Page images
PDF
EPUB

of youth. But, in the dream of memory, he forgets that while he was passing successively through these, the poetry of Hope was, in each, alluring him forward to the stage beyond; and even through the matter-of-fact period of maturity continued to decoy him from the every-day business of life, till he arrived at that barrier where “desire faileth, because man goeth to his long home." It is from that barrier that he daily looks less and less onward, and more and more behind him, at the scenes which he is leaving for ever, and especially at the earliest, the most endeared, though the most familiar, of the whole series.

Ah! then, how naturally will some bright day, among the many clouded ones, recur to him in all its splendour, and be spent, like youth' renewed,--spent over again in imagination, through all its hours, with an intensity of enjoyment which the reality never gave-never could give, subject, as all present felici. ties must be, to inconveniences and annoyances, forgotten as soon as they are over; while the ethereal, or rather the ideal, of the scenes and the circumstances alone survives in remembrance.

“ This lives within him ; this shall be

A part of his eternity.
Amid the cares, the toils, the strife,
The weariness and waste of life,
That day shall memory oft restore,
And, in a moment, live it o'er,
When, with a lightning-flash of thought,
Morn, noon, and eve at once are brought
(As through the vision of a trance)
All in the compass of a glance !"

It is then, in the recollection of such a day, innocently spent with friends, of whom some have been long dead, others are far separated, and a few have grown old with himself,—it is then that he can say,

“The harmonies of heaven and earth,

Through eye, ear, intellect, gave birth
To joys too exquisite to last,
And yet more exquisite when past !
When the soul summons, by a spell,
The ghosts of pleasure round her cell,
In saintlier forms than once they wore,
And smiles benigner than before;
Each loved, lamented scene renews
With warmer touches, tenderer hues;
Recalls kind words for ever flown,
But echoing in a softened tone;
Wakes, with new pulses, in the breast,
Feelings forgotten, or repress'd :
-The thought how fugitive and fair,
How dear and precious

such things were;
That thought, with gladness more refined,
Deep and transporting, fills the mind,
Than all the follies of an hour,
When most the soul confess'd their

power.
Bliss .n possession will not last,
Remeniber'd joys are never past;
At once the fountain, stream, and sea,
They were, they are, and yet shall be.”

Now, all these are of the nature of poetry-poetry in its highest, purest, most intellectual, imaginative, and passionate form. And that verse is not poetry which does not, in some way or other, and in no inconsiderable degree, excite sentiments, images, and associations kindred to those which would be awakened in the mind, presented to the eye, or inspired into the soul,—by the well-proportioned statue of Minerva on her temple at Athens, -by the low sounds of battle, booming from the seacoast, along the banks of the Thames, when the British and Dutch fleets were engaged within hearing, but out of sight, of the metropolis,-by the first view of his native land, and its nearer approach, till he beheld the smoke from his own chimney, to the mariner returning from a long voyage,-by the contemplation of the stars and the heavens, under all the aspects in which we have considered them,-by the ineffable forecastings of

Hope in the bosom of the lad, who thinks to himself, much oftener than he says it, “When I am a man!" and by the tender but sublime emotions of the man, looking back through the vista of years, and exclaiming, “ When I was a child !” remembering only the delights of nutting, bird-nesting, fishing for minnows with a crooked pin, and going home at the holydays—but forgetting the tasks, the control, the self-denial, and the hard fare to which the schoolboy was subjected,

May I add, that " the Pleasures of Memory," and " the Pleasures of Hope,” have had poets in our own language, whose strains, worthy of their themes, will not soon cease to animate the aspirations of youth, and hallow the recollection of age.

LECTURE III.

THE FORM OF POETRY.

I HAVE not pretended to define poetry; but if I have, in any moderate degree, succeeded in showing what is poetical in the various instances adduced, I cannot entirely have failed in what I designed, namely, to furnish a test whereby poetry itself may be detected wherever it exists in any species of literary composition. For it follows, that every subject which is not purely didactic or scientific,--the mathematics, for example, and these only in their principles and processes, -is capable of being treated poetically; or placed in such a light, and with such associations, natural or adventitious, as shall divest it of whatever is ordinary, gross, or mere detail, and clothe it with that ideal beauty which is not the less real because it is only discernible at the nice distance, and in the peculiar point of view, which, by bringing out some latent excellence, or some happy incidence, gives it a new and unexpected character. Hence, in conversation, in eloquence, in history, indeed, in every kind of discourse, whether oral or written (at proper seasons),--the themes in hand may be poetically treated ; that is, they may be exhibited in all their poetical relationships, and under those aspects may excite the corresponding emotions. But it is manifest, that such license, in the several species of composition alluded to, and in fact in all prose, ought to be rarely employed; because poetical excitement is not required, and must be impertinent, when, instead of the passions being moved or the fancy delighted, the mind is to be instructed in abstract truths, informed of actual events, disciplined by close thinking, or entertained with moral, critical, or miscellaneous speculations. In novels and romances, poetic colouring, grouping, and invention may be more frequently hazarded ; but even in these the slightest excess is repulsive to good taste.

Verse and Prose.

In every language, barbarous or polished (I believe), there are two modes of utterance-speaking and singing; and two kinds of cadence in the collocation of syllables, corresponding to speech and songprose and verse. In the former, the rhythm or cadence is allowed to flow on, without interruption, into lengths and subdivisions of period, according to the requirements of the subject-matter ; whereas in verse, whatever be the ductility or refractoriness of the thoughts, the strain is limited to certain successions and recurrences of clauses, not only in melodious concatenation, but harmoniously calling and responding to each other. As in every language there have been found traces of these two

distinct forms of articulate utterance: the one, from its freedom, plasticity, and plainness adapted to the general purposes of verbal or literary intercourse; the other confined to the special treatment of subjects in their poetical view, and peculiarly adapted to this by the music of numbers, the march of syllables, and the exuberance of ornament which these admit, that the thoughts themselves may be exalted as much above commonplace notions as the ca. dences in which they are conveyed are more imposing than the irregular movements of ordinary discourse: prose and verse, from these circumstances, are sufficiently distinct. When, therefore, prose occasionally (as in the example lately quoted from Dryden) presents poetical associations, and awakens poétical feelings, it departs from its usual and politic practice --not improperly, for this is permissible and xpedient on due occasions; but no good writer will be found frequently thus digressing. On the other hand, when verse employs the simplest mode of style to set forth objects that disdain embellishment, it departs in like manner from its usual and politic practice,I will again say, not improperly, for this is permissible and expedient on due occasions: but no good writer will be found frequently thus digressing. In either case, the abuse of a legitimate privilege destroys the very character of the composition. Prose becomes poetical without the fire and spirit of poetry; and verse becomes prosaic without the vigour and elasticity of prose. On either hand it is graceful, and even commendable, for masters in each kind of composition and if duly qualified, they are expressly licensed by the court of Apollo-to sally out in quest of game into the preserves of each other, expecting and allowing reprisals ; but such sportsmen, in the fields of literature, must be content with a day's shooting now and then upon a strange manor, and not make a winter's campaign of a transient diversion; otherwise,

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »