« PreviousContinue »
independent of culture. On the contrary, there was a considerable amount of work to be done, much discussion and explanation to be gone through, before my London students could be brought to share the excitement of the Roman citizens, while Mark Antony was addressing them, standing over the dead body of Cæsar. And Wordsworth and Cowper often require one to take a long flight out of the smoke and noise of the city.
Even though the labour of such study result but in a vague and imperfect understanding, the time thus employed need not be held lost. Æsthetic culture seems to require an opposite process of transmission from the purely intellectual. Mental training, as we are being told every day, must proceed step by step, moving only with each successive move of the conquering mind. Not so æsthetic training. It must always begin by being a too ample garment into which the wearer has to grow. Children should read poetry, and the best, long before they can fully understand it, that their ear may become sensitive to the finest perfection of form. The gradual breaking in of the light of intelligence, the definite meaning completing the first vague sense of pleasure, then become a high and intense enjoyment.
Much help must come from the teacher if this little volume is to be turned to useful account. I think, also, that the teacher will gain assistance from the time devoted to such study; for it seems to me that the practice of reading poetry aloud may, by conscious effort, afford a more delicate test of the growth of intelligence than any one other separately employed. And I do not know what exercise can better develope that intelligence. A chief aim of all wise educational efforts, theoretical and practical, must be, I think, to remove the human being ever further from the condition of a machine; to produce that fine mobility of sense which, by a rapid perception
and assimilation of changing circumstances, enables its possessor to think and act in harmony with surrounding nature. The forms of intelligent initiative which we most value-imagination, sympathy, tact, sense of humourare the outcome of this quality. All life should foster it. Many studies may ; but poetry, by the immensely rapid and varied action which it arouses in the mind, unites in itself much of their more fragmentary working. It touches innumerable points in the area of thought ; stirs up depths which a less perfect instrument might for ever leave unsounded. In fact it educates. And, while other kinds of teaching must be constantly recast into form, by more or less competent teachers, before being turned to account, poetry has, in common with music, the advantage of a definite, unchangingly beautiful expression, and lies open to all.
It may seem superfluous thus to make an appeal for that which is already so generally recognized. But mere recognition, as one sees now and then in the case of human beings, may yet leave many claims unsatisfied. It is not enough that elegantly-bound volumes of poetry should figure in every household, nor even that an occasional play of Shakespeare, or book of Paradise Lost, be laboriously “got up” to satisfy a Cambridge examiner. If poetry is to profit us, we must know it intimately, and that means wide and frequent reading. Let the gallery of poets be regarded more as many thoughtful people are willing to regard other art-collections and concerts. Here are both pictures and music :
“And she I cherished turned her wheel
Beside an English fire.”
Be the judge and the hero unbent !
“When this blood of thy giving hath gushed,
When the voice that thou lovest is hushed,
“Thou wilt remember one warm morn when winter
Crept agèd from the earth, and spring's first breath
I think that anyone who begins to enquire must be astonished at the very slight acquaintance with poetry of people in general, even those who are considered to be cultured. And yet just now it might serve as a strong force. We live to-day amidst a multitude of half-shattered beliefs, whose falling fragments threaten at times to hide the deep foundation of human feeling upon which the old structures arose. Fortunately for us the spiritual bond draws its strength from many sources, and of these, no less fortunately, some, by their very nature, lie safely beyond reach of destructive reasonings. To them it therefore seems natural to turn as one means of preserving, without antagonism to the spirit of scientific enquiry, that massive body of emotions, failing which most lives can neither be well spent nor happy.
A VERY FEW WORDS ABOUT READING ALOUD.
I can attempt only to point out most briefly some of the commonplaces of this subject; an ample treatment would require more than mere writing. Poetry must, as a rule, be read slowly. While the prose writer (excluding poetical and oratorical prose) may use words of all kinds and unlimited number to convey his meaning, the poet is much more restricted. Rhythmic form hinders the direct expression of the thought, which we therefore take
in with greater effort. Poetical effect depends largely upon the distinct realization of a rapid series of images ; for this, again, time is necessary. Here is an instance :
“She shall be sportive as the fawn
That wild with glee across the lawn
the mountain springs;
It would not be easy to reckon up the many elements that contribute to form the two contrasted moods which we are made to feel in these lines. Certainly, on a first reading, we could not take them in in a hurry. Words, too, become of increasing importance in proportion to the perfection of the poetry. A single word, with all the associations that cluster round it, often forms in itself a picture, and by passing over it quickly, we may fail to strike the right note of thought in the listener. The force of words can be strengthened or weakened, and even changed, by the manner of their utterance. Sir Walter Scott, in his Kenilworth, makes Queen Elizabeth say to her rival earls, “Sussex, I entreat—Leicester, I command you.” “Yet,” adds the novelist, “so were her words accented that the entreaty sounded like command, and the command like entreaty.” One seldom hears reading aloud in which such disunion of thought and utterance does not occur.
It is well for the Psalms of David that they are not only known by being heard in the churches ; we might never have felt their whole splendour.
An unskilful reader will contrive to take all the stretch of distance out of the line,
"Far, far I had roamed on a desolate track,"
and reduce to a slow march the gathering song of Donald the Black :
“Fast they come, fast they come ;
See how they gather!
Blended with heather.
Forward each man set!
Knell for the onset!”
One essential of good reading is to subordinate both rhythm and rhyme to sense. They are like the accompaniment of the song, and must not interfere with its meaning. In fact they only delight the ear when indistinctly perceived. Even when the sense permits their accentuation, efforts must be made to prevent such monotony.' When the sense forbids it, the fault simply results in destruction of meaning. Every rule, however, has its exceptions, and so, at times, the full meaning can only be brought out by marking the rhythm. For instance, in this line of Marvell's,
“With falling oars they kept the time,” we may slightly accentuate the measure in order to complete the idea of rowing. And a clever reader will keep one reminded of the unbroken gallop of the horses in “How they brought the good news from Ghent to Aix,” in spite of the extraordinary multitude of descriptive facts, which it is so all-important to bring out. Rhyme is also, at times, an aid to effect; but, as a rule, it should be effaced.
Perhaps, just as in writing, the great thing is to know clearly what one wants to express; the chief necessity in reading aloud is to know clearly what one wants to render. This achieved, rules need hardly be consciously observed. Indeed their chief use is to make people feel when they are to be broken.
* One can hardly hear more perfect mastery of this difficulty than at the Théatre Français, in the representations of its modern metrical and rhymed plays.