Poems by William Cullen Bryant. Fourth Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers.
Mr. Bryant's poetical reputation, both at home and abroad, is greater, we presume, than that of any other American. British critics have frequently awarded him high praise, and here, the public press have been unanimous in approbation. We can call to mind no dissenting voice. Yet the nature, and, most especially the manner, of the expressed opinions in this case, should be considered as somewhat equivocal, and but too frequently must have borne to the mind of the poet doubts and dissatisfaction. The edition now before us may be supposed to embrace all such of his poems as he deems not unworthy his name. These (amounting to about one hundred) have been "carefully revised." With the exception of some few, about which nothing could well be said, we will speak briefly of them one by one, but in such order as we may find convenient.
The Ages, a didactic piece of thirty-five Spenserian stanzas, is the first and longest in the volume. It was originally printed in 1821, With about half a dozen others now included in this collection. The design of the author in this poem is "from a survey of the past ages of the world, and of the successive advances of mankind in knowledge and virtue, to justify and confirm the hopes of the philanthropist for the future destinies of the human race." It is, indeed, an essay on the perfectability of man, wherein, among other better arguments some in the very teeth of analogy, are deduced from the eternal cycle of physical nature, to sustain a hope of progression in happiness. But it is only as a poem that we wish to examine The Ages. Its commencement is impressive. The four initial lines arrest the attention at once by a quiet dignity of manner, an air of placid contemplation, and a versification combining the extremes of melody and force --
When to the common rest that crowns our days,The five concluding lines of the stanza, however, are not equally effective--
Called in the noon of life, the good man goes,
Or full of years, and ripe in wisdom, lays
His silver temples in their last repose--
When, o'er the buds of youth, the death-wind blows,
And brights the fairest; when our bitterest tears
Stream, as the eyes of those that love us close,
We think on what they were, with many fears
Lest goodness die with them, and leave the coming years.
The defects, here, are all of a metrical and of course minor nature, but are still defects. The line
When o'er the buds of youth the death-wind blows,is impeded in its flow by the final th in youth, and especially in death where w follows. The word tears cannot readily be pronounced after the final st in bitterest; and its own final consonants, rs, in like manner render an effort necessary in the utterance of stream which commences the next line. In the verse
We think on what they were, with many fearsthe word many is, from its nature, too rapidly pronounced for the fulfilment of the time necessary to give weight to the foot of two syllables. All words of two syllables do not necessarily constitute a foot (we speak now of the Pentameter here employed) even although the syllables be entirely distinct, as in many, very, often, and the like. Such as, without effort, cannot employ in their pronunciation the time demanded by each of the preceding and succeeding feet of the verse, and occasionally of a preceding verse, will never fail to offend. It is the perception of this fact which so frequently forces the versifier of delicate ear to employ feet exceeding what are unjustly called legitimate dimensions. For example. We have the following lines--
Lo! to the smiling Arno's classic side,These verses are exceedingly forcible, yet, upon scanning the latter we find a syllable too many. We shall be told possibly that there should be an elision of the e in the at the commencement. But no -- this was not intended. Both the and emulous demand a perfect accentuation. The verse commencing Lo!
The emulous nations of the West repair!
Lo! to the smiling Arno's classic side,has, it will be observed, a Trochee in its first foot. As is usually the case, the whole line partakes, in consequence, of a stately and emphatic enunciation, and to equalize the time in the verse succeeding, something more is necessary than the succession of Iambuses which constitute the ordinary English Pentameter. The equalization is therefore judiciously effected by the introduction of an additional syllable. But in the lines
Stream, as the eyes of those that love us close,lines to which the preceding observations will equally apply, this additional syllable is wanting. Did the rhyme admit of the alteration, everything necessary could be accomplished by writing
We think on what they were with many fears,
We think on what they were with many a fear,
Lest goodness die with them and leave the coming year.
These remarks may be considered hypercritical -- yet it is undeniable that upon a rigid attention to minutiae such as we have pointed out, any great degree of metrical success must altogether depend. We are more disposed, too, to dwell upon the particular point mentioned above, since, with regard to it, the American Monthly, in a late critique upon the poems of Mr. Willis, has evidently done that gentleman injustice. The reviewer has fallen into what we conceive the error of citing, by themselves, (that is to say insulated from the context) such verses as
The night-wind with a desolate moan swept by.for the purpose of animadversion. "The license" he says "of turning such words as 'passionate' and 'desolate' into two syllables could only have been taken by a pupil of the Fantastic School." We are quite sure that Mr. Willis had no purpose of turning them into words of two syllables -- nor even, as may be supposed upon a careless examination, of pronouncing them in the
With difficult energy and when the rod.
Fell through, and with the tremulous hand of age.
With supernatural whiteness loosely fell.
Oh thou! whatever title please thine ear,Any person will here readily perceive that the third line
Dean, Drapier, Bickerstaff, or Gulliver!
Whether thou choose Cervantes' serious air,
Or laugh and shake in Rabelais easy chair.
Whether thou choose Cervantes' serious air,differs in time from the usual course of the rhythm, and requires some counterbalance in the line which succeeds. It is indeed precisely such a verse as that of Mr. Bryant's upon which we have commented,
Stream, as the eyes of those that love us close,and commences in the same manner with a Trochee. But again, from Pope we have --
Hence hymning Tyburn's elegiac linesThese are all taken at random from the first book of the Dunciad. In the last example it will be seen that
Hence Journals, Medleys, Mercuries, Magazines.
Else all my prose and verse were much the same,
This prose on stilts, that poetry fallen lame.
And thrice he lifted high the birth-day brand
And thrice he dropped it from his quivering hand.
Here stood her opium, here she nursed her owls,
And here she planned the imperial seat of fools.
Here to her chosen all her works she shows;
Prose swell'd to verse, verse loitering into prose.
Rome in her Capitol saw Querno sit
Throned on seven hills, the Antichrist of wit.
And his this drum whose hoarse heroic bass
Drowns the loud clarion of the braying ass.
But such a bulk as no twelve bards could raise
Twelve starveling bards of these degenerate days.
But such a bulk as no twelve bards could raise --a verse which will be perceived to labor in its progress-- and which Pope, in accordance with his favorite theory of making sound accord with sense, evidently intended so to labor. It is useless to say that the words should be written with elision-starv'ling and degen'rate. Their pronunciation is not thereby materially affected -- and, besides, granting it to be so, it may be as well to make the elision also in the case of Mr. Willis. But Pope had no such intention, nor, we presume, had Mr. W. It is somewhat singular, we may remark, en passant, that the American Monthly, in a subsequent portion of the critique alluded to, quotes from Pope as a line of "sonorous grandeur" and one beyond the ability of our American poet, the well known
Luke's iron crown and Damien's bed of steel.Now this is indeed a line of "sonorous grandeur"-- but it is rendered so principally if not altogether by that very excess of metre (in the word Damien) which the reviewer has condemned in Mr. Willis. The lines which we quote below from Mr. Bryant's poem of The Ages will suffice to show that the author we are now reviewing fully appreciates the force of such occasional excess, and that he has only neglected it through oversight in the verse which suggested these observations.
Peace to the just man's memory--
let it grow Greener with years, and blossom through the flight
Of ages-- let the mimic canvass show
His calm benevolent features.
Does prodigal Autumn to our age deny
The plenty that once swelled beneath his sober eye?
Look on this beautiful world and read the truth
In her fair page.
Will then the merciful One who stamped our race
With his own image, and who gave them sway
O'er Earth and the glad dwellers on her face,
Now that our flourishing nations far away
Are spread, where'er the moist earth drinks the day,
Forget the ancient care that taught and nursed
His latest offspring?
He who has tamed the elements shall not live
The slave of his own passions.
-------------- when liberty awoke
New-born, amid those beautiful vales.
Oh Greece, thy flourishing cities were a spoil
Unto each other.
And thou didst drive from thy unnatural breast
Thy just and brave.
Yet her degenerate children sold the crown.
Instead of the pure heart and innocent hands --
Among thy gallant sons that guard thee well
Thou laugh'st at enemies. Who shall then declare--
Far like the comet's way thro' infinite space.
The full region leads
New colonies forth.
Full many a horrible worship that, of old,
Held o'er the shuddering realms unquestioned sway.
All these instances, and some others, occur in a poem of but thirty-five stanzas-- yet in only a very few cases is the license improperly used. Before quitting this subject it may be as well to cite a striking example from Wordsworth--
There was a youth whom I had loved so long,Another specimen, and one still more to the purpose may be given from Milton whose accurate ear (although he cannot justly be called the best of versifiers) included and balanced without difficulty the rhythm of the longest passages.
That when I loved him not I cannot say.
Mid the green mountains many and many a song
We two had sung like gladsome birds in May.
But say, if our Deliverer up to heavenThe other metrical faults in The Ages are few. Mr. Bryant is not always successful in his Alexandrines. Too great care cannot be taken, we think, in so regulating this species of verse as to admit of the necessary pause at the end of the third foot-- or at least as not to render a pause necessary elsewhere. We object, therefore, to such lines as
Must re-ascend, what will betide the few
His faithful, left among the unfaithful herd,
The enemies of truth? who then shall guide
His people, who defend? Will they not deal
More with his followers than with him they dealt?
Be sure they will, said the Angel.
A palm like his, and catch from him the hallowed flame.
The truth of heaven, and kneel to Gods that heard them not.
That which concludes Stanza X, although correctly cadenced in the above respect, requires an accent on the monosyllable the, which is too unimportant to sustain it. The defect is rendered the more perceptible by the introduction of a Trochee in the first foot.
The sick untended then
Languished in the damp shade, and died afar from men.
We are not sure that such lines as
A boundless sea of blood and the wild air.are in any case justifiable, and they can be easily avoided. As in the Alexandrine mentioned above, the course of the rhythm demands an accent on monosyllables too unimportant to sustain it. For this prevalent heresy in metre we are mainly indebted to Byron, who introduced it freely, with the view of imparting an abrupt energy to his verse. There are, however, many better ways of relieving a monotone.
The smile of heaven, till a new age expands.
Stanza VI is, throughout, an exquisite specimen of versification, besides embracing many beauties both of thought and expression.
Look on this beautiful world and read the truthThe cadences, here, at the words page, swarms, and surge respectively, cannot be surpassed. We shall find, upon examination, comparatively few consonants
In her fair page; see every season brings
New change, to her, of everlasting youth;
Still the green soil with joyous living things
Swarms; the wide air is full of joyous wings;
And myriads, still, are happy in the sleep
Of ocean's azure gulfs, and where he flings
The restless surge. Eternal love doth keep
In his complacent arms the earth, the air, the deep.
Eternal love doth keep
In his complacent arms, the earth, the air, the deep.
The higher beauties of the poem are not, we think, of the highest. It has unity, completeness,-- a beginning, middle and end. The tone, too, of calm, hopeful, and elevated reflection, is well sustained throughout. There is an occasional quaint grace of expression, as in
Nurse of full streams, and lifter up of proudor of antithetical and rhythmical force combined, as in
Sky-mingling mountains that o'erlook the cloud--
The shock that hurledBut we look in vain for something more worthy commendation. At the same time the piece is especially free from errors. Once only we meet with an unjust metonymy, where a sheet of water is said to
To dust in many fragments dashed and strown
The throne whose roots were in another world
And whose far-stretching shadow awed our own.
Cradle, in his soft embrace, a gayWe find little originality of thought, and less imagination. But in a poem essentially didactic, of course we cannot hope for the loftiest breathings of the Muse.
Young group of grassy islands.
And glorious ages goneare, to us, disagreeable. Such things are common, but at best, repulsive. In the present case there is not even the merit of illustration. The womb, in any just imagery, should be spoken of with a view to things future; here it is employed, in the sense of the tomb, and with a view to things past. In Stanza XI the idea is even worse. The allegorical meaning throughout the poem, although generally well sustained, is not always so. In the quatrain
Lie deep within the shadow of thy womb.
Thine for a space are they --it seems that The Past, as an allegorical personification, is confounded with Death.
Yet shalt thou yield thy treasures up at last;
Thy gates shall yet give way
Thy bolts shall fall, inexorable Past!
Ye sigh not when the sun, his course fulfilled,The technical word chronic should have been avoided in the fifth line of Stanza VI--
His glorious course rejoicing earth and sky,
In the soft evening when the winds are stilled,
Sinks where his islands of refreshment lie,
And leaves the smile of his departure spread
O'er the warm-colored heaven, and ruddy mountain head.
No chronic tortures racked his aged limb.----
This little rill that from the springsthe reader is apt to suppose that rill is the nominative to plays, whereas it is the nominative only to drew in the subsequent lines,
Of yonder grove its current brings,
Plays on the slope awhile, and then
Goes prattling into groves again.
Oft to its warbling waters drewThe proper verb is, of course, immediately seen upon reading these latter lines-- but the ambiguity has occurred.
My little feet when life was new.
The great heavensThere is an objectionable ellipsis in the expression "I behold them from the first," meaning "first time;" and either a grammatical or typographical error of moment in the fine sentence commencing
Seem to stoop down upon the scene in love--
A nearer vault and of a tenderer blue
Than that which bends above the eastern hills.
Till twilight blushed, and lovers walked and wooed
In a forgotten language, and old tunes
From instruments of unremembered form
Gave the soft winds a voice.
Within the hollow oak. I listen long
To his domestic hum and think I hear
The sound of the advancing multitude
Which soon shall fill these deserts.
Breezes of the south!
Who toss the golden and the flame-like flowers,
And pass the prairie-hawk that poised on high,
Flaps his broad wing yet moves not!
Fitting floorEarth, a poem of similar length and construction to The Prairies, embodies a noble conception. The poet represents himself as lying on the earth in a "midnight black with clouds," and giving ideal voices to the varied sounds of the coming tempest. The following passages remind us of some of the more beautiful portions of Young.
For this magnificent temple of the sky--
With flowers whose glory and whose multitude
Rival the constellations!
On the breast of EarthIn this poem and elsewhere occasionally throughout the volume, we meet with a species of grammatical construction, which, although it is to be found in writing of high merit, is a mere affectation, and, of course, objectionable. We mean the abrupt employment of a direct pronoun in place of the customary relative. For example--
I lie and listen to her mighty voice;
A voice of many tones-sent up from streams
That wander through the gloom, from woods unseen
Swayed by the sweeping of the tides of air,
From rocky chasm where darkness dwells all day,
And hollows of the great invisible hills,
And sands that edge the ocean stretching far
Into the night-- a melancholy sound!
Ha! how the murmur deepens! I perceive
And tremble at its dreadful import. Earth
Uplifts a general cry for guilt and wrong
And Heaven is listening. The forgotten graves
Of the heart broken utter forth their plaint.
The dust of her who loved and was betrayed,
And him who died neglected in his age,
The sepulchres of those who for mankind
Labored, and earned the recompense of scorn,
Ashes of martyrs for the truth, and bones
Of those who in the strife for liberty
Were beaten down, their corses given to dogs,
Their names to infamy, all find a voice!
Or haply dost thou grieve for those that die--The note of interrogation here, renders the affectation more perceptible.
For living things that trod awhile thy face,
The love of thee and heaven, and how they sleep,
Mixed with the shapeless dust on which thy herds
Trample and graze?
In you the heart that sighs for Freedom seeks
Her image; there the winds no barrier know,
Clouds come and rest and leave your fairy peaks;
While even the immaterial Mind, below,
And Thought, her winged offspring, chained by power,
Pine silently for the redeeming hour.
The Knight's Epitaph consists of about fifty lines of blank Pentameter. This poem is well conceived and executed. Entering the Church of St. Catherine at Pisa, the poet is arrested by the image of an armed knight graven upon the lid of a sepulchre. The epitaph consists of an imaginative portraiture of the knight, in which he is made the impersonation of the ancient Italian chivalry.
Seventy-six has seven stanzas of a common, but musical versification, of which these lines will afford an excellent specimen.
That death-stain on the vernal sword,----
Hallowed to freedom all the shore --
In fragments fell the yoke abhorred--
The footsteps of a foreign lord
Profaned the soil no more.
But ye who for the living lostThe first stanza commences with one of those affectations which we noticed in the poem "Earth." Matron, the children of whose love, Each to his grave in youth have passed, And now the mould is heaped above The dearest and the last.
That agony in secret bear,
Who shall with soothing words accost
The strength of your despair?
Grief for your sake is scorn for them
Whom ye lament, and all condemn,
And o'er the world of spirit lies
A gloom from which ye turn your eyes.
As if they loved to breast the breeze that sweeps the cool clear sky.
And thou shoudst chase the nobler game, and I bring down the bird.
Or that strange dame so gay and fair were some mysterious foe,
which are not to be pronounced without labor. The story is old-- of
a young gentleman who going out to hunt, is inveigled into the woods and
destroyed by a fiend in the guise of a fair lady. The ballad character
is nevertheless well preserved, and this, we presume, is nearly every thing
The Hunter's Vision is skilfully and sweetly told. It is a tale of a young hunter who, overcome with toil, dozes on the brink of a precipice. In this state between waking and sleeping, he fancies a spirit-land in the fogs of the valley beneath him, and sees approaching him the deceased lady of his love. Arising to meet her, he falls, with the effort, from the crag, and perishes. The state of reverie is admirably pictured in the following stanzas. The poem consists of nine such.
All dim in haze the mountains layCatterskill Falls is a narrative somewhat similar. Here the hero is also a hunter-- but of delicate frame. He is overcome with the cold at the foot of the falls, sleeps, and is near perishing- but being found by some woodmen, is taken care of, and recovers. As in the Hunters Vision, the dream of the youth is the main subject of the poem. He fancies a goblin palace in the icy network of the cascade, and peoples it in his vision with ghosts. His entry into this palace is, with rich imagination on the part of the poet, made to correspond with the time of the transition from the state of reverie to that of nearly total insensibility.
With dimmer vales between;
And rivers glimmered on their way
By forests faintly seen;
While ever rose a murmuring sound
From brooks below and bees around.
He listened till he seemed to hear
A strain so soft and low
That whether in the mind or ear
The listener scarce might know.
With such a tone, so sweet and mild
The watching mother lulls her child.
They eye him not as they pass along,There are nineteen similar stanzas. The metre is formed of Iambuses and Anapests.
But his hair stands up with dread,
When he feels that he moves with that phantom throng
Till those icy turrets are over his head,
And the torrent's roar as they enter seems
Like a drowsy murmur heard in dreams.
The glittering threshold is scarcely passed
When there gathers and wraps him round
A thick white twilight sullen and vast
In which there is neither form nor sound;
The phantoms, the glory, vanish all
Within the dying voice of the waterfall.
Where olive leaves were twinkling in every wind that blew,
There sat beneath the pleasant shade a damsel of Peru.
This is also a ballad, and a very fine one-full of action, chivalry, energy and rhythm. Some passages have even a loftier merit-that of a glowing ideality. For example--
For the noon is coming on, and the sunbeams fiercely beat,
And the silent hills and forest-tops seem reeling in the heat.
The Song of Pitcairn's Island is a sweet, quiet and simple poem, of a versification differing from that of any preceding piece. We subjoin a specimen. The Tahetian maiden addresses her lover.
Come talk of Europe's maids with meThere are seven similar stanzas.
Whose necks and cheeks they tell
Outshine the beauty of the sea,
White foam and crimson shell.
I'll shape like theirs my simple dress
And bind like them each jetty tress,
A sight to please thee well,
And for my dusky brow will braid
A bonnet like an English maid.
And Rispah once the loveliest of allThe Indian Girl's Lament and the [[sic]] Arctic Lover have nearly all the peculiarities of the "Song of Pitcairn's Island."
That bloomed and smiled in the court of Saul, &c.
Till the last link of slavery's chainWhat shall be worn no more? The chain-- but the link is implied.
Is shivered to be worn no more.
The mighty columns with which earth props heaven.
The use of the epithet old preceded by some other adjective, is found so frequently in this poem and elsewhere in the writings of Mr. Bryant, as to excite a smile upon each recurrence of the expression.
In all that proud old world beyond the deep--We dislike too the antique use of the word affect in such sentences as
There is a tale about these gray old rocks--
The wide old woods resounded with her song--
------ and the gray old men that passed--
And from the gray old trunks that high in heaven.
-------- they deemedMilton, it is true, uses it-- we remember it especially in Comus--
Like worshippers of the elder time that God
Doth walk in the high places and affect
The earth-o'erlooking mountains.
'Tis most truebut then Milton would not use it were he writing Comus to-day.
That musing meditation most affects
The pensive secrecy of desert cell--
For me, I lieAutumn Woods. This is a poem of much sweetness and simplicity of expression, and including one or two fine thoughts, viz:
Languidly in the shade, where the thick turf
Yet virgin from the kisses of the sun
Retains some freshness.
All is silent, save the faint
And interrupted murmur of the bee
Settling on the sick flowers, and then again
Instantly on the wing.
All the green herbs
Are stirring in his breath; a thousand flowers
By the road side, and the borders of the brook
Nod gaily to each other.
the sweet South-west at playAll this is beautiful -- the sentences italicized especially so. Happily to endow inanimate nature with sentience and a capability of moral action is one of the severest tests of the poet. Even the most unmusical ear will not fail to appreciate the rare beauty and strength of the extra syllable in the line
Flies, rustling where the painted leaves are strewn
Along the winding way.
But 'neath yon crimson tree
Lover to listening maid might breathe his flame,
Nor mark within its roseate canopy
Her flush of maiden shame.
The mountains that unfold
In their wide sweep the colored landscape round,
Seem groups of giant kings in purple and gold
That guard the enchanted ground.
Seem groups of giant kings in purple and gold.The Distinterred Warrior has a passage we do not clearly understand.
For he was fresher from the handThere are ten similar quatrains in the poem.
That formed of earth the human face,
And to the elements did stand
In nearer kindred than our race.
A shoot of that old vine that madeWhen the Firmament Quivers with Daylight's Young Beam, belongs to a species of poetry which we cannot be brought to admire. Some natural phenomenon is observed, and the poet taxes his ingenuity to find a parallel in the moral world. In general, we may assume, that the more successful he is in sustaining a parallel, the farther he departs from the true province of the Muse. The title, here, is a specimen of the metre. This is a kind which we have before designated as exceedingly difficult to manage.
The nations silent in its shade.
Kind influence. Lo! their orbs burn more bright,
can only be read, metrically, by drawing out influence into three marked
syllables, shortening the long monosyllable, Lo! and lengthening the short
June is sweet and soft in its rhythm, and inexpressibly pathetic. There is an illy subdued sorrow and intense awe coming up, per force as it were to the surface of the poet's gay sayings about his grave, which we find thrilling us to the soul.
And what if cheerful shouts, at noon,Innocent Child and Snow-White Flower, is remarkable only for the deficiency of a foot in one of its verses.
Come, from the village sent,
Or songs of maids, beneath the moon
With fairy laughter blent?
And what if, in the evening light,
Betrothed lovers walk in sight
Of my low monument?
I would the lovely scene around
Might know no sadder sight nor sound.
I know, I know I should not see
The season's glorious show,
Nor would its brightness shine for me
Nor its wild music flow;
But if, around my place of sleep,
The friends I love should come to weep,
They might not haste to go
Soft airs, and song, and light, and bloom
Should keep them lingering by my tomb.
White as those leaves just blown apartand for the graceful repetition in its concluding quatrain --
Are the folds of thy own young heart.
Throw it aside in thy weary hour,Of the seven original sonnets in the volume before us, it is somewhat difficult to speak. The sonnet demands, in a great degree, point, strength, unity, compression, and a species of completeness. Generally, Mr. Bryant has evinced more of the first and the last, than of the three mediate qualities. William Tell is feeble. No forcible line ever ended with liberty, and the best of the rhymes-- thee, he, free, and the like, are destitute of the necessary vigor. But for this rhythmical defect the thought in the concluding couplet--
Throw to the ground the fair white flower,
Yet as thy tender years depart
Keep that white and innocent heart.
The bitter cup they mingled strengthened theewould have well ended the sonnet. Midsummer is objectionable for the variety of its objects of allusion. Its final lines embrace a fine thought--
For the great work to set thy country free --
As if the day of fire had dawned and sentbut the vigor of the whole is impaired by the necessity of placing an unwonted accent on the last syllable of firmament. October has little to recommend it, but the slight epigrammatism of its conclusion--
Its deadly breath into the firmament--
And when my last sand twinkled in the glass,The Sonnet To Cole, is feeble in its final lines, and is worthy of praise only in the verses--
Pass silently from men-- as thou dost pass.
Paths, homes, graves, ruins, from the lowest glenMutation, a didactic sonnet, has few either of faults or beauties. November is far better. The lines
To where life shrinks from the fierce Alpine air.
And the blue Gentian flower that, in the breeze,are very happy. A single thought pervades and gives unity to the piece. We are glad, too, to see an Alexandrine in the close. In the whole metrical construction of his sonnets, however, Mr. Bryant has very wisely declined confining himself to the laws of the Italian poem, or even to the dicta of Capel Lofft. The Alexandrine is beyond comparison the most effective finale, and we are astonished that the common Pentameter should ever be employed. The best sonnet of the seven is, we think, that To-. With the exception of a harshness in the last line but one it is perfect. The finale is inimitable.
Nods lonely, of her beauteous race the last,
Ay, thou art for the grave; thy glances shine Too brightly to shine long; another Spring Shall deck her for men's eyes, but not for thine Sealed in a sleep which knows no wakening. The fields for thee have no medicinal leaf, And the vexed ore no mineral of power; And they who love thee wait in anxious grief Till the slow plague shall bring the fatal hour. Glide softly to thy rest, then; Death should come Gently to one of gentle mould like thee, As light winds wandering through groves of bloom Detach the delicate blossom from the tree. Close thy sweet eyes, calmly, and without pain, And we will trust in God to see thee yet again.To a Cloud, has another instance of the affectation to which we alluded in our notice of Earth, and The Living Lost.
Whose sons at length have heard the call that comesOf the Translations in the volume it is not our intention to speak in detail. Mary Magdelen, from the Spanish of Bartoleme Leonardo De Argensola, is the finest specimen of versification in the book. Alexis, from the Spanish of Iglesias, is delightful in its exceeding delicacy, and general beauty. We cannot refrain from quoting it entire.
From the old battle fields and tombs,
And risen, and drawn the sword, and on the foe
Have dealt the swift and desperate blow,
And the Othman power is cloven, and the stroke
Has touched its chains, and they are broke.
Alexis calls me cruel--The Waterfowl is very beautiful, but still not entitled to the admiration which it has occasionally elicited. There is a fidelity and force in the picture of the fowl as brought before the eve of the mind, and a fine sense of effect in throwing its figure on
The rifted crags that hold
The gathered ice of winter,
He says, are not more cold.
When even the very blossoms
Around the fountain's brim,
And forest walks, can witness
The love I bear to him.
I would that I could utter
My feelings without shame
And tell him how I love him
Nor wrong my virgin fame.
Alas! to seize the moment
When heart inclines to heart,
And press a suit with passion
Is not a woman's part.
If man come not to gather
The roses where they stand,
They fade among their foliage,
They cannot seek his hand.
Oh, from these sterner aspects of thy faceThere is an excess of one syllable in the lines italicized. If we discard this syllable here, and adopt it in the final line, the close will acquire strength, we think, in acquiring a fuller volume.
Spare me and mine, nor let us need the wrath
Of the mad unchained elements, to teach
Who rules them. Be it ours to meditate
In these calm shades thy milder majesty,
And to the beautiful order of thy works
Learn to conform the order of our lives.
Be it ours to meditateDirectness, boldness, and simplicity of expression, are main features in the poem.
In these calm shades thy milder majesty,
And to the perfect order of thy works
Conform, if we can, the order of our lives.
Oh God! when thouHere an ordinary writer would have preferred the word fright to scare, and omitted the definite article before woods and villages.
Dost scare the world with tempests, set on fire
The heavens with falling thunderbolts, or fill
With all the waters of the firmament
The swift dark whirlwind that uproots the woods,
And drowns the villages.
Pleasant shall be thy way, where meekly bowsThe conclusion is admirable--
The shutting flower, and darkling waters pass,
And 'twixt the o'ershadowing branches and the grass.
Go-- but the circle of eternal change,Thanatopsis is somewhat more than half the length of The Forest Hymn, and of a character precisely similar. It is, however, the finer poem. Like The Waterfowl, it owes much to the point, force, and general beauty of its didactic conclusion. In the commencement, the lines
Which is the life of Nature, shall restore,
With sounds and scents from all thy mighty range,
Thee to thy birth-place of the deep once more;
Sweet odors in the sea air, sweet and strange,
Shall tell the home-sick mariner of the shore,
And, listening to thy murmur, he shall deem
He hears the rustling leaf and running stream.
To him who, in the love of nature, holdsbelong to a class of vague phrases, which, since the days of Byron, have obtained too universal a currency. The verse
Communion with her visible forms, &c;.
Go forth under the open sky and list--is sadly out of place amid the forcible and even Miltonic rhythm of such lines as--
So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan that moves
To that mysterious realm where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon; but sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dream.
Rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun-- the vales
Stretching in pensive quietude between--
The venerable woods- rivers that move
In majesty, and the complaining brooks
That make the meadows green -- and, poured round all,
Old Ocean's gray and melancholy waste --
Are but the solemn decorations all
Of the great tomb of man.
Oh, fairest of the Rural Maids! is a gem, of which we cannot sufficiently express our admiration. We quote in full.
Oh, fairest of the rural maids!A rich simplicity is a main feature in this poem-- simplicity of design and execution. This is strikingly perceptible in the opening and concluding lines, and in expression throughout. But there is a far higher and more strictly ideal beauty, which it is less easy to analyze. The original conception is of the very loftiest order of true Poesy. A maiden is born in the forest--
Thy birth was in the forest shades;
Green boughs and glimpses of the sky
Were all that met thine infant eye.
Thy sports, thy wanderings when a child
Were ever in the sylvan wild;
And all the beauty of the place
Is in thy heart and on thy face.
The twilight of the trees and rocks
Is in the light shade of thy locks,
Thy step is as the wind that weaves
Its playful way among the leaves.
Thine eyes are springs, in whose serene
And silent waters Heaven is seen;
Their lashes are the herbs that look
On their young figures in the brook.
The forest depths by foot impressed
Are not more sinless than thy breast;
The holy peace that fills the air
Of those calm solitudes, is there.
Green boughs and glimpses of the skyShe is not merely modelled in character by the associations of her childhood-- this were the thought of an ordinary poet-- an idea that we meet with every day in rhyme-- but she imbibes, in her physical as well as moral being, the traits, the very features of the delicious scenery around her-- its loveliness becomes a portion of her own --
Are all which meet her infant eye--
The twilight of the trees and rocksIt would have been a highly poetical idea to imagine the tints in the locks of the maiden deducing a resemblance to the "twilight of the trees and rocks," from the constancy of her associations-- but the spirit of Ideality is immeasurably more apparent when the "twilight" is represented as becoming identified with the shadows of her hair.
Is in the light shade of her locks,
And all the beauty of the place
Is in her heart and on her face.
The twilight of the trees and rocksFeeling thus, we did not, in copying the poem, italicize the lines, although beautiful,
Is in the light shade of her locks,
And all the beauty of the place
Is in her heart and on her face.
Thy step is as the wind that weavesnor those which immediately follow. The two concluding verses however, are again of the most elevated species of poetical merit.
Its playful way among the leaves,
The forest depths by foot impressedThe image contained in the lines
Are not more sinless than thy breast--
The holy peace that fills the air
Of those calm solitudes, is there.
Thine eyes are springs in whose sereneis one which, we think, for appropriateness, completeness, and every perfect beauty of which imagery is susceptible, has never been surpassed-- but imagery is susceptible of no beauty like that we have designated in the sentences above. The latter idea, moreover, is not original with our poet.
And silent waters Heaven is seen--
In all the rhapsodies of Mr. Bryant, which have reference
The writings of our author, as we find them here, are characterized by an air of calm and elevated contemplation more than by any other individual feature. In their mere didactics, however, they err essentially and primitively, inasmuch as such things are the province rather of Minerva than of the Camenae. Of imagination, we discover much-- but more of its rich and certain evidences, than of its ripened fruit. In all the minor merits Mr. Bryant is pre-eminent. His ars celare artem is most efficient. Of his "completeness," unity, and finish of style we have already spoken. As a versifier, we know of no writer, living or dead, who can be said greatly to surpass him. A Frenchman would assuredly call him "un poete des plus correctes."
Between Cowper and Young, perhaps, (with both of whom he has many points of analogy,) would be the post assigned him by an examination at once general and superficial. Even in this view, however, he has a juster appreciation of the beautiful than the one, of the sublime than the other-- a finer taste than Cowper-- an equally vigorous, and far more delicate imagination than Young. In regard to his proper rank among American poets there should be no question whatever. Few-- at least few who are fairly before the public, have more than very shallow claims to a rivalry with the author of Thanatopsis.
[S:0 - SLM, 1837]