Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAP. XLIV.

DESCRIPTIVE POETRY.

To accustom young ladies to select and copy the beautiful passages of favourite authors, is perhaps : the most obvious and effectual of all the minor modes of polishing their minds. The old-fashioned practice of taxing them to learn by rote was not half so good, and was, moreover, attended with the disadvantage of sometimes giving them a habit of quoting in conversation ; nay, what was far worse, of betraying them into the odious vanity of even leading the conversation, in order that they might obtain opportunities to spout,—of course no Bachelor's Wife was ever guilty of such a blue offence. But, as the perfect Egeria was sometimes in the practice of making extracts in the way suggested, we shall look at a few of the sort of things that she considered good.

The first we meet with is from a little poem commonly ascribed to the celebrated Earl of Surrey, who, if not the father of English rhythm, was, after Chaucer, the first who properly felt the depth and variety of the harmonies of the language:

.“ The Sun, when he hath spread his rays,

And showed his face ten thousand ways,

Ten thousand things do then begin • To show the life that they are in.

The heaven shows lively art and hue,
Of sundry shapes and colours new,
And laughs upon the earth :-anon,
The earth, as cold as any stone,
Wet in the tears of her own kind,
Gins then to take a joyful mind;
For well she feels that out and out
The sun doth warm her round about,
And dries her children tenderly,
And shows them forth full orderly.
The mountains high, and how they stand;
The valleys, and the great main land;
The trees, the herbs, the towers strong,
The castles, and the rivers long;
And even for joy thus of this heat,
She showeth forth her pleasures great,
And sleeps no more; but sendeth forth
Her clergions, her own dear worth,
To mount and fly up to the air,
Where then they sing in order fair,
And tell in song full merrily,
How they have slept full quietly
That night about their mother's sides.
And when they have sung more besides,
Then fall they to their mother's breast,
Whereat they feed, or take their rest.
The hunter then sounds out his horn,
And rangeth straight through wood and corn ;
On hills then show the ewe and lamb,
And every young one with his dam;
Then lovers .walk and tell their tale,
Both of their bliss and of their bale;
And how they serve, and how they do,
And how their lady loves them too.
And thus all things have comforting
In that, that doth their comfort bring ;

Save I, alas ! whom neither sun,
Nor aught that God hath wrought and done,
May comfort aught; as though I were
A thing not made for comfort here."

The Earl of Surrey was the eldest son of the Duke of Norfolk, in the time of Henry VIII. He was born in 1516, and was early contracted to marry Lady Frances Vere, daughter of the Earl of Oxford. In 1542, he was made a knight of the garter, and appears to have been one of the gayest ornaments of the court; but he fell under the displeasure of the King, and was in consequence beheaded in the flower of life. It is proper, however, to observe, that although he has been regarded as the author of the poem quoted, it is certainly not at all like the ordinary style of his poetry, of which the following descriptive effusion, written during one of his imprisonments in Windsor Castle, is a favourable specimen. With somewhat of the general stiffness of his style, it possesses much of the grace and gallant spirit of his chivalrous character, and affords altogether an advantageous view of his powers and talents as a poet:

“ So cruel prison how could betide, alas !

As proud Windsor, where I in lust and joy, With a king's son my childish years did pass,

In greater feast than Priam's sons of Troy. Where each sweet place returns a taste full sour;

The large green courts, where we were wont to hove, With eyes cast up unto the maiden's tower,

And easy sighs, such as folks draw in love ; The stately seats, the ladies bright of hue,

The dances short, long tales of great delight,

With words, and looks, that tigers could but rue,

Where each of us did plead the other's right; The palm-play, where despoiled for the game,

With dazed eyes oft we, by gleams of love, Have missed the ball, and got sight of our dame,

To bait her eyes, which kept the leads above. The gravelled ground, with sleeves tied on the helm,

On foaming horse, with swords and friendly hearts, With chear as though one should another whelm,

Where we here fought, and chased öft with darts; With silver drops the meads yet spread for ruth;

In active games of nimbleness and strength, Where we did strain, trained with swarms of youth, · Our tender limbs, that yet shot up in length; The secret groves, which oft we made resound

Of pleasant plaint, and of our ladies praise, Recording soft what grace each one had found,

What hope of speed, what dread of long delays; The wild forest, the clothed holts with green;

With rains availed, and swift y-breathed horse With cry of hounds, and merry blasts between,

Where we did chase the fearful hart of force; The void walls eke that harboured us each night;

Wherewith, alas ! revive within my heart The sweet accord, such sleeps as yet delight,

The pleasant dreams, the quiet bed of rest,
The secret thoughts imparted with such trust,

The wanton talk, the divers change of play,
The friendship sworn, each promise kept so just,--

Wherewith we past the winter nights away.
And with this thought the blood forsakes the face ;

The tears berain my cheeks of deadly hue :
The which, as soon as sobbing sighs, alas !

Up-supped have, thus I my plaint renew : “ O place of bliss ! renewer of my woes !

Give me account, where is my noble fere ??

Whom in thy walls thou didst each night enclose,

To other lief, but unto me most dear.” Echo, alas ! that doth my sorrow rue,

Returns thereto a hollow sound of plaint. Thus I alone, where all my freedom grew,

In prison pine with bondage and restraint ; And with remembrance of the greater grief

To banish the less, I find my chief relief.”

If the muse of Surrey, the first noble English poet, be imbued with the romantic spirit of his time, perhaps in the more emphatic verse of Byron, the latest and the greatest, we may trace the chartered and fiercer energies that are supposed to have affected the moral temperament of our own time. One of the very finest passages in all his voluminous works is an address to Napoleon, the individual in whom whatever was peculiar, to the revolutionary period that has just passed, may be said to have been embodied. After adverting to the singular combination of magnanimity and meanness, which formed the brightness and the blackness of that extraordinary political phenomenon, the author proceeds:

“ Yet well thy soul hath brook'd the turning tide

With that untaught innate philosophy,
Which, be it wisdom, coldness, or deep pride,
Is gall and wormwood to an enemy.
When the whole host of hatred stood hard by,
To watch and mock thee shrinking, thou hast smiled
With a sedate and all-enduring eye;

When Fortune fled her spoild and favourite child,
He stood unbowed beneath the ills upon him piled.

2c

Hard by,

« PreviousContinue »