Page images
PDF
EPUB

gave

open to all impressions and from all sources : but it did not, in its developement, lower his genius, or confine it, as most presume, to the display of the passions and qualities of inferior parts of society, but seemed rather to spiritualize and elevate and enlarge the sphere of a great capacity, and made the mind more ready to act on all occasions, and more open to receive the fullness and force of all presented to it; for it made more intense the admiration of beauty, increased the eagerness of its pursuit, rendered more vivid its perception, allowed the thoughts to dwell on and take in all its details with far more energy, and more fidelity to its delineation. This capacity to feel and love has also, in inclining his attention to the whole circle of natural objects, given a moral tone to all his writings. His mind shared the mean and sublime, and was fitted for the appreciation of the one, as well as the contemplation of the other. There was an equal interest with the two, for both were parts of a common power and common nature; and thence he acknowledged with gratitude and devotion the majesty and might of a Deity, as they appeared in the grandeur and loveliness of all around him. In this sensibility and facility of receiving impressions, besides being able to awaken the sympathies of others, there resides a vast increase of happiness to the individual, if well-regulated feelings but sober the excitement and allay the passions they nay roușe, for they create the power of carrying the freshness and vivacity of youth into age, and keeping alive all those sources of enjoyment that belong to that period, and thus diminish the weight of life by animating and refreshing its decaying energies.

It is a characteristic of genius never to allow the cares or misfortunes of life to quench its desire of knowledge, but to quicken the torpor and indifference that come with time and experience, by the earnest spirit of its wishes; to animate the intellect by the warmth of the affections; to preserve the heart from the death-like chill which its disappointments produce, by embalıning it with strength and purity of feeling. To one who observes with the accuracy, and unfolds his observations with the nicety of our poet, the philosophy of all he sees is opened to him, and thence he draws truth and a moral that are hidden from more rapid or idle spectators, and paints them with the colours of fancy, and warıns them with the glow of imagination. All, or nearly all, of his short poems contain some unexpected developement of nature, some powerful reflection, or some beautiful sentiment. Under the most unpromising titles there lurks some beauty, growing as it would seem, in his hands, naturally from the subject, though most poets would recoil from it as devoid of interest or excitement to their imaginations, and most readers would pass it over as a dull effort of common-place sentiment

ality, or as an endeavour, from a sort of morbid admiration, to carry their attention towards ordinary and mean things. We will show this by extracts from the little poem--—“'The Old Cumberland Beggar." He is described as seated by the highway side, where he “ate his food in solitude," a solitary wanderer, with every attribute of age, poverty, and neglect.

“But deem not this man useless. Statesmen! ye
Who are so restless in your wisdom, ye
Who have a broom still ready in your hands
To rid the world of nuisances; ye proud,
Heart-swollen, while in your pride ye contemplate
Your talents, power, and wisdom, deem him not
A burthen of the earth! 'Tis nature's law
That none, the meanest of created things,
Of forms created the most vile and brute,
The dullest or most noxious, should exist
Divorced from good-a spirit and pulse of good,
A life and soul, to every mode of being
Inseparably linked. While thus he creeps
From door to door, the villagers in him
Behold a record which together binds
Past deeds and offices of charity,
Else unremembered, and so keeps alive
The kindly mood in hearts which lapse of years,
And that half wisdom, half experience gives,
Make slow to feel, and by sure steps resign
To selfishness and cold oblivious cares.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

And thus the soul,
By that sweet taste of pleasure unpursued,
Doth find herself insensibly disposed
To virtue and true goodness. Some there are,
By their good works exalted, lofty minds
And meditative, authors of delight
And happiness, which to the end of time
Will live and spread and kindle; even such minds
In childhood, from this solitary being,
Or from like wanderer, haply have received
(A thing more precious far than all that books
Or the solicitudes of love can do)
That first mild touch of sympathy and thought,
In which they formed their kindred with a world
Where want and sorrow were."

Thence is drawn a necessity for the display of sympathy, and how far those are from exciting it who lead correct, but heartless lives, and confine themselves within the strict, cold bounds of constrained morality.

“But of the poor man ask, the abject poor ;

Go and demand of him, if there be here
In this cold abstinence from evil deeds,
And these inevitable charities,

Wherewith to satisfy the human soul?
No-man is dear to inan; the poorest poor
Long for some moments in a weary life,
When they can know and feel that they have been,
Themselves, the fathers and the dealers out
Of some small blessings; have been kind to such
As needed kindness, for this single cause
That we have all of us one human heart."

In another piece, “ The Kitten and the Falling Leaves,” we may see the power the poet has of making every thing a source of pleasure, even the commonest things, more especially where the mind has preserved its freshness, and the heart has not been too far perverted by the world, or saddened by care, to partake of the multitude of gratifications that are open to it.

“And I will have my careless season,

Spite of melancholy reason;
Will walk through life in such a way,
That, when time brings on decay,
Now and then I may possess
Hours of perfect gladsomeness;
Pleased by any random toy,
By a kitten's busy joy,
Or an infant's laughing eye,
Sharing in the ecstacy :
I would fare like that or this,
Find my wisdom in my bliss;
Keep the sprightly soul awake,
And have faculties to take,
Even from things by sorrow wrought,
Matter for a jocund thought;
Spite of care, and spite of grief,
To gambol with life's falling leaf.”

These small poems show but one side of the poet's character; his love of nature in all its forms; but there are many others of a higher order, expressing strong imaginative power, but running into that delightful vagueness which the attempt to clothe in language our more elevated feelings, and abstract thoughts, often produces. Among them is “Laodamia," and the majestic ode, "Intimations of Immortality, from Recollections of Early Childhood," from which we extract a portion.

“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."

We know of no poem more musical or impressive than this ode. Whether its effect upon us arises from a peculiar disposition or not, we are not prepared to decide. But how any one who looks onward in life, who listens to or reflects on the past, and feels that the present is but its shadow or its fuller growth, can read it, and not recognize the detail of his own experience, and almost the conscious whisperings of his own spirit, we cannot understand. The “Excursion,” that Byron ridiculed and assaulted with such rancour, and which was, perhaps, put down and thrown into neglect by his ascendancy, is a fine philosophical poem, and filled with passages of great poetic beauty. We do not say where it should rank. Time will assert its merits, should it be that now a just popularity is withheld from it. It fully effects its purpose; the bringing forward of the humbler scenes and elements of society, and demonstrating that they are of the same material, and bear the same relation to the passions and affections of the soul, as do those whose condition is more prosperous, and position loftier. He acknowledges no aristocracy, but that of nature; no pride of feeling, but that which co-exists and comes from a moral elevation, and holds the attributes and energies of virtue. Thence arises the spiritual refinement, the purity and the safety of his writings; qualities so opposite to those of most of his rivals, that it is not surprising he should have been thrown aside. But there is every reason why, in the world's subsided excitement, and the great social and political changes that have taken place, his poetry should extend in popularity with the improvement of his species, the moral and intellectual advancement of the classes whose rights he acknowledges, and whose common nature he feels and honours. In the little volume lately published, we have an illustration of the truth, that, with him who loves nature, the heart and intellect do not grow old. Time cannot chill the affections, nor care consume our pure and simple passions, that come with the unceasing admiration, the awe and veneration that rise from reflecting on, observing, and feeling in all their strength, the power and mystery thrown from, and living in, all which surrounds us. With these impressions

deeply fixed, and ministering to our daily enthusiasm, existence has a constant charm, and age but renewed pleasure, and death brings no dismay. There is something strongly interesting, in seeing a man, through all the eras of a long lise, still unchanged, and still the poet; to find youth and its happiness still multiplied, its enjoyments undecayed, and, however its hopes may have been subdued, yet that the spirit and powers which framed them are invigorated and not enfeebled by time. From this volume, where all is elegant and highly finished, and all comes home to our sympathies, we shall make but two extracts; the first for its truth, the last for its near approach to the sublime.

“Not in the lucid intervals of life
That come but as a curse to party strife;
Not in some hour when Pleasure with a sigh
Of languor puts his rosy garland by :
Not in the breathing times of that poor slave
Who daily piles up wealth in Mammon's cave,
Is nature felt, or can be; nor do words,
Which practised talent readily affords,
Prove that her hand has touched responsive chords;
Nor has her gentle beauty power to move
With genuine rapture and with fervent love
The soul of Genius, if he dares to take
Life's rule from passion, craved for passion's sake;
Untaught that meekness is the cherished bent
Of all the truly great and all the innocent.
But who is innocent ? By grace divine,
Not otherwise, O Nature! we are thine;
Through good and evil thine, in just degree
Of rational and manly sympathy.”

The following is a part of “ The Power of Sound."

“By one pervading spirit
Of tones and numbers all things are controlled,
As sages taught, where faith was found to merit
Initiation in that mystery old.
The heavens, whose aspect makes our minds as still
As they themselves appear to be,
Innumerable voices fill
With everlasting harmony;
The towering headlands crowned with mist,
Their feet among the billows, know
That Ocean is a mighty harmonist;
Thy pinions, universal Air,
Ever waving to and fro,
Are delegates of harmony, and bear
Strains that port the Seasons in their round.
Stern Winter loves a dirge-like sound.

« PreviousContinue »