Page images

O’er the drown'd hills, the human family,
And stock reserved of every living kind,
So, in the compass of the single mind,
The seeds and pregnant forms in essence lie,
That make all worlds. Great poet ! 'twas thy art
To know thyself, and in thyself to be
Whate'er love, hate, ambition, destiny,
Or the firm, fatal purpose of the heart,
Can make of man. Yet thou wert still the same,
Serene of thought, unhurt by thy own flame."

[ocr errors][merged small]

“There have been poets that in verse display

The elemental forms of human passions:
Poets have been, to whom the fickle fashions
And all the wilful humours of the day
Have furnish'd matter for a polished lay:
And many are the smooth elaborate tribe,
Who, emulous of thee, the shape describe,
And fain would every shifting hue portray
Of restless nature. But, thou, mighty seer!
'Tis thine to celebrate the thoughts that make
The life of souls, the truths for whose sweet sake
We to ourselves and to our God are dear.
Of nature's inner shrine thou art the priest,

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.
'Tis not a blossom, shed as soon as youth
Drops from the stem of life—for it will grow
In barren regions, where no waters flow,

of promise cheats the pensive gloom.
A darkling fire, faint hovering o’er the tomb,
That but itself and darkness nought dotli show,
Is my love's being,-yet it cannot die,
Nor will it change, though all be chang'd beside;

Though fairest beauty be no longer fair,
Though vows be false, and faith itself deny,
Though sharp enjoyment be a suicide,

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,
Which all who know are bound to keep, or die,
And who knows not, is dead? In vain ye pry
In musty archives, or retentive scrolls,
Charters and statutes, constitutions, rolls,
And remnants of the old world's history:
These show what has been, not what ought to be,
Or teach at best how wiser Time controls
Man's futile purposes. As vain the search
Of restless factions, who, in lawless will,
Fix the foundations of a creedless church-.
A lawless rule-an anarchy of ill.
But what is Freedom? Rightly understood,

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,
Green Ida never deem'd the nurse of Jove;
Each fabled stream, beneath it's covert grove,
Had idly murmur'd to the idle air;
The shaggy wolf had kept his horrid lair
In Delphi's cell, and old Trophonius' cave,
And the wild wailing of the Ionian wave
Had never blended with the sweet despair.
Of Sappho's death song: if the sight inspir'd,
Saw only what the visual organs show,
If heaven-born phantasy no more requir’d,
Than what within the sphere of sense may grow;
The beauty to perceive of earthly things,

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
Of that sole man who was all human kind ?
Was it the gladsome welcome of the wind,
Stirring the leaves that never yet were sere?
The four mellifluous streams which flow'd so near,
Their lulling murmurs all in one combined ?
The note of bird unnamed? The startled hind
Bursting the brake-in wonder, not in fear,
Of her new lord ? Or did the holy ground
Send forth mysterious melody to greet
The gracious pressure of immaculate feet?
Did viewless seraphs rustle all around,
Making sweet music out of air as sweet?

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 :

[ocr errors][merged small]

“I've heard the merry voice of spriug,

When thousand birds their wild notes fling,
Here and there and every where,
Stirring the young and gladsome air ;-
I've heard the many-sounding seas,
And all their various harmonies :-
The tumbling tempest's dismal roar,
On the waste and wreck-strew'd shore-
The howl and the wail of the prison'd waves,
Clamouring in the ancient caves,
Like a stifled pain that asks for pity :-
And I have heard the sea at peace,
When all its fearful noises cease,
Lost in one soft and multitudinous ditty,
Most like the murmur of a far-off city :-
Nor less the blither notes I know,
To which the inland waters flow,-
The rush of rocky-bedded rivers,
That madly dash themselves to shivers;
But anon, more prudent growing,
O'er countless pebbles smoothly flowing,
With a dull, continuous roar,
Hie they onward, evermore:
To their everlasting tune
When the sun is high at noon,
The little billows, quick and quicker,
Weave their mazes, thick and thicker,
And beneath in dazzling glances,
Labyrinthine lightning dances,

Snaky network intertwining,
With thousand molten colours shining:
Mosaic rich with living light,
With rainbow jewels gaily dight-
Such pavement never, well i ween,
Was made, by monarch or magician,
For Arab, or Egyptian queen;
'Tis gorgeous as a prophet's vision ;.
And I ken the brook, how sweet it tinkles,
As cross the moonlight green it twinkles,
Or heard, not seen, 'mid tangled wood,
When the soft stock-dove lulls her brood,
With her one note of all most dear-
More soothing to the heart than ear,
And well I know the smother'd moan,
Of that low breeze, so small and brief,
It seems a very sigh, whose tone,
Has much of love, but more of grief.
I know the sound of distant bells,
Their dying falls and lusty swells;
That music which the wild gale seizes,
And fashions howsoe’er it pleases.
And I love the shrill November blast,
That through the brown wood hurries fast,
And strips its old limbs bare at last,
Then whirls the leaves in circling error,
As if instinct with life and terror-
Now bursting out enough to deasen,
The very thunder in the heaven;
Now sinking dolefully and dreary,
Weak as a child with sport aweary,
And after a long night of rain,
When the warm sun comes out again,
I've heard the myriad-voiced rills,
The many tongues of many hills-
All gushing forth in new-born glory,
Striving each to tell its story-
Yet every little brook is known,
By a voice that is its own,
Each exulting in the glee,

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
They knew not when—they knew not of a time
When they loved not. In the mere sentient life
Of unremember'd infancy, whose speech,
Like 'secret love's, is only smiles and tears,
The baby Leonard clapp'd his little bands,
Leaped in his nurse's arms, and crow'd aloud,

« PreviousContinue »