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THE POETRY OF LEWIS MORRIS.
NE of the most noteworthy literary phenomena of our generation is the popularity of the poet who, for a time, chose to be known as A New Writer, and whose familiar designation now is the 'Author of the "Epic of Hades." When the first series of his Songs of Two Worlds' appeared, the poet was hailed as a fresh and distinct power, and one that ere long would be widely and heartily recognised. At short intervals there came the second and the third series, both of them showing increased knowledge and skill, and proving that the sympathetic range and the command of pathos evinced in the first volume had been cultivated and chastened into a full and vigorous maturity. The first series appeared in 1872, the second in 1874, and the third in 1875, and such was the instant popularity of the poems that no buyer whose enthusiasm began with the third could complete his set by adding the two previous volumes. These were hopelessly out of print. The British public, despite Mr. Browning's satirical despair of their intellectual grasp, had shown themselves capable at least of buying volumes of reflective poetry, and any sudden neophyte was left to his melancholy longing. Happily, however, the author was induced, in 1878, to reprint the bulk of the three series in one volume. These significant words occur in the preface to this ultimate form of the work:- The demand for a re-issue of "Songs of Two Worlds " makes it essential to lose no time in presenting this volume to the public.' The preface is dated from Penbryn, which is a name suggestive of the Cymri, and an accompanying photograph appears to have been executed at Carmarthen. The poet's name is not printed on the title-page, and the portrait and accompaniments are, no doubt, given to impress individuality without undue show of personality or egoism. Indeed, it is one of the leading thoughts in the poems that it is better to be true to one's spiritual nature than to live merely for popular applause. The poet is not afraid lest the public should find him out, but he is more anxious that they should know his philosophy of culture than that they should look upon himself as a social entity. In his noble address To an Unknown Poet,' in which he pays a tribute to his compatriot Henry Vaughan the Silurist, we find this announcement of the poet's nativity and sympathies:
Dear friend, who, two long centuries ago,
Didst tread where since my grandsires trod,
Thou art so high and yet unknown: shall I
Repine that I too am obscure ?
If only it is pure ? The reference to Vaughan and his favourite measure is significant, and the opening stanza of Vaughan's poem on · Departed Friends' may be quoted as showing how thoroughly the modern poet sympathises with his predecessor :
They are all gone into the world of light !
And I alone sit lingering here.
And my sad thoughts doth clear. Vaughan, too, is consistent in his admiration of duty well performed ---of individual heroism, however obscure, in preference to blind adherence to the movements of the crowd. He sums up, in his · Rules and Lessons,' what he conceives to be the true man's attitude, in this wise :
A sweet self-privacy in a right soul
Outruns the earth, and lines the utmost pole. The author of the “ Epic of Hades' is a warm advocate of manliness such as this. In all his poetry one feels that what is said is the expression of what is felt and believed, and what, moreover, the poet cannot help saying. He depends for his effect upon his quiet refinement, his sure though delicate touch, and his influence over subtle chords of association and the recondite harmonies of grave sentiment. . Both on his own showing, and as illustrated in his practice, the poet is not eager for the applause of the vulgar; he would rather, indeed, have none of it than catch it at a run or at the expense of his own calm dignity and self-command. He will resort to no trick of verse, dor pander to any unworthy passion, but will quietly and steadily go on his way, giving unpretentious expression to the best that is in him.
There is music, too, in his verse, but the grouping of phrases and the management of cadences are dependent less upon the sound and more upon the sentiment. Indeed, a tendency towards superfluity of sentiment is just the one feature of these poems that a captious criticism might point to as a flaw. Yet it is quite possible to
No. 607 (xo. cxxvi. N. s.)
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,
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
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;
With one broad perfect Law.
The fair fantastic Commonwealth, too fair
For earth, wherein the wise alone bore rule-
himself Shows duller than the fool;
And that white soul, clothed with a satyr's form,
Which shone beneath the laurels day by day,
Doubted men's doubts away ;
And him who took all knowledge for his own,
And with the same swift logical sword laid bare
Of earth and sea and air;
And those on whom the visionary East
Worked in such sort, that knowledge grew to seem
To crown the mystic's dream;
Till, once again, the old light faded out,
And left no trace of that fair day remain-
Men's thoughts with such a chain
That knowledge sank self-slain, like some stout knight
Clogged by his harness; nor could wit devise
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
To a deep stream of love.
And honour; and Love, a clearer, surer view :
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;
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 T Apology,' gives the author's view of the true sphere of the poetical artist
To sing To-day,
But this alone-To-day; 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 Æschylus. 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 Aing 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,
All selfish seeking to the general good.