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315. WE ARE SEVEN.
A simple child, dear brother Jim,
That lightly draws its breath, And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death? I met a little cottage girl ;
She was eight years old, she said ; Her hair was thick with many a curl
That cluster'd round her head.
And she was wildly clad ;
Her beauty made me glad.
How many may you be ?” “ How many ? Seven in all,” she said,
And wondering look'd at me. “And where are they? I pray you tell.”
She answer'd, “ Seven are we; And two of us at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea. “ Two of us in the churchyard lie,
My sister and my brother ; And in the churchyard-cottage, I
Dwell near them, with my mother.” " You say that two at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea,
Sweet maid, how this may be ?”
“ Seven boys and girls are we; Two of us in the churchyard lie,
Beneath the churchyard tree.
Your limbs they are alive ;
Then ye are only five."
“ Their graves are green, they may be
seen,' The little maid replied, “ Twelve steps or more
My kerchief there I hem,
I sit and sing to them.
When it is light and fair, I take my little porringer,
And eat my supper there.
In bed she moaning lay,
And then she went away.
And all the summer dry,
My brother John and I. “And when the ground was white with
snow, And I could run and slide, My brother John was forced to go
And he lies by her side.” “How many are you then,” said I,
“If they two are in heaven ?” The little maiden did reply,
“O master! we are seven.” “But they are dead; those two are
dead! Their spirits are in heaven!” 'Twas throwing words away; for still, The little maid would have her will
And said, “Nay, we are seven!”
316. CRITICISM OF POETRY. With the young of both sexes, poetry is, like love, a passion ; but, for much the greater part of those who have been proud of its power over their minds, a necessity soon arises of breaking the pleasing bondage; or it relaxes of itself; the thoughts being occupied in domestic cares, or the time engrossed by business. Poetry then becomes only an occasional recreation ; while to those whose existence passes away in a course of fashionable pleasure, it is a species of luxurious amusement. In middle and declining age, a scattered number of serious persons resort to poetry, as to religion, for a
protection against the pressure of trivial employments, and as a consolation for the afflictions of life. And, lastly, there are many, who, having been enamoured of this art in their youth, have found leisure, after youth was spent, to cultivate general literature, in which poetry has continued to be comprehended as a study.
Into the above classes the readers of poetry may be divided ; critics abound in them all; but from the last only can opinions be collected of absolute value, and worthy to be depended upon, as prophetic of the destiny of a new work. The young, who in nothing can escape delusion, are especially subject to it in their intercourse with poetry. The cause, not so obvious as the fact is unquestionable, is the same as that from which erroneous judgments in this art, in the minds of men of all ages, chiefly proceed; but upon youth it operates with peculiar force. The appropriate business of poetry (which, nevertheless, if genuine, is as permanent as pure science), her appropriate employment, her privilege and her duty, is to treat of things not as they are, but as they appear; not as they exist in themselves, but as they seem to exist to the senses and to the passions. What a world of delusion does this acknowledged principle prepare for the inexperienced! what temptations to go astray are here held forth for them whose thoughts have been little disciplined by the understanding, and whose feelings revolt from the sway of reason ! When a juvenile reader is in the height of his rapture with some vicious passage, should experience throw in doubts, or common-sense suggest suspicions, a lurking consciousness that the realities of the Muse are but shows, and that her liveliest excitements are raised by transient shocks of conflicting feeling and successive assemblages of contradictory thoughts—is ever at hand to justify extravagance, and to sanction absurdity. But, it may be asked, as these illusions are unavoidable, and, no doubt, eminently useful to the mind as a process, what good can be gained by making observations, the tendency of which is to diminish the confidence of youth in its feelings, and thus to abridge its innocent and even profitable pleasures? The reproach implied in the question could not be warded off, if youth were incapable of being delighted with what is truly excellent; or, if these errors always terminated of themselves in due season. But, with the majority, though their force be abated, they continue through life. Moreover, the fire of youth is too vivacious an element to be extinguished or damped by a philosophical remark; and, while there is no danger that what has been said will be injurious or painful to the ardent and the confident, it may prove beneficial to those who, being enthusiastic, are, at the same time, modest and ingenuous. The intimation may unite with their own misgivings to regulate their sensibility, and to bring in, sooner than it would otherwise have arrived, a more discreet and sound judgment.
If it should excite wonder that men of ability, in later life, whose understandings have been rendered acute by practice in affairs, should be so easily and so far imposed upon when they happen to take up a new work in verse, this appears to be the cause—that, having discontinued their attention to poetry, whatever progress may have been made in other departments of knowledge, they have not, as to this art, advanced in true discernment beyond the age of youth. If, then, a new poem falls in their way, whose attractions are of that kind which would have enraptured them during the heat of youth, the judgment not being improved to a degree that they shall be disgusted, they are dazzled ; and prize and cherish the faults for having had power to make the present time vanish before them, and to throw the mind back, as by enchantment, into the happiest season of life. As they read, powers seem to be revived, passions are regenerated, and pleasures restored. The book was probably taken up after an escape from the burthen of business, and with a wish to forget the world, and all its vexations and anxieties. Having obtained this wish, and so much more, it is natural that they should make report as they have felt.
If men of mature age, through want of practice, be thus easily beguiled into admiration of absurdities, extravagances, and misplaced ornaments, thinking it proper that their understandings should enjoy a holiday, while they are unbending their minds with verse, it may be expected that such readers will resemble their former selves also in strength of prejudice, and an inaptitude to be moved by the unostentatious beauties of a pure style. In the higher poetry, an enlightened critic chiefly looks for a reflection of the wisdom of the heart and the grandeur of the imagination. Wherever these appear, simplicity accompanies them; magnificence herself, when legitimate, depending upon a simplicity of her own, to regulate her ornaments. But it is a well-known property of human nature, that our estimates are ever governed by comparisons, of which we are conscious with various degrees of distinctness. Is it not, then, inevitable (confining these observations to the effects of style merely) that an eye, accustomed to the glaring hues of diction by which such readers are caught and excited, will for the most part be rather repelled than attracted by an original work, the colouring of which is disposed according to a pure and refined scheme of harmony? It is in the fine arts as in the affairs of life—no man can serve (i. e, obey with zeal and fidelity) two masters.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge. 1772-1834. (Manual, pp. 451-454.)
318. ODE TO THE DEPARTING YEAR."
It is most hard, with an untroubled ear
Thy dark inwoven harmonies to hear !
With inward stillness, and a bowed mind;
When lo! its folds far waving on the wind, I saw the train of the departing Year!
Starting from my silent sadness
Then with no unholy madness,
From the prison's direr gloom,
From distemper's midnight anguish;
1 This Ode was composed on the 24th, 25th, and 26th days of December, 1796: and was first published on the last day of that year,
Or where, his two bright torches blending,
Love illumines manhood's maze;
Hither, in perplexed dance,
By Time's wild harp, and by the hand
Raises its fateful strings from sleep,
And each domestic hearth,
And with a loud and yet a louder voice,
Weep and rejoice!
And now advance in saintly jubilee
They too obey thy name, divinest Liberty !
I marked Ambition in his war-array !
I heard the mailed Monarch's troublous cry" Ah! wherefore does the Northern Conqueress stay ! Groans not her chariot on its onward way?"
Fly, mailed Monarch, fly!
No more on murder's lurid face
Manes of the unnumbered slain !
Ye that gasped on Warsaw's plain!
Fell in conquest's glutted hour,
Sudden blasts of triumph swelling,
Rush around her narrow dwelling!