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mountains, and through deep broken ways, full of perils and of pit-falls; through sicknesses and weariness, sorrows and burdens, and the valley of the shadow; world-worn and foot-sore, they have been faring forth, one by one, since the world began, 'going and weeping.""
There is no appearance of art in this sentence; but the highest art could not more truly make choice and combination of its words.
I must hasten to the powers of the language in verse; and, in the first place, let me say that it is a happy trait in our literature that it has no peculiar poetic diction. Words that are used in good prose are not excluded from poetry, and words which the poets employ belong also to our prose uses, of speech and writing; and hence the poets are the better enabled to exert a perpetual influence in the fulfilment of their high function of conservators of the purity of the language. Our prosody, taking accent rather than quantity for its principle, seldom if ever, disqualifies words on account of their sound, whereas in the Latin, as has been ascertained, one word out of every eight is excluded from its chief metres by the rules of its prosody. An analysis of a passage from Cicero, the elevated prose of the language, for this purpose, has proved that, in fifty lines, thirty words are impossible words for the most usual forms of Latin verse.
The study of English poetry, being in closer affinity with the prose, admits of an important use in the formation of a good prose style. A mind as earnestly practical as Dr. Franklin's observed this, and he recommended the study of poetry and the writing of verse for this very purpose: it was one of the sources of his own excellent English. It ii a species of early training for prose-writing which he recommended, having recognised it in his own case as having given a genuine copiousness and command of language. This certainly is worth reflection, too, that all the great English poets, Chaucer, Spenser, Shakspeare, Milton, Dryden, Cowper, Byron, Southey, and Wordsworth, have displayed high power as prose-writers.
It is sometimes supposed that the laws of inetrical language must, of necessity, produce a style more or less artificial, and therefore alien from prose uses; but the very opposite is the fact. The true poet is always the true artist, and words are the instruments of his art. The laws of metre are no bondage to him, but genial self-control; he asks Jess license of language than any one, and the constraint of rhyme will often increase and not lessen the precision and clearness of expression. It is, in truth, one of the cases which prove the great moral truth, that rilling obedience gains for itself unwonted power; submitting to the ontrol of his art, bowing to its laws with happy loyalty, the poet's reward is the endowment of an ampler command of expression and of the music of the language. Verse and metre are wings, and not fetters, to the true poet.
Observe the matchless English everywhere in Shakspeare—how free it is with all the art that is to be discovered in it; how true it is, and full of beautiful and almost familiar simplicity! If, in the recollection of any passage, a word shall escape your memory, you may hunt through the thirty-eight thousand words in the language, and no word shall fit the vacant place but the one the poet put there. Take that exquisite lament of the banished Norfolk over his native English: the words are all simple, homely words, such as anybody might use (for Shakspeare never made his language “ too bright a good for human nature's daily food"). Notice, too, if you can do so without impairing the general effect, that there are in the passage no fewer than eight alliterations:
"A heavy sentence, my most sovereign liege,
Too far in years to be a pupil now." Or turn to those beautiful sentences in Coriolanus, where the Roman hero, returning with wounds and victory, is met by his exulting mother and his silent, weeping wife:
“My gracious silence, hail!
Would'st thou have laugh'd, had I come coffin'd home,
And mothers that lack sons." Or, to take what is not so much used by Shakspeare, the rhymed poetry in Love's Labour Lost :
“ These earthly godfathers of heaven's lights,
That give a name to every fixed star,
Than those that walk, and wot not what they are."
How true is it what Coleridge said, “ that you might as well think of pushing a brick out of a wall with your forefinger, as attempt to remove a word out of any of the finished passages of Shakspeare.”
To show the wonderful power of expression that belongs to poetry, tunder even the most severe laws of verse, what mere prose-writer or reader would suppose it possible, within the narrow limit of fourteen lines, and with all the complex structure and redoubled rhymes of the sonnet, for a poet to speak of no fewer than seveu of the most illustrious poets of modern Europe, and to touch upon their characters and the story of their lives; and yet this has been achieved, apparently without effort-so natural is the flow of the language-in that well-known sonnet of Wordsworth, wherein he at cnce defends and illustrates that form of composition:
" Scorn not the Sonnet; Critic, you have frowned,
The Sonnet glittered a gay myrtle-leaf
His visionary brow; a glow-worm lamp,
To struggle through dark ways, and when a damp
The thing became a trumpet; when he blew
Soul-animating strains-alas; too few!" It is the poets who have best revealed the hidden harmony that lies in our short Saxon-English words—the monosyllabic music of our language. This was one of the secrets of the charm and the popularity of Lord Byron's poetry—his eminently English choice of words. One short passage of Mr. Landor's Poems will serve to show the metrical effect of simple words of one syllable. In the sentence I am about to quote, out of thirty such words, there is but one long latinized word the rest are nearly all monosyllables, the last line wholly so :
"She was sent forth
Eyes that love back, till they can see no more.” The combination of the various elements of the language will be found most ahundantly illustrated in the poems of Milton, but from such
a theme, too large for me to venture on now, let me pass to a few other illustrations more readily to be disposed of.
The poetry of our own times has done high service to the language by expanding its metrical discipline, opening a larger freedom and variety, and yet keeping aloof from mere license. Observe, for instance, in these lines, the effect produced at the close by a change in the structure of the stanza and the single long line with which, at the end, the imagination travels forth;
"O! that our lives, which flee so fast,
in purity were such,
Should fear that pencil's touch!
Upon a soothing scene;
Contented and serene;
In frosty moonlight glistening;
Along a channel smooth and deep
To their own far-off murmurs listening."-Wordsworth, One of the most exquisite studies of the beautiful freedom of English verse is to be found in that poem, the music of which so fascinated the spirit of Sir Walter Scott and of Lord Byron, as to prompt them both to some of their own finest effusions; I refer to Coleridge's Christabel, in which a variety of line and rhyme, and even blank verse is wrought into a marvellous unity-nowhere more than in that passage picturing Christabel in the forest, when she hears the moaning of the witch.
“ Is the night chilly and dark!
The night is chilly, but not dark.
There is one more principle in the study of language in poetic lite. rature which I wish to notice, and that is the beauty of the adaptation in all true poetry of the metrical form to the subject and feeling of the poem. “Every true poet," it has been well said, " has a song in his mind, the notes of which, little as they precede his thoughts--so iittle as to seem simultaneous with them-do precede, suggest aud inspire many of these, modify and beautify them.” How this connection exists between the poet's thought and passion, and their apt tune in language, is more, perhaps, than philosophy can discover; but there is an interest in observing the fact; and this also is to be thought of, that the true poet awakens this spiritual song in the mind of his reader.
Even the same form of verse is very different in the hands of different poets, and has great and characteristic variety of excellence-the blank verse of Milton, of Cowper, and of Wordsworth, having tacl. a beautiful melody of its own. It adds to our knowledge of our language and its powers, and also greatly to the cultivated enjoyment of poetical reading, if we take the pains to observe and appreciate the harmonious relation of the measure and the subject. I will give an illustration of this relation, by quoting two pieces by the same poet, and then will detain you but a few minutes longer. The contrast between the pieces is a refined one, because in each there is an adaptation to deep pathos, but exquisitely varied to different forms of pathos, the emotion at the aspect of death in its gentleness, and of death in its terrible tragedy.
“We watched her breathing through the night,
Her breathing soft and low
Kept heaving to and fro.
So silently we seemed to speak,
So slowly moved about,
To eke her living out.
Our very hopes belied our fears
Our fears our hopes belied ;
And sleeping when she died.
For when the morn came dim and sad
And chill with early showers,
Another morn than ours."-Hood.