a beautiful poem, abounding in
pathos, exquisitely delicate imagination and truthfulness--to anything
of its species:
"It is a wondrous thing how fleet
'Twas on those little silver feet,
With what a pretty skipping grace
It oft would challenge me the race,
And when't had left me far away
'Twould stay, and run again, and stay;
For it was nimbler much than hinds,
And trod as if on the four winds.
I have a garden of my own,
But so with roses overgrown,
And lilies, that you would it guess
To be a little wilderness;
And all the spring-time of the year
It only loved to be there.
Among the beds of lilies I
Have sought it oft where it should lie,
Yet could not, till itself would rise,
Find it, although before mine eyes.
For in the flaxen lilies shade
It like a bank of lilies laid;
Upon the roses it would feed
Until its lips even seemed to bleed,
And then to me 'twould boldly trip,
And print those roses on my lip,
But all its chief delight was still
With roses thus itself to fill,
And its pure virgin limbs to fold
In whitest sheets of lilies cold,
Had it lived long, it would have been
Lilies without, roses within."
How truthful an air of lamentations hangs here upon every syllable! It
pervades all. It comes over the sweet melody of the words--over the
gentleness and grace which we fancy in the little maiden herself--even
over the half-playful, half-petulant air with which she lingers on the
beauties and good qualities of her favorite--like the cool shadow of a
summer cloud over a bed of lilies and violets, "and all sweet flowers."
The whole is redolent with poetry of a very lofty order. Every line is
an idea conveying either the beauty and playfulness of the fawn, or the
artlessness of the maiden, or her love, or her admiration, or her grief,
or the fragrance and warmth and _appropriateness_ of the little
nest-like bed of lilies and roses which the fawn devoured as it lay upon
them, and could scarcely be distinguished from them by the once happy
little damsel who went to seek her pet with an arch and rosy smile on
her face. Consider the great variety of truthful and delicate thought in
the few lines we have quoted--the _wonder_ of the little maiden at the
fleetness of her favorite--the "little silver feet"--the fawn
challenging his mistress to a race with "a pretty skipping grace,"
running on before, and then, with head turned back, awaiting her
approach only to fly from it again--can we not distinctly perceive all
these things? How exceedingly vigorous, too, is the line,
"And trod as if on the four winds!"
a vigor apparent only when we keep in mind the artless character of the
speaker and the four feet of the favorite, one for each wind. Then
consider the garden of "my own," so overgrown, entangled with roses and
lilies, as to be "a little wilderness"--the fawn loving to be there, and
there "only"--the maiden seeking it "where it _should_ lie"--and not
being able to distinguish it from the flowers until "itself would
rise"--the lying among the lilies "like a bank of lilies"--the loving to
"fill itself with roses,"
"And its pure virgin limbs to fold
In whitest sheets of lilies cold,"
and these things being its "chief" delights--and then the pre-eminent
beauty and naturalness of the concluding lines, whose very hyperbole
only renders them more true to nature when we consider the innocence,
the artlessness, the enthusiasm, the passionate girl, and more
passionate admiration of the bereaved child:
"Had it lived long, it would have been
Lilies without, roses within."
[Footnote 1: "The Book of Gems." Edited by S. C. Hall.]
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