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No one, till he has read these, knows all of majesty and melody, all of energy and emotion, all of supple and significant loveliness, all of tender cunning and exquisite strength, which our language can show at need in proof of its powers and uses. The birth of love, his eucharistic presence, his supreme vision, his utter union in flesh and spirit, the secret of the sanctuary of his heart, his louder music and his lower, his graver and his lighter seasons; all work of love and all play, all dreams and devices of his memory and his belief, all fuller and emptier hours from the first which longs for him to the last which loses, all change of lights from his mid-day to his moonrise, all his foreknowledge of evil things and good, all glad and sad hours of his night-watches, all the fear and ardour which feels and fights against the advent of his difference and dawn of his division, all agonies and consolations that embitter and allay the wounds of his mortal hour; the pains of breach and death, the songs and visions of the wilderness of his penance, the wood of desolation made beautiful and bitter by the same remembrance, haunted by shadows of the same hours for sorrow and for solace, and, beyond all, the light of the unaccomplished hour which missed its chance in one life to meet it in another, where the sundered spirits revive into reunion ; all these things are here done into words and sung into hearing of men as they never were till now. With a most noble and tender power all forms and colours of the world without are touched and drawn into service of the spirit; and this with no ingenious abuse of imagery or misuse of figures, but with such gracious force of imagination that they seem to offer voluntary service. What interlude more radiant than that of the “Portrait,” more gracious and joyous than the “Love-Letter,” more tender than the remembered “ Birth-Bond,” more fervent than the memorial “Day of Love," more delicate than the significance of “Love's Baubles," more deep and full than the bitter-sweet “Life-in-Love," more soft in spiritual shade of changeful colour than “The LoveMoon,” more subtly solemn in tragic and triumphant foresight than “ The Morrow's Message," more ardent with finer fires and more tremulous with keener senses than the sonnets of parting, than “Broken Music,” or “ Death-in-Love," evér varied the high delight of verse, the sublime sustention of choral poetry through the length of an imperial work? In the sonnet called “Love-Sweetness" there is the very honey of pure passion, the expression and essence of its highest thought and wisdom; and in that called “He and I," the whole pain and mystery of growing change. Even Shelley never expressed the inmost sense and mighty heart of music as this poet has done in “The Monochord.” There are no lyrics in our lyrical English tongue of sweeter power than the least of these which follow the sonnets. The “ Song of the Bower” is sublime by sheer force of mere beauty; the sonorous Auctuation of its measure, a full tide under a full moon, of passion lit and led by memory to and fro beneath fiery and showery skies of past and future, has such depth and weight in its moving music that the echo of it is as a seashell in the mind's ear for ever. Observe the glorious change of note from the delicate colour of the second stanza to the passionate colour of the third ; the passage from soft bright symbols to the actual fire of vision and burning remembrance; from the shelter of soul under soul and mirror of tears wherein heart sees heart, to the grasp and glow of
"Large lovely arms and a neck like a tower” . growing incarnate upon the sight of memory: and again to the deep dim witness and warning, the foresight and regret which lighten and darken the ways of coming life. This is perhaps, for style at once ample and simple, the noblest song of all; yet it is but one of many noble. Among these others I find none which clings by itself so long and close to the inind as one outside their circlethe song of the sea-beach, called “ Even So;" it dies out with a suppressed sigh like the last breath or heartbeat of a yearning weakwinged wind. “A Little While” is heavy with all the honey of foretasted sorrow, sweeter in its aftertaste than the joy resigned, with a murmur beyond music in its speech. The perfect pity of the two last lines has the touch on it of plain truth and patience;
“I'll tell thee when the end is come
How we may best forget." In “ Plighted Promise ” and “Love Lily” the white flame of delight breathes and trembles in a subtler air, with a sure and faultless charm of motion. I like the first stanza of “Sudden Light” better than the second and third, admirably as they are fashioned and set to the music of the thought: they have less seeming effusion of an insuppressible sense; and the touches of colour and odour and sound in it are almost too fine in their harmony to be matched with any later. There is not a more delicate note of magic nature in these poems. The tremulous ardour of “ Penumbra” is another witness to the artist's mastery of hand; the finest nerves of life are finely touched; the quiver and ache of soul and senses to which all things are kindled and discoloured by half morbid lights of emotion give a burning pulse of melody to the verses. The same fear or doubt which here is attired in fancies of feverish beauty finds gentler utterance, again outside this circle, in “A New Year's Burden;" the tone and colour have always a fresh and sure harmony. Four poems in a different key from such songs are "The Sea-Limits,” “A Young Fir-Wood,” “The Honeysuckle," "The Woodspurge;" not songs, but studies of spirit and thought, concrete and perfect. The first of these has the solemn weight and depth in it of living water, and a sound like the speech of
the sea when the wind is silent. The very note of that world-old harmony is caught and cast into words.
“Consider the sea's listless chime:
Time's self it is, made audible :
The murmur of the earth's own shell.” This little verse also has the
"Socret continuance sublime” which “is the sea's end ;" it too is a living thing with an echo beyond reach of the sense, its chord of sound one part of the multiform unity of mutual inclusion in which all things rest and mix; like the sigh of the shaken shell, 'it utters “the same desire and mystery" as earth through its woods, and water through its waves, and man through his multitudes : it too has in it a breath of the life immeasurable and imperishable. The other three of these studies have something of the same air and flavour: their keen truthfulness and subtle sincerity touch the same springs and kindle the same pulses of thought. The passionate accuracy of sense half blunted and half whetted by obsession and possession of pain is given in “The Woodspurge” with a bitterly beautiful exactitude.
In all the glorious poem built up of all these poems there is no great quality more notable than the sweet and sovereign unity of perfect spirit and sense, of fleshly form and intellectual fire. This Muse is as the woman praised in the divine words of the poet himself,
“Whose speech Truth knows not from her thought,
Nor Love her body from her soul.” And if not love, how then should judgment ? for love and judgment must be one in those who would look into such high and lovely things. No scrutiny can distinguish nor sentence divorce the solid spiritual truth from the bodily beauty of the poem, the very and visible soul from the dazzling veil and vesture of fair limbs and features. There has been no work of the same pitch attempted since Dante sealed up his youth in the sacred leaves of the “Vita Nuova ;” and this poem of his namechild and translator is a more various and mature work of kindred genius and spirit.
Other parts of his work done here have upon them the more instant sign of that sponsor and master of his mind; there is a special and delicate savour of personal interest in the sonnet on the “darkness” of Dante, sacred to the fame of a father made again illustrious in his children, which will be cherished with a warm reverence by all heedful students. The poem of “Dante at Verona” stands apart among the rest with a crown on it of the like consecration, as perhaps the loftiest monument of all raised by the devotion of a race of genius for two generations of noble work and love. All incidents and traditions of the great poet's exile are welded together in fusion of ardent verse to forge a memorial as of carven gold. The pure plain ease and force of narrative style melt now and then into the fire of a sad rapture, a glory of tragedy lighting the whole vision as with a funereal and triumphal torch. Even the words of that letter in which Dante put away from him the base conditions of return—words matchless among all that ever a poet found to speak for himself, except only by those few supreme words in which Milton replied to the mockers of his blindness—even these are worthily recast in the mould of English verse by the might and cunning of this workman's hand. Witness the original set against his version.
“Non est hæc via redeundi ad patriam, Pater mi; sed si alia per vos aut deinde per alios invenietur, quæ famæ Dantis atque honori non deroget, illam non lentis passibus acceptabo. Quod si per nullam talem Florentia introitur, nunquam Florentiam introibo. Quidni ? nonne solis astrorumque specula ubique conspiciam ? Nonne dulcissimas veritates potero speculari ubique sub cælo, ni priùs inglorium, immo ignominiosum, populo Florentinæque civitati me reddam ?-Quippe nec panis deficiet.”
So wrote Dante in 1316; now partly rendered into English to this effect :
“That since no gate led, by God's will,
To Florence, but the one whereat
The priests and money-changers sat,
Even through the body's prison bars,
These and the majestic lines which follow them as comment have the heart of that letter in them; the letter which we living now cannot read without the sense of a double bitterness and sweetness in its sacred speech, so lamentably and so gloriously applicable to the loftiest heir of Dante's faith and place; of his faith as patriot, of his place as exile. It seems that the same price is still fixed for them to pay who have to buy with it the inheritance of sun and stars and the sweetest truths, and all generations of time, and the love and thanks and passionate remembrance of all faithful men for ever.
This poem is sustained throughout at the fit height with the due dignity; nothing feeble or jarring disturbs its equality of exultation. The few verses of bitter ardour which brand as a prostitute the commonweal which has become a common wrong—the common goddess deformed into a common harlot-show a force of indignant imagination worthy of a great poetic satirist, of Byron and Hugo in their worst wrath. The brief pictures of the courtly life at Verona between women and rhymesters, jester and priests, have a living outline and colour; and the last words have the weight in them of time's own sentence :
“Eat and wash hands, Can Grande ; scarce
We know their names now; hands which fed
Our Dante with that bitter bread,
Which, of all paths his feet knew well,
Were steeper found than heaven or hell." No words could more fitly wind up the perfect west of the poem in which throughout the golden thread of Dante's own thought, the hidden light of his solitude at intervals between court-play and justice-work, gleams now and again at each turn of the warp till we feel as though a new remnant of that great spirit's leaving had been vouchsafed us.
Another poem bearing the national mark upon it may be properly named with this, the “ Last Confession.” Its tragic hold of truth and grasp of passion make it worthy to bear witness to the writer's inheritance of patriotic blood and spirit. Its literal dramatic power of detail and composition is a distinctive test of his various wealth and energy of genius. This great gift of positive reality, here above all things requisite, was less requisite elsewhere, and could not have been shown to exist by any proof derivable from his other poems; though to any student of his designs and pictures the admirable union of this inventive fidelity to whatever of fact is serviceable to the truth of art, with the infinite affluence and gracious abundance of imagination, must be familiar enough ; the subtle simplicity of perception which keeps sight always of ideal likelihood and poetical reason is as evident in his most lyrical and fanciful paintings as in Giorgione's or Carpaccio's. Without the high instinct and fine culture of this quality such a poem as we now have in sight could not have been attempted. The plain heroism of noble naked nature and coherent life is manifest from the first delicate detail to the last. The simple agony of memory inflames every line with native colour. A boyish patriot in hiding from the government finds a child forsaken in time of famine by her parents, saves and supports her sets his heart towards hers more and more with the growth of years, to find at last the taint upon her of a dawning shame, of indifference and impurity—the hard laugh of a harlot on her lips, and in her bearing the dull contempt of a harlot for love and memory. Stabbed and stung through by this sudden show of the snake's fang as it turns upon the hand which cherished it, he slays her; and even in his hour of martyrdom, dying of wounds taken in a last fight for Italy, is haunted by the lovely face and unlovely laugh of the girl he had put out of reach of shame. But the tender truth and grace, the living heat and movement of the tragedy through every detail, the noble choice and use of incident, make out of this plain story a poem beyond price. Upon each line of drawing there has been laid the strong and loving hand of a great artist, and specially a supreme