Imágenes de páginas
[ocr errors]


66 the

or phrase. Leigh Hunt cited the line from“ Death's prophetic ear," " the quiet of a lovKeats's “ Isabella,” “So the two brothers and ing eye” (which is like Wordsworth, and again their murdered man,” — the victim, then jour- like Landor's phrase on Milton—“the Sabneying with his future slayers, being already bath of his mind"). None would forego "the dead in their intention. A striking instance of blue rushing of the arrowy Rhone,” or the swift-flashing imagination is in a stanza dead but sceptred sovereigns, who still rule our from Stoddard's Horatian ode upon the funer- spirits from their urns," or such a combination al of Lincoln:

of imagination and feeling as this : The time, the place, the stealing shape,

I turned from all she brought to those she could The coward shot, the swift escape,

not bring. The wife, the widow's scream.

Coleridge's “myriad-minded Shakspere" is What I may call the constant, the habitual, enough to show his mastery of words. A conimagination of a true poet is shown by his injuring quality like that of the voices heard by stinct for words—those keys which all may

Kubla Khan, clatter, and which yield their music to so few. Ancestral voices prophesying war, He finds the inevitable word or phrase, unfound before, and it becomes classical in a moment. lurks in the imaginative lines of our Southern The power of words and the gift of their selec- lyrist, Boner, upon the cottage at Fordham, tion are uncomprehended by writers who have which aver of Poe, that all trite and hackneyed phrases at the pen's end. The imagination begets original diction,

Here in the sobbing showers

Of dark autumnal hours suggestive epithets, verbs implying extended

He heard suspected powers scenes and events, phrases which are a delight

Shriek through the stormy wood. and which, as we say, speak volumes, single notes which establish the dominant tone. Tennyson's words often seem too laboriously

This kind of felicity makes an excerpt from and exquisitely chosen. But that was a good Shakspere unmistakable. Milton's diction ri- moment when, in his early poem of“ CEnone,” vals that of Æschylus, though nothing can he pictured her as wandering outrank the Grecian's ανήρευμον γέλασμα – the innumerous laughter of his ocean waves. But Forlorn of Paris, once her playmate on the hills. recall Milton's wandering moon” (borrowed, haply, from the Latin), and his wilderness Amongst Americans, Emerson has been the of sweets”; and such phrases as “dim, reli- chief master of words and phrases. Who save gious light," “ fatal and perfidious bark," hide he could enveil us in “the tumultuous privacy” their diminished heads," “ the least-erected

of the snow-storm ? Lowell has great verbal spirit that fell,” “ barbaric pearl and gold,” felicity. It was manifest even in the early pe" imparadised in one another's arms," rose riod when he apostrophized the dandelion, ,”

like an exhalation,” “ such sweet compulsion

“ Dear common flower," “ Thou art my tropics doth in music lie”; and his fancies of the and mine Italy,”—and told us of its “harmless daisies' “ quaint enameled eyes," and of " dan- gold.” But I have cited a sufficient number cing in the chequered shade"; and number of these well-wonted instances. Entering the less similar beauties that we term Miltonic. amazing treasure-house of English song, one After Shakspere and Milton, Keats stands first must remember the fate of the trespasser within in respect of imaginative diction. His appel

the enchanted grotto of the “ Gesta Romanolatives of the Grecian Urn, “ Cold pastoral,” rum,” where rubies, sapphires, diamonds, lay in and “ Thou foster-child of silence and slow flashing heaps on every side. When he essayed time,” are in evidence. “The music yearning to fill his wallet with them, the spell was broken, like a god in pain,” and

the arrow whizzed, and he met the doom al

lotted to pickers and stealers. Music's golden tongue Flattered to tears this aged man and poor,

With respect to configuration, the antique

genius, in literature as in art, was clear and excel even Milton's “forget thyself to marble.” assured. It imagined plainly, and drew firm What a charm in his “ darkling I listen," and outlines. But the Acts and Scenes of our Enghis thought of Ruth“ in tears amid the alien lish dramatists were often shapeless ; their corn”! Shelley's diction is less sure and eclec- schemes were full of by-play and plot within tic, yet sometimes his expression, like his own plot; in fine, their constructive faculty showed skylark, is “an embodied joy." Byron's im- the caprice of rich imaginations that disdained aginative language is more rhetorical, but control. Shakspere, alone of all, never f." none will forget his “ haunted, holy ground," justify Leigh Hunt's maxim that, in

Vol. XLIV.-87.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

se with an unearthly voice of menace warns the

i royagers back. I have said that the grandest 20550 of English supernatural creations is Milton's

ve Satan. No other personage has at once such sese me magnitude and definiteness of outline as that

Cared sublime, defiant archangel, whether in action Tenten- or in repose. Milton, like Dante, has to do Showether with the unknown world. The Florentine bard minism of soars at last within the effulgence of “the eter

3 more awe- nal, coeternal beam.” Milton's imagination

V Italy and broods “in the wide womb of uncreated night.” *in the classic We enter that“ palpable obscure,” where there .Cow Furies are less is “no light, but rather darkness visible," and Pendid the prophetic where lurk many a “grisly terror” and “exe

Sven in the medie- crable shape.” But the genii of wonder and 1.2, ale tamned and their terror are the familiars of a long succession of Limit me materially pre- our English poets. Coleridge, who so had them Cati Ceils we the lovers at his own call, knew well their signs and work;

as when he pointed a sure finger to Drayton's

etching of the trees which Pillas air.

As for revenge to heaven each held a withered

hand. V the excellence en veganative ge- Science drives specter after specter from its

wonder, ter- path, but the rule still holds —omne ignotum pro

Tarvugh its magnifico, and a vaster unknown, a more imuwa tom the pressive vague, still deepens and looms before.

A peculiarly imaginative sense of the beau

tiful, also, is conveyed at times by an exquisite PAS

formlessness of outline. I asked the late Mr. Bality:

Grant White what he thought of a certain pic*** MiniA from ture by Inness, and he replied that it seemed

Wir spaces to be painted by a blind poet.” But no Initurriers, can ness, Fuller, Corot, Rousseau, not even Tur

Innsion, im- ner, nor the broad, luminous spaces of Homer

& The early Martin, ever excelled the magic of the changespate will never ful blending conceptions of Shelley, so aptly site:'minating termed the poet of Cloudland. The feeling of

of us as

his lyrical passages is all his own. How does me the Book of it justify itself and so hold us in thrall? Yield je upon him in to it, and if there is anything sensitive in your in man:

mold you are hypnotized, as if in truth gazing

heavenward and fixing your eyes upon a beauHitta ***thr; the hair teous and protean cloud; fascinated by its sil

ai but I could very shapelessness, its depth, its vistas, its iri

Roligt was be- descence and gloom. Listen, and the cloud is in viisil heard a vocal with a music not to be defined. There is one more just

no appeal to the intellect; the mind seeks not for a meaning; the cloud floats ever on; the

music is changeful, ceaseless, and uncloying. The sublimity Their plumed invoker has become our type of

in Gothic the pure spirit of song, almost sexless, quite reAs more moved at times from earth and the carnal pas

Lusind,” sions. Such a poet could never be a sensualist. Tihtiyar functory“Brave translunary things” are to him the true

were strug- realities; he is, indeed, a creature of air and

in Isrca into light. “The Witch of Atlas," an artistic Netthe Cape a work of imagination, though as transparent as

Talou, girt the moonbeams and as unconscious of warmth visom. Pot v svward and cold. Mary Shelley objected to it on the

de hague, and score that it had no human interest. It cer

[ocr errors]

tainly is a kind of aër potabilis, a wine that Forest on forest hung about his head lacks body; it violates Goethe's dictum, to wit: Like cloud on cloud. No stir of air was there,– “Two things are required of the poet and the Not so much life as on a summer's day artist, that he should rise above reality and yet Robs not one light seed from the feather’d grass, remain within the sphere of the sensuous.” But But where the dead leaf fell, there did it rest. there is always a law above law for genius, and A. stream went voiceless by, still deaden'd more

By reason of his fallen divinity all things are possible to it -- even the entrance Spreading a shade: the Naiad 'mid her reeds to a realm not ordered in life and emotion ac- Press'd her cold finger closer to her lips. cording to the conditions of this palpable warm planet to which our feet are bound.

At the outset of English poetry, Chaucer's As in nature, so in art, that which relatively imagination is sane, clear-sighted, wholesome to ourselves is large and imposing has a cor- with open-air feeling and truth to life. Spenser responding effect upon the mind. Magnitude is the poet's poet chiefly as an artist. The alis not to be disdained as an imaginative factor. legory of “ The Faerie Queene" is not like that An heroic masterpiece of Angelo's has this ad- of Dante, forged at white heat, but the symvantage at the start over some elaborate carv- bolism of a courtier and euphuist who felt its ing by Cellini. Landor says that “a throne is unreality. But all in all, the Elizabethan penot built of birds’-nests, nor do a thousand riod displays the English imagination at full reeds make a trumpet.” Of course, if dimen- height. Marlowe and Webster, for example, sion is to be the essential test, we are lost. give out fitful but imaginative light which at Every one feels himself to be greater than a times is of kindred splendor with Shakspere's mountain, than the ocean, even than Chaos; steadfast beam. Webster's “ Duchess of Malh” yet an imaginative observer views the mea- teaches both the triumphs and the dangers of sureless nebula with awe, conceiving a universe the dramatic fury. The construction runs riot; of systems, of worlds tenanted by conscious certain characters are powerfully conceived, beings, which is to be evolved from that lam- others are wild figments of the brain. It is full bent, ambient star-dust.

of most fantastic speech and action; yet the Certain it is that when we seek the other ex- tragedy, the passion, the felicitous language treme, the province of the microscopic, Fancy, and imagery of various scenes, are nothing less the elf-child of Imagination, sports within her than Shaksperean. To comprehend rightly the own minute and capricious realm. Her land good and bad qualities of this play is to have is that of whims and conceits, of mock asso- gained a liberal education in poetic criticism. ciations, of Midsummer Nights' Dreams. She Now take a collection of English verse has her own epithets for its denizens, for the and there is no poetry more various and in“green little vaulter,” the "yellow-breeched clusive — take, let us say, Ward's “ English philosopher," the “ animated torrid zone," of Poets,” and you will find that the generations her dainty minstrelsy. Poets of imagination after Shakspere are not over-imaginative until are poets of fancy when they choose. Hester you approach the nineteenth century. From Prynne was ever attended by her tricksy Pearl. Jonson to the Georgian School there is no genBut many is the poet of fancy who never en- eral efflux of visionary power. The lofty Milton ters the courts of imagination- – a joyous faun and a few minor lights - Dryden, Collins, indeed, and wanting nothing but a soul. Chatterton— shine at intervals between. Pre

A large utterance, such as that which Keats cisely the most unimaginative period is that bestowed upon the early gods, is the instinctive covered by Volume III and entitled “ From voice of the imagination nobly roused and con- Addison to Blake.” We have tender feeling and cerned with an heroic theme. There are few true in Goldsmith and Gray. There is no pasbetter illustrations of this than the cadences sion, no illumination, until you reach Burns and and diction of “ Hyperion,” a torso equal to his immediate successors. Then imagination the finished work of any other English poet leaped again to life, springing chiefly from subafter Shakspere and Milton; perhaps even jective emotion, as among the Elizabethans it greater because a torso, for the construction sprang from young adventure, from discovery of its fable is not significant, and when Keats and renown of arms, above all from the objecproduced his effect, he ended the poem as tive study of the types and conduct of mankind. Coleridge ended “Christabel.” All qualities If another century shall add a third imaginative which I have thus far termed imaginative con- luster to the poetry of our tongue,-enkindled, tribute to the majesty of its overture : perchance, by the flame of a more splendid Deep in the shady sadness of a vale

order of discovery, even now so exalting,- it Far sunken from the healthy breath of morn,

will have done its equal share. Far from the fiery noon, and eve's one star, Sat grey-bair’d Saturn, quiet as a stone,

The Mercury and Iris of this heavenly power Still as the silence round about his lair.

are comparison and association, who

wings flash unceasingly. Look at Wordsworth's It is easy to comprehend why the father of similes. He took from nature her primitive American song should be held in honor by symbolism. Consider his elemental quality: I poets as different as Richard Henry Stoddard use the word as did the ancients in their large, and Walt Whitman. These men have possessed untutored view of things — as Prospero uses it, one quality in common. Stoddard's random ere laying down his staff:

and lighter lyrics are familiar to magazine read

ers, with whom the larger efforts of a poet are not My Ariel, --chick,That is thy charge: then to the elements

greatly in demand. But I commend those who Be free, and fare thou well!

care for high and lasting qualities to an ac

quaintance with his blank verse, and with susIn Wordsworth's mind nature is so absolute tained lyrics like the odes on Shakspere and that her skies and mountains are just as plainly Bryant and Washington, which resemble his imaged as in the sheen of Derwentwater; and blank verse both in artistic perfection and in thence they passed into his verse. He wanders, imagination excelled by no contemporary poet,

Whitman's genius is prodigal and often so eleLonely as a cloud That floats on high o'er vales and hills.

mental, whether dwelling upon his types of the

American people, or upon nature animate and He says of Milton,

inanimate in his New World, or upon mysteries

of science and the future, that it at times moves Thy soul was like a star, and dwelt apart.

one to forego, as passing and inessential, any A primeval sorrow, a cosmic pain, is in the demurto his matter or manner. There is no gainexpression of his dead love's reunion with the saying the power of his imagination — a faculty elements:

which he indulged, having certainly carried out

that early determination to loaf, and invite his No motion has she now, no force;

soul. His highest mood is even more than eleShe neither hears nor sees, Rolled round in earth's diurnal course,

mental; it is cosmic. In almost the latest poem With rocks, and stones, and trees.

of this old bard, addressed “ To the Sunset

Breeze ” (one fancies him sitting, like Borrow's The souls of the Hebrew bards, inheritors of blind gipsy, where he can feel the wind from pastoral memories, ever consorted with the ele- the heath), he thus expressed it: ments, invoking the heavens of heavens," "the waters that be above the heavens," « fire and I feel

the sky, the prairies vast — I feel the mighty

northern lakes; hail; snow, and vapor: stormy wind fulfilling I feel the ocean and the forest - somehow I feel His word.” Ofthe Greeks, Æschylus is more ele- the globe itself swift-swimming in space. mental than Pindar, even than Homer. Among our moderns, a kindred quality strengthened Lanier is another of the American poets the imaginations of Byron and Shelley; Swin- distinguished by imaginative genius. In his burne too, whom at his best the Hebraic feeling case this became more and more impressible and the Grecian sway by turns, is most self- by the sense of elemental nature, and perhaps forgetful and exalted when giving it full play. more subtly alert to the infinite variety within

I point you to the fact that some of our Amer- the unities of her primary forms. Mrs. Stodican poets, if not conspicuous thus far for dra- dard's poetry, as yet uncollected, is imaginamatic power, have been gifted — as seems fitting tive and original, the utterance of moods that in respect to their environment— with a dis- are only too infrequent. The same may be said tinct share of this elemental imagination. It is of a few poems by Dr. Parsons, from whom we the strength of Bryant's genius: the one secret, have that finest of American lyrics, the lines if you reflect upon it, of the still abiding fame “On a Bust of Dante.” There is a nobly eleof that austere and revered minstrel. His soul, mental strain in Taylor's “Prince Deukalion" too, dwelt apart, but like the mountain-peak and “The Masque of the Gods.” I could name that looks over forest, plain, and ocean, and several of our younger poets, men and women, confabulates with winds and clouds. I am not and a number of their English compeers, whose sure but that his elemental feeling is more im- work displays imaginative qualities, were it not pressive than Wordsworth's, from its almost pre- beyond my province. But many of the newadamite simplicity. It is often said that Bryant's comers — relatively more, perhaps, than in forloftiest mood came and went with “ Thanatop- mer divisions of this century — seem restricted sis.” This was not so; though it was for long to the neat-trimmed playgrounds of fancy and periods in abeyance. “The Flood of Years," device; they deck themselves like pages, rarely written sixty-five years later than “ Thanatop- venturing from the palace close into the stately sis” and when the bard was eighty-two, has Forest of Dreams. If one should stray down a the characteristic and an even more sustained gloaming vista, and be aided by the powers majesty of thought and diction.

therein to chance for once upon some fine con

[ocr errors]


ception, I fancy him recoiling from his own the Unknown Power, and in evidence stood imagining as from the shadow of a lion. upon his works alone, repeated these words

by inference recognizing a share of Deity within Here, then, after the merest glimpse of its each child of earth. The share allotted to such aureole, we turn away from the creative imagi- a mold as Shakspere's evoked Hartley Colenation: a spirit that attends the poet unbid- ridge's declaration: den, if at all, and compensates him for neglect and sorrow by giving him the freedom of a The soul of man is larger than the sky, clime not recked of by the proud and mighty, Deeper than ocean - or the abysmal dark and a spiritual wealth" beyond the dreams of

Of the unfathomed centre. avarice.” Not all the armor and curios and dra

So in the compass of the single mind

The seeds and pregnant forms in essence lie pery of a Sybaritic studio can make a painter;

That make all worlds. no esthetic mummery, no mastery of graceful rhyme and measure, can of themselves furnish

But what was the old notion of the act of forth a poet. Go rather to Barbizon, and see divine creation ? That which reduced divinwhat pathetic truth and beauty dwell within ity to the sprite of folk-lore, who by a word, a the humble rooms of Millet's cottage; go to spell, or the wave of a wand, evoked a city, a Ayr,and find the muse's darling beneath a straw

person, an army, out of the void. The Deity thatched roof; think what feudal glories came

whom we adore in our generation has taken us to Chatterton in his garret, what thoughts of into his workshop. We see that he creates, as fair marble shapes, of casements “ innumerable

we construct, slowly and patiently, through of stains and splendid dyes,"lighted up for Keats his borough lodgings. Doré was asked, at the ages and by evolution, one step leading to the

next. I reassert, then, that “as far as the poet, flood-tide of his good fortune, why he did not the artist, is creative, he becomes a sharer of buy or build a château. “ Let my patrons do the divine imagination and power, and even of that,” he said. “Why should I, who have no the divine responsibility.” And I now find this need of it? My chấteau is here, behind my assertion so well supported, that I cannot forforehead.” He who owns the wings of imagi- bear quoting from a “Midsummer Meditation” nation shudders on no height; he is above fate in a recent volume of American poetry: and chance. Its power of vision makes him greater still, for he sees and illuminates every: Brave conqueror of dull mortality! day life and common things. Its creative gift Look up and be a part of all thou see'st; – is divine; and I can well believe the story told Ocean and earth and miracle of sky, of the greatest and still living Victorian poet, All that thou see'st thou art, and without thee that once, in his college days, he looked deep Were nothing. Thou, a god, dost recreate and earnestly into the subaqueous life of a The whole; breathing thy soul on all, till all stream near Cambridge, and was heard to say, is one wide world made perfect at thy touch. * What an imagination God has !” Certainly And know that thou, who darest a world create, without it was not anything made that was Of his eternity a quenchless spark.

Art one with the Almighty, son to sire made, either by the Creator, or by those created in his likeness. I say“ created," but there

We have seen that with the poet imagination are times when we think upon the amazing is the essential key to expression. The other beauty, the complexity, the power and endur- thing of most worth is that which moves him ance, of the works of human hands—such as, to expression, the passion of his heart and soul. for example, some of the latest architectural I close, therefore, by saying that without either decorations illuminated by the electric light of these elements we can have poetry which with splendor never conceived of even by an

may seem to you tender, animating, enjoyable, ancestral rhapsodist in his dreams of the New and of value in its way, but without imaginaJerusalem – there are moments when results tion there can be no poetry which is great. Posof this sort, suggesting the greater possible re- sibly we can have great poetry which is devoid sults of future artistic and scientific effort, give of passion, but great only through its tranquilthe theory of divinity as absolutely immanent in izing power, through tones that calm and man a proud significance. We then compre- strengthen, yet do not exalt and thrill. Such hend the full purport of the Genesitic record “Ye shall be as gods.” The words of the Psalm- avowal like Sir Philip Sidney's:

is not the poetry which stirs one to make an ist have a startling verity—“I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the Most

I never heard the old song of Percy and DougHigh.” We remember that one who declared las, that I found not my heart moved more than himself the direct offspring and very portion of with a trumpet.

Edmund Clarence Stedman.

« AnteriorContinuar »