« PreviousContinue »
is destroyed. When the significance is grasped we must forget our paraphrase and revert to the poet's language. Indeed, any needless translation of the poet's ideas and images into other words is to be sedulously avoided, since it carries with it the danger of irrecoverable loss. In a well known essay Matthew Arnold has declared that he would rather have a young person ignorant of the moon's diameter than have him think that a good paraphrase for Macbeth's query,
"Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased?"
would be "Can you not wait upon the lunatic?" -and lovers of Shakspere find it not a little hard to forgive Arnold for having made current such a paraphrase even for the sake of impressing a wholesome lesson.
In the more abstruse kinds of poetry, conscious analysis and interpretation must doubtless be resorted to freely. Some poetry of this class exists chiefly for the message or moral it conveys. Close study of it is therefore not only legitimate, but is demanded, and it may be pursued with little harm to the more purely poetic enjoyment, since that becomes then a minor consideration. Moreover, our skill in interpreting will grow with our practice until
even difficult poetry becomes simple to us and there is no longer any perceptible bar to the appreciation of both its truth and its beauty. When we have reached that stage, Shakspere and Dante will not only yield delight as readily as Burns and Tennyson did once, but the delight will be greater in proportion to the greater ideas and truths that accompany the poet's imagination and feeling.
A further pleasure to be derived from poetry may lie in the discovery of the sources of our primary enjoyment. This may be made clearest, perhaps, by an illustration. Tennyson's Mariana is a poem that requires no interpretation. One may read simply for the obvious beauty and feeling in them, such lines as,
"About a stone-cast from the wall
A sluice with blacken'd waters slept,
But, if he choose, he may return upon his reading and trace the pleasurable effects to their source. He will then discover that there is music for the ear in the rich rhymes and the alliterated syllables, that there is pleasure in meeting with such words as "sluice" and "marish" in poetic surroundings, that a subtle harmony is to be detected between Mariana's depression
of spirit and the blackened, sleeping waters that she looks upon, that the sense of sullen life and purposed action on the part of the waters, implied in the word "slept," imparts an atmosphere of mystery and awe, that in the whole poem, indeed, though the words "monotony" and "melancholy" are nowhere used, every thought and image contributes to produce a monotonous, melancholy effect. Many will protest against such analysis, as destroying the charm of poetry. To those who find it disenchanting, the simple advice is to let it alone. To all should be given a caution against pushing it too far, for it is precisely this kind of treatment that if over done will deaden literature instead of making it alive. Yet a certain amount of conscious study, pursued with reverence and sympathy, can scarcely result in harm.
After all, to increase in every way possible our enjoyment of "the best that has been thought and said in the world" is the great object. Perhaps each one primarily demands of the poet his own best thoughts and dreams given such expression as he himself is unable to give them. He goes to the poet, as it were, saying: "I have seen, in fact or in fancy, such and such things; I have felt thus and so. But if I tried to express it, I should not do myself justice. My words
are poor, and I have no skill to shape them aright. Do you do it for me." And to one who looks out upon nature, filled with the palpitating joy of life, a Tennyson interprets the throstle's song:
"Summer is coming, summer is coming,
Light again, leaf again, life again, love again,'
and to one oppressed with sorrow a Longfellow tells how
"Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.”
Thus, the needed expression is supplied, and the pent-up feelings find an outlet.
Yet something more than this is possible. The great poets have visions that we have not seen, thoughts that never crossed our brain. To follow and find these, to come into touch with Wordsworth's subtle sympathies, to rise to the sublimity of Milton's lofty conceptions, to sound the depths of Shakspere's knowledge of the human soul, are things that wait only upon the constant reading and study of poetry. For the attainment of these, can any sacrifice of time or labor seem too great?
ALPHONSO GERALD NEWCOMER.