Imágenes de páginas

sympathise with the author, and to deprecate any charge of egotism, when he says in Songs of Two Worlds'

If ever, for a passing day,

My careless rhymes shall gain to please,
I would that those who read may say,
'Left he no more than these?'

The prevailing note of these songs is pathetic. They invite pensive musing at intervals rather than continuous study. We are taken by the deep mellow suggestiveness of what is uttered rather than by the musical quality of the utterance. Even so, there are times when we can listen to the blackbird rather than the thrush, when we would rather hear the cushies croon' than be thrilled by all the force and passionate fervour of the nightingale. Schubert will certainly never fail to attract us because he is not Beethoven, and Pindar soaring with mighty sweep may please us less at times than Euripides the human with his droppings of warm tears.' Certainly, the poet is entitled to hope that readers may wish more of him, for while human nature remains what it is there will be room for the skilful expression of genuine tender sentiment. Just as in a grove, in the spring months, we may hear one supreme thrush whose voice is enough for the neighbourhood, and by its very force and compass precludes rivalry, while within a comparatively small space several blackbirds give forth their rich thoughtful lyrics nor once suggest interference or competition; so for one mighty interpreter of the passion of life-its defeats and its triumphs-there may be several whose sphere is the expression of reflective pathos, tender regret, quiet but firm aspiration. We find a true interpreter of the latter kind in these songs and other poems. The 'Songs of Two Worlds' are not lyrics of fervid emotion, glowing passion, ineffable sweet fluency, like those of Burns; they are rather little discourses in lyrical form which do not run away with the reader but hold him. If read leisurely, as the poet intends they should be, they will be found to contain some of the best, profoundest, soberest thinking of this generation. But we must not look for sparkle and brilliant effects, and we must be less anxious to reach the end of the volume than to grasp the deep significance of each separate unity. The poet deals with the world that is, and the world that the human spirit is fit to occupy, and thus his separate themes have individual interest, and demand direct undivided attention.

A leading thought with all poets of reflective pathos is that the human spirit is in direct contact with unceasing movement and change, that the loved faces disappear and the favourite objects get beyond our grasp, while we ourselves are powerless to stay the fleeting breath or prevent the relentless process of transformation. Shelley sums up the thoughtful man's feeling in regard to this in his epigrammatic utterance that nought may endure but mutability.' Some of Wordsworth's finest sentiment rests on this pathetic atti

tude, and it regulates the best thinking of Bryant, the foremost of purely reflective poets produced thus far in America. So, too, with the best of these songs. Take, for example, The Wanderer,' which is the poet's setting of that engrossing theme, the painful getting of experience. It is a faithful, exhaustive, and deeply interesting narrative. The passing allusion to the philosophy of the Greeks, as represented by the three most potent of their thinkers, and to the strength and weakness of Buddhism and the other Asiatic systems, is a good specimen both of the method of the poem and the author's style.

The sweet Ideal Essences revealed,

To that high poet-thinker's eyes I saw;
The archetypes which underset the world
With one broad perfect Law.

The fair fantastic Commonwealth, too fair
For earth, wherein the wise alone bore rule-
So wise that oftentimes the sage himself
Shows duller than the fool;

And that white soul, clothed with a satyr's form,
Which shone beneath the laurels day by day,
And, fired with burning faith in God and Right,
Doubted men's doubts away;

And him who took all knowledge for his own,
And with the same swift logical sword laid bare
The depths of heart and mind, the mysteries
Of earth and sea and air;

And those on whom the visionary East

Worked in such sort, that knowledge grew to seem
An ecstasy, a sudden blaze, revealed

To crown the mystic's dream;

Till, once again, the old light faded out,

And left no trace of that fair day remain

Only a barren method, binding down.

Men's thoughts with such a chain

That knowledge sank self-slain, like some stout knight
Clogged by his harness; nor could wit devise

Aught but ignoble quibbles, subtly mixed

With dull theologies.

Thus does the poet continue to delineate, with appreciation of worth and with sound judgment, the various stages the anxious soul arrives at and passes in the quest of truth. Nor does he rest merely in this, and content himself with declaring a passing show or preaching a vanity of vanities, but he strives for a substantial unity, and an abiding climax.

Till prizing union more than dissidence,
And holding high the race, I came to prove
A spring of sympathy within, which swelled
To a deep stream of love.

And Knowledge gave me gold, and power, and fame,
And honour; and Love, a clearer, surer view:
Thus in calm depths I moored my weary soul,

Fast anchored to the True.

The pathos of our poet, then, is not merely passive with possible dejection in store; it is rich with a trustful music and bright with the confidence of hope. We may not be able to reason out all that is implied in our lot, far less what may be the aim of that Cosmos in which we are set; but at any rate we have intuitions, and Faith is above Knowledge.

Tho' much be taken, much is left,

Not all forsaken nor bereft ;

From change on change we come to rest,

And the last moment is the best.

In this view, therefore, every man ought to do at once, and with energy, what his hand finds waiting. The Present is the deep and instant concern of every soul, and there is nothing sadder than the missing of golden opportunities and the wasting of powers. Thus The Apology,' gives the author's view of the true sphere of the poetical artist

[blocks in formation]

and the ground of his conviction is that there is always poetry for the making, if only there be the observing eye, the true sympathetic chords, and the worthy utterance. There is the same human nature now as existed for Homer and Eschylus. Shakespeare, in the sixteenth century, could stand forth as the prophet of mankind; Swift, in the eighteenth, could satirize the race; and in the nineteenth, Mr. Carlyle can revile follies for all time. The poet of our day, also, can find material for his purpose if he only look about him, and it is the successful grasping and setting of generalizations that give life and charm to studies like The Organ Boy,' The Children of the Street,' and 'The Enigma.' The poet is not inclined to fling up his cap and cheer in the wake of success, but he goes thoroughly with every manly aspiration and every virtuous effort. Thus, after some sharp and pointed criticism of what this age admires, he looks forward and exclaims:

There shall come from out this noise of strife and groaning

A broader and a juster brotherhood,

A deep equality of aim, postponing

All selfish seeking to the general good.

There shall come a time when each shall to another

Be as Christ would have him-brother unto brother.

In the Ode on a Fair Spring Morning' the conditions of a higher life are insisted on, from consideration of man's own capabilities; while in Evensong-one of the best poems added to the language since Wordsworth-there is an elaborate and beautiful series of reflections, embodying what is virtually the author's confession of faith. It is frank, distinct, profound, calculated to impress if not to convince, and charged with fine feeling, remarkable reflective power, and steady speculative energy. These lines, after long wrestling with doubt and near approach to the blackness of darkness, come with the inspiring tones of a trumpet to rouse men to the pressing interests of the Present :

We have heard His voice, and we hear it sound wider and more increased, To the sunset plains of the West from the peaks of the furthest East.

For the quick and the dead, it was given; for them it is sounding still,
And no pause of silence shall break the clear voice of the Infinite Will.

Not only through Christ long since, and the teachers of ages gone,
But to-day He speaks, day by day, to those who are toiling on;

More clear perhaps then to the ear, and with nigher voice and more plain,

But still the same Teacher Divine, speaking to us again and again.

For I like not his creed, if any there be, who shall dare to hold
That God comes to us only at times far away in the centuries old.

In the Epic of Hades' we have the Past used to inform and enrich the Present. As we have seen, the poet considers it his duty to'sing To-day' rather than to dwell upon Antiquity for its own sake, and thus he goes back to the myths of ancient Greece not merely for their poetic quality, but also because the Past in its essential features is really the Present. The dead may bury their dead how and when they will, but the vital interests that were at stake of yore, the spiritual impulses, the stern truthful activities are not dead, and have a deep significance for this and for all time. That Tantalus was immersed, as the ancient poets describe, that Sisyphus wrestled with a rock, that Ixion whirled hopelessly on a wheel, that Narcissus swooned beside a fountain, that Marsyas was flayed for his presumption, and that Helen was all that Homer makes her-these, and similar romantic conceptions, are the artistic crudities of the primal time, and need special reproduction only for the initiated and those whom they may particularly concern. Mr. William Morris, Mr. Swinburne, and their best followers, will satisfy the most ardent English student of the Past who wishes to read Greek myths in his own tongue. In the Epic of Hades' the aim is more than mere revival; it is that, too, in a certain measure, but it is chiefly the

setting of the myths in accordance with their poetical beauty and their deep spiritual meaning. The poem is not an epic in the strict sense of the word; it is rather a series of dramatic monologues superintended by the poet himself. The conception is not unlike that of the Mirror for Magistrates,' and the work should serve a similar purpose on a wider scale. Every individual has a part in life to play, and he may be warned, guided, and strengthened by the examples thus depicted from ancient mythology. Friendship, fidelity, patriotism, avarice, selfishness, revenge were features of human character then as now; and, despite what is known as the accumulated hereditary wisdom of countless generations, there are still fresh beginnings to make, careers to enter upon, triumphs to admire, failures to deplore.

For while a youth is lost in soaring thought,
And while a maid grows sweet and beautiful,
And while a spring-tide coming lights the earth,
And while a child, and while a flower is born,
And while one wrong cries for redress and finds
A soul to answer, still the world is young!

There may be some who will take objection to the interpretation of the myths as given in this poem, and who will say that at any rate it is inconsistent to make the interlocutors the expounders as well. The objection certainly is possible, but not particularly valid, and it will occur only on the first blush and as a feature of a hasty and unreflecting criticism. The poem postulates development, and that too is quite in keeping with the genius of Greek mythology itself. In any case, the poet has preferred this method, and the reader has simply to accept it and make the most of the arrangement. After all, there is a sense of fitness in regarding this allegorical treatment ; it disposes at a sweep of the omnipotent Sun-myth, and reduces the manifold romance of antiquity to tangible human conditions. The story of Andromeda, for example, has been told in English by Charles Kingsley on purely classical lines. It is all there, as Ovid told it, and it is set off, besides, with the long roll of the hexameter. In the Epic of Hades' the maid gives her story in due narrative form, but with an added philosophy of it rendered possible from her new and more penetrating outlook. It is the poet's gloss, of course, but does it not add force and point that it should be declared by Andromeda herself?

I seem to see new meaning in my life,

And all the deeds I spoke of. Evermore
The young life comes, bound to the cruel rocks

Alone. Before it the unfathomed sea

Smiles, filled with monstrous growths that wait to take

Its innocence. Far off the voice and hand

Of love kneel by in agony, and entreat

The seeming careless gods. Still when the deep

Is smoothest, lo, the deadly fangs and coils

« AnteriorContinuar »