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* Oft at the shrine neglect her beads, to trace
Forgot, when first a father's stern controul • Cbas'd the gay visions of her opening soul : “ And ere, with iron tongue, the vesper-bell “ Bursts thro' the cypress-walk, the convent-cell, * Oft will her warm and wayward heart revive, “ To love and joy still tremblingly alive ; “ The whisper'd vow, the chaste caress prolong, “ Weave the light dance, and swell the choral song ; " With wrapt ear drink th' enchanting serenade; “ And, as it melts along the moonlight glade, “ To each soft note return as soft a sigh, * And bless the youth that bids her slumbers fly.”
Elegy.- Lyric Poetry.- Epistles.-Tales and
Fables.-Ovid.-Tibullus.- Propertius.Pope. -Collins. --Gray. Pindar. -Horace. -Milton. -- Dryden.
Anacreon. Cowley-Songs and Ballads.
MY DEAR JOHN, Elegy, as a poetical composition, rises still higher in the scale than didactic, and even than descriptive poetry. It indeed approaches to the lyric, which is, if I may so express myself, the most poetical of all poetry. The language of elegy ought to be nearly as much abstracted from that of common life as the language of the ode, whereas both didactic and descriptive poetry often condescend to familiar topics, and those expressed in language very little above that of polished prose or conversation. Elegy also admits of nearly as much figure as lyric poetry itself. Indeed figurative language, and fine and interesting allusions, though with less
boldness than lyric poetry admits of, are the soul, and almost the characteristic of elegy.
I can have no doubt in deriving the word elegy from the Greek Eneos (pity), and in confirmation of this we find that it has been appropriated, by the poets of all ages, to pathetic subjects. It was first employed in lamentation for the decease of great persons, or those who were particularly dear to the writer ; it was afterwards extended to express the misery of disappointed love, and has sometimes been made the vehicle of moral sentiment.
From these circumstances every thing in thought or diction which consists with what is solemn or pathetic, is admissible in elegy; but conceit, witticism, or point, is wholly inconsistent with it. It should be soft, tender, and plaintive; to these characteristics the Latin verse of hexameter and pentameter, and our alternate verse of ten syllables are admirably adapted. The former was by the Latins emphatically called elegiac verse, and from its sweetness, was adopted in many compositions not strictly elegiac, such as Ovid's epistles ; while, on the contrary, we have many real elegies which are not in that measure wbich we call elegiac.
The origin of elegy is undoubtedly remote. Bishop Lowth, in his Lectures on Sacred Poetry, asserts that it was a common form of composition among the Hebrews, and instances the pathetic lamentation on the death of Saul, and many of the Psalms wbich were written during the Babylonish captivity, particularly the 42d. You will find in my translation of the Lectures an humble attempt to translate both the Lamentation for Saul, and the Psalms in question, into English elegiac measure. Cal. limachus and Pbiletas, among the Greeks, are celebrated as elegiac writers. Horace professes himself to be in doubt with respect to the inventor of elegiac poetry
“ Quis tamen exiguos elegos emiserit auctor,
DE ART. POET. y. 77.
By whom invented critics still contend,
Among the Latins, however, we find no elegiac writers of any note before Ovid, Tibullus, and Propertius, who were all contemporaries, and are the best writers extant in this peculiar
line. The Tristia of Ovid, I think, affords the happiest specimens of elegiac poetry.
Our English writers of elegy have not confined themselves, like the Latins, to a particular measure, though latterly the term elegiac has been appropriated to the stanza of ten syllable
verse, with alternate rhymes. Thus Mr. Pope's Elegy on the Death of an unfortunate young Lady, is truly such, though it is in the heroic measure. Though Dr. Johnson admits that it is written in some parts with vigorous animation, and in others with gentle tenderness,” yet I will confess to you, that neither the feelings nor the expression of the poet ever seemed to me adequate to the occasion. Perhaps it was written at that season when the powers of the understanding and imagination were torpified by sorrow, I might say by horror; perhaps it was not possible, so intimately concerned as he was (the remote cause of the death she voluntarily incurred) to express his feelings; perhaps the obscurity in which from delicacy he was compelled to veil the story, reduced him to the necessity of employing general terms, and avoiding that minuteness of de