Page images
PDF
EPUB

poems there is abundant accuracy, and justness of thought, without superfluity of imagery, or aberrations into those vague reveries which have latterly been deemed the legitimate result and evidence of the poetic temperament. There is a charming tenderness and simplicity in the little piece called “The Rivulet, that

every reader, at all conversant with rural sights and associations, sympathizes with instantly. Every native of the hills of New England will feel his heart leap at a picture which had its origin no where else,-half in the joy of early recollections, half in the sadness of a heart, which, whatever may have been its destiny, must have lost, if advanced only to the mezzo cammin' of life, its early buoyancy and hope :

“ Years change thee not. Upon yon hill
The tall old maples, verdant still,
Yet tell, in grandeur of decay,
How swift the years have passed away,
Since first, a child, and half afraid,
I wandered in the forest shade.
Thou, ever-joyous rivulet,
Dost dimple, leap, and prattle yet;
And sporting with the sands that pave
The windings of thy silver wave,
And dancing to thy own wild chime,
Thou laughest at the lapse of time.
The same sweet sounds are in my ear
My early childhood loved to hear;
As pure thy limpid waters run,
As bright they sparkle to the sun;
As fresh and thick the bending ranks
Of herbs that line thy oozy banks ;
The violet there, in soft May dew,
Comes up, as modest and as blue;
As green amid thy current's stress,
Floats the scarce-rooted watercress;
And the brown ground-bird, in thy glen,

Still chirps as merrily as then.”
This is very beautiful and true, and we conceive that Mr.
Bryant is most at home, and most successful in the delineation
of tender sentiments, where the melancholy predominates with-

touch or tincture of the morbid. Household associations; the familiar and soft imagery of domestic life as it is, without any false, dramatic gloss; and the real features of American (not Arcadian) nature, furnish his mind with the most grateful sources and subjects of thought. In proof of this we may name, in addition to the verses last quoted, those on “Green River,” “The Evening Wind,” the “Lines on revisiting the Country," and various others, containing detached passages, which show that the heart of the poet naturally seeks and reproduces the homeborn and natural, consecrating gratefully the powers of his mind to the objects which first aroused and

out any

enriched them. Who that remembers the scenes of early affections and enjoyments, after absence has, as it were, married memory to inanimate nature, and substituted for the home and the kindred from which time and death have parted him for ever, the natural objects on which he once looked almost with indifference, can avoid sympathizing with such lines as the following, in one of the poems to which we have alluded :

“ Oh, loveliest there the spring days come,
With blossoms, and birds, and wild bees' hum;
The flowers of summer are fairest there,
And freshest the breath of the summer air;
And sweetest the golden autumn day
In silence and sunshine glides away.

“ Yet fair as thou art, thou shunn'st to glide,
Beautiful stream! by the village side;
But windest away from the haunts of men,
To quiet valley and shaded glen ;
And forest, and meadow, and slope of hill,
Around thee, are lonely, lovely, and still.
Lonely-save when, by thy rippling tides,
From thicket to thicket the angler glides ;
Or the simpler comes with basket and book,
For herbs of power on thy banks to look ;
Or haply, some idle dreamer, like me,
To wander, and muse, and gaze on thee.
Still-save the chirp of birds that feed
On the river cherry and seedy recd,
And thy own wild music gushing out
With mellow murmur and fairy shout,
From dawn, to the blush of another day
Like traveller singing along his way.

“ That fairy music I never hear,
Nor gaze on those waters so green and clear,
And mark them winding away from sight,
Darkened with shade or flashing with light,
While o'er them the vine to its thicket clings,
And the zephyr stoops to freshen his wings,
But I wish that fate had left me free
To wander these quiet haunts with thee,
Till the eating cares of earth should depart,
And the peace of the scene pass into my heart ;
And I envy thy stream, as it glides along,

Through its beautiful banks in a trance of song.” If the concluding lines remind one of the “ Vale of Avoca," it is in sentiment, not in expression; and the sentiment belonged to nature long before it became Moore's, who has half elaborated it into something so meretriciously harmonious and artificial that nature would scarce know her own again. The simplicity of Mr. Bryant's verses is in contrast with Moore's language, rather than in imitation of it. He has restored the child to its mother. VOL. XX.-NO. 40.

65

But we would not be understood as denying, 'even, by, inference, Mr. Bryant's claims to other and more varied powers than those in whose application he seems to us peculiarly to excel. There are spirited evidences in this volume of a power to manage a more Pindaric strain. He may be more at home cropping thyme on Hymettus, but he is an Attic bee, and the Athenian hive was in the helmet of Minerva. There is martial music in the very measure of the following verses, as there is a gallant indication in their title of “Seventy-Six.”

• What heroes from the woodland sprung,

When, through the fresh-awakened land,
The thrilling cry of freedom rung,
And to the work of warfare strung

The yeoman's iron hand !
Hills flung the cry to hills around,

And ocean-mart replied to mart,
And streams whose springs were yet unfound,
Pealed far away the startling sound

Into the forest's heart.

“ Then marched the brave from rocky steep;

From mountain river swift and cold;
The borders of the stormy deep,
The vales where gathered waters sleep,

Sent up the strong and bold.
“ As if the very earth again

Grew quick with God's creating breath
And, from the sods of grove and glen,
Rose ranks of lion-hearted men

To battle to the death."

The “Song of Marion's Men," is perhaps still bettermit breathes the free air of the glade and the forest, the spirit of Robin Hood for a lofty end, and stirs you with a measure like the gallop of some of Scott's border horsemen, with all the glee of raid and foray, yet with the added grace of a right noble cause. You can actually hear, in the second stanza quoted below, the tilling tramp of an excited cavalry march, after some bold exploit, (and you are vastly better pleased at it, too, than with the sad, measured trot of Virgil's famous line,) and hear the smothered triumph of the men as their almost reasoning, certainly sympathizing, steeds dash down the wind.

“Our band is few, but true and tried

Our leader frank and bold;
The British soldier trembles

When Marion's name is told.
Our fortress is the good green wood,

Our tent the cypress-tree ;
We know the forest round us,

As seamen know the sea..

We know its walls of thorny vines,

Its glades of reedy grass,
Its safe and silent islands

Within the dark morass."

Well knows the fair and friendly moon

The band that Marion leads-
The glitter of their rifles,

The scampering of their steeds.
'Tis life our fiery barbs to guide

Across the moonlight plains ;
'Tis life to feel the night-wind

That lifts their tossing manes.
A moment in the British camp-

A moment—and away
Back to the pathless forest,

Before the peep of day.” Nothing can be more spirited or better sustained than this; because the measure and the language harmonize so admirably with the objects described—it is the very romance of war, caught and concentrated by judgment and imagination, whose union always produces poetic truth. Mr. Bryant is, we think, singularly happy in the successful solution of that problem of ancient poetry, the adaptation of sound to sense. In addition to the verses just quoted, as so well illustrating the galloping of horse, we may cite in further proof of it some lines of a different description. A reader might almost deem himself amid the sights and sounds of an American summer noon, and take his siesta by the soft lull of its soothing murmur:

« All dim in haze the mountains lay,

With dimmer vales between;
And rivers glimmered on their way,

With forests faintly seen ;
While ever rose a murmuring sound,

From brooks below and bees around.” If we do not stop here to bestow praise upon the stanzas, “ To the Evening Wind,” and “To a Waterfowl,” it is because the former has found the applause it deserves elsewhere, and the latter was quoted at length as a beautiful evidence of genius and art in our number for March, 1836. It is a fine evidence in itself (and we must stop to say so much) of the advantages of rhyme and of regularly recurring pauses in completing and defining the subjects of poetry. Every one of the eight separate stanzas of the little poem contains its distinct image or thought; some beautiful, some even so nearly sublime that, in allusion to the subject, we may almost apply to Mr. Bryant the well-known verses of Horace :

« Multa Dircæum levat aura cycnum

Tendit, Antoni, quoties in allos
Nubium tractus.

Yet we will venture to say that the same subject treated in blank verse, would have been loaded, if not overlaid, with imagery, and fused into an indistinct tissue of " linked sweetness long drawn out." Now it has, throughout, the grace and something of the form of the lower lyric of the ancients, such as the Apulian poet meant when he limited the term of his art in contrast to that of his great master

“ Circa nemus, uvidique Tiburis ripas, operosa parvus

Carmina fingo.” We should take much pleasure in making an extract from every poem in this volume, but that cannot be--indeed ought not to be, for the book is neither scarce nor dear. We hope it never may be, and that Mr. Bryant will make many more. Meantime he will permit us to express our hope that he will deal with the simple objects and affections of nature-the true, the pathetic, the cheerful—those emotions and sources of emotion which never take shape in such verses as his without making men better and the world brighter. If he will not stake his reputation on some great poetical cast, let him look out upon the clear sunshine and into the human heart,—the blue skies and the uncorrupted manners of his country have aspects and relations enough, untried and undescribed. In his own language;

There's a dance of leaves in that aspen bower,

There's a titter of winds in that beechen tree,
There's a smile on the fruit, and a smile on the flower,

And a laugh from the brook that runs to the sea.”

“ From the ground Come up the laugh of children, the soft voice. Of maidens, and the sweet and solemn hymn

Of Sabbath worshippers.” &c. To such themes (and they are true themes of poetry), he is never wanting. They lie along the great highway of life, where the muses must go if they hope to minister to the republican mind. But from the humorous, which he sometimes essays, from foreign and distant subjects, for which he seems to have no heart and to deal with them as if he was speaking from underneath a mask, he ought to abstain. No man can touch every instrument skilfully, and Mr. Bryant's “ Versions” are the worst things in his book. In one instance of a different sort, moreover, and only one, he has gone wholly out of his depth ;

Who, for instance, that is familiar with the original, does not perceive how much the beautiful epigram-we might almost call it an elegy

« PreviousContinue »