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There shall come a time when each shall to another
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,
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,
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,
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
Are nigh to smite with death. And o'er the crags
Looks down and sees the sorrow. So, too, at the close of the beautiful, and beautifully told myth of Persephone, we have a characteristic gathering-up of the threads, a familiar climax of reflection :
Time calls and Change
Till the last change be done.
one universal word To all things living, and the word is Love.' And it is Apollo who urges brave souls to press onward to the ultimate and glorious goal—the merging of their imperfect beings in the perfection of Zeus the Giver—in words that are aglow with gracious impulse and benign wisdom :
There is a Height higher than mortal thought;
And is a blessed life and glorified. In regard to poetical workmanship, the myths that probably stand foremost are Sisyphus, Marsyas, and Helen. The introductory descriptive portion of "Sisyphus' is worthy of a theme that Homer glorified by specially careful versification, and it is interesting to mark how very simple but extremely careful diction does a duty not unworthy of comparison with the expressive Greek dactyls. How vivid is this rapidly depicted scene! How well suited every word is to the position it fills !
And wrapt in smoke, as to the lowest depths
Was all that I could bear. ‘Marsyas ’is a triumph of sweet melody, a veritable monument of graceful, chaste, refluent English. The very movement of the young Apollo has music in it, and the passage descriptive of the contest is elaborated and rounded with rare finish and delicacy. Exclusive of Shakespeare, whose onomatopeic passages (as in the Merchant of Venice on the 'harmony that is in immortal souls,' and the opening speech of Twelfth Night) are supreme, this description of the expansive reach and the subtle influence of musical sound will bear comparison with anything else in the language. It is quite as effective as the somewhat specialized tributes to the genius of Lawes in Comus, while it is not simply written to order like Mr. Rossetti's * Sonnet composed during Music,' or Charles Lamb's bright epigrammatic Chapter on Ears.' The Sun-god's instrumental music was of course unusually thrilling and captivating, but it was trifling compared with the ethereal notes of his song.
Oh, to hear the young
For victory Still the playing itself might have left even the Muses doubtful about judgment, had it not been followed by that glorious heavenly voice!
The best portion of Helen' is the romance of her youthful innocence and growth—sweetly idyllic, tenderly sympathetic, gravely foreboding. It quite prepares apt students of the poet for the touching pathos, the long-suffering heroism, the bitter-sweet joys, the hearts heavy laden, the fatal burden and tragic circumstance of "Gwen, a Drama in Monologue.' In no sense, as the author himself points out, is this little work of fresh lyrical movement and grave sentiment adapted for stage purposes. The title, as usual, is somewbat unfortunate and misleading. It is a poem to read on the hillsides and among the heather, away from the bustle and the jar of worldliness, and with the subtle and penetrating associations of a solitary retreat. It will not endure the flare and the gaudy vulgarity of the crowd. It appeals to the reflective forces; it goes straight to the individual heart. It tells of a secret that courtiers canno: know; it is a story of too touching an interest for the worldling to appreciate. It is the course of true love, thwarted and disturbed and misdirected as from of old, but still steadfast in aim and reaching its destined outlet somehow at the last. Henry, an earl's son, loves Gwen, a clergyman's daughter, among the Welsh hills, and struggles manfully against society for his love; but the contest entails heart-breaking and domestic tragedy, and bitter wrestling of the lone human spirit with the powers of Evil. The lesson taught is a noble and a manly one-there is a heroism of sentiment that stirs to the depths of manhood and proves the purification of the soul.
The springtide that awakens land and sea,
Strip from me all the Past, and leave me man. And to this there is the gentle and confiding and withal foreboding response :
I do obey. I lay my soul
The hour of Love and Life is come! Significant are these lines of the concentrated affection and the endearing trials, the smiles that strive with tears and the wellgrounded but chequered hopes, that one and all accompany the struggle with untoward events :
More dear you are, my love, and sweet,