Imagens da página
PDF
ePub

himself absolutely to the Phoenix, the type of perfect beauty, so he consecrates himself wholly to the love and service of Beauty, and that devotion it is that gives his being spirit. That he takes occasion to apply the lesson of the allegory to himself that Chester's poem causes him, as regards his work as a poet, to renew a vow of consecration to the sole service of Beauty-is especially noteworthy.

Ben Jonson's chief, and only serious contribution, is his well-known 'Epode,' from which poem it is evident that he referred the allegory simply to platonic love of man and woman.

[ocr errors]

Shakespeare's contribution will be found on p. 273.

It is plain that Shakespeare's poem was written with a very distinctive life-story of a Turtle and a Phoenix in view, and that it was not that of Chester's Turtle and Phoenix: that instead of setting himself to interpret Chester's allegory Shakespeare writes an independent essay on the same subject'-a proceeding which is in keeping with both title pages. Not only are the conditions carefully enumerated in Shakespeare's poem not found in Chester's, but the whole tone of Shakespeare's poem differs from that of Chester's: whereas in Chester's poem the climax is to be rejoiced at, as accomplishing the purpose of the actors-the continuation of the Phoenix race,-in Shakespeare's the deaths of the Turtle and Phoenix are the cause of deep sorrow, as for an irreparable loss.

Says Emerson, in the preface to his 'Parnassus' (1875),2 'I should like to have the Academy of Letters

1 Beginning "Not to know vice at all; and keep true state." 2 Quoted also by Dr. Grosart in his introduction to the reprint of Love's Martyr.

I

propose a prize for an essay on Shakespeare's poem "Let the bird of loudest lay," and the "Threnos" with which it closes; the aim of the essay being to explain, by a historical research into the poetic myths and tendencies of the age in which it was written, the frame and allusions of the poem. I have not seen Chester's "Love's Martyr" and the "Additional Poems" (1601), in which it appeared. Perhaps that book will suggest all the explanation this poem requires. To unassisted readers, it would appear to be a lament on the death of a poet, and of his poetic mistress.1 But the poem is so quaint, and charming in diction, tone, and allusions, and in its perfect metre and harmony, that I would gladly have the fullest illustration yet attainable. I consider this piece a good example of the rule, that there is a poetry for bards proper, as well as a poetry for the world of readers. This poem, if published for the first time, and without a known author's name, would find no general reception. Only the poets would save it.'

Dr. Grosart calls the poem, 'Shakespeare's priceless and unique "Phoenix and Turtle "';- Shakespeare's incomparable "Phoenix and Turtle."' He notices 'the unforgetable fact that Shakespeare, with special exceptionalness, gave his "new compositions" to the book.' Also the general conception of the poem as of 'sphinx character'; and says, 'To myself the “Phoenix and Turtle" has universal elements in it at once of thinking, emotion and form. Its very concinnity and restraint, e.g.compared with the fecundity of 'Venus and Adonis' and 'Lucrece '-differenciates it from all 1 The italics are ours.

other of Shakespeare's writings. I discern a sense of personal heart-ache and loss in these sifted and attuned stanzas, unutterably precious.'

We can explain the enigma of the 'sphinx.' The enigma of this poem and the enigma of the Sonnets are one. We have shown in dealing with the Sonnets that Shakespeare was a lover of Beauty, and that his love was 'pure'—he having refused to allow Lust of Fame to blend with and pollute it. He was the lover-the Turtle Dove; he loved Beauty-the Phoenix; he died to posterity (as far as his own efforts to get Fame were concerned) in witness of the purity of his love he was Love's Martyr. Whereas 'Ignoto,' Marston, Chapman, Jonson, write their 'new compositions on the first subject, viz., the "Phoenix and Turtle," with eyes fixed on Chester's poem, Shakespeare writes his with eyes fixed on his Sonnets. It is supposed to be written on the occasion of the funeral of the Turtle and Phoenix of the Sonnets, and after collecting the mourners he shortly describes the 'tragic scene' enacted in the Sonnets (the autobiography of Love's Martyr) and then interprets it in the Threnos (the epitaph of Love's Martyr):

STANZA 6. Here the anthem doth commence :

Love and constancy is dead;

Phoenix and the Turtle fled

In a mutual flame from hence.'

The constant lover (himself) is dead; Beauty, whom he loved, and himself, have fled from hence together.

He then describes their life-story as set forth in the Sonnets:

STANZA 7. 'So they loved, as love in twain
Had the essence but in one,

Two distincts, division none :
Number there in love was slain.'

See how perfectly the above stanza describes the state of things in the following sonnets:

SON. 36.

'Let me confess that we two must be twain,
Although our undivided loves are one:
So shall those blots that do with me remain,
Without thy help, by me be borne alone.
In our two loves there is but one respect,
Though in our lives a separable spite,
Which, though it alter not love's sole effect,
Yet doth it steal sweet hours from love's delight.
I may not evermore acknowledge thee,
Lest my bewailéd guilt should do thee shame,
Nor thou with public kindness honour me,
Unless thou take that honour from thy name:

But do not so; I love thee in such sort

As, thou being mine, mine is thy good report.'

SON. 39. O, how thy worth with manners may I sing,
When thou art all the better part of me?

SON. 62.

What can mine own praise to mine own self bring?
And what is't but mine own when I praise thee?
Even for this let us divided live,

And our dear love lose name of single one,
That by this separation I may give

That due to thee which thou deserv'st alone.
O absence, what a torment wouldst thou prove,
Were it not thy sour leisure gave sweet leave
To entertain the time with thoughts of love,
Which time and thoughts so sweetly doth deceive!

And that thou teachest how to make one twain,
By praising him here who doth hence remain !'
'Sin of self-love possesseth all mine eye,
And all my soul, and all my every part;
And for this sin there is no remedy,
It is so grounded inward in my heart.
Methinks no face so gracious is as mine,
No shape so true, no truth of such account;
And for myself mine own worth do define,

As I all other in all worths surmount.
But when my glass shows me myself indeed,
Beated and chopped with tanned antiquity,
Mine own self-love quite contrary I read ;
Self so self-loving were iniquity.

'Tis thee, myself, that for myself I praise,
Painting my age with beauty of thy days.'

See also Nos. 22 and 42.

The stanza refers to himself and the object he addressed in the Sonnets: they were two, and yet one he loved Beauty, and it had its seat in his mind.

STANZA 8.Hearts remote, yet not asunder;

Distance, and no space was seen
'Twixt this Turtle and his Queen :
But in them it were a wonder.'

This stanza, which points to a Turtle and a Phoenix remote from each other yet not asunder, between whom there was distance yet no space seen, cannot be referred to Chester's Turtle and Phoenix, no such state of things being shown in Chester's poem. But it is just the state of things that exists in the Sonnets. We have shown in considering the previous stanza that the Turtle and Phoenix of the Sonnets were not asunder'; that'no space was seen' betwixt that Turtle and his Queen. And here are examples of sonnets in which it appears that hearts were remote'; in which it appears that there was distance between ':

6

'

SON. 44.

'If the dull substance of my flesh were thought,
Injurious distance should not stop my way;
For then, despite of space, I would be brought,
From limits far remote, where thou dost stay.
No matter then although my foot did stand
Upon the farthest earth removed from thee;

[ocr errors][ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »