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and cant, his ever-ready, genial smile announces that he is no mere cynic. As a table-talker, he shines preeminent, and his privileged companions tell wondrous things of those nights and suppers of the gods, where the Autocrat fairly coruscated wit and fun, and “sport that wrinkled Care derides."
As a reader of his own verse he is also admirable, and his fellow-poet Stedman gives us this interesting description of him in that character:
“ The beauty of Holmes's poems takes on increase by the manner in which the author suits his action to his word. The youth who has heard this last of the recitationists deliver one of his poems will recall, in future years, the fire and spirit of a veteran whose heart was in his work, who reads a stanza with the poetic inflection that no elocutionist can equal, who with it gives you so much of himself, — the sparkling eye, the twinkling byplay of the mouth, the nervous frame on tiptoe in chase of imagery unleashed and coursing. Such a poet lifts the glow and fancy of the moment into the region of art, but of the art which must be enacted to bring out its full effect, and in which no actor save the artist himself can satisfactorily essay the single rôle."
As a stylist, both in prose and verse, Holmes is characterized by marked originality and individuality. In the Autocrat, Professor, and Poet series he has given us "a new contribution to the forms of literary art,” in which he has shown himself equally master of wit, irony, and sentiment. His style is a model of flexibility, incisiveness, brilliancy, and grace. He has
tingling hits and rollicking fun” that recall Sydney Smith, mirthful satire unequaled except by Hood, and simple pathos drawn from the same inner fountains that bubbled up in Burns and Béranger.
In an interesting letter to the school-children of Cincinnati, written in November, 1880 (on the occasion of their celebration of his seventy-first birthday), the poet tells us how he would be judged.
“ You are doing me great honor by committing some of my lines to memory, and bringing me so kindly into remembrance. I began writing and printing my poems at an age when many are far advanced in wisdom, but I was boyish and immature. And so it happens that some productions of mine got established in my books which I look upon now as green fruit, which had better been left ungathered. After all, it sometimes happens that youthful readers find a certain pleasure in writings which their authors find themselves to have outgrown, and shake their
gray heads over as if they ought to have written like old men when they were boys. So, if any of you can laugh over any of my early verses, unbutton your small jackets, and indulge in that pleasing convulsion to your hearts' content. But I sincerely hope that you will find something better in my pages; and if you will remember me by The Chambered Nautilus, or The Promise, or The Living Temple, your memories will be a monument I shall think more of than of any of bronze or marble.”
Taking the poet at his word, we begin our Holmes extracts with the three poems named.
1.- THE CHAMBERED NAUTILUS.
(“The Chambered Nautilus” is one of the charming lyrics intrduced by Holmes into The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table. “I will read you a few lines,” says the Autocrat, “suggested by looking at a section of one of those chambered shells to which is given the name of Pearly Nautilus. We need not trouble ourselves about the distinction be. tween this and the Paper Nautilus, the Argonauta of the ancients. The name applied to both shows that each has long been compared to a ship; as you may see more fully in Webster's Dictionary, or the 'Encyclopedia,' to which he refers. If you will look into Roget's Bridgewater Treatise, you will find a figure of one of these shells, and a section of it. The last will show you the series of enlarging compartments successively dwelt in by the animal that inhabits the shell, which is built in a widening spiral. Can you find no lesson in this ?”]
This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
Sails the unshadowed main,
The venturous bark that flings
And coral reefs lie bare,
Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl;
Wrecked is the ship of pearl !
1 feign, make believe.
to have dwelt near the island of 2 In gulfs enchanted, etc. The Capreæ in the Mediterranean, and nautilus is found in the warm to have sung with such sweetness waters of the Mediterranean Sea, that they who sailed by forgot the Indian Ocean, and the Gulf of their country, and died in an ecsMexico.
tasy of delight. 3 Siren, one of three (or two) sea-maids, in Grecian mytholdamsels fabled by the classic poetslogy, the nercides, or sea-nymphs.
Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,
Before thee lies revealed, —
Year after year beheld the silent toil
That spread his lustrous coil;2
Still, as the spiral grew,
Built up its idle door,
Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
Child of the wandering sea,
Cast from her lap, forlorn!
While on mine ear it rings,
1 Its webs unsealed. To | is, the lesson taught by the habits understand this stanza, it should be of this animal. The lesson is found borne in mind that the poet has in the last stanza. before him a specimen of the nauti 4 Triton, a fabled sea demigod, lus, cut into sections and so reveal the son of Neptune and Venus, and ing its inner structure.
the trunipeter of Neptune. Holmes 2 coil, the convolutions of the has here in mind a line of Wordsshell, - the “spiral” spoken of in worth's, – the next line.
“Or hear old Triton blow his wreathéd 3 the heavenly message: that horn."
Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!1
Till thou at length art free,
2. – THE PROMISE.2
[This poem was written on the occasion of a fair held for some benevolent purpose.]
Not charity 3 we ask,
Nor yet thy gift refuse ; 4
Only to look and choose.
The little-heeded toy
That wins thy treasured gold
Of coming years untold.
Heaven rains on every heart,
1 thy low-vaulted past. Ex- | New Testament the words in which plain the metaphor.
Jesus clothes this promise. 2 The promise. The“promise" 3 charity, literally love, but here here referred to is that spoken of meaning alms-giving. in the last stanza. Quote from the 4 refuse. See Glossary.