« PreviousContinue »
O’er the drown'd hills, the human family,
“There have been poets that in verse display
The elemental forms of human passions:
Where most she works when we perceive her least." The poet who succeeds in the sonnet enjoys at least this one great privilege, that his name is associated with some of the most illustrious names in the history of English poetry, and for the obvious reason that comparatively very few have been successful in that form of nietrical writing. The reader familiar with Shakspeare's sonnets—and who that loves his own language is not ?--will not unfrequently find them recalled to his mind by the sonnets scattered through this volume, for, without the slightest appearance of imitation, there is a similarity in the vein of feeling--in the expression of a desponding love-of selfreproach and regrets—and in the play of fancy-which redounds greatly to the honour of our contemporary. The following would not suffer by a direct comparison with Shakspeare's well known and beautiful sonnet on the unchangeableness of love:
" Is love a fancy or a feeling ? No,
It is immortal as immaculate Truth.
of promise cheats the pensive gloom.
Though fairest beauty be no longer fair,
And hope a spectre in a ruin bare.” Hartley Coleridge well knows that the sonnet may be used for other purposes than being charged with pensive regrets, and the tender feelings. It was once the exclusive property of love and melancholy, who piped upon it by turns. Milton seized it and blew a blast that in a moment revealed its unknown tones, and it has since been sounded to animate the high and tumultuous passions--to cheer a people in the moments of virtuous exultation, and to shame them in the days of degeneracy and corruption. A thought in one of Milton's sonnets is finely amplified in the following:
“Say, what is Freedom? What the right of souls,
A universal license to be good."" That is better doctrine than is brought to light by every class of politicians. We are not enthusiasts enough to fancy that a nation can be redeemed from political worthlessness by song, but it would be no difficult matter to show that the power of a popular poet may be a match against that of a demagogue. His influence may well be directed to control the feelings of a people-to guide and to elevate them. The times are in need of writers to sustain a lofty tone of public sentiment—to depict, if it be only in fancy, a love of the common good, unqualified by private interest—to perpetuate, at least, the memory of the hardihood and simplicity of ancient patriotism. It may savour a little of satire, although we do not mean it as such, to say that this is a duty for the poets. Tyrtæus was blind of one eye, lame of a leg, something of a dwarf, and quite deformed-hé could not have been what is called “ a pretty poet,” but he was, for all that, a good general. The vigour of a thousand swords was in his strains. Although we imagine it is more difficult to draw out votes, the modern weapons, than it was to draw out
swords, yet, may not somewhat of the terror of Tyrtæus's lyre be revived? There is a power in poetry for him who knows how to wield it, that can awaken the sensibilities of a people not quite sunk into the last stages of forgetfulness and torpidity.
In order to enable the reader to form his opinion of the sonnets contained in this volume, we are induced to add two more to our quotations; one on the vision of poets, conceived in a fine classical mood :
“ The vale of Tempe had in vain been fair,
The mounting soul must heavenward plume her wings.” The other is a charming instance of the strange thoughts that come into a poet's mind :
“What was 't awakened first the untried ear
Or his own voice awake him with its sound ?" It is the meditative power of these poems that we have principally adverted to, not only because it is the property most favourably distinguishing them from the productions of many of the fraternity, but because it is that upon which the expectation of future success may be raised most securely. But this quality does not of itself constitute poetry, nor is it likely to form the most successful poetry, if it occur apart from the higher of the more properly poetical powers—the imagination. It is the combined action of thought and imagination of the reflective and creative powers—that indicates poetic genius, and from observing traces of that action on many of his pages, we
are led to believe that there is no poetic effort from which Hartley Coleridge need shrink, if the powers with which he is gifted are duly cultivated and actively exerted. We should be glad to see him adventuring an ode.
In every poetic mind—whether of the writer or the reader of poetry—there are certain subsidiary powers not to be overlooked. The poems in this volume, which, after the series of sonnets, are grouped under the title of “ Thoughts and Fancies," contain, amid some of a high mood, several varieties of the lighter forms of poetry. In the songs there is something that reminds us of the gracefulness of Moore's Melodies—his easy flow of versification, and the admirable art with which he gives wings to a sentiment. The piece entitled "A Medley,” is an agreeable specimen of fancy disporting in its own naturereveling in its lawlessness-darting away not quite out of sight, but far and wildly enough to occasion an amusing perplexity to readers who are sober-minded to an extreme-straitened by a sort of intellectual over-righteousness. The following lines are of a more convenient length for quotation, and though more regular in their conception, may illustrate the author's manner in what may be designated poems of fancy :
“I've heard the merry voice of spriug,
When thousand birds their wild notes fling,
Snaky network intertwining,
Of its new prosperity.” The longest poem in the volume is the tale of “Leonard and Susan," a narrative in which there is rather too much dallying with grief; it is one of those pieces of unmitigated tragedy in which the heart craves relief. The picture of their young loves, with which the poem opens, abounds with very delicate touches of nature and feeling :
They were a gentle pair, whose love began