Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

upon the pleasurable emotions of memory was cordially and widely welcomed to supply a void in the public mind.

It was on a theme of universal interest and of ready comprehension, and abounding in a succession of pleasing pictures, rather than presenting any lofty efforts of imagination; and, therefore, it is not surprising that it should have won, under such circumstances, a widespread favour. At the present day, or even somewhat later than the publication of the “Pleasures of Memory," I do not think it could have secured so favourable a reception. There has since been so much of the stronger inspiration that the avenue to a poetic reputation is by no means so open to entrance. Indeed, this is shown by the state of popular opinion respecting some of Rogers’s later poems. His “Italy,” for example, seems to me to show a far more vigorous and cultivated imagination, to be, in a word, a greatly superior poem to his first poem ; but Rogers's name became first known as the Poet of Memory, and as such will it be preserved. Passages of genuine poetry are scattered through his “ Italy,” giving it a higher value than is perhaps recognised. It is a descriptive poem, finely enriched, as descriptive poetry should be, with moral associations, in the present case arising chiefly from historical and biographical allusions. The interesting visit of the young Milton, a tra veller in Italy, to the aged Galileo, is thus introduced and fitly touched :

“ Nearer we hail
Thy sunny slope, Arcetri, sung of old
For its green wine,—dearer to me, to most,
As dwelt on by that great astronomer,

Seven years a prisoner at the city-gate,
Let in but in his grave-clothes. Sacred be
His cottage ; (justly was it called the jewel!)
Sacred the vineyard where, while yet his sight
Glimmered, at blush of dawn he dressed his vines,
Chanting aloud, in gaiety of heart,
Some verse of Ariosto. There, unseen,
In manly beauty, Milton stood before him,
Gazing with reverent awe,-Milton his guest,
Just then come forth, all life and enterprise ;
He in his old age and extremity,
Blind, at noonday exploring with his staff
His eyes upturned as to the golden sun,
His eyeballs idly rolling. Little then
Did Galileo think whom he bade welcome;
That in his hand he held the hand of one
Who could requite him,—who would spread his name
O’er lands and seas,-great as himself, nay, greater:
Milton as little that in him he saw,
As in a glass, what he himself should be,
Destined so soon to fall on evil days
And evil tongues,-

,-80 soon, alas ! to live
In darkness, and with dangers compassed round
And solitude."

[There is a break in the manuscript here, which I have found it impossible to repair. Diligent search has been made for the missing matter, but without success.-ED.]

In the last lecture I had occasion to make some remarks on the subject of lyrical poetry, and its demand for a highly-musical versification and a variety of rhythm. The remarks were connected with the higher department of lyrical composition,—the Ode,-but now lead me to mention slightly the numerous contributions of a living poet to another department of lyrical poetry. No Eng. lish writer, that I am aware of, has produced so many

songs as Moore.

Familiar, too, by musical accompaniments, they have gained a wide popularity by the alliance of many a sweet voice that has sung them. But, as a matter of poetry and not of music, a good song is an exceedingly rare production. In the whole extent of English poetry the number is quite small. Moore, prolific song-writer as he has been, has written much fewer of decided merit than would be supposed, considering the success they have had. When you come, for instance, to read over his “Irish Melodies,” you find too much elaboration, too much of art,- strains of overwrought and artificially-stimulated fancy. They want the simplicity, the natural impulse and emotion, the bird-like utterance, which characterize the song of the true lyrical poet. The musical accompaniments of Moore's songs have served not only to give them their due effect, but also to conceal their faults. This is perceived when they are simply read. But, at the same time, the poet's merit is considerable in the variety of his versification, and many of his songs display his skill in developing the compass of English metres. The following stanzas are much simpler in style than Moore's usual strain, and a more peculiar measure than he often uses. With something of his bright fancy, they are not devoid of a pleasing plaintiveness :

“Bright be thy dreams! May all thy weeping
Turn into smiles while thou art sleeping !

Those by sea or death removed,
Friends who in thy spring-time knew thee,

All thou'st ever prized or loved,
In dreams come smiling to thee!

may the child whose love lay deepest,
Dearest of all, come while thou sleepest;

Still be the same,-no charm forgot,
Nothing lost that life had given;
Or, if changed, but changed to what

Thou’lt find her yet in heaven!

There is much more of the true poetic fire in some of Moore's national than in his amatory lyrics. They glow with a very impetuous fervour of patriotism,- Irish patriotism, of which it has been said, half in jest and half in earnest, that it is something very like British treason. Be that as it may, when his theme is poor, misruled, poverty-stricken Ireland, there is the air and tone more of reality in his effusions. They come more from the heart, as seems to be the case with these energetic lines :

“Oh, where's the slave so lowly,
Condemned to chains unholy,

Who, could he burst

His bonds at first,
Would pine beneath them slowly?
What soul, whose wrongs degrade it,
Would wait till time decayed it,

When thus its wing

At once may spring
To the throne of Him who made it?

Farewell, Erin! farewell, all
Who live to weep our fall!

“Less dear the laurel growing
Alive, untouched, ånd blowing,

Than that whose braid

Is plucked to shade?
The brows with victory glowing
We tread the land that bore us;
Her green flag glitters o'er ys;

NATURAL FEELING AND SENTIMENTALITY.

57

The friends we've tried

Are by our side,
And the foe we hate before us!

Farewell, Erin ! farewell, all
Who live to weep our fall!"

Let me take this opportunity to remark that Moore's poetry may well serve to illustrate the difference between true natural feeling and that bright and often delusive reflection of it which our language supplies a very apt term to describe,-sentimentality. It is a counterfeit resemblance of sentiment, and very current in poetry. There are few points on which it is more important for the reader to be able to discriminate between the reality and the shadow, especially as they are often separated by almost imperceptible lines. Moore, for instance, has written a great number of very pretty things; but the reader must have a low estimate of the art who supposes that it is merely pretty things which constitute good poetry. Often the fancy is touched, and it will be thought the heart is touched too, when in truth its pulses may be beating all the while as sluggishly as ever. The gentle

and even pulsations of sentimentality are very often mis· taken for the strong stirrings of the feelings; and, if that

confusion were done away with, it is wonderful how much false and sickly poetry would be done away at the same time. The reader of poetry is often exposed to this imposition ; for there are writers whose delight it is to dally with the feelings, as if they were mere playthings, to be tricked out in the finery of pretty words and figures and affectations; whereas a genuine emotion is a strong and simple utterance from the very depths of the poet's heart, arrayed, it may be, but not encumbered, by the

[ocr errors]
« ZurückWeiter »