Imagens da página
PDF
ePub

dullest disciple of fact, should be cautious how he betrays the shallowness of his philosophy by discerning no poetry in its depths.

But the poet is far from dealing only with these subtle and analogical truths. Truth of every kind belongs to him, provided it can bud into any kind of beauty, or is capable of being illustrated and impressed by the poetic faculty. Nay, the sim. plest truth is often so beautiful and impressive of itself, that one of the greatest proofs of his genius consists in his leaving it to stand alone, illustrated by nothing but the light of its own tears or smiles, its own wonder, might, or playfulness. Hence the complete effect of many a simple passage in our old English ballads and romances, and of the passionate sincerity in general of the greatest early poets, such as Homer and Chaucer, who flourished before the existence of literary world,” and were not perplexed by a heap of notions and opinions, or by doubts how emotion ought to be expressed. The greatest of their successors never write equally to the purpose, except when they can dismiss everything from their minds but the like simple truth. In the beautiful poem of “Sir Eger, Sir Graham, and Sir Gray-Steel" (see it in Ellis's Specimens, or Laing's Early Metrical Tales), a knight thinks himself disgraced in the eyes of his mistress :

66

a

Sir Eger said, “If it be so,
Then wot I well I must forego
Love-liking, and manhood, all clean !”
The water rushed out of his een !

Sir Gray-Steel is killed :

Gray-Steel into his death thus throws (throes ?)
He walters (welters-throws himself about) and the

grass up draws ;

*

A little while then lay he still
(Friends that him saw, liked full ill)
And bled into his armor bright.

The abode of Chaucer's Reve, or Steward, in the Canterbury Tales, is painted in two lines, which nobody ever wished longer :

His wonning (dwelling) was full fair upon an heath,
With greeny trees yshadowed was his place.

Every one knows the words of Lear, “most matter-of-fact, most melancholy.”

Pray do not mock me;
I am a very foolish fond old man
Fourscore and upwards:
Not an hour more, nor less; and to deal plainly
I fear I am not in my perfect mind.

It is thus, by exquisite pertinence, melody, and the implied power of writing with exuberance, if need be, that beauty and truth become identical in poetry, and that pleasure, or at the very worst, a balm in our tears, is drawn out of pain.

It is a great and rare thing, and shows a lovely imagination, when the poet can write a commentary, as it were, of his own, on such sufficing passages of nature, and be thanked for the addition. There is an instance of this kind in Warner, an old Elizabethan poet, than which I know nothing sweeter in the world. He is speaking of Fair Rosamond, and of a blow given her by Queen Eleanor.

With that she dash'd her on the lips,

So dyèd double red:
Hard was the heart that gave the blow,

Soft were those lips that bled.

There are different kinds and degrees of imagination, some of them necessary to the formation of every true poet, and all of them possessed by the greatest. Perhaps they may be enumerated as follows:—First, that which presents to the mind any object or circumstance in every-day life ; as when we imagine a man holding a sword, or looking out of a window ;-Second, that which presents real, but not every-day circumstances; as King Alfred tending the loaves, or Sir Philip Sidney giving up the water to the dying soldier;

;—Third, that which combines character and events directly imitated from real life, with imita. tive realities of its own invention; as the probable parts of the histories of Priam and Macbeth, or what may be called natura! fiction as distinguished from supernatural ;-Fourth, that which conjures up things and events not to be found in nature ; as Homer's gods, and Shakspeare's witches, enchanted horses and spears, Ariosto's hippogriff, &c. ;-Fifth, that which, in order to illustrate or aggravate one image, introduces another; sometimes in simile, as when Homer compares Apollo descending in his wrath at noon-day to the coming of night-time : sometimes in metaphor, or simile comprised in a word, as in Milton's “motes that people the sunbeams ;” sometimes in concentrating into a word the main history of any person or thing, past or even future, as in the “starry Galileo” of Byron, and that ghastly foregone conclusion of the epithet “ murdered” applied to the yet living victim in Keats's story from Boccaccio

So the two brothers and their murder'd man
Rode towards fair Florence;

sometimes in the attribution of a certain representative quality which makes one circumstance stand for others; as in Milton's grey-fly winding its sultry horn," which epithet contains the heat of a summer's day ;-Sixth, that which reverses this process, and makes a variety of circumstances take color from one, like nature seen with jaundiced or glad eyes, or under the influ. ence of storm or sunshine; as when in Lycidas, or the Greek pastoral poets, the flowers and the flocks are made to sympathize with a man's death; or, in the Italian poet, the river flowing by the sleeping Angelica seems talking of love

Parea che l' erba le fiorisse intorno,
amor ragionasse quella riva !

Orlando Innamorato, Canto iii.

or in the voluptuous homage paid to the sleeping Imogen by the very light in the ch

nber and the reaction her own beauty upon itself; or in the “witch element” of the tragedy of Macbeth and the May-day night of Faust ;-Seventh, and last, that which by a single expression, apparently of the vaguest kind, not only meets but surpasses in its effect the extremest force of the most particular description; as in that exquisite passage of Coleridge's Christabel, where the unsuspecting object of the witch's malignity is bidden to go to bed :

Quoth Christabel, So let it be!
And as the lady bade, did she.
Her gentle limbs did she undress,
And lay down in her loveliness ;-

a perfect verse surely, both for feeling and music. The very smoothness and gentleness of the limbs is in the series of the letter l's.

I am aware of nothing of the kind surpassing the most lovely inclusion of physical beauty in moral, neither can I call to mind .any instances of the imagination that turns accompaniments into accessories, superior to those I have alluded to. Of the class of comparison, one of the most touching (many a tear must it have drawn from parents and lovers) is in a stanza which has been copied into the “Friar of Orders Grey,” out of Beaumont and Fletcher :

Weep no more, lady, weep no more,

Thy sorrow is in vain;
For violets pluck'd the sweetest showers

Will ne'er make grow again.

And Shakspeare and Milton abound in the very grandest ; such as Antony's likening his changing fortunes to the cloud-rack ; Lear's appeal to the old age of the heavens; Satan's appearance in the horizon, like a fleet " hanging in the clouds;" and the comparisons of him with the comet and the eclipse. Nor unworthy of this glorious company, for its extraordinary combina. tion of delicacy and vastness, is that enchanting one of Shelley's in the Adonais :

Life, like a dome of many-colored glass,
Stains the white radiance of eternity.

I multiply these particulars in order to impress upon the reader's mind the great importance of imagination in all its phases, as a constituent part of the highest poetic faculty.

The happiest instance I remember of imaginative metaphor

is Shakspeare's moonlight “ sleeping" on a bank; but half his poetry may be said to be made up of it, metaphor indeed being the common coin of discourse. Of imaginary creatures, none out of the pale of mythology and the East, are equal, perhaps, in point of invention, to Shakspeare's Ariel and Caliban ; though poetry may grudge to prose the discovery of a Winged Woman, especially such as she has been described by her inventor in the story of Peter Wilkins; and in point of treatment, the Mammon and Jealousy of Spenser, some of the monsters in Dante, particu. larly his Nimrod, his interchangements of creatures into one another, and (if I am not presumptuous in anticipating what I think will be the verdict of posterity) the Witch in Coleridge's Christabel, may rank even with the creations of Shakspeare. It may be doubted, indeed, whether Shakspeare had bile and nightmare enough in him to have thought of such detestable horrors as those of the interchanging adversaries (now serpent, now man), or even of the huge, half-blockish enormity of Nimrod, in Scripture, the “mighty hunter” and builder of the tower of Babel,-in Dante, a tower of a man in his own person, standing with some of his brother giants up to the middle in a pit in hell, blowing a horn to which a thunder-clap is a whisper, and hallooing after Dante and his guide in the jargon of the lost tongue ! The transformations are too odious to quote : but of the towering giant we cannot refuse ourselves the “ fearful joy” of a speci.

It was twilight, Dante tells us, and he and his guide Vir. gil were silently pacing through one of the dreariest regions of hell, when the sound of a tremendous horn made him turn all his attention to the spot from which it came. He there discovered through the dusk, what seemed to be the towers of a city. Those are no towers, said his guide ; they are giants, standing up to the middle in one of these circular pits.

men.

Come quando la nibbia si dissipa,

Lo sguardo a poco a poco raffigura

Ciò che cela l' vapor che l' aere stipa;
Così forando l'aer grossa e scura

Più e più appressando in ver la sponda,

Fuggémi errore, e giugnemi paura :
Perocchè come in su la cerchia tonda

« AnteriorContinuar »