Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

this there is a prosaic stratum in him, like underlying granite, which will crop out.

Thus, those who laughed at the Lyrical Ballads could always find reason for laughter. Sometimes the simplicity of these tales of sorrow or pleasure win the heart, but sometimes they touch the sense of the ludicrous. The long ballad called Peter Bell contains some beautiful lines. What a beautiful passage this is, which describes Peter Bell's dulness to all the sweet influences of Nature :

“He roved among the vales and streams
In the green wood and hollow dell;

They were his dwellings night and day,

But Nature ne'er could find the way
Into the heart of Peter Bell.

“In vain, through every changeful year,
Did Nature lead him as before ;

A primrose by a river's brim

A yellow primrose was to him,
And it was nothing more.

“In vain through water, earth, and air
The soul of happy sound was spread,

When Peter, on some April morn,

Beneath the broom and budding thorn,
Made the warm earth his lazy bed.

At noon, when by the forest's edge
He lay beneath the branches high,

The soft blue sky did never melt

Into his heart, he never felt
The witchery of the soft blue sky.”

But to make the chief incident of this poem the sufferings of a jackass, is rather a dangerous experiment, even with readers of a very humane disposition. Here is a stanza or two where Peter has beaten the poor beast till it falls exhausted :

“ As gently on his side he fell,
And by the river's brink did lie;

And while he lay like one that mourned,

The patient beast on Peter turned
A shining hazel eye.

“'T was but one mild, reproachful look,
A look more tender than severe;

And straight in sorrow, not in dread,

He turned the eyeball in his head
Towards the smooth river deep and clear.

Upon the beast the sapling rings,
His lank sides heaved, his limbs they stirred;

He gave a groan, and then another,

Of that which went before the brother ;
And then he gave a third.”

Now this rhyming, which lasts through twenty stanzas, is not poetry, although it is very good humanity.

Wordsworth's epic poem, The Excursion, has the same fault of inequality. But it is so magnificent in its scope, so noble in its flights, that one skips the prosy places, almost unheeding them. Here at last was a grand epic which did not celebrate war, nor the deeds of Homeric heroes; which did not dwell in realms peopled by imaginary creatures; which neither soared to heaven nor dived to hell. In The Excursion the poet led into fields and villages, among the humblest abodes of men, learning lessons of human brotherhood in his course.

Wordsworth's shorter poems, many of them, are free from any of the faults I have hinted at. Some are nearly perfect; his sonnets, many of them, sound as if they had come from the bottom of the human heart, as this, which he writes on a view of London at sunrise :

[ocr errors]

"Earth has not anything to show more fair :
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This city now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning : silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields and to the sky,
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep,
In his first splendor, valley, rock, or hill ;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep.
The river glideth at his own sweet will;
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep,
And all that mighty heart is lying still.”

A fit tribute to Milton was this sonnet from Wordsworth:

“Milton, thou shouldst be living at this hour;
England hath need of thee; she is a fen
Of stagnant waters; altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men.
Oh, raise us up, return to us again,
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.
Thy soul was like a star, and dwelt apart;
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea;
Pure as the naked heaven, majestic, free,
So didst thou travel on life's common way,
In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on herself did lay.”



Many of his short songs have the same purity and grandeur as these sonnets. And the simplest subjects, - a flower, a bird, an incident of humble life, no one else has treated such with the sympathy Wordsworth shows.

And what shall I say of the ode, Intimations of Immortality, which is enough for any one poet to have written? This, in my mind, both in form and matter, is to be set far above that ode of Dryden's which he calls the best in the language :

“ There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,

To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it has been of yore;-
Turn whereso'er I may,

By night or day,
The things which I have seen, I now can see no more.

“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The soul that rises with us, our life's star,

Hath had elsewhere its setting,

And cometh from afar ;
Not in entire forgetfulness,

And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory, do we come

From God, who is our home.
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

“ Shades of the prison-house begin to close

Upon the growing boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,

He sees it in his joy;
The youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature's priest,

And by the vision splendid

Is on his way attended ;
At length the man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.

Oh, joy! that in our embers

Is something that doth live,
That Nature yet remembers

What was so fugitive !
The thought of our past years in me doth breed
Perpetual benedictions, not indeed
For that which is more worthy to be blest,
Delight and liberty, the simple creed
Of childhood, whether busy or at rest,
With new-fledged hope still fluttering in his breast;

Not for these I raise

The song of thanks and praise ;
But for those obstinate questionings
Of sense and outward things,
Fallings from us, vanishings ;

Blank misgivings of a creature
Moving about in worlds not realized,
High instincts, before which our moral nature
Did tremble like a guilty thing surprised :

But for those first affections,
Those shadowy recollections,

Which, be they what they may,
Are yet the fountain light of all our day,
Are yet a master light of all our seeing,

Uphold us, cherish, and have power to make
Our noisy years seem moments in the being
Of the eternal silence; truths that wake

To perish never ;
Which neither listlessness, nor mad endeavor,

Nor man nor boy,
Nor all that is at enmity with joy,
Can utterly abolish or destroy!
Hence in a season of calm weather,

Though inland far we be,
Our souls have sight of that immortal sea

Which brought us hither;
Can in a moment travel thither,

And see the children sport upon the shore,
And hear the mighty waters rolling ever more."

I am,

A recent English philosopher, John Stuart Mill, says that in a period of great depression he tried poetry as a resource, and found most of all a balm and healing in Wordsworth. He afterwards says he believes Wordsworth to be the true poet of unpoetic natures, — for those of quiet, thoughtful tastes, without much cultivation of the imagination or the emotions.

Matthew Arnold, a modern critic and poet too, exalts Wordsworth much higher than Mill did. myself, inclined to think that Wordsworth is not the poet for youth. One grows to love him. The ardor and fiery imagination of youth is rarely satisfied with him ; he chimes in with the thoughts and aspirations of a maturer age.

ROBERT SOUTHEY, who is generally classed as the third in this trio of poets, hardly followed the theory of the Lake School in his choice of subjects, for they do not, as a rule, keep within the common interests of human life. His subjects are largely supernatural. His poem of Roderick is an old Gothic legend; Madoc was taken from British history; Thalaba is an Arabian tale ; and Kehama is Hindoo in origin. Even his shorter poems, many of them tales told in verse, have a weird element which is more in keeping with the Ancient Mariner than anything Wordsworth wrote. I quote one short story in verse from Southey for the touch of humor in it, which gives variety to my Talk. It is not specially in illustration of Southey's style ; that you must study in his long poems, Thalaba or Roderick. This is a simple ballad, called


A well there is in the west country,

And a clearer one never was seen ;
There is not a wife in the west country

But has heard of the well of St. Keyne.

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »