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Ponkapog Papers, by Thomas Bailey Aldrich

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sunshine. Neither in his thought nor in his
utterance is there any complexity; both are as
pellucid as a woodland pond, content to du-
plicate the osiers and ferns, and, by chance,
the face of a girl straying near its crystal. His
is no troubled stream in which large trout
are caught. He must be accepted on his own
The greatest poets have, with rare exceptions,
been the most indebted to their predecessors
or to their contemporaries. It has wittily been
remarked that only mediocrity is ever wholly
original. Impressionability is one of the condi-
tions of the creative faculty: the sensitive mind
is the only mind that invents. What the poet
reads, sees, and feels, goes into his blood, and
becomes an ingredient of his originality. The
color of his thought instinctively blends itself
with the color of its affinities. A writer's style,
if it have distinction, is the outcome of a hun-
dred styles.
Though a generous borrower of the ancients,
Herrick appears to have been exceptionally free
from the influence of contemporary minds.
Here and there in his work are traces of his
beloved Ben Jonson, or fleeting impressions
of Fletcher, and in one instance a direct in-
fringement on Suckling; but the sum of
Herrick's obligations of this sort is inconsider-
This indifference to other writers of his time,
this insularity, was doubtless his loss. The more
exalted imagination of Vaughan or Marvell or
Herbert might have taught him a deeper note
than he sounded in his purely devotional poems.
Milton, of course, moved in a sphere apart.
Shakespeare, whose personality still haunted the
clubs and taverns which Herrick frequented on
his first going up to London, failed to lay any
appreciable spell upon him. That great name,
moreover, is a jewel which finds no setting in
Herrick's rhyme. His general reticence rela-
tive to brother poets is extremely curious when
we reflect on his penchant for addressing four-
line epics to this or that individual. They were,
in the main, obscure individuals, whose iden-
tity is scarcely worth establishing. His London
life, at two different periods, brought him into
contact with many of the celebrities of the day;
but his verse has helped to confer immortality
on very few of them. That his verse had the
secret of conferring immortality was one of his
unshaken convictions. Shakespeare had not a
finer confidence when he wrote,

Not marble nor the gilded monuments
Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme,

than has Herrick whenever he speaks of his own
poetry, and he is not by any means backward in
speaking of it. It was the breath of his nostrils.
Without his Muse those nineteen years in that
dull, secluded Devonshire village would have
been unendurable.
His poetry has the value and the defect of that
seclusion. In spite, however, of his contracted
horizon there is great variety in Herrick's themes.
Their scope cannot be stated so happily as he has
stated it:

I sing of brooks, of blossoms, birds and bowers,
Of April, May, of June, and July flowers;
I sing of May-poles, hock-carts, wassails, wakes,
Of bridegrooms, brides, and of their bridal-cakes;
I write of Youth, of Love, and have access
By these to sing of cleanly wantonness;
I sing of dews, of rains, and piece by piece
Of balm, of oil, of spice and ambergris;
I sing of times trans-shifting, and I write
How roses first came red and lilies white;
I write of groves, of twilights, and I sing
The Court of Mab, and of the Fairy King;
I write of Hell; I sing (and ever shall)
Of Heaven, and hope to have it after all.

Never was there so pretty a table of contents!
When you open his book the breath of the Eng-
lish rural year fans your cheek; the pages seem
to exhale wildwood and meadow smells, as if
sprigs of tansy and lavender had been shut up
in the volume and forgotten. One has a sense
of hawthorn hedges and wide-spreading oaks,
of open lead-set lattices half hidden with honey-
suckle; and distant voices of the haymakers, re-
turning home in the rosy afterglow, fall dreamily
on one's ear, as sounds should fall when fancy
listens. There is no English poet so thoroughly
English as Herrick. He painted the country
life of his own time as no other has painted it at
any time.
It is to be remarked that the majority of Eng-
lish poets regarded as national have sought their
chief inspiration in almost every land and period
excepting their own. Shakespeare went to Italy,
Denmark, Greece, Egypt, and to many a hitherto
unfooted region of the imagination, for plot and
character. It was not Whitehall Garden, but
the Garden of Eden and the celestial spaces, that
lured Milton. It is the Ode on a Grecian Urn,
The Eve of St. Agnes, and the noble fragment
of Hyperion that have given Keats his spacious
niche in the gallery of England's poets. Shelley's
two masterpieces, Prometheus Unbound and The
Cenci, belong respectively to Greece and Italy.
Browning's The Ring and the Book is Italian;
Tennyson wandered to the land of myth for the
Idylls of the King, and Matthew Arnold's Soh-
rab and Rustum--a narrative poem second in
dignity to none produced in the nineteenth cen-
tury--is a Persian story. But Herrick's "golden
apples" sprang from the soil in his own day,
and reddened in the mist and sunshine of his
native island.
Even the fairy poems, which must be classed
by themselves, are not wanting in local flavor.
Herrick's fairy world is an immeasurable dis-
tance from that of "A Midsummer Night's
Dream." Puck and Titania are of finer breath
than Herrick's little folk, who may be said to
have Devonshire manners and to live in a minia-
ture England of their own. Like the magician
who summons them from nowhere, they are
fond of color and perfume and substantial feasts,
and indulge in heavy draughts--from the cups
of morning-glories. In the tiny sphere they in-
habit everything is marvelously adapted to their
requirement; nothing is out of proportion or out
of perspective. The elves are a strictly religious
people in their winsome way, "part pagan, part
papistical;" they have their pardons and indul-
gences, their psalters and chapels, and

An apple's-core is hung up dried,
With rattling kernels, which is rung
To call to Morn and Even-song;

and very conveniently,

Hard by, I' th' shell of half a nut,
The Holy-water there is put.

It is all delightfully naive and fanciful, this elfin-
world, where the impossible does not strike one
as incongruous, and the England of 1648 seems
never very far away.
It is only among the apparently unpremedi-
tated lyrical flights of the Elizabethan dramatists
that one meets with anything like the lilt and
liquid flow of Herrick's songs. While in no de-
gree Shakespearian echoes, there are epithalamia
and dirges of his that might properly have fallen
from the lips of Posthumus in "Cymbeline."
This delicate epicede would have fitted Imogen:

Here a solemne fast we keepe
While all beauty lyes asleepe;
Husht be all things; no noyse here
But the toning of a teare,
Or a sigh of such as bring
Cowslips for her covering.

Many of the pieces are purely dramatic in
essence; the Mad Maid's Song, for example.
The lyrist may speak in character, like the
dramatist. A poet's lyrics may be, as most of
Browning's are, just so many dramatis per-
. "Enter a Song singing" is the stage-
direction in a seventeenth-century play whose
name escapes me. The sentiment dramatized in
a lyric is not necessarily a personal expression.
In one of his couplets Herrick neatly denies that
his more mercurial utterances are intended pre-
sentations of himself:

To his Book's end this last line he'd have placed--
Jocund his Muse was, but his Life was chaste.

In point of fact he was a whole group of im-
aginary lovers in one. Silvia, Anthea, Electra,
Perilla, Perenna, and the rest of those lively
ladies ending in a, were doubtless, for the most
part, but airy phantoms dancing--as they should
not have danced--through the brain of a senti-
mental old bachelor who happened to be a vicar
of the Church of England. Even with his over-
plus of heart it would have been quite impossible
for him to have had enough to go round had
there been so numerous actual demands upon it.
Thus much may be conceded to Herrick's
verse: at its best it has wings that carry it nearly
as close to heaven's gate as any of Shakespeare's
lark-like interludes. The brevity of the poems
and their uniform smoothness sometimes produce
the effect of monotony. The crowded richness
of the line advises a desultory reading. But one
must go back to them again and again. They
bewitch the memory, having once caught it,
and insist on saying themselves over and over.
Among the poets of England the author of the
"Hesperides" remains, and is likely to remain,
unique. As Shakespeare stands alone in his vast
domain, so Herrick stands alone in his scanty
plot of ground.

Shine, Poet! in thy place, and be content.

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