Page images

dawn and the flush of morning, when it is no longer night, and yet not day, but akin to both. Who hath not seen (in boyhood at least), when the moon has gone down, the last star disappeared, and the sun is unrisen,-the deep blue firmament, without a shade of cloud, or a luminous speck to soil its ineffable purity? Who has not seen it swelling from the ring of the horizon into boundless amplitude above,

deepening in tone as it rises in elevation, till at the zenith its intensity of colour defies the search of human optics? The longer we gaze, the less we discern; space, infinite space, recedes, and recedes, and recedes, leaving perfect conviction that we might follow it for ever, yet never reach the roof of that vault, which, to a superficial glance, appears as solid as adamant, and as palpable as the surface of a molten mirror. Then, though no spectacle can be more august and magnificent, none can be more simple and unique. Form, colour, magnitude, all meet in the eye at once; and the image is so entire that nothing could be added or subtracted without dissolving the whole.

Yet, all this while, we know that it is not what it first appears,--an arch of sapphire; nor what it afterward might seem,-unoccupied, unpeopled nonentity. The mind goes to work, and, in the absence of every phenomenon that could aid imagination—from memory alone—it arrays that hyaline above in the beauty of morn, the glory of noon, the

and the diversified phases of night; it darkens the vault with clouds, rends it with lightning, shakes it with thunder, deforms it with tempests; or brings forth, in season, rain, hail, and snow, vapour, and mist. But recollective imagination rests not here, in realizing things unseen. All “the poetry of heaven," of which the stars are the symbols, is perused and enjoyed even to transport, in contemplating the clear, blank, beautiful expanse, --worlds, suns, and systems, numbers without number, pour

pomp of

into being, as they came into it, at the word, "Let there be light." We know that the whole material universe does verily exist within that seeming void, which we are exploring, at the same instant, with the eye of the body and the eye of thought.

Yet more, much more than this is included (inevitably included) in the association of ideas awakened by the silent, solitary firmament. We feel that all the invisible world of spirits, disembodied or pure, I say feel, because, abstract them as we may, every idea we can frame of spiritual essences will be crudely material, we feel that all these must be somewhere within that impenetrable veil, which is itself the only perfect emblem of eternity, and is eternity made visible. But I dare not pursue the flight further! I must not presume to spy out “the secrets of the desolate abyss," or,

“ with the deep-transported mind, to soar Above the wheeling poles, and at heaven's door

Look in." It is enough to have pointed out the way, which those of my auditory who have nerve and power enough may trace to infinity. Such, I am persuaded, will be more and more satisfied with this conclusion, which I would draw from the whole of the antecedent examples :-It is the nature of poetry, and the office of the poet, fron things that are seen to disclose things that are not seen. And hence, to every subject that can be the theme of true poetry, the language of Scripture (neither irreverently nor inappropriately) may be extended; "the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." For those objects which, by near contact, strongly affect the senses, are the realities of mortal life; which either perish in the using, or from which we ourselves must perish, and see, know, suffer, or enjoy them no more for ever. Yet the same objects, when removed to that due distance which clothes them with picturesque or poetical beauty, by being thus made ideal, are made immortal, and of the nature of the thinking principle itself, which

“secured of its existence, smiles
At the drawn dagger, and defies its point:
The stars shall fade away, the sun himself
Grow dim with age, and nature sink in years ;
But this shall flourish in immortal youth,
Unhurt amid the war of elements,
The wreck of matter, and the ecrush of worlds."


The Poetical in Childhood and Old Age. To come home to our own bosoms and personal experience. I have said, that there is much, very much of what is poetical even in ordinary life. Of this, Hope and Memory constitute the principal elements; and these, for the most part, are exercised in reference to age before it arrives, and childhood when it is past,

« Till youth's delirious dream is o'er,
Sanguine with hope, we look before,
The future good to find;
In age, when error charms no more,
For bliss we look behind."

There is this difference between rational and brute beings, that the latter live wholly to the present time and the present scene; and is only under peculiar excitement, when separated from their young, hurried on by the impulse of appetite, or suddenly removed to a strange place, that they seem conscious of any objects but those around them, and which press immediately upon their senses. They do not spontaneously call up recollections; the past, the absent, and the future are alike forgotten, unregarded, or unknown. But man, endowed with intelligence, lives in the present time, chiefly as a point between that which is gone by and that which is to come, and in the present scene, chiefly as the centre of what is around him. He looks behind and before, above and beneath, and on either hand: but at different stages of the journey of life, his attention is more especially attracted in contrary directions.

The infant, so soon as it begins to think and reason, looks wholly before it, in the pursuit of knowledge and power, while desire increases with what it feeds upon, and hope grows out of every indulgence. Im- i patient of control, and eager to exercise over others that authority which it resents when exercised towards itself, though only for its protection, -it longs for the time when it shall be as old and as strong as its brothers, and sisters, and companions, that it may enjoy the same liberties, and assume the same airs and rights which they do.

When a little further grown, the boy,-looking up and pressing onward, as he rises in stature, and feels new capacities expanding within him,-rebels in secret against the yoke, the reins, and the scourge with which he finds himself ruled, however his servitude may be disguised; and he sighs for maturity, that he may go where he pleases, and do what he likes.

It is not, then, the toys, the sweetmeats, the holydays, the finery, and the caresses that are lavished upon him,--these are mere every-day matters of course,- it is something far more intellectual than any childish thing, that constitutes the charm of childish existence. When I am a man!” is the poetry of childhood; and, Oh! how much is comprehended in that puerile phrase, so often employed by little lips, unconscious of its bitter meaning ; and so unheeded by those who are men already, and have forgotten that they ever had a golden dream of that iron age,-a dream to which all the fictions of ro mance are cold and unnatural! “ When I am a man!' means, in the mind of a child, when he shall be no

more that which he is; when (as he is already by anticipation) he shall be that which he is not, -that which, alas! he never will be-lord of himself. If we would really know, by a test which will hardly deceive us, the highest happiness of what is (mistakenly I am sure) deemed the happiest period of human life, let us recollect what were our own emotions when we were cherishing ideas of manhood to come,-but which never did come to the heart as it had been promised to the hope.

“ When I was a child !" is the poetry of age. Man, advancing in years, enriched with the treasure of disappointed hopes, looks less eagerly before him, because he expects less good, and fears more evil, in this world, in proportion as he proves for himself what are the sad and sober realities of life. Eternity invites him to explore its mysteries, in anticipation of his approaching end; when all his love, and all his hatred, and all his envy shall cease, and there remain no longer a portion to him in all that is done under the sun. (Ecclesiastes ix. 6.]

Yet, while caution and prudence, the fruits of many a failure and much suffering, make him peep warily forward into his future trials in the present state, the circumstances of spiritual existence are so utterly unseen and inconceivable by mortal faculties, that, when his mind puts forth its feelers beyond the grave, imperfectly to apprehend a little of the terrors or the glories of an hereafter,--soon coming in contact with things with which flesh and blood can hold no communion, it draws them back with a sensitive collapse, like that which shrinks up a snail when its telescopic eyes suddenly touch a palpable substance.

Yet not into itself alone, or even within the circumscribed horizon of the present, does the mind retire from eternity; it takes refuge in past time, and recalls, with fondness and entrancement (unknown while they were in his power), the sports of infancy, the raptures of boyhood, and the passionate pursuits


« PreviousContinue »